Tamriel Infinium: Horizontal vs. vertical progression and the Elder Scrolls Online

Tamriel Infinium Horizontal vs vertical progression vs the Elder Scroll Online
The week before last, I talked about a hybrid penalty, and I've realized that I did so without actually talking about how progression is slated to work in Elder Scrolls Online. Because ESO wants to emulate the existing Elder Scrolls games in an MMO, we see many of the same ideas ported directly from the single-player game into the online game. This includes training up in a specific weapon and armor, weapon swapping, and skill-based progression. And if you have played other games' skill-based or non-linear progression systems, then you know about the difficulties of balance. ESO, like other games before it, tackles this imbalance by limiting the number of abilities available to a player at a given time.

Skill progression also takes an interesting turn in ESO as well, and I'm not exactly sure how to define it. Most MMOs follow a vertical progression tree in which you place the game's version of skill points in an upward-growing tree or pyramid, with skills following a guided path to the best skill of a given tree at the top. Usually the limitations placed on these trees are based on level, which gives you a finite number of earnable skill points. I call this vertical progression. Although any good class skill system will have some branches to the side, usually the ultimate goal is to reach the top of the tree to gain the best abilities in that given class.

Thankfully, Elder Scrolls Online takes a different approach.

Tamriel Infinium Horizontal vs vertical progression vs the Elder Scroll Online
I'm hesitant to call the Elder Scrolls Online system a truly skill-based system because class abilities affect gameplay, and unfortunately, a player is stuck in his class for the duration of the game or until he rolls a new character. But the system doesn't fall under the vertical category either.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, each character can increase his or her skills based on a number of factors such as weapon type, armor type, and of course, class. Classes, unfortunately, are static, but all classes may wear any armor or wield any weapon. Each weapon and armor type has its own unique set of skills and its own skill tree, so a player can mix and match his armor, weapon, and class to create many different combinations of skills and roles.

To top it off, many of the skills a player can learn do not have prerequisites, meaning that a player's skill set can grow in multiple different directions. It also means that you can take the skills that best suit the playstyle you're looking for and not be saddled with a bunch of extraneous skills that you will never use.

Tamriel Infinium Horizontal vs vertical progression vs the Elder Scroll Online
A player has only a limited number of ability slots, which can change based on the weapon he's carrying, but they must be set up ahead of the battle. Ultimately, when a player reaches level 50, he will have far more abilities to choose from than he has bar slots put them in. I like to think that this kind of system broadens the variety of playstyles for a given class. Some would suggest that because of the broad number of skills and the limited number of abilities in a toolbar, developers will avoid having to "tax" the classes that perform more than one role (i.e., the classic "hybrid tax"). I hope that is true, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Thanks to this week's Q&A, we learned that we'll continue to earn different skills after we reach max level though a system called Veteran Rank. As we kill mobs and finish quests as we did when we were actually leveling, we will continue to gain Veteran Points, which ultimately give us Veteran Rank. When we gain Veteran Rank, we gain skill points, allowing us to add more abilities to our suite of possibilities.

Although some might want to debate it with me when we see it in action, I would certainly call the progression system in ESO a horizontal progression system, even though there are levels and linear parts of the skill trees. Ultimately, it's the breadth of skills that will allow you to play a certain class the way you see fit.

I respect many different playstyles and the lengths players will go to create the best character they can. Do you believe that given the number of abilities we'll have access to we will still see the "best" builds for certain classes? And will you be one of those people who follow the "best build" guides, or will you explore your own path to ultimate power?

Tamriel Infinium Horizontal vs vertical progression vs the Elder Scroll Online
Before closing up the article for this week, I'd like to touch of a comment made by Blackcat7k. He made a very poignant and interesting statement about the racism in the fantasy genre that I would like to address, too. He said:
Why do the monstrous races have to band together? Because they don't look human or elven? Elder Scrolls lore in some instances has moved past that Tolkien dead horse. The most idiotic thing any society or culture can do is think that just because someone looks similar that they share your values and can be deemed trustworthy. It's a good way to get you a proper knife in your back when you're looking across the field at those that look different from you when the real danger is the one right next to you.
I wholeheartedly agree that the monstrous-race syndrome found in a lot of fantasy post-Tolkien feeds on an undeserved stereotype of "ugly" races being bad guys. Although Elder Scrolls has moved past writing non-human races as entirely bad guys, they are unfortunately still the outcast races, which is what prompted my comment about their banding together to overcome those other races that appear to oppress them.

That being said, I do believe that the Elder Scrolls created very interesting and empathetic "monstrous" races. What do you think? Do you believe that the Elder Scrolls has done a good job of avoiding the Tolkien-esque racism? Perhaps I'll do a future column on this subject. Until then, I'll see you in the comments.

Tamriel Infinium Stepping into the world of The Elder Scrolls OnlineEach week, traverse the treacherous terrain of Tamriel with Larry Everett as he records his journey through The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG from ZeniMax. Comments are welcome below, or send a message to larry@massively.com. He promises to keep the arrow-to-the-knee jokes to a minimum.

This article was originally published on Massively.