While ZeniMax Online Studios has followed a set routine for the past several years of The Elder Scrolls Online, this year's post-expansion content is shaking things up.
I recently had the chance to watch two developers from ZeniMax Online Studios play through a run of the Endless Archive, discussing what the team has come up with for this more unusual addition to The Elder Scrolls Online. Overall, I've come away impressed. While the Endless Archive is a far cry from the story-based finales the studio has previously opted for, the nature of this update means it can have a much more substantial, lasting impact.
Plenty to do
Endless Archive is set to coincide with Update 40 for The Elder Scrolls Online, an update that's adding several quality-of-life features for players to take advantage of. Chief among these is the new Group & Activity Finder, which can sort and find like-minded players for almost anything in the game. Several filters can be used, and you can set a password to keep things private.
Players can also take advantage of the Grandmaster Crafting Stations, which will save a huge amount of space in their apartments, requiring far fewer separate stations to be set up. New Antiquities are on the way, as is a new deck of cards for Tales of Tribute, but all of these are unlocked by partaking in the Endless Archive.
For years, the year-long content for The Elder Scrolls Online was set in stone, with a paid story-based DLC capping off events set in motion during the year's big expansion. ZeniMax Online Studios is eschewing that design with Endless Archive, a new activity with roguelike elements that is free for all players. You don't have to buy anything except the base game to play, though Elder Scrolls Online Plus subscribers will get a small amount of extra rewards for playing.
The Endless Archive is physically located in Apocrypha, so players who own The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom can physically walk to the archive. Players who don't own the expansion (or anyone who just doesn't want to walk) can get there by fast traveling through the map.
Lead encounter designer Mike Finnigan tells me that Endless Archive has been in development for "just over a year," although the team has primarily been working on the update for the last eight months "in earnest."
Within the Endless Archive, players hop into the ever-shifting libraries of Hermaeus Mora by themselves or with a friend. In a duo or by themselves, players then go through different randomized Stages, clearing out hordes of foes plucked from throughout the history of The Elder Scrolls Online. Things are balanced around a duo, and nothing is adjusted for solo players. However, solitary adventurers should steel themselves.
Finnigan tells me that after hearing tester feedback, the Stages are being rebalanced so that you'll only have to clear two Stages instead of three before taking on a boss fight, slightly speeding up the process of clearing a Cycle. These boss fights are also random and pull from numerous expansions and locales.
Senior combat designer Rob Garrett tells me there are over 60 possible bosses, and several required unique tuning to get them to work in new arenas than they were initially designed for. This also required a level of collaboration between the different design teams that's never been seen before, but the team is happy with the results.
From time to time, players can also earn Verses, a choice of unique bonuses that might give you extra gold from defeated enemies or extra damage from particular kinds of attacks. Watching the developers carve through Stage after Stage, I'm struck by how well everything seems to flow. There's a great feedback loop at work here, something that should feel even better to play when the number of Stages in a Cycle is slightly reduced.
Special Avatar Verses can also be obtained, granting powerful effects like being turned into a Werewolf Behemoth or other monstrosities. However, I, unfortunately, didn't get to see this in action in the hour or so of gameplay I watched.
You'll also be able to break up the flow of your runs by partaking in side content, such as being temporarily turned into a Watcher to stop an infestation of Tomeshells. These shorter side quests are optional, but completing these includes various long-term rewards and Achievements.
After four Cycles, the fifth boss fight is against Tho’at Replicanum, a special fight for the Endless Archive. Tho'at gains new abilities the further and further in players get, making them a more dangerous fight to take on even as the rewards get higher and higher. Beating Tho'at is the end of an Arc, increasing the difficulty of mobs and bosses fighting in the next Arc. Players only have a limited number of lives as they go through, and when you're out of lives, that's the end of a particular run.
You can power up for future runs, though. Going through Arcs will unlock gear unique to the Endless Archive, but you'll also have Archival Fortunes, a new currency that can be used at special merchants around the entrance to the Endless Archive. Archival Fortunes can be used to purchase permanent unlocks, and anyone subscribed to ESO Plus will get more Archival Fortunes as they go through different runs.
If, for some reason, you don't have time to continue a particular run, you can exit instead of continuing and print your score, resetting everything for a future run.
Not too long to wait
Since I first learned that ZeniMax Online Studios was changing its approach to yearly content this year, I've been curious about what was happening. The flow of combat and feedback loop the team has implemented seems compelling, and it's fantastic to see an update like this be entirely free for all players.
As always, the devil is in the details, but now that I've seen the Endless Archive in action, I'm highly interested and cannot wait to dive in with a friend or even by myself.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Endless Archive will arrive for Windows PC and Mac players on Oct. 30, 2023. Xbox and PlayStation players can explore these infinite corridors starting on Nov. 14, 2023. The base game for The Elder Scrolls Online is included in Xbox Game Pass Core and Xbox Game Pass memberships.
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