The Elder Scrolls Online offers players a vast array of character development options in a truly unique system that breaks the molds both MMO veterans and TES fans are familiar with. Considering that classes do little to determine your role, and that the vast majority of in-game skills are shared between the four classes, it comes as no surprise that this subject has more popular misconceptions surrounding it than almost any other I’ve followed. My goal here is to provide not just the features that make up the build, but also a cursory insight into how the process of designing it will most likely work. Note that a lot of the basic information I use here is available in our Development FAQ, an excellent resource on Tamriel Foundry where we have compiled a sourced list of as many of the confirmed features we have found that we can.
First, we need to discuss the concept of a build. A build is the combination of every resource you have available to you in combat without switching gear or specs. In a standard MMO, you have a limited number of skill points to distribute, and your allocation of these determines your build. In ESO, however, this is not the case. In addition to gaining skill points through leveling up, ZOS has included ‘skyshards’. These are nodes scattered around the world for explorers to find, and every third found will reward the player with a skillpoint. Through these, it will be possible for a player to unlock every ability and passive available to their character at the same time; thus, ESO is essentially a deck-building game – you have access to a large set of resources at any given time, but you have to choose a limited amount to be active at any given time.
Each choice comes with a give and take, which is necessary for the sake of balance – otherwise we’d have players creating unkillable walking gods, and nobody wants that. Understanding what a choice in your build gets you is just as important as understanding what that choice costs you. Because of this, it’s simply a fact that not all builds will be created equal. Some will be strong, some will be weak, and some will be completely awful.
Creating your build can be a very fun process for those who enjoy such things, and I’m here to guide you through the basics. In The Elder Scrolls Online, builds are essentially composed of your abilities, weapons, armor, attributes, and passives.
These are your attacks that go beyond the simple left-click weapon attacks, and despite what certain highly-publicized beta leaks may lead you to believe, they do exist if you possess the mental acuity to drag them onto your action bar. Unlike your basic weapon attacks, these will consume either Magicka or Stamina depending on their source. Most active abilities on ESO are focused on providing some sort of utility in addition to damage, and will be used largely situationally or in combinations, rather than spammed.
Your class provides you with three class-specific skill trees from which some of these abilities may be purchased, if you so choose. Currently we can speculate that the Dragonknight is the typical warrior archetype, as it is the only class we’ve seen with a tanking tree. Note the term class-specific, as the other classes will be able to create builds allowing them to tank as well, they’ll just have a smaller pool of tanking-oriented abilities to choose from when doing so. Similarly, the Templar takes on the role of the cleric, giving players an additional class-specific healing tree to choose from. The Sorcerer and Nightblade are presumably the caster and thief archetypes, but we can’t really speculate as to what sets them apart on a mechanical level until we know what the Nightblade trees are.
Your class abilities are spells that consume magicka; stamina consuming attacks will be purchased from the physical weapon skill trees you decide to advance. In addition to class and weapon active abilities, these will also be obtainable through skill trees associated with the Mages and Fighters Guilds. Racial skill lines are also included, and may or may not provide players with active abilities. Further, we can also speculate that Vampirism and Lycanthropy, both of which are confirmed features, will most likely include skill lines providing active abilities as well.
Adding another level of complexity, active abilities are able to be ‘morphed’ into different forms after you’ve leveled them enough. Some types of morphs I expect to see are single target spells being turned into AoE spells, DoT/HoT affects added onto what were originally burst attacks/heals, and maybe some melee attacks becoming ranged. It’s hard to say what we’ll end up seeing for sure, but I’m sure we can expect it to add even more fun and diversity to the build-designing process.
Every class in the Elder Scrolls Online has the ability to wield every type of weapon. Currently, these weapon types are one-handed and shield, dual wield, two-handed, bow, destruction staff, and restoration staff. While there is no line specifically for weapon types such as swords or axes, it is likely that we will see individual passives related to them as we did in Skyrim, or passives that provide different effects based on which weapon type you have equipped.
After progressing with the weapon for a bit, players will be able to unlock weapon-specific abilities to place on their action bar. For example, after progressing with the Destruction Staff, you may find yourself unlocking the ‘Super Pwn Spell of Destructiony Awesomesauce’, a powerful AoE blast capable of smiting even the deadliest of mudcrabs in a glorious blaze of large numbers. This will be placed on your action bar with your other skills, and consume magicka (in this example). As a weapon ability, you will only be able to use this skill when you have a Destruction Staff equipped.
After a certain level, you will have access to two weapon sets that you will be able to quick swap between in combat using the ~ key; in addition to changing your equipped weapon, this will also swap your action bar to a separate ability loadout. This system will increase the number of effective ability slots in your build to ten by allowing you to quickly switch bars, and prevent you from being discouraged from slotting weapon specific abilities that you couldn’t use if you swapped to another weapon.
Each armor type in ESO provides the wearer with bonuses towards a specific area of character development. In general terms, light armor increases spell casting ability, medium armor increases physical attack and stealth capability, and heavy armor provides bonuses towards your defensive prowess. For the most part, these bonuses will be conferred through the passive system detailed further below.
There are seven armor slots available to you – head, shoulders, chest, hands, waist, legs, and boots. There are also rings and amulets, but they are not associated with any specific armor type.
In true RPG fashion, each time a player levels up they will be given one attribute point to increase either their Magicka, Stamina, or Health. If these sound like they coincide with the focuses of the armor types, that’s because they do – and you can expect attribute bonuses from armor and/or armor passives as well. For those that are worried about messing this up – it is in fact confirmed that you will be able to respec your attributes.
