Because I've been critical of ZeniMax's marketing, I should praise the studio when it does something right. And the video the team released on Wednesday was amazing. Don't get the wrong impression when I say amazing. I wasn't knocked out of my chair, but I did find myself completely engaged with the video. That, I think, is more important than feeling a rush of adrenaline following the destruction of a huge keep or the explosion of a Daedric beast. Although a rush might make someone artificially excited about the game, an informative and engaging video will make people want to stick to the game for the long haul. Let me break down this video for you.
After the logos and other nonsense, telling the audience who was featured in the video was absolutely needed, but not because its great to introduce who's talking but because these are big names in the studio. Creative Director Paul Sage pretty much oversees the whole project. Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Konkle oversees everything from level design to combat balance. Throwing in Dungeon Designer Dan Crenshaw told the audience exactly what we would be dealing with in the video and that someone "in the trenches" would be participating in explaining it.
The kicker hits when you realize that these guys (well, maybe not Sage) were actually playing the game. Many times in game demos, Mister-out-of-touch stands on stage or does the voice-over for pee-on-number-three's actual playthrough of the game. I'll get into the nuances of what was actually said in a minute, but for me, just knowing that these guys were actually playing the game made the experience more tangible.
A world boss: This is important. Sage explains at the beginning of the first segment that this boss appears in the open world and not in an instanced dungeon. Up to this point, we have seen big monsters only in the controlled environments. It's refreshing to see content for a random group. Sage says in the video that the team wanted to throw things like this into the game to encourage grouping. He emphasized that he didn't want forced grouping for the open world but that nudging players to find friends is acceptable.
The second encounter also appeared to take place in the open world because Konkle mentioned that anytime you're out in the world and see a group of six baddies performing some sort of super ritual, you're going to want to get a friend to help you out. Obviously this encounter is more difficult than the world boss, given the number of people it took to destroy the anchor. Maybe the idea expressed in the past about 1.5 people taking on world dungeons has been underestimated.
As we all should know at this point, anything in beta can change before the game goes live, but discussing the abilities that the team used during the fight helps us understand the roles of the players and how the developers intend the game to be played.
First, we hear them discussing threat mechanics, but notice that the tank does not always have aggro. We saw the healer and even the DPS take the threat for a few moments. But that doesn't mean that the tank failed, nor does it mean that his job is finished until his aggro-generating ability is back. He mezzed mobs more than once during the video, preventing the mob from attacking the healer or anyone else in the group. This harkens back to the original MMO holy trinity: tank, healer, and crowd control. This kind of gameplay gives me a happy.
Secondly, Konkle talked about playing a Dragonknight with a fire staff. The Dragonknight appears to be a tank to an experienced MMO player. However, Konkle mentions that the testers discovered, kind of by accident, that a Dragonknight mixed with a fire staff makes for a formidable AoE DPSer. Now, of course, that combination will be the first flavor of the month, but what I hope it really does is expand our character-building horizon so that players are willing to experiment with different and weird builds.
It might be silly to talk about tone in an informative video, but I think tone plays an important role in whether or not someone actually pays attention to the video. All three developers were relaxed and seemed to have fun making the video. Quips about which ability should be spammed when, and the comment about the man being sucked up into the Anchor, are just examples of how all future videos for this game should be. Even if it was slightly scripted, it felt off-the-cuff. It's a crazy thought, I know, but when the devs genuinely appear to be having fun in the game rather than appear to be trying to sell you something, it actually sells the game better.
I know I've given Elder Scrolls Online trouble in the past about its marketing, but I enjoyed this video. And I hope the game puts out more videos like this. Of course, I want to know what you think, as well. Has ZeniMax put the feel of the advertising on the right track? Are you more likely to play the game now? The comments are waiting for your answer, and I'll hop down there myself. I want this game to be great. (But I'm not afraid to be critical when it deserves it.) Do you think that more videos like this will help it be successful?
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.