Elder Scrolls Online Devs Discuss Update 40’s Endless Archive Infinite Dungeon-like Experience and Its Future

While The Elder Scrolls VI is still at least three-plus years away, Elder Scrolls Online continues to entertain franchise fans thanks to the continuous updates and expansions developed by ZeniMax Online Studios.

Over nine years after the original launch on PC, the game is about to receive its 40th update, which is poised to be particularly meaningful. To begin with, the update includes a new group finder tool that allows players to make a listing for virtually any kind of Elder Scrolls Online activity to find like-minded adventurers. This addition should be particularly useful for players who’d like to set up Trial groups without being in a large guild.

Update 40 also makes experience points and gold rewards consistent across the game’s many quests. Crafters should be pretty happy, too: jewelry crafting and upgrading will finally be cheaper than it has been since jewelry was introduced with the Summerset Chapter. Moreover, the new Grand Master Crafting Stations allow Grand Master Crafters to consolidate all of their attuned crafting stations in a single furnishing item, greatly improving the number of housing slots available for decorations.

However, the star of the show of this update is the Endless Archive. Earlier this year, ZeniMax Online Studios boss Matt Firor revealed that Elder Scrolls Online would move away from the usual quarterly DLC release format, choosing to swap the previous zone DLC scheduled for Q4 with a new system that could benefit the whole game.

The Endless Archive is the first example of this new development philosophy. It is a limitless dungeon-like activity where up to two players will be challenged to go as far as they can through Stages. The encounters will be randomly generated, ensuring no two runs will be identical.

Completing two Stages will pit players against a boss pulled from elsewhere in Elder Scrolls Online (out of a 60+ boss roster), including dungeons and Trials. Should the players be successful, they’ll have completed a Cycle. After four successful Cycles, they’ll have to fight a unique Endless Archive boss to complete an Arc. There’s even optional side content available in the form of the so-called Portals of the Unknown, which are mini-challenges that provide extra rewards.

When they first get to the Endless Archive (which is a base game activity that requires no purchase), players will have three lives, called Threads of Fate, before the activity resets and they’re forced to begin anew. Eventually, permanent buffs can be unlocked that increase the amount of lives available, for instance.

During the activity itself, players will also be able to obtain two powerful types of boons called Verses and Visions. Verses are temporary buffs you can select at the end of each Stage; these only last until the end of the next Stage. Visions, on the other hand, are available at the end of each Cycle and provide a boon that lasts for the whole run.

Endless Archive has leaderboards for the competitive types. The most exciting rewards are the Class Sets, which are completely new to Elder Scrolls Online. These items will drop at the end of an Arc, but they can also be acquired through the Endless Archive’s merchants, provided you’ve got enough of the unique currency called Archival Fortunes.

Following a press presentation, I recently spoke with Lead Encounter Designers Mike Finnigan and Rob Garrett about the Endless Archive and its future in Elder Scrolls Online.

Update 40 is scheduled to launch on October 30th for PC/Mac and November 14th for Xbox and PlayStation consoles.

The Endless Archive reminds me of Elder Scrolls Online’s single player arenas, which allowed players to save progress and come back at a later time. Is it possible here?

Mike Finnigan: No. Part of it has to do with it being two-player content saving. Even the four player arenas that we did, Dragonstar and Blackrose Prison, you can’t save your progress on those. It’s kind of a similar thing here. We would, if we were to have saving here, have to implement quite a few ways to counteract a couple of different exploits. But there’s also structurally why it’s set up this way.

Rob Garrett: While you cannot actually save for another play, you can safely go back to the Index and it will not reset. Even if you, for whatever reason, disconnected from Elder Scrolls Online or had to step out of the instance, you do have something like five minutes to come back in, and you won’t lose your progress. There’s also no time component here, so there’s no detriment to that even if you are going for a leaderboard run.

Did you have any discussion within the Elder Scrolls Online team on the possibility of eventually allowing saving for Endless Archive?  

Mike Finnigan: Potentially. For this first iteration, we’re not going to have it. It is one of those things that we talk about with the Endless Archive. We built the system from the ground up to be able to be adjusted and pushed and pulled and enhanced as we go along. This is not like a fire and forget, this is done, we’re not going to ever change it again type of content.

So, absolutely, there’s the potential to do that kind of thing in the future. But we’d have to explore how to do that in a way that makes sense and feels right for players and doesn’t put them at a severe disadvantage.

How many Verses and Visions are available at launch?

Mike Finnigan: There are 40+. We have the opportunity to add more in the future. That’s kind of why the system is built the way it is.

Let’s say you are playing with a companion instead of a friend. Do you also get to choose Verses for the companion?

Mike Finnigan: The Visions will carry over to the companion. A lot of the verses have active components that companions wouldn’t be able to do, like requiring to interact with this or stand in place and stuff like that, and companions wouldn’t be able to do that.

Now, anything that we have that says ‘while you’re standing in this area, you get a damage shield’ or something like that, that applies to companions very much so they could still gain the benefit of some of your Verses, but you won’t get to choose their own Verses.

Do you have separate leaderboards for single player and single player plus companion?

