This is a breakdown of the upcoming Companions feature as described by Creative Director Rich Lambert
for the Blackwood Chapter of 2021 and Beyond.
- https://www.mmorpg.com/interviews/companions-deadlands-and-avoiding-formulaic-updates-an-interview-with-elder-scrolls-onlines-creative-director-2000120920What is a major reason for the inclusion of this feature? What does it do for Solo and Group play?
Who are the first set of Companions we meet in this Chapter?
Lambert says the idea behind Companions is to allow solo players and small groups to take on dungeons without worrying about becoming overwhelmed. As a solo player myself, I bluntly asked Lambert what took so long for something like that to be added.
"I think we've learned a lot over the years. And one of the main, recurring themes that we've heard from players, especially our more hardcore Elder Scrolls people, is people are scary. And there's some content that they aren't necessarily comfortable within a large group, but they would do with a couple of close, trusted friends. And so the beauty of this system and one of my hopes is, you know, you and a buddy could go and do four-player dungeons because you have two companions to help you out."
Another benefit to the upcoming Companion system, Lambert hopes, is that it'll give folks the confidence to take on tougher dungeons, thereby getting the chance to mingle and engage more with the ESO community.
"It will help players, A: develop stronger social ties in-game with their companions, but also, B: help them kind-of edge a little bit more into some of the group content and meeting other players potentially, which is really exciting to me, because that's where the magic of MMO happens, you know, meeting other people and talking with them and developing those really close social ties."
What kind of relationships can we expect from these characters?
For now, there are two companions who players will get to know: Bastion and Mary.
"Bastion is kind of this chivalrous Knight kind of personality," Lambert says. "And he was the son of a noble there was a little bit of strife with his history that you'll learn more about while adventuring with him. He ended up becoming a servant to another noble family and is essentially being the protector of this rich sniveling idiot. The questline that you go through with him to unlock him as a companion covers one of those adventures. And then once you unlock him, you find out a little bit more about who he is and what his personal tragedy is."
Mary, on the other hand, is a Dunmer thief who Lambert describes as having a "stab you in the back" kind of personality. Lambert mentions that she has an interesting twist in her storyline, but wasn't willing to tell me more no matter how much I was intrigued to hear everything.
Can We expect an expansion of the feature in the future?
Now that companions are making their way into the online world to help make ESO even more single-player friendly, I couldn't help but ask if that addition meant romance was on its way in the future. The short answer? Yes.
I recently sat down with Creative Director Rich Lambert to learn more about Oblivion and the tales it has to tell. When I asked if the relationship with companions could go deeper than just a battle buddy, Lambert said yes – but not in the typical romantic fashion, and not right out of the gate. He said the introduction of this mechanic in Oblivion is setting up for a goal the team has in mind for further down the road.
"With these companions, they have their own likes and dislikes," Lambert says. "You can go up one side and down the other side with your relationship to them. There is going to be something special that unlocks when you max out that relationship spectrum as well, though initially, romance won't be a part of it."
He adds, "Down the line, though, romance is definitely somewhere we want to get to. We just want to make sure when we add it that we do it right."
What else can players do with this feature? What level of customization is intended?
Essentially, the introduction of companions is meant to lay the groundwork for more personal relationships going forward in future expansions. That being said, the team wants to make sure they don't rush adding something like this, ensuring that the highly requested feature is done in a way that will leave players feeling fulfilled with their story experience.
Why this Feature instead of a New Class or Skill line?
Another interesting thing about these companions is that they are more than just pretty faces. Players can spec them out to suit their playstyle, and solo players can take them into instances that usually require additional players, such as dungeons.
"So companions are there if you choose to use them – your permanent adventuring buddies – so you unlock them by doing quests in the Blackwood chapter," Lambert says. "Once you have them, you can level them up, you can equip gear on them, you can assign them to a specific role; so if you need a tank, you can have them go tanky, or healer or damage dealer. You can set their skills that they use and the order they use them in. Each companion also has its own series of likes and dislikes. There's a report system associated with this. This system will change as a player progressed through the story to unlock new quests to get to know each companion."
Lambert adds, "We're still going through how this all works within the world and figuring out exactly where you can use different companions as well. We know we don't want them used in PvP, so we've taken that option out, but outside of that, we want you to be able to use them everywhere else.”
That is a basic breakdown of the feature which the developers are working to implement in the game in the Blackwood Chapter in 2021 and they plan to expand on it in the following years.
Balancing multiplayer and solo activities in ESO is par for the course for ZeniMax, and the MMO has certainly gotten better at balancing this for players over the years. Since its reveal in 2012, it felt at odds with those two identities, but over time the team behind the MMORPG has found its groove, especially as they’ve rolled out these yearly stories and chapter releases. However, that then begs the question: is it becoming too formulaic? For some, it might be approaching that territory, and the team is well aware of the feedback.
“I think you’re always gonna see that kind of feedback in games – especially games that have been around for a long time, that release content at a regular cadence. ‘Oh I know what’s coming.’ And then they go in and play it and they’re like, ‘Holy *** I didn’t actually know what was coming. This is way different than I thought.’ I think there is a bit of that in there, but it’s definitely something that we internally take a look at and try to be as mindful of as possible.”
Part of the ways the team can combat this is by the features they are releasing with the MMO every year – and ensuring they feel different enough to not fall into that “formulaic” trap. Antiquities with last year’s Greymoor release helped contribute to that, giving players an entirely new way to enjoy ESO. Companions is just another extension of that desire and push to give players more ways to play the MMO, instead of simply adding a new class, like Elsweyr’s Necromancer a few years back.
“For us, Companions was a lot more interesting and a lot more compelling than a new class. And so, you know, that’s what we’re focused on. You know, same thing with Antiquities. I really love the idea of exploring how to add new alternate activities to the game. That’s one of the ways that we try to solve the formulaic issue that you brought up, right? Where if we do things and we mix things up a little bit differently, or we give you an avenue to play ESO a completely different way, that’s really good. And that changes kind of how players play the game and what they can expect.”