The Targeting Systems of ESO

Since the announcement that The Elder Scrolls Online will use a reticle based real-time combat system, a hotly debated topic of discussion has been how targeting mechanics will function in order to compensate for the limitations of pure first-person shooter style hit detection. Unfortunately, there has been a great degree of misinformation circulating throughout the ESO community regarding how targeting and hit detection are handled, with several gaming news sites reporting different interpretations of this particular system. I reached out to check with the awesome community folks at ZeniMax Online for some clarification, and they helped to describe how these mechanics work in Elder Scrolls Online.

When discussing targeting, its important to realize that this typically refers to the combination of two mechanics; targeting and hit-detection. Firstly, targeting is the actual method of interacting with the world and directing the focus of your player character. We already know that ESO utilizes a third (or first) person control scheme by which the character’s attention is directed using a fixed reticle. Just as in Skyrim, this reticle directs the characters focus when interacting with objects, NPCs, and aiming melee or ranged attacks. After my hands-on session at the press event, I had also announced that ESO included a hard-locking system for maintaining focus on a specific enemy during a crowded encounter. Since this hard-lock is initiated using the [TAB] key, it has been difficult to reconcile varying sources claiming that ESO does, or does not, feature tab-targeting. The phrase “tab-targeting” has become something of a bogeyman within the gaming industry, being used recklessly in discussion as a proxy for a host of flaws with combat systems, hit detection, or even game balance. All tab-targeting conventionally implies is an interface through which the player can cycle through available targets in order of proximity. As part of my inquiry, I asked whether or not ESO features this exact mechanic.

The second crucial facet of targeting implies a strategy of hit-detection, where the game server validates whether or not an attack met its target. There is a tremendous amount of excitement regarding the movement towards FPS style mechanics in MMOs; a type of system which tends to increase immersion and engagement. This innovation comes at a cost, however; while internet infrastructure has improved dramatically since the early years of the MMO genre, latency, variance in connection speed, and geographical separation of players still pose difficult challenges for FPS style hit detection on a massive scale. As a game designed to appeal to a wide audience of both Elder Scrolls enthusiasts and MMO gamers, Elder Scrolls Online cannot practically hope to implement true physics based projectile hit detection for a number of reasons, most important of which is the huge geographic area that will be handled by the Megaserver. The system that TERA has pioneered works with arguable success in the Korean market, a nation the size of Indiana where network infrastructure is roughly homogeneous. The ESO Megaserver will handle the entirety of North America (and possibly Europe as well). This geographic scope would undoubtedly create situations where latency is the primary deciding factor in player success, a situation which ZeniMax Online will certainly wish to avoid.

In what will hopefully clear up much of the confusion regarding the intent for these systems in ESO, I reached out to the development team at ZeniMax Online who graciously ran my questions by Paul Sage and delivered the following response.

What we can tell you right now is that the targeting system is very similar to what you experienced when you visited us for the preview event. Like in Skyrim, your attacks go where your reticle is aimed. So, while we don’t have traditional tab-targeting, we do have a system where if enemies are close together, you can tab to select the one you wish to hit. Think of this more as an aid to aiming, and this can be especially effective for ranged combat.

All targeting is ultimately based on where your reticle is aimed–when you have your reticle aimed at a monster (or group of monsters) you can lock onto a target and even cycle through a group to select the one you want to attack. In the case of monsters that are closely stacked on each other, the one you have ‘selected’ is the one your attacks will hit. If your reticle is clearly on one target but your target-aid is on another target, you will still hit the target your reticle is on. Also, you must be facing your target to hit them.

There’s a bit more to the targeting and aiming system than that (and we’ll go into more detail in the Ask Us Anything and upcoming combat-centric community content), but hopefully that gives you a general idea. As with anything in development, just keep in mind that this is subject to change.

This clarification largely reaffirms my own experience during the preview event, while adding some interesting information that sheds light on how hit detection will likely be handled. Targeting is primarily reticle based, but the “target lock” which can be cycled using the [TAB] key differs from traditional “tab-targeting” in a few key ways. Most importantly, it cycles through available targets which are nearest the position of your reticle, rather than by proximity to the player. Secondly, it can be overruled by the reticle itself if the two targets disagree. My interpretation is that the “hard-lock” serves to mitigate technical limitations in hit detection outlined earlier in this article. Both for enemies in clustered groups and enemies at range, it would be impractical to expect players to precisely pick out their target using the reticle alone. My suspicion is that hit detection will not rely on the physics and trajectory of player guided projectiles, but rather the flight of these missiles will be automated in correspondence with a players locked target.

