Tamriel Infinium - Elder Scrolls art header
Earlier this week, Elder Scrolls Online creative director Paul Sage dropped by the Elder Scrolls OTR podcast and proceeded to drop a ton of update info on fans of ZeniMax's fantasy themepark MMO. We put out a corresponding news post, of course, but there was so much meat on those bones that I couldn't let an issue of Tamriel Infinium go by without adding my two cents.

Plus, hey, it was only two weeks ago that I was advocating for an adjustment to the game's post-50 approach. Ask and ye shall receive, right?

Elder Scrolls Online - Desert spires
First off, let's just acknowledge that ZeniMax is proactively doing something about the health of its game. This isn't that surprising, given the world-class IP and given the fact that ZOS spent seven years and uncounted millions making this MMO. I find it encouraging in spite of its obviousness, though, if only because reading any sort of Elder Scrolls Online discourse nowadays also entails reading the flood of this-game-sucks zeitgeist that overwhelms informed discussion.

Say what you will about certain design decisions and the state of ESO at launch, but clearly ZeniMax wants to improve the title's gameplay. I'm hard-pressed to think of another MMORPG that basically blew up an entire system three months out from launch as ZOS is currently doing to ESO's veteran rank mechanics.

Elder Scrolls Online - Redguard soldiers
VR revamp and the Champion system

Sage's update was a two-hour monster. You should listen to it in full if you're an ESO fan, but today I'm just going to highlight and comment on the VR changes and the upcoming Champion system since they are undoubtedly the most important take-aways. They're so important, and so substantial, that ZOS has broken them down into three separate release phases.

The first phase went live last week and basically entailed nerfing the mob difficulty in VR zones to more closely approximate the 1-to-50 solo leveling experience. This is great from my perspective because I rarely see other players in VR2-3 Grahtwood, so how the heck am I supposed to get a group for group content? Predictably, some people complained about the resulting lack of challenge, and while Sage didn't give specifics, he did mention trials and additional unannounced updates for those who preferred the previous nose-to-the-grindstone VR experience.

Phase two of the VR revamp will feature normalized experience gains and increased XP from PvP activities as well as preventative measures to curtail the inevitable PvP farmers. Sage also told ESO OTR that the game will shunt Cyrodiil PvPers into separate campaigns reserved for either VR players or pre-50 players.

Phase three of the revamp will remove the VR system entirely in favor of something called Champion Points. Post-50 experience gains will be converted to Champion Points, which players can then spend on passive abilities and rating percentage increases. Sage likened the system to the alternate advancement mechanics found in EverQuest and EverQuest II, and I suppose that probably is the ideal horizontal progression system for themepark endgames these days.

I'm not terribly thrilled by the news simply because I'd rather have sandbox mechanics and player-generated content instead of an endless number grind. Unfortunately that ship sailed with respect to ESO a long time ago, but so far I've still been able to enjoy the game for the Tamriel-flavored themepark that it is.

Interestingly, Sage said that the Champion system will be account-wide, so unlike EQII, Age of Conan, and other fantasy grindparks built on alternate advancement, in ESO you'll be able take your point pool and apply it to multiple characters rather than accumulate individual points for each one. He also mentioned some sort of rested experience bonus that will increase the longer you're logged off.

And of course such sweeping changes necessitate some itemization tweaks, which we'll see in the form of new seasonal gear that lacks level requirements. Sage explained that said gear will be challenging to obtain, and that subsequent seasonal gear will get progressively more powerful (i.e., Season Three stuff will trump Season Two, etc.).

Elder Scrolls Online - Sunrise in Sentinel
Odds and ends

Sage was also questioned at length by the ESO OTR crew, and while some of the responses traveled the well-worn "no comment" and "no plans at this time" roads, there were some interesting nuggets as well.

He said that the devs are keenly aware of complaints regarding the "feel" of ESO's combat, and as such they have tweaked weapon-swapping to be faster and more responsive as well as added a weapon impact stutter that should make light attacks feel more impactful.

Furthermore, the game's next (and as-yet-unrevealed) adventuring zone will not follow the Craglorn model but will instead feel more like the 1-to-50 zones and will focus on exploration. Draw distance is also being looked at, as is housing, which Sage said is a priority even though it won't be a near-future update.

All in all it was a pretty meaty dev chat. It remains to be seen how these changes will play out, of course, and Sage didn't mention specific dates. But clearly there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of Elder Scrolls Online. Despite the vocal subset of naysayers, this is a game -- and a franchise -- with both a dedicated dev team and a lot of money behind it, to say nothing of a large console audience waiting in the wings. From my vantage point, the game's future looks fairly bright.

The Elder Scrolls Online might not be a sandbox, but it's a fine Elder Scrolls game in its own right. Join Jef Reahard every two weeks as he journeys to Tamriel and beyond in search of some extra inventory space for his crate, barrel, and bag loot. Or come kill him in Cyrodiil, if you'd rather.

This article was originally published on Massively.