Combat in The Elder Scrolls Online

Combat in ESO features a simple and intuitive control scheme that relies heavily on situational responsiveness and an action combat system to keep the game from becoming overly predictable or repetitive. Perhaps the most significant contribution of this system to the MMO genre comes through the adoption of the fundamental action combat system that has been featured in the most recent single player TES games. This installment of our Hands-On With The Elder Scrolls Online series goes into elaborate detail regarding the control system, combat abilities, and group synergy employed in The Elder Scrolls Online.

A standard feature of many MMOs is requiring players to spend a majority of their time toggling mouselook, while occasionally utilizing the mouse pointer only for specific interactions. ESO evolves the genre by integrating mouselook navigation by default, using a simple reticle for both targeting and interacting with the world around you. Facing towards an enemy engages a soft targeting system, which highlights the target’s profile with a red outline. Alternatively, the player can hard lock onto a specific target in order to focus their attacks on a critical foe. Fans who has played Skyrim on the PC will be immediately familiar with the basics of combat. Left clicking activates your basic melee attack, while holding the left mouse button charges a power attack. Power attacks do not cost Stamina to use, however they are slower to execute. Additionally, they feature some context sensitive elements, inflicting additional effects depending on your target’s state. Holding the right mouse button engages active blocking, slowly draining stamina in order to intercept enemy attacks with a weapon or shield. While in active block mode, the player can shield (or weapon) bash by left clicking to interrupt enemy spell casting or to break free of crowd control effects. Interaction with the world and its many objects is equally simple and familiar. As in Skyrim, E is the default interact key, enabling the player to loot, communicate with NPCs, and open doors or containers. Stealth also works in a very similar way. Pressing C initiates sneak mode, allowing players with sufficient skill to bypass nearby enemies. Similarly to blocking, sneak slowly drains the player’s stamina while engaged. The five hotbar abilities offer an additional dimension of tactical flexibility in combat and are not restricted by an artificial cooldown. By abolishing cooldown contingent combat, ZeniMax has done away with a “rotation” based system in which there is an optimal way to complete each encounter. Instead, ESO features a combat system with heavy emphasis on situational responses to enemy actions where careful management of your combat resources (Stamina and Magicka) is key to victory.

Groups of enemies in ESO are designed to be “more than just speed bumps”, requiring players to be attentive or risk becoming overwhelmed. By properly reacting to enemy attacks, the player can generate opportunities for debilitating counter-attacks and crowd control. Blocking an enemy’s power attack will stagger the foe for a brief time. If a successful block is followed by a heavy weapon attack before the stagger expires, the opponent is knocked sprawling. Similarly, if an enemy spellcaster is bashed while channeling a spell they suffer a short stun affording the player time with which to freely attack the incapacitated mage. Enemies frequently deploy deadly area of effect attacks. The player is forewarned of such hazards by a red ground outline depicting the impending attack’s area of effect. Players who avoid these dangers continue to move and attack freely, while those who react slowly are frequently staggered or otherwise debilitated in addition to suffering the raw damage of the attack itself.

By correctly handling each of these challenges in combat, the player accumulates “finesse”, a combat resource which provides several key benefits. The amount of finesse acquired during an encounter increases the rewards from the fight’s completion. A basic level of finesse grants a minor experience bonus, but finesse rewards increase proportionally to the complexity of the fight. By flawlessly completing an encounter against a group of foes, players earn additional gold or valuable magical loot. In addition to these direct rewards for tactical acumen, the accumulation of finesse fills a resource meter which, when full, can be spent to activate a powerful “ultimate” ability. The player’s choice in ultimate abilities ranges from deadly attacks, to powerful summons, or amazing defensive feats of resilience. Additionally, the finesse cost of each ultimate ranges widely. You could choose a low cost and effective ability that can be frequently relied upon, or you could gamble by slotting something more dramatic which will require substantially more finesse to activate.

