PvP is arguably one of the more intense and satisfying aspects of many MMO games, and The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception to this. Set in the Imperial Province Cyrodiil, the PvP map is a sprawling expanse with over 40 discrete locations to explore, battle over, and eventually capture through victorious conquest. However, unlike in other MMOs, PvP is integrated directly into the Alliance War story arch. The outcomes of PvP campaigns and control of Cyrodiil locations can have consequences in the realm of PvE questing. Please note that although PvP does influence certain content in the main story, participation is not mandatory, so fear not if PvP isn’t your thing. There are some quests and PvE content within Cyrodiil, but caution is advised, since you can still be killed by other players even when you’re not directly participating in a battle.
Once players have reached level 10, they are eligible to compete in PvP campaigns. The PvP content can be accessed through the Alliance War panel. Simply press ‘L’ to call it up, and enter Cyrodiil through the resulting interface. In this tab, players have the options to enter immediately (either solo or in a pre-formed group), or enter a solo queue and wait to be grouped with other solo players. Areas of recent activity will be marked on the map, so it isn’t too difficult to deduce where the action is and jump right into it (you can always inquire in the chatbox if nothing’s showing up on the map as well). It is worth mentioning that players between levels 20 and 50 are granted temporary enhancements to their abilities that will allow them to perform better in battle. Achievements in PvP are rewarded with Alliance Points, which serve as a currency (concurrently with gold from the PvE places in the game) within Cyrodiil.
The primary objective in Cyrodiil is to maintain control over as much of the map as possible. To do so, players must defend locations that their chosen alliance already controls, and capture locations owned by rival factions. Major objectives include keeps, forts, and towns, but there are also smaller resource objectives within the vicinity of larger ones that can affect their resilience. For example, a lumber mill and a mine can be found nearby the major objective Blue Road Keep. If an alliance seeks to gain control of that area, Blue Road Keep itself will be less difficult to capture (easier NPCs, less HP for walls, etc) if they capture the lumber mill and mine first.
Alliance control is denoted on the map by color codes, and players are able to fast travel between a network of locations that are connected by ‘transitus links’ (connections will be highlighted in green). If a given location is captured by a rival faction, the transitus link will be terminated and players will lose the ability to fast travel to it.
The mechanics of capturing objectives in TESO are similar other MMOs, but the developers did add some unique features which make it distinguishable. A siege is usually the first step in gaining access to a major objective, like a castle or keep. To aid in the siege, players can purchase siege weapons such as trebuchets, fire ballistas, and battering rams from the quartermasters of controlled keeps. Although having more siege weapons will expedite the destruction of the keep’s defensive structures, it’s important to strike a safe balance between the number of players sieging and the number of players not on siege weapons. This allows your faction to have the power to mobilize and defend against enemy players or NPC guards, should they decide to engage your wall of siege weapons directly. If the objective is well-defended, the enemy will probably launch counter-siege attacks from inside the keep. They usually target your faction’s siege weapons, so stay alert and put some distance between yourself and the siege weapons if you aren’t using one. A red circle will appear on the ground as a prelude to an incoming siege attack, so vacate the area as soon as one appears. If you are unable to make it out of the radius before the attack hits, expect to take heavy damage. Once your alliance successfully captures a keep, the first thing you’ll want to do is repair the damage it sustained during its capture. Repair kits for different types of materials (stone walls and wooden doors, for instance) can be purchased with either gold or Alliance Points from the keep’s quartermaster.
On the flip side, you may also find yourself in the position of having to defend your alliance’s keeps against enemy attacks. The walls and towers of the keeps will provide some shelter against the incoming siege attacks, and there are plenty of small platforms and nooks that you can set up your own siege weapons within to nuke enemy players from above. One fun aspect of defending is the ability to pour boiling hot oil (purchasable through the quartermaster) from platforms above the doors onto enemies who are using battering rams. Hot oil hurts badly, so there is something wickedly satisfying about sending droves of enemy players scurrying away from their battering ram to avoid having the oil spilled on them (and even more satisfying when the oil actually makes contact with them and deals damage). The main goal of the defending faction is to cause the opposing faction to abandon its invasion, and there are many legitimate strategies that will yield this end result. The two most effective defensive methods I encountered were:
- The use of brute force, where members of our alliance set up left and right flanks and swarmed their siege line, killing many off in the first attack and causing others to retreat.
- A more sneaky approach, where every member of our defending force (save for a few scouts) crouched into stealth mode and camped out in the keep as we awaited their attack. Going into stealth mode will render you invisible to opposing players within a certain range and on their map, so by crouching, we obscured the true numbers of our force. In doing so, we were able to lull the enemy into a false sense of power and deceive them as to the amount of resistance they’d encounter in taking the keep. When the moment was right, we sprung into action and attacked. The element of surprise allowed us to get the drop on them and drive them from the fort.
A certain amount of situational awareness and group cooperation is involved in orchestrating more elaborate strategies like the ones I mentioned. For instance, if too many players on our side had decided to go ahead and engage the enemy instead of biding their time, it would have blown our cover and ruined the entire operation. As cliché as it might sound, favorable outcomes will sometimes depend on everyone’s ability to be a good team player during certain PvP scenarios.
Participating in PvP will eventually unlock new skill lines and abilities for your character. These abilities will fall under either ‘Assault’ or ‘Support’ skill trees, and are designed specifically for use in PvP or group situations. They are activated within a specific area, and can be potentiated by special group interactions within that area (an option will appear and prompt you to press ‘X’ to interface with the ability). The more players who interact with your ability, the more powerful its effect will be.
If you’re killed during PvP combat, you will be able to select from respawn location that your alliance controls from the map. Resurrections can be performed by anyone who carries charged Soul Gem appropriate to the level of the deceased, so healer or not, it’s a good idea to keep a few different types (minor, grand, etc) of charged Soul Gems in your inventory during PvP. It’s often worth it to delay respawn to wait for a resurrection, but please note that you will automatically respawn after approximately 9 minutes.
One final idea that warrants attention is the concept of a player being crowned Emperor or Empress. This is an extremely difficult achievement that can only be attained by earning the most Alliance Points of anyone in the game, and there can only be a single Emperor or Empress at any given time. Holding the title of Emperor/Empress unlocks special privileges, including a unique skill tree, a distinct armor set, and various combat abilities that grant advantages to this player and his or her faction in the Alliance War.
Although I think that the developers of ESO did a nice job designing Cyrodiil overall, my actual enjoyment of the various PvP sessions was rather hit or miss. As much as I hate to say it, the intense game dynamics, thoughtfully placed choke points, and huge potential for epic battle tactics were not enough to compensate when teams consisted of too many uncooperative or illogical players. I witnessed a lot of rage quitting and ‘defecting’, where there would suddenly be an exodus of players switching to the winning team instead of sticking around and taking responsibility for the role they played in our faction’s disadvantaged position. Collaborative efforts and good team coordination play a crucial role in map control, so if a member of your alliance seems to know what they’re doing, there is a certain impetus to follow their advice for as long as it continues to pan out. Contrary to some other MMOs, PvP in ESO is not all about going for the easy gank. If you have the patience and intelligence to pull it off, there is plenty of room for more subtle, eloquent tactics which will be well rewarded in the end. I realize that the problem of poor sportsmanship is hardly unique to ESO, but I would love to see some sort of preventative measures that either incentivize good behavior or deter bad behavior implemented before launch. Until then, please enjoy this in-game footage, and I look forward to seeing you all in Cyrodiil!