Elder Scrolls Online devs on creating the first new class in four years and expanding the iconic Morrowind map

Elder Scrolls Online
(Image credit: ZeniMax Online)

The Elder Scrolls Online is now in its ninth year and yet its new Necrom update is one of the biggest we've seen in some time. The latest slice of new content adds the MMO's first new class in four years, for example, as well as two new zones expanding on the iconic Morrowind map from way back in 2002.

Just in time for the big Necrom update, we sat down for a chat with ESO zone lead Thomas Murphy, and combat lead Brian Wheeler about how ZeniMax Online approaches shaking things up at this late stage in the game. The new Arcanist class, with its unique Crux mechanic, is inevitably going to add new twists and turns to the PvE and PvP meta, and emerging threats lurking from within the new Telvanni Peninsula and Apocrypha are sure to keep new and experienced players on their toes.

More than Morrowind

According to Murphy, the new zones offer a mix of fresh and familiar. Some if it's instantly recognizable, sure to put a smile on the face of longtime Elder Scrolls Fans, while other areas are built from whole cloth designed to give Bethesda historians a ton of new information to pore over.

"When it came to defining what Apocrypha would be like in ESO, the team really outdid themselves," Murphy says. "We sat down and analyzed the brief glimpses of Hermaeus Mora's realm as shown in Skyrim, and identified the visual themes we knew we had to include – the writhing ichor seas, the otherworldly emerald skies – but we also we were going to go beyond these touchstones."

"We created a landmass, an ecosystem – or what passes for one in Oblivion – that took all the themes of Skyrim’s depiction and amplified them. We then went beyond what we saw in Skyrim and created an entirely new environment –which we call Chroma Incognito – it maintains the themes of Apocrypha while giving players an entirely new biome to explore."

Elder Scrolls Online

(Image credit: ZeniMax Online)

This balancing act of paying tribute to established Bethesda Game Studios lore while evolving as a nearly 10-year-old MMO applies to the enemies in Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom. You'll find ESO's distinct take on familiar baddies like Seekers and Lurkers, but there are all sorts of wicked things no one's ever faced before.

"Hushed, which are the result of mortals who have lingered too long in Apocrypha outside of Hermaeus Mora's protection," Murphy says. "Their minds and flesh have become warped by strange magic to the point where they are unrecognizable and seem to wish death on all they come across. They may look humble, but don’t be fooled by appearances!"

And then there's the nightmare-inducing Mind Terror. Murphy adds: "These scuttling monstrosities wander both Apocrypha and the Telvanni Peninsula with the goal of inflicting torment, suffering and mental anguish on their foes. They are nightmares made flesh. As to their purpose – all I’ll say here is that their masters have arrayed themselves against Hermaeus Mora. You’ll fight many of these horrors while on Necrom’s main quest!"

"A whole new beast"

"You won’t need to spend too much time building up, or worse, not being able to use it in a fight. This keeps the usage of Crux points easy to maintain and fun to engage in."

With the Arcanist class, ZeniMax Online aimed to make something completely new, both from gameplay and thematic perspectives. With the "cosmic horror" vibe attached to the new chapter, a dark magic-wielding mage with tentacle powers certainly fits the bill. 

From a gameplay perspective, the new class brings 15 new abilities and passives along with the new class-unique Crux toolkit: essentially a D&D-like combo system where you can save up points and spend them to adapt your magic on the fly. I asked how the new abilities and system will invariably affect ESO's finetuned meta.

"We had a lot of mechanics to consider, and boiled it down to 'combo points' in the end," says Wheeler. "This even had lots of options to consider like how many points, whether abilities were hard gated, or augmented. We went with the final version of Crux because it blended with ESO’s combat cadence very well." 

"Our combat is fast-paced and having three crux at maximum allows you to build up quickly and utilize their effects in combat effectively. You won’t need to spend too much time building up, or worse, not being able to use it in a fight. This keeps the usage of Crux points easy to maintain and fun to engage in."

"The Arcanist's Herald of the Tome damage skill line and its Unblinking Eye AoE Ultimate attack sound like a brutal combination in PvP, but Wheeler insists the team strived for "a balanced approach of design on the entire Arcanist package."

 "Of course damage in PVP is the star for many people but personally I always enjoy the denial aspect of PVP so I can see my Arcanist being focused heavily on their shielding and healing capabilities. That’s the beauty of the Arcanist we’ve seen in our testing and there’s already builds out there from content creators for PVE and PVP."

(Image credit: ZeniMax Online)

Personally, I'm most interested to see how the Arcanist's Apocryphal Gates portal system can be used to dodge attacks, quickly escape from a dicey combat scenario, or give allies a chance to escape danger.

To this end, Wheeler adds: "Initially when concepting abilities, we throw a lot of crazy ideas at the wall. There were lots and lots of prototype abilities created and play-tested weekly.  One of the prototypes earlier on was a 'portal gun'. At first they were a bit over the top and people were just using portals everywhere with no restrictions, which literally broke everything so we had to change it. The version of Apocryphal gates we have in Necrom now are a lot more restrictive, but serve the same purpose."

All of this and more is now available in Elder Scrolls Online's Necrom update, which just launched on consoles following a limited run in PC exclusivity.

Elder Scrolls Online's consistently robust content updates make it one of the best MMOs out there.

Jordan Gerblick

After scoring a degree in English from ASU, I worked as a copy editor while freelancing for places like SFX Magazine, Screen Rant, Game Revolution, and MMORPG on the side. Now, as GamesRadar's west coast Staff Writer, I'm responsible for managing the site's western regional executive branch, AKA my apartment, and writing about whatever horror game I'm too afraid to finish.