The final piece of your build will be passives. These always-on buffs are unlocked through investments in the various skill lines in the game we mentioned earlier. Some of these passives are constantly active – as presumably some of the class and racial skill lines will be-, or affect only specific skills or abilities from specific skill trees. Similarly, those from the weapon skill lines will require the relevant weapon to be equipped.
Armor passives are a thing of their own, as these will scale with the number of armor pieces from that type you have equipped, or require a specific number of pieces for it to be active. We don’t know much of the details of how these passives will scale, but it’s a system clearly meant to encourage the use of mixing and matching different armor types in your build.
In addition, players will be able to choose a passive buff from one of the Mundus Stones, which function similarly to the standing stones in Skyrim. Little is known about the specific benefits these stones will give players, but it’s worth noting that they will also be considered when creating a build, and can freely be switched by visiting another stone.
Building a Build
So now let’s go through the process of creating ourselves a very simple outline of a build in very general terms, given the lack of specifics available to us.
So I start with a specific play style in mind. I’d like to be able to do some off-healing, preferably while smashing face in the middle of the fight. Being in the fray while healing can be a dangerous job, so I’d also like to have a fair amount of survivability. Lastly, I’d like to have some options for ranged attacks, just in case I find myself defending a keep from atop the walls. Here’s what I come up with:
- Race: Nord
- Class: Templar
- Attributes: 15 Health / 35 Magicka / 00 Stamina
- Armor: 5 Heavy / 2 Light
- Weapons: 2-Handed / Destruction Staff
- Mundus Stone: The Lady
I’ve decided that I’d like to use 2-Handed weapons (indisputably the best for smashing face, after all), so I chose a Nord primarily based on their racial increase to 2-Handed weapon damage (which is a hypothetical racial I’m just making up), and also because of the manly beards. Ok – it was primarily the beards, but that doesn’t help progress the article.
Given that I want to off-heal, I’ve chosen Templar for my class; Templars are the only class with a dedicated healing skill line, so they are able to heal using their class heals without equipping a Restoration Staff. I’m only planning to off-heal, so I wasn’t really interested in dedicating one of only two weapon slots to a weapon based on healing.
As healing can be pretty costly, I’ve devoted most of my points towards improving my magicka pool, with a little bit put towards health, and none for stamina. This leaves me with little stamina to use for my physical weapon attacks, sprinting, dodging, blocking, and interrupting, so I’m going to have to manage this carefully. Note that your left click basic and power attacks with weapons do not cost resources, so there is no risk of running out of stamina and being unable to use your physical weapon – it is only the abilities you slot on your action bar that consume resources.
With the relatively small investment I’ve made towards health and the fact that I plan to be in the middle of the action, I invested heavily into… well, heavy armor, only taking 2 pieces of light armor to assist with my spell casting. Between the armor and the attributes, my character now has a pretty solid investment in both his survivability and his spellcasting ability, but absolutely nothing improving his active defenses and weapon attacks.
For my Mundus Stone I chose the Stone of Lady. In my hypothetical example, it will carry the same benefits as in Skyrim – offering an increase to both health and stamina regeneration. Health regeneration is always useful, and I hope that the additional stamina regeneration will help keep my Templar from running out too quickly.
Last up I have to put some abilities on my bar. As I rolled a Templar primarily for its healing skills, I slot one into both of my weapon swaps – just to be safe. I choose an AoE heal based around my character, as it will be simple to use in the middle of the fight, and always benefit me in addition to my allies. Having already fought with the heal on my bar for quite awhile, I already have the option to morph it! I’m faced with a difficult choice – change it to heal an additional 50 health over 5 seconds to all affected allies, or change it to deal 50 damage over 5 seconds to all enemies caught in its radius. Though the DoT option was tempting, I decide that since I only have one ability focused on healing, I may as well make it the best heal it can be.
For the remaining 8 slots on my action bar (4 in each weapon swap), I decide to slot weapon abilities. For my greatsword, I pull down stamina consuming abilities from the two-handed weapon tree, but immediately regret the lack of investment into stamina I’ve made so far. I remove a couple of them, leaving one two handed weapon ability in addition to the standard attacks, and begrudgingly replace them with offensive spells from the Templar’s melee DPS tree.
I swap over to my destruction staff, and begin looking at abilities. First I grab the hypothetical ability ‘Holy Barbeque’, a Templar spell which hurls a holy-fireball at the target and applies a damage over time effect. Switching over to the destruction staff skill line, I find the lightning attack ‘Unlimited Powaaaahr, which, when used on a target affected by a damage over time effect stuns the target. Cool! Even better, I’ve already unlocked the passive ‘Bring Out Yer Dead!” that gives my destruction staff abilities a chance to spread damage over time effects to nearby targets when hitting a target affected by them. Though this is just a hypothetical situation, these types of combos are just another aspect of coming up with your ideal build that we can expect to see to some extent in ESO.
With my build complete, I head out into the world of Tamriel and fireball a mudcrab.
This situation illustrates a lot the decisions that we’re all going to have to make when designing a build. Not just the fun benefits of combination attacks, but also the constraints imposed on us by our limited resources. Everyone has a set amount of resources they’ll be able to devote towards their character, and you simply won’t be able to excel at everything in this type of zero sum game; every resource my Templar dedicated towards defensiveness and spellcasting was a resource he wasn’t able to put towards improving his stamina and weapon attacks. It’s an economic game of choosing what’s best for you with the limited resources you have, and it’s a lot of fun for us strange people that enjoy that kind of thing.