A key part of character advancement and differentiation in ESO stems from your character’s ability to use any armor and weapon combination which you desire. This allows for characters of the same basic class to embark on completely different routes of growth. As you achieve combat success using a particular type of weapon, you gain experience in the associated weapon tree. As your weapon expertise grows this unlocks alternative light and heavy attacks, as well as upgrading to improved ranks of existing abilities. In addition to the two mouse attack abilities which are conditional on your current weapon type, the player can choose five class specific combat abilities which range from spells to melee attacks to helpful utility skills. Just as you accumulate expertise in a weapon type, these combat skills can also rank up as the player uses them successfully. Your five class skills seem designed to supplement, rather than replace, normal weapon attacks.

As mentioned before, your skills are not restricted by a cooldown timer, but they do cost Stamina or Magicka to activate. Combat becomes more tactical because the player must manage when best to use their arsenal of hotbar skills. By unloading many abilities early in a fight, you can render yourself incapable of responding to dangers as a battle wears on. Lastly, each player has a potion quickslot allowing them to quickly drink a potion mid-fight. Potion usage does feature a cooldown, preventing the chain-chugging of beneficial potions. For players that seek an extra edge in combat, there are certain potions and foods which provide longer term benefits that can be consumed preemptively to assist with tough encounters.

Tactical responsiveness in combat also extends to group play. The Elder Scrolls Online incorporates a system of synergy abilities which allow multiple players to complement each other on the battlefield. Unfortunately for aspiring adventurers, many social enemies throughout Tamriel are also capable of employing group synergy against the player. Nick Konkle, Gameplay Lead at ZeniMax Online demonstrated many of these abilities in a live demo of Crypt of Hearts, an incredibly atmospheric instanced dungeon. Melee classes can drop an oil slick which on its own acts as a field of crowd control, but spellcasters can further exploit this ability by setting the field ablaze with a destruction spell, dealing massive fire damage to any enemies engulfed by the flames. Conversely, a Sorcerer can deploy an AoE lightning field which strikes nearby enemies for electrical damage. When entering a friendly Lightning Splash, a Dragonknight is presented a screen prompt to use the synergy ability called Conduit, which channels the lightning through his weapon dealing additional damage to nearby foes. Synergy abilities can produce defensive complementarities as well. The Dragonknight has an ultimate ability Chosen Ground which plants a standard which emanates an aura granting the Dragonknight dramatically increased defensive resilience for a short time. A nearby ally can leverage this opportunity and activate United We Stand, allowing him or her to share the standard’s defensive benefit. Certain enemy types have unique synergies which are equally dangerous. Dwemer constructs have the ability to become “overcharged”, granting increased damage, speed, and an explosive AoE on death. Dwemer Spiders will deploy as a charging turret, generating an electrical field which nearby Dwemer constructs will enter in order to get charged. Supercharged constructs illuminate beautiful blue runes covering their frames that warn of their enhanced state. A Dwemer Centurion which is allowed to overcharge becomes a frightening foe, indeed.

Collectively, these features overlap to prevent combat in ESO from becoming routine or repetitive. Success in combat relies on dynamically responding to the actions of friends and enemies alike, while managing your resources of Stamina, Magicka, and Finesse. Additionally, the action style control system will both excite MMO veterans as well as relieve many concerned Elder Scrolls fans. For a more thorough breakdown of combat in my own hands-on experience be sure to check the next article in this series, Gameplay Impressions of The Elder Scrolls Online. Alternatively, head back to Hands-On With The Elder Scrolls Online homepage.

114 responses to “Combat in The Elder Scrolls Online”

  1. Profile Photo
    Union

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    Altmer Sorcerer

    This is a terrific write-up, Atropos. I’m most interested in how the combat shakes out in this game. It all sounds pretty interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing it in action.

  2. Profile Photo
    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Thanks @Union, I was pretty excited to share this. I can’t wait for the community to get their hands on the game, once you play the combat system you really start to believe in it and how the game feels. It definitely left me wanting more.

    It’s good to see you, feel free to stop by more often!

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    Blade

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    Bosmer

    I suggest you read the article. The combat is far from WoW’s 100’s of hotkeys, and takes an action combat approach, while still needed to play strategically and tactically.

