Exploring Ether Saga Online

Recently we had the opportunity to talk with our friends from Perfect World International about their upcoming MMO, "Ether Saga Online".

Recently we had the opportunity to talk with our friends from Perfect World International about their upcoming MMO, "Ether Saga Online". In our interview with Product Manager, Craig Beers, we get the inside scoop and discover what ESO is all about.

ZAM: It's our pleasure to be talking with Craig Beers today about Ether Saga Online. How is beta going?

Craig Beers:
Our closed beta went great. The game has been stable for quite some time with very few gameplay bugs, so we were able to focus on localization and polish. We're happy we were able to spend so much time with this since there's a very large amount of quests and dialogue in the game.

We've launched into our open beta, which is going very well. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

ZAM: Could you kick things off by telling us about the game? I'd definitely like to know some back story and hear about some of the key features.

Craig: Ether Saga Online is a free-to-play MMO. Our gameplay is very story-driven with lots of quests and it has a bright, anime art style. The story is based off the Chinese literary classic, Journey to the West.

Two of the features we're most excited about are the pet and the transformation systems. Ether Saga Online is unlike most MMOs in that every class has a pet. In fact, the pet system is tightly integrated into the gameplay and is an essential tool for players. You will start with a pet at level 1, and can obtain new pets throughout the game. Players will see a Pokemon-like aspect where they are encouraged to capture or trade for new pets.

Our transformation system allows players to adopt a monster's appearance and gain new attributes and abilities. This is important because there is a paper-rock-scissors advantage system between the nine monster types in the game. When fighting a tough mob, you can transform into a monster type that the mob is weak against. This advantage system also applies to pets - you'll want to summon a pet which has an advantage over what you are fighting.

Some other unique features include an auto-route system with smart path-finding as well as mounted combat.

ZAM: What is the most important thing you've learned from beta so far?

Craig: I'd have to say being careful not to over-localize the game. What I mean is that there is a certain charm to the game due to its Chinese story origins. We initially recorded voices so that the NPCs would speak English instead of Chinese. However, when we put them in the game, there was a negative response from the closed beta testers. They felt that the Chinese voices fit the atmosphere better. Ever since, we've been careful to preserve the Chinese atmosphere while still making it appropriate for the Western audience.

The game boasts a unique leveling system. Can you go into that?

Ether Saga Online departs from the trend of having skill trees for characters. Skill trees have pros and cons. It's fun to look at the many skills you could get and theorycraft on which would be the optimal build. The downside to skill trees is that they rarely ever work as intended. It usually turns out that one or two builds are what everyone gets, not the broad spectrum of customized characters as you'd hope. Any deviation leads to a weaker character. And switching between builds to adapt to situations is either not possible or very expensive.

ESO is different in that we have categories of skills. The first are your class skills. Class skills are unlocked at certain levels and can be purchased using spirit points, which are obtained from killing monsters. A character that plays the game normally (no extra grinding required) will be able to purchase all of the skills and ranks available each level.

The ability to customize characters comes from the other skill categories. Ethyr skills are acquired from doing quests in the game. There are both class-specific ethyr skills and common ethyr skills that are available to all classes. Ethyr skills are similar to tactics in Warhammer Online - you can swap them in your available skills whenever you need them. You can equip 4 ethyr skills at any given time. Other skills are obtained through activities, such as clan skills and pet fuse skills. Nascent skills are awarded based on your character's birthday.

The result is a system that is very flexible for all players. Casual players can play the game with the base skills and not be overwhelmed with too many options. More experienced MMO players will seek out the ethyr skills to make their characters stronger and more versatile.

It sounds like players will have a unique experience leveling up. What about after they're at the max level? What does the end game look like in Ether Saga Online?

We have a wide variety of content that will appeal to a variety of players. First, players may get engaged in the pet system: trying to capture them all and melding them together to make a very powerful pet with increased stats. Other players will be interested in crafting and embedding & imbuing their gear to get the best equipment in the game.

The keep players interested, we have two end game instances already along with daily quests. We also have daily, weekly, and holiday events that run automatically in-game. We will also be running manual events both in and out of game.

And last of all, we're already prepared to lift the level cap when necessary. We have zones and quests ready to be released. We will not be caught with our pants down when players start asking for new content.

ZAM: How does the Integrated Quest/Navigation system differentiate from World of Warcraft with navigation mods? What can players expect that will be truly unique?

Craig: Our quest and navigation systems are tied together into the game's framework. For starters, players aren't going to need to download a mod patch. In ESO, players go into the quest menu, select the highlighted green text of the quest they're reading and off they go! Our navigation system has smart path-finding so players won't get stuck running into a tree.

However, the auto-route system will not avoid monsters. If you click to auto-route and go make a sandwich, don't be surprised to come back to a corpse. Its function is to take some of the monotony out of gameplay by not forcing a player to hold down the W key while avoiding obstacles, and it takes the guesswork out of finding that elusive quest ender or mob to kill.

ZAM: Let's move back to the end game. One of the games more prominent features is a skills system for Clans. What will that entail?

Craig: A clan holds up to 15 members, and clan members can take special quests not available to other players. Members of clans will also receive four clan skills. Three of these are buffs you can cast to increase your health, mana and stats. The fourth one is a passive skill that will share extra experience with everyone in your guild. Skills can level up based on usage and contributions from members.

ZAM: In the same vein, your Alliance System sounds extremely unique but potentially resource intensive. Can you explain how this system works?

Craig: Clans can unite to create Alliances. There are alliance quests you can undertake with fellow members. However, its main benefit is protection and coordination. In the near future, we will be releasing PVP battles for hundreds of players, so alliances will be necessary to organize attacks.

With so many people in a graphically intensive world. How do you expect the average players PC to run when trying to utilize the Alliance system feature?

Craig: The large battles have not been released yet, so we haven't published minimum specs for these. We are will stress test them when they are ready. The goal is for average PCs to run the large battles with a good frame rate. We should be able to achieve that goal since the battlefields are so large and encourages players to not clump together. 

ZAM: Is there anything I haven't mentioned that you'd like to touch on?

Craig: I'd like to just reiterate how accessible this game is for all players. The anime style is attractive for a wide audience of players. It's easy for anyone - teens, women and adults - to pick up and play. However, I want to stress that it's not a casual game - there are many deep engaging features and instances for experienced MMO players.

The game is free to download and free to play. There's no reason to not try it out!

ZAM: We'll we're certainly looking forward to seeing how the game looks at launch. Thanks for your time and good luck.


Andrew "Tamat" Beegle


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