In my first article on ESO I mentioned that this is my first MMO experience (though far from my first Elder Scrolls experience) and that ESO managed to turn me from a doubter into a customer. PvP certainly played a part in that, and as of this morning we are officially permitted to share our experiences with you.
I was hesitant to enter Cyrodiil at first. I didn't feel powerful enough at level 25 after seeing maxed out characters running around here and there, I could only imagine the devastation awaiting me in PvP. But, eventually I ran into one of those maxed out players, they offered me some tips and dragged me into Cyrodiil to check it out. (They also gifted me enough money to buy a horse and gave me a ballista for being the first person they ran into playing on a mac).
When you first enter the Cyrodiil campaign you will get a chance to run through some tutorials about the seige equipment and about questing in Cyrodiil, even offering you some starter quests to adjust. Upon leaving the first keep, death is not waiting for you around every corner as I first imagined. Granted, there were less players in a beta test than in the game after launch, but the map gives you a good idea of where the fighting is, what territory may be relatively safe to venture into, and what territory the enemy may be pushing into.
The three sided Alliance offers an interesting balance because if one Alliance begins to take over, the soon find themselves fighting a battle on two fronts. The other two Alliances, now with smaller territories, may find themselves in an unofficial truce as they focus on the larger threat.
Taking a Keep
Although you can get several hundred players on screen at the same time, I think the largest we got to was around 50 vs 50. It was crazy even with that number, so I can only imagine it on a larger scale.
NPCs will garrison locations you or the enemy hold in addition to any players and these NPCs are no push-overs. There is a big difference to fighting a position held by other players however. Our first couple attacks went smoothly with only NPCs to hold us back and such a large group. We soon reached the real fighting however.
When you take a keep, you have to work your way in step-by-step. First eliminating players and NPCs outside the wall trying to prevent you from setting up for attack, then you can begin bombarding the walls or gates with catapults, ballista and battering rams. All the while, you'll have to dodge or heal from the enemy using their own siege equipment to rain down death on you and avoid archers and mages on the walls or boiling oil being poured on you. As you batter a gate or section of wall, you'll see a health bar much like when fighting a boss. It takes quite a bit of punishment, but once the wall crumbles or the gate comes down the battle only gets heavier.
Again, you have to fight off the enemy, clearing out the wall and courtyard in order to set up your siege equipment and begin attacking the keep itself. You have much less room to work in the courtyard than outside the castle walls, so fighting can get crazier if the enemy decides to push out of the castle and attack your siege equipment (as it has health as well). Once you batter down the doors, you begin another battle to take the flag and officially claim the keep.
I was glad to see strategy and teamwork play a large role in the warfare. No matter how powerful you are, players cannot just run around hacking through everything. You'll find yourself dead, as a group or individual, if you don't have a decent game-plan. I was apart of several battles that were run differently and the in the ones without good leadership and focus, you could feel the lack of organization, the ease with which the enemy was able to break your lines, and utter failure waiting for you.
I did find that grouping up (into an official group) made it easier to follow combat as well. With the small arrows over the heads of teammates, it helped to divide up the battle when the two masses of players came together. There are small Alliances symbols beside health bars to tell you an enemy player, and of course they highlight red like any enemy, but the arrows made things easier at a glance and sometimes a glance is all you get.
Death and Cyrodiil
Dying in PvP is handled a little differently than dying in the story portion of the game. Normally you have the option to re-spawn using a soul gem and your equipment will degrade and have to be repaired to keep it in good condition. In PvP you cannot re-spawn on the spot, though another player can attempt to bring you back. Your gear does not degrade with each death either, which I was glad to see after one of our battles. So, the question becomes, where do you spawn?
Setting up a forward camp can make a big difference in keeping men in the battle. You will not re-spawn at the site of the battle or even at the closest site your side owns. You will re-spawn at a keep that your alliance holds (you choose which keep) and it will be up ot you to run or ride back to the battle. Without that forward camp to re-spawn at, you and your allies can find themselves fractured as they spend several minutes working their way back to the fighting.
The point of all this, in the end, is to win the throne for your Alliance. Though it may be a temporary position.
If you take the imperial forts surrounding the capital, the player with the most alliance points on your side will become emperor and receive a new skill line (one they keep even if they lose the emperor spot later). Your entire Alliance will get the benefits of a small buff and obviously, you will control more of the Cyrodiil map. As I pointed out in the beginning, the more you control, the easier your Alliance can travel around Cyrodiil to do things like PvE or gather high-end materials for various crafting professions.
Aside from enjoying some of the big battles that went smoothly, there were a handful of personal moments that stuck out for me as well.
So at one point, the beta had cooled down and my friend at I were just poking around Cyrodiil. We discovered some enemy players trying to take a farm from our Alliance and decided to help the NPCs fend them off. They were only sending people in one and a time, maybe they were just screwing around, but it wasn't hard to deal with them. The last player never charged though, he waited outside the area and as we snuck closer, we discovered him dancing. My friend wanted to attack him, but I warned him -- "We are only level 25, that guy is probably 50++ and he's dancing!" He told me that's why we need to deal with him and attacked. I couldn't let my friend die alone, so I attacked as well and I succeeded in not letting him die alone. Despite a small buff players receive to even up the fighting in Cyrodiil, it's really not enough to take on vet players toe-to-toe. We both threw everything we had at this dragonknight and he made short work of us.
Another time, our side was protecting a keep and I was taking advantage of the wall with my archer. Raining down arrows into the players below, feeling confident in my superior position. Until I saw a fellow archer get "Fiery Gripped" and pulled down into the mass of murder below. Then I backed away from the edge and considered finding out if there was a fetal position animation in the game.
At one point while we were taking the inner part of a keep, I saw a red dot on my compass and noticed there was still an enemy behind (or among us) on the wall. I slowly creeped up to the top of the tower and saw an NPC wizard faced away from me and thought - I can unload everything on this guy and take him. Apparently an enemy player was using him as bait and was hidden (which makes you completely invisible to enemy players) just waiting for someone like me to come along. As soon as I attacked (becoming visible to them) I learned how quickly a vet Nightblade can murder you by surprise.
I never got to experience things like Vampires and Werewolves in the game and doubt I would even be permitted to talk about them if I did. I did see two opposing players change into werewolves in the middle of a skirmish and go at it. I don't think I was the only one to stop fighting for a moment and watch.
Despite the beta being on a smaller scale with the amount of players involved in the war, I was surprised at how big some of the battles still felt. The use of siege equipment also helps break up the monotony of ongoing personal combat.
To me Elder Scrolls is about the story, adventure and role-playing more than PvP. After this experience though, I definitely see myself venturing into Cyrodiil to join the fighting on occasion. I will probably never be a hardcore PvPer, but it does add another good element to an already huge game and more value to what you are paying for.