I hope that this article has clarified the way that targeting mechanics are handled in ESO, I’m eager to hear what the community thinks about the strengths and weaknesses of this system. Do you think that the dual methods of targeting will be sufficient for the MMO environment? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

87 responses to “The Targeting Systems of ESO”

  1. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 460


    @Atropos – thank you so much for getting this info for us … i’m still a bit confused by it, but that is more down to my lack of comprehending game mechanics as well as most folks here do – i shall wait a few days and look at the comments/discussion in response to this article and when i have a clearer view weigh in with my opinion (ie. what happens if you have a ranged mob targeted, you are facing him as in he is within the ‘scan’ angle on the map, but your reticule, due to lag or whatever, is over blank air, not another mob – do you still hit the targeted mob etc?)

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    Total Posts: 214

    Nord Templar

    Good job @Atropos, thank you for information!

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    Total Posts: 55

    Your not [TAB] targeting like “auto aim” your actually “highlighting” which target in a massive mob, but you still have to aim reticle at the mob, if anyone has play game like WH40k, It’s basically like “Independent Character Rule:” where you can specifically target that model, even in group or behind group.

    I’m intrigued and would love to try that first hand.


    Thank you for all of your work bringing this issue to light we will do our best to see that something is done about the issues you are speaking about. We would also like to keep our design philosophy in mind and do not encourage the use of mod’s to gain advantages in pvp putting the work of other players to naught. Thank you for your continued interest and support!
    Warm Regards, The Elder Scrolls Online Team
  4. Member Avatar


    Total Posts: 137

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Messiah Complex

    I don’t mind a [TAB] assisted targetting. It doesn’t set your target no matter where you look, instead it merely allows you to be facing three or four mobs close together and tells the system that “this mob is the one I’m aiming at, even through any lag…”. It doesn’t seem to take away from the game experience for me and should help with latency issues when trying to hit a target through a lag spike.

    Anyone expecting any MMO to be flawless and seamless clearly hasn’t spent enough time in any MMO. EQ, WoW, Rift, TERA (omfg TERA’s lag is uber fail) all had and still have issues with latency that has just as much to do with the ISP as it does with the servers the game is housed on. I like seeing that ESO is trying to help the players out with this.

    Death is not the end… it is a doorway… and I shall lead you through it!

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    m aIq


    Total Posts: 250

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Discover Eventide

    So it seems like projectiles fired while the reticule is on a target will automatically hit, good. While it would be cool to be able to dodge arrows in flight like in TES, server lag and PvP fairness would probably make it catastrophic to playing an archer. It seems like the TAB lock is just designed to prevent any issues with friendlies stepping between an archer and his target.

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    Total Posts: 837

    The system that TERA has pioneered works with arguable success in the Korean market, a nation the size of Indiana where network infrastructure is roughly homogeneous. The ESO Megaserver will handle the entirety of North America (and possibly Europe as well). This geographic scope would undoubtedly create situations where latency is the primary deciding factor in player success, a situation which ZeniMax Online will certainly wish to avoid.

    There were westerners playing korean tera was played by westerners with very high latency, and western tera was launched in both europe and north america. While the game was no success amongst westerners, it wasn’t because of latency. I don’t see why zenimax couldn’t do the same, especially since they are backed up by a really big corporation.

    My suspicion is that hit detection will not rely on the physics and trajectory of player guided projectiles, but rather the flight of these missiles will be automated in correspondence with a players locked target.

    The problem with an automated system like you imply is that you lose part of the reason to have reticle-aiming in the first place, which is that you have to focus on your target, and you also remove the physical dodging you would get in PvP-situations. What benefit is there to reticle-aiming if you no longer aim, and lock targets like you would do in a point-and-click game.


    While tera also had certain spells where you could lock a target (you activated spell, targetted the person with reticle, and then hit spell key again to fire the spell) the majority of spells were aimed.


    The reason why the fps comparison is not great is that the difficulty in fps is hitting targets fast, which is why headshots hurts alot more, targets are small, movement is much quicker and you have the infamous bunnyhopping phenomena. With no bonus to hit specific bodyparts, bigger targets, slower speed and penalizing bunnyhopping (getting hit while jumping causes knockdown) you get back to the core of mmorpg which is using abilities while moving.



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    Total Posts: 2948

    Ebonheart Templar

    Tamriel Foundry Community

    Thank you for this much needed clarification. Now I have something to link to wherever this gastly topic comes up again :)


    In the end, all’s well as long as I don’t have to develop FPS-like aiming skills to succeed in the game.

    Relax, I’m only being serious.

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    Total Posts: 41


    Thanks for sharing @Atropos I like the sound of the system, it makes a reasonable compromise between a true FPS style and MMO lag issues. Every time I learn something new about ESO it makes me more excited for it, and Tamriel Foundry has been brilliant for that. Keep up the good work, this is a great site, great community and sooo much talk and info about ESO!