Mike Finnigan: You can bring a companion in here. If you do, you will be on the duo leaderboard. It is advantageous to bring a companion in terms of progression, but almost surely if you really want to get to a higher spot on the leaderboard, you’re probably gonna want to bring another player.

If leaderboards aren’t a super huge concern for you, you can absolutely bring your companion in here and see how far you can get.

People in the community think the Endless Archive would be the perfect place to introduce Gold companion gear to Elder Scrolls Online.

Mike Finnigan: That’s not a bad idea. There is some companion gear available through the Endless Archive merchants, but it’s not Gold. That doesn’t mean it’s out of the realm of possibilities, though.

Was it a challenge to implement class sets as the main rewards for Endless Archive? As far as I’m aware, this is the first time you have added class-specific gear to Elder Scrolls Online.

Rob Garrett: We’ve been actually noodling on the idea for a while, but we decided to pull the trigger here with Endless Archive. Each class set kind of hones in on a specific skill line for that class.

Does it make balancing a bit tougher than usual?

Rob Garrett: Well, to some degree. With all of our item sets, we have to take balance considerations for both PvE and PvP. One of the things that sort of self-balances the system is that you can only wear so many items at a time, so when you put on an item set, it means that there’s a whole bunch of other item sets that you couldn’t put on in that slot.

That’s one of the gauges we use when we’re doing this. We have power budgets that we assign to item sets and we try to keep them all within that range.

One of the interesting questions we came across was whether we should even allow a class to wear a set that’s from another class and just not get the benefit.

Some in the Elder Scrolls Online community feel that the class sets, supposed to be the most exciting reward from Endless Archive, are not very powerful. Are they going to be buffed a bit before the patch goes live, or do you feel differently?

Rob Garrett: I’m actually not sure what additional changes we have slated at this point that we’ve 100% locked in on. But we’re treating the item sets like we would essentially any of our other item sets, which is we take our best stab at it with internal testing, then we look at the testing coming out of PTS and the feedback coming in there, and we make adjustments. Then once it gets to live, there’s a much larger number of players that are playing around with it, so we see how they respond to it.

We also have telemetry data as well where we can see how many people are actually using this thing, where are they using it, and how successful are they when using it. We’ll be taking largely the same approach with class sets as we do with our other ones.

Most of the difference comes in the upfront part when we’re designing the sets because, as I mentioned earlier, the approach we’ve taken is to look at a specific skill line within a class and then try to build something that makes sense thematically and mechanically to tie it into that skill line.

We’ve definitely seen feedback. I know we’ve already made a number of adjustments and there are usually balance changes with almost every PTS cycle. There likely will be more changes coming, but I can’t really comment at this point on what the severity of those things would be.

But did you design them to be on par with, say, the latest Trial sets, or are they supposed to be a bit less powerful?

Rob Garrett: Well, it also depends on the context in which you’re using them, right? When we make Trial sets, we often build the behaviors to be things that you would want in a Trial setting.

This is pretty unique because Endless Archive is its own thing, there isn’t anything else like it in Elder Scrolls Online. So we tried to build things that were just generally useful.

As far as balance, we’re not a vertical progression game. We’re not trying to up the power cap every update. We’re trying to keep it relatively similar with every update. The different items are supposed to be more about how you want to express yourself within that sort of power limit. It’s more about what you want your play style to be like.

As you mentioned, Endless Archive is pretty unique since it’s the only 2-player content in Elder Scrolls Online. How did you settle on this party size?

Mike Finnigan: We settled on two players because it’s been a feature that’s been requested by a lot of players. Ever since the Maelstrom arena came out, people were like ‘I’d really love to do this with a friend of mine’. We heard that feedback and we thought that this was the perfect opportunity to do that, one of the caveats being that you still also have to be able to do this solo.

We went into it with that kind of duo thought in mind, getting the tools and the backend support in order to make duo work was of prime importance to this. But honestly, it all stemmed from the years of feedback that we’ve heard players saying they would really love to have dedicated duo content.

Some players are wondering if it’d be possible to make it work for a full group of four.

Mike Finnigan: We haven’t had any talks about that currently. Because of how Endless Archive is built and works, I’m not sure this would be the greatest mechanism for a group type. In other words, I’m not sure adjusting Endless Archive in order to fit a four player group would work as well as maybe crafting an experience that would be specifically designed for four players.

But we could take a look. I think this will come down to player sentiment and player playing and seeing how players tackle the challenges in Endless Archive. Because much like this was built off of player feedback of two players, if there is a lot of player feedback along the lines of ‘This is really fun, I would love to be able to experience it with four players’, then it would be something that we could take a look at and evaluate.

Do you think, at some point, you might be able to allow Elder Scrolls Online players to select a specific boss? That could be a way for them to train against this boss before going into a Veteran dungeon or Trial.

Mike Finnigan: It’s not a bad suggestion. I don’t know that we would do it in the Endless Archive, but we’ve seen that suggestion specifically for what you talked about, that it would be really cool to be able to train on dungeon or trial bosses before you actually see them.

But we have no plans for that now, and in here, it would be quite a big leap to be able to adjust that. But again, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. Like I said, we built this to allow for potentially different variations in the future.

Thank you for your time.

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