Drawing power from Tamriel's wilds, The Elder Scrolls Online's first new class, the Warden, is coming on June 6. Curious as to how this versatile, ally-focused class was developed for ESO: Morrowind? Check out this Q&A with some of the people behind the Warden.
We spoke with Lead Combat Designer Eric Wrobel, Senior Animator Silvia Littlefield, and Lead VFX Artist Cambria Blaize to get some insight regarding the Warden's design and creation process.
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The Warden has a nature-based theme, making them unique in comparison to The Elder Scrolls Online's original four classes. How did you come to the decision to give this theme to the game's first new class?
Wrobel: It is important for us that players are able to express themselves in lots of different ways, and you can see this design principal with the flexibility that each of the current classes have.
When trying to create this new class, we analyzed the core components of our game to find out what was missing. From there, we brainstormed an entire ability suite for different classes and themes, refined the best ideas, and then picked a winner – the Warden and their nature-based abilities!
Building a brand new class is obviously a major task that involves multiple teams within the studio. Could you walk us through the process for the Warden's creation from start to finish?
Wrobel: First, we came up with the Warden's base design and vision for how the class will look and feel. We then added the code needed to for the class' new features. For example, we added functionality that can help players direct their pets to attack a specific target. Next, our concept art team created a foundation for class visuals moving forward.
The design team then built out the abilities in our editor before having our animation team create character animations that match the Warden's visual style. The effects team then gets to work to create swirling leaves, vines and other particles that sync up with the character animations. VFX has to go after animations to ensure that they play at the correct time.
At this point, the design team begins to balance, playtest, refine, and polish the class, and the audio team creates the sounds that syncs up with animation and VFX timings. Audio is the final part of the pipeline because their work requires everything else to be finalized.
Throughout the entire process, QA is testing after each phase and when new elements are added, and then finally, the class is ready for testing by the community!
The Elder Scrolls Online features a wealth of PvE and PvP content for both solo and group players. What challenges did you encounter when building a new class for these different types of game experiences?
Wrobel: We had to identify some core components of PvE and PvP content in the game. In PvE we wanted to make a damage rotation that felt unique, while still being as effective as other classes.
With PvP we wanted to make sure players had the ability to deal burst damage. Our initial concept for the War Bear didn't include an activated ability, and we found that it wasn't exciting to have an ultimate that you just summoned once and then hung around as a passive bonus. It also didn't feel like you and the bear were a team. Adding an execute to the bear solved both of these problems and made the Warden more dangerous in PvP.
How important was it to ensure that the Warden is able to perform multiple roles (damage, tanking, healing) from just their class Skill Lines?
Wrobel: This was a pillar of the class's design. ESO: Morrowind is a great opportunity for new players to experience The Elder Scrolls Online for the first time, so we wanted a class that was easy to pick up, yet difficult to master. When we came up with the ideas for Animal Companions, Green Balance, and Winter's Embrace, they each had to fit into one of these molds.
We did move some of the Skill Lines around as we were designing them to see what best fit. For example, we were playing with the idea of having Winter's Embrace exclusively deal damage, but when trying to make an entire class' Skill Lines, the other options made less sense for a tanking tree. There are only so many abilities you can make out of mudcrab armor!
How do you ensure the Warden is balanced when ESO: Morrowind launches, and what data do you collect to help make changes in the future?
Wrobel: We compared Warden abilities on a 1-for-1 basis to the other class abilities, as well as looking globally at each class in terms of its damage and resources. With ESO: Morrowind, we performed an analysis of ability costs against resource recovery rates for all classes to make sure everything is even.
Player feedback (collected from forums, social, or in-game reports) is also very important to us, too, and we often use it as discussion points in our design meetings. Most often, it points us to specific areas of the game that we then investigate further with extensive play testing and data validation.
Once players get their hands on the Warden, our business intelligence team captures data about the decisions they are making. We know about all the most popular abilities, morphs, gear, Mundus stones, etc. We can then take and filter this data to create a model of what Wardens are doing in PvP, PvE, and at lower levels, helping us find where adjustments need to be made.
The Warden's ability animations appear as natural, flowing motions. When building these abilities, what kind of direction did you receive, and how much freedom did you have to create something unique?
Littlefield: We were given a clear and broad direction from the gameplay team, allowing us to have a lot of creative freedom. The final goal was to tell the story of each ability through the Warden's animations, effects, and sounds complementing each other. From an animation perspective, every move is calculated and methodical, with flourish!
The Warden possess a varied set of powers. Were there any unique Skill Lines or abilities that were especially challenging to animate?
Littlefield: The Warden was one of the smoothest productions I have ever worked on. One challenging aspect of the Warden was finding a way to tell the story of an ability with an instant cast time (less than half a second). We were able to create strong poses for the first 15 frames of the animation, leaving the remaining 2-3 seconds to support the storytelling.
How did you approach creating separate distinguishable effects for each Skill Line for the Warden while preserving a single overall style?
Blaize: We tried to use a similar set of textures and colors across all the Warden abilities, while using unique elements to distinguish the abilities from each other. For example, the mushrooms of Fungal Growth and the cliff racer in Dive use a similar shader and dissolve technique, but also still have their own very different shapes.
Despite being able to perform all the core roles, the Warden's abilities look and feel different from any of ESO's other classes. How did you ensure the effects for the Warden's abilities stood out as recognizably unique?
Blaize: The first step was to choose a unique color profile for the Warden that none of the other classes have. We chose a combination of teal and dark blue. In order to make the Warden's abilities feel more impactful, we often coupled models and animations together, better reflecting the fact that they are conjuring beasts, natural vegetation, or ice.
Finally, is there any aspect of the Warden that you are particularly fond or proud of?
Blaize: I'm particularly happy with the way the Warden looks overall, but if I have to pick a favorite ability effect, I'll say Secluded Grove. It really captures the feel of the Warden's area-targeted nature-based healing magic, and the animations for the character and the trees sync up very nicely.
Littlefield: There are two abilities that are very special to me: the Betty Netch and Feral Guardian from the Animal Companions Skill Line. I love animating pets, and being able to combine the player and the “pet" animations was something I always wanted to do. For both of these abilities, the pet's movement follows the player's cast, creating a visual bond between them.
Wrobel: Well this is cheesy, but I'm most proud of the team that created the Warden. This class had the greatest level of collaboration that I've seen from the team and the fusion between art and gameplay disciplines has led to something amazing. It's also great to see industry veterans accepting and mentoring newer members of the team. I'm proud to see how far we've come, and excited to see where we go from here.
For the first time in 15 years, you can return to the island of Vvardenfell with The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind. Check out the new clip to find out why Elder Scrolls fans are excited to rediscover the home of the Dark Elves.
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