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    Thorin DarkHeart


    Total Posts: 22


    @ Atropos  Agree, thanks for takingthe time to contact them and let us know. Very much appreciated.

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    Total Posts: 35


    From the sounds of it I’m liking the targeting system. As always though, game play will tell all. I must say that latency is goin to be a critical factor. I am concerned that the”lag” could be problematic.I am however in good spirits that this won’t be a Big factor.

    Out of the darkness a shadow creeps…unhindered and unheard. You  hear nothing. an arrow flies silently toward it’s target, followed by death itself! As you lay diing you shall know that DarkendBlack shall not faulter!

  11. Member Avatar


    Total Posts: 1727


    good job atropos. id still like to have a pseudo hit detection as in GW2. i REALY want to be able to swing my weapon when im not directly targeting something, this was something that was mentioned by numerous articles about the hands on preview.

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    Total Posts: 1641


    I’d love a hitmarker or something as it helps me know I hit my target instead of taking a second to know I can keep firing in the same way. However, the targeting system looks great now. ZOS is really trying to get TES mechanics into ESO and that was something I was worried about.


    Saw someone on FB claim he was leaving because of the targeting system. As the reply to him said “Good, it will give him some time to learn English.” Just thought I’d bring that up :P


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    Umaril the Unfeathered


    Total Posts: 3414

    Altmer Sorcerer

    Excellent work, Atropos!

    I had honestly thought you wouldn’t devote an Article entry to the Targeting System, & instead post on this thread, since the Combat in TESO Article exists.

    You have done an admirable job, though, and as Rial mentioned, this Article will be invaluable to use as back-up in the case that this topic is introduced in another thread on the Forums!

    *Formerly known by the username ”GarlasMalatar”*

    ”What is better? To be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?”Paarthurnax

    ”Shanta, ehlno.  Tyavoy balangua!” ~ Umaril the Unfeathered

    ”Welcome, Nerevar. Together we shall speak for the Law and the Land and shall drive the mongrel dogs of the Empire from Morrowind.” ~ Dagoth Ur

  14. Member Avatar


    Total Posts: 137

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Messiah Complex

    @Shaigh I played TERA hard core up until about two or three months ago. The lag was HORRIBLE!!!! To say that wasn’t the reason for it’s ultimate demise would be a misstatement. There was enough interest from enough players to keep the game running, but it turned in to an issue with major boss fights where you couldn’t dps or dodge attacks because the game servers wouldn’t relay any information in any accurate amount of time. It was beyond bad. And it threw about half of the remaining base away from the game.

    Lag kills MMOs and I think it has to be accounted for.

    Death is not the end… it is a doorway… and I shall lead you through it!

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    Orc Templar

    I had no doubts regarding the targeting system in the first place, personally. And this only solidifies my opinion.

    However, I’m anxious to see how it will work in practice. At least it sounds relatively innovative and fun, to me, to have -both- tab-targeting and crosshair, without removing the validity of crosshair aiming. :)

    ”Pray to Stendarr while you can!”

  16. Member Avatar


    Total Posts: 837

    @Layenem I am going out on a limb and say that you played on Essenia. There was also the infamous UI bug that slowed down the game for many. Or do you refer to the nexus raids that caused lag. If you couldn’t dodge or dps because of HORRIBLE lag, you wouldn’t be able to actively use block in ESO or run away from the target area in any point-and-click game either.


    While I didn’t suffer any of those problems I did suffer aion abyss lag, swtor battleground lag, wow naxx lag during wotlk. TSW environment lag was also a pain, and it made running hard because it wouldnt load fast enough. Used to replace people in vanilla raids because of things like the vaelastraszs freezy and the thaddeus dc because it made the game unplayable.


    Latency is a problem in fps because the winner of battles is the guy who shoots first and hits a vital area. Latency doesn’t cause the same problem in MMO because combat is much slower, but the moment you have visible lag it kills all games.



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    Thanks for the info @Atropos,good job!

    Fus-Ro-Dah *Thalmor soldiers and wizards fly away from Mount Anthor* By:Dovahkiin

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    Total Posts: 453

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Great House Hlaalu

    Thanks for the info Atropos.

    This just gives me more faith in the devs and their ability to mix MMO mechanics with TES mechanics to produce a truly great and revolutionary game.

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    Total Posts: 1608


    I’m glad ZeniMax got back to us, and we have solid evidence of tab targeting. I will certainly be interesting to see how ranged combat pans out.

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    Total Posts: 12

    Altmer Sorcerer

    This sounds similar to the hybrid targeting system that has been implemented in Firefall, which I’ve found to be pretty intuitive. I’m curious to know if it will play out similarly, aside from the obvious mechanical gameplay differences.

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