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    Lordshayne

    Grandmaster

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    Breton

    Well, overall, the combat looks terrible to my eyesight. So, I already love it. When something looks terrible, it means I’ll be forced to adapt. When I’m forced to adapt, I’m challenged. When I’m challenged, I’m having fun. Looks like ESO won’t disappoint. So far, anyway.

     

     

     

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Alright, well…here’s to it being….terrible? I guess? ;)

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Heh, no. It’s not a decimal in the traditional sense. It’s just a way to note the three-tiered hierarchy of comments we have here on the site.

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    I agree, while a lot of the familiar MMO mechanics are there, the game plays in a new way which I believe people are going to find very refreshing. Its definitely not a reinvention of the wheel, but its more of an evolution of what we are used to expecting from MMOs.

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    ella101

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    Breton

    Would it be a terrible question if I asked if … you will be able to use a controller to play, like to now on my PC?

     

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Not a terrible question, although the MMO gamer in me is unnerved by the idea ;)

    TESO actually has a combat system that could feasibly be managed using a gamepad controller. I can’t confirm that a USB controller will be a viable mechanism for the game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were doable. I don’t think it would be that much of a stretch.

    Of course, you would want to have a mouse/keyboard on hand for certain UI functions and communication with other players.

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    I feel like either you didn’t read the article, or you are pretty unfamiliar with what would constitute a “typical MMO”. This is a style of combat system that is very new to the genre.

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    Union

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    Altmer Sorcerer

    Thanks for the welcome. I’ll continue to follow with interest. Great work on the site!

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Don’t let the door of bitter irrational tears hit you on the way out. I think I’ll leave this comment up as an example of ignorance in its purest form.

    Regardless, why would you be posting this on a fan site? If you are pissed off at ZeniMax, it makes no sense, but fine. I guess I don’t understand what you hope to achieve with your /ragequit letter on a fansite for TESO?

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    As someone that played a fair amount of GW2, I can say the combat felt very different in TESO. I felt like GW2 was very much a “cooldown management” game, when to swap weapons b/c one set of abilities was on CD, when to use your skills, and how to rotate everything together.

    TESO doesn’t really feel like this, because you are more playing the enemy than playing your hotbar.

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    Leafscynet

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    Total Posts: 1

    Dunmer

    Good. Just how I like it.

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    No, I didn’t have any trouble with this. I imagine some of the other reviewers didn’t discover how to use the hard-lock targetting system. When you are fighting a group of enemies you can sort of “lock on” to a particular opponent, so if they are all clustered together your spells and abilities will hit that specific target.

    I can see how if you were just attempting to soft-lock on a particular target in a cluster of melee it might be tough to pick out a specific mob.

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    This is actually pretty well documented. Every class can use every weapon type and every armor type. You can build your character to use whatever kind of equipment set you desire.

    Your class choice grants you your “deck” of class abilities, from which you choose your hotbar set of 5 active abilities, and 1 “ultimate” ability. Their goal is to give classes a wide enough array of available abilities that you can fully tailor your gameplay experience to the exact type of character you want to play.

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    I’m afraid I’ve had to start rejecting a number of comments. Let’s please try to keep the discussion focused on The Elder Scrolls Online and the news from today rather than getting sidetracked into a debate regarding the merits (or lack thereof) of other games!

    If you want to relate what ZeniMax Online is doing to what Blizzard, ArenaNet, or others have done that’s fine, but please keep it civil and constructive.

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    Blade

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    Bosmer

    I’m under the impression you haven’t read a single bit of these articles, or anything else that has released from Zenimax Online. Also worth noting, the next ES game with the possibility of playing Co-OP could still be in the works, considering Bethesda develops the single players, and Zenimax Online is developing ESO.

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    It’s certainly not too much to ask, but unfortunately I don’t have such a video to offer. The ZeniMax team is going to be ramping up PR for the game in a big way, starting with this preview event.

    The entire fan community is going to get to enjoy a lot of in depth media and videos soon, I’m sure of it. Just hang in there a little longer!

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

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  20. Profile Photo
    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    After getting a little taste of the game, I’m right there with you. 5 hours played and I’m already a junkie needing my next fix. Where’s beta!

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

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