Of course, the initial thrust of the game will be about gaining levels and exploring the land devoted to one of three factions. Since this is a back-to-basics article, I'll reiterate the factions quickly. In the northwest of Tamriel sits the Daggerfall Covenant. The races of Bretons, Red Guard, and Orcs call this peninsula home. To the south of Daggerfall, the Aldmeri Dominion reigns. The High Elves "offer protection" to the lands of the Wood Elves and Khajiit. Then in the north and east of Tamriel, the viking-like Nords, strange Dark Elves, and reptilian Argonians formed the Ebonheart Pact. I'll be honest, the last treaty appears to be the most forced from a story standpoint, but perhaps ZeniMax has an amazing tale that explains why these three are able to join together in relative peace.
If the interactive map is complete as far as the zones are concerned, then each faction will contain five major leveling zones and a smaller starting zone. All players are led through a tutorial set in the Oblivion plane of Coldharbour; once free from that horrid place, players begin their acclimation to living in continental Tamriel. Daggerfallers start on the pirate island of Stros M'Kai. Dominionites begin on Khenarthi's Roost. And Pact-men (and Ms. Pact-men) crash land on Bleakrock Isle.
From what we've seen, the tutorial area appears to be quite linear, but that's to be expected. Past playthroughs of Stros M'Kai and Bleakrock Isle gave the impression that these zones are rather linear as well. However, compared to Coldharbour, it does splinter a bit more. Perhaps this trend continues to the other zones, and the deeper you dive into the land, the greater the chance for exploration. We will see.
Interviews at E3 told us that ESO will contain 16 four-man instanced dungeons. These quests will be scattered throughout the zones and will be self-contained stories. If we divide them up evenly, we'd have five dungeons per faction with one extra. The developers stated that we will also find dungeons in the PvP zone, but they didn't mention any instanced dungeons. This makes the spare dungeon confusing to me. Maybe it's an endgame dungeon that finishes off the primary storyline. I'm not sure.
Besides the instanced dungeons that are limited to four players at a time, each zone is littered with public dungeons, including the Cyrodiil PvP zone. These dungeons have been described as needing 1.5 people and will hopefully perpetuate organic grouping. I foresee the mobs being just too hard for the average player to solo, so someone will look for another player hanging around to help him complete the quest. These public dungeons won't be role-specific as the instanced dungeons are.
When you reach level 50 (the game's max level), you will be allowed to play through the other factions' storylines. This includes the starting zones, five questing zones, and all the instanced and public dungeons. Although the main story quests will not generally not be repeatable, the instanced dungeons can be repeated. And to help alleviate some of the monotony, the cutscenes will not appear again if you have already seen them.
Besides exploring the land and discovering the alliance's stories, you will be able to earn extra skill points by running through these stories and finding sky shards. Personally, I'm mostly interested in the storylines, but I know that the more skills I have, the more viable I can be in group dungeons, so that sounds like a win-win to me.
Game Director Paul Sage has mentioned on a couple occasions, most notably the Tamriel Foundry interview, areas that he termed "adventure zones." What are adventure zones? Well, we are not exactly sure. We do know that they will be smaller zones that incorporate everything you might find in the main leveling zones but will be much more difficult to complete. Paul Sage also mentioned the idea of raids in these zones, but at the time, he could not comment on the size or makeup of these raids. To top it off, we are fairly certain we will not see adventure zones with the game's PC launch. Maybe ZeniMax will pull a fast one and get one done ahead of schedule, but it's not likely.
That pretty much rounds up all the PvE content in ESO that we are currently aware of. I might have missed a nuance here and there; feel free to post that in the comments if you'd like. But most of all, I'm interested in knowing what you think. Does this sound like enough to keep players busy for a little while?
[Edit: Paul Sage did mention in passing that adventure zones will be in at launch. Hopefully, that is the final word because that's extremely exciting for PvEers!]
Each 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He promises to keep the arrow-to-the-knee jokes to a minimum.