Upon taking my first steps into the Cyrodiil of The Elder Scrolls Online, I quickly realised this was a radically different place from when I first visited back in 2006. War is ravaging the lands, the races of Tamriel descending upon her sweeping mountains and rolling rivers in a bid to secure glory for themselves. Cyrodiil is at war, and I’m right in the thick of it.
The Elder Scrolls Online’s player vs player content, named Alliance War, is ambitious. It feels like a totally separate game in of itself, yet feels almost connected to the “single-player” narrative being established in the PvE (player vs. everyone) areas. Alliance War requires you to ban together with other players of your respective faction to claim glory, and, if you’re lucky, title of Emperor. To this end, you’ll need to break and capture enemy forts/keeps, and secure Elder Scrolls for your faction so to increase your factions influence in Cyrodiil, and ultimately, the chance to take the Ruby Throne.
Alliance War unlocks when your character reaches level 10, but it’s worth mentioning you’re not obligated to jump straight in as soon as you hit the level requirement if you don’t want to. I opted to hold off for a little while, wishing myself to become a little more accustomed with ESO before doing so. See, I thought once I travelled to Cyrodiil, I’d be thrown into the thick of battle. What I found instead, when I did finally took the plunge, was something a little different to what I’d expected.
Before the game allowed me (you can, in theory, just storm off and start doing whatever you like) to start campaigning, a near-by quest marker got me to sought out some training. Alliance War differs from your standard Elder Scrolls experience, in that you use a few new gameplay mechanics to seize territory from your enemies; namely, the use of siege weapons. Battering rams, catapults and ballistae are all tools you’ll get to use in your attempt to break and capture opposing keeps; and aside from learning to use them, you also learn how to repair them, useful for staying strong in defensive situations. Adjusting to what I can only describe as RTS-style mechanics is quite a jarring experience, given the context, but I only imagine it’ll get easier the more I begin to use them.
Once my training with siege weapons was complete, what are essential quest boards become available to me. With these you’re free to pick up quests that relate to scouting enemy territory for intel, laying siege to an opposing keep, and other tasks that all have to do with swaying the War into your faction’s favour. The first task I took up saw me traveling to BlackBoot Mill (if I can remember the name, correctly) to scout out enemy activity. Since my destination was quite a long distance away, I made use of Cyrodiil’s quick travel system. Working similar to Wayshrines, the travel system in Alliance War allows you to fast-travel between your faction’s keeps; providing there is a straight line between them.
As I drew closer to my destination, I soon became distracted by the chat feed, which was erupting into a frenzy over the Ebonheart Pact’s attacks on various Covenant keeps. Checking my map, I noticed one under-siege keep was close by, so I raced over as fast as my stamina bar could regenerate. The battle I threw myself in at the keep was utter chaos; players clashed, two sides colliding in a frenzy of mouse clicks and keyboard pounds. My poor character lasted no less than 60 seconds before I was slaughtered and sent packing. But my defeat urged me on; with new found enthusiasm I leaped back onto my horse and galloped back to the battle.
Upon my return, I found the keep to be safe, and the battle over. I wandered around, hoping the fighting had simply moved somewhere else. Extending my search beyond the keep walls, I found a sole faction-mate, slowly cutting down Pact guards in an attempt to retake the keep’s surrounding resources, so I decided to help them out. Together we succeeded in reducing the number of NPCs protecting this particular point, but us two alone couldn’t make the final push to retake it once and for all. After a few vain attempts, we were aided by a group of roughly seven other Covenant players who rushed in, slaughtered all on the opposing side, retook the point, and as quickly as they arrived, rode off into the distance.
My first foray into The Elder Scrolls Online’s PvP content wasn’t as I expected. I thought upon entering Cyrodiil, I’d be struck down by players well beyond my current level so many times, I’d get frustrated and jump out. Instead, I found a seemingly balanced metagame, separate from the PvE areas that brings together hordes of players in a tightly designed context. While the epic, grand-scale battles between dozens of other players are so frenzied I had a difficult time doing anything useful, I’m willing to wager the more time I spend developing my character’s skill set, the more enjoyable Alliance War will become.