Analyzing Skill Distribution in ESO

We are happy to feature another guest article in our continued editorial series. In this installment Schnoffle conducts a thorough breakdown of the distribution of skill types which are available to the various player classes in ESO. Information regarding the skills discussed in the article is drawn from the series of class, armor, and weapon skill overviews presented on Tamriel Foundry, and are certainly subject to change in terms of effect, utility, or presence in the game while beta development continues.

The wide variety of abilities in ESO should help deter cookie-cutter builds

The wide variety of abilities in ESO should help deter cookie-cutter builds

With the recent release of armor, weapon, and class skill lines, the Tamriel Foundry forums have exploded with class builds, speculation, and many questions. I know for myself I had planned on making a character focusing on crowd control. With the release of the Dark Magic skill line this seemed like the obvious choice. It was easy to be blinded by this shiny new skill line almost completely utilizing snares, knockbacks, and other forms of CC. Throughout the forums you can see other players doing the same thing; those who love fire based magic may flock toward the Dragonknight, whereas a burst melee DPS focused character may look more towards the Nightblade class.

Once my initial excitement faded I decided to take a more analytic look at all the options on the table. I wanted to strip down the skills from their sparkly effects and names and see what their function was in ESO. I was curious to see how the developers of ESO saw their game playing out, and I felt a thorough look at the skill distribution seemed logical. To do this I reviewed all of the skills currently released on Tamriel Foundry (armor, weapons, and class) and placed them into several categories. I focused on the active and ultimate abilities only for this specific study, since the availability of passives can really alter certain skills (i.e. Warmth makes all of the Dragonknight skills in a single line technically a crowd control skill whereas Blood Magic makes the Dark Magic skills self heals). Thus, for this initial study, all passives were left out as well as known morphs (the small amount we have heard of, anyway).


The Raw Data

Below is a table of my findings. I did not include every single subheading I made up, but I do present those that tend to be more “player type specific”. The skill group headings may seem broad, obscure, or incomplete to some of you. To be honest you could split these skills up into hundreds of subheadings if you really wanted to. My main focus was to see the broad picture: where was ZOS taking ESO and how was it different from past games?

Category Number of Skills Percentage
Area of Effect 40 38%
Crowd Control 38 36.2%
Damage Reduction 23 21.9%
Heals 13 12.4%
DoTs 10 9.5%
Direct Damage 10 9.5%
Gap Closers 9 8.6%
Group Buffs 6 5.7%
Toggled Skills 4 3.8%
Pets 4 3.8%
Interrupts 4 3.8%
CC Immunity 2 1.9%
CC Removal 1 0.9%
Total 105 100%

If you count up all of the active and ultimate skills from the armor, class, and weapon skills this gives you 105 different skills (3 armor, 5 per weapon, and 18 per class). If you break up the destruction staff into the three different types it actually increases this number due to the different effects they may have (however, for this study I stuck with keeping the total number at 105).

For a quick explanation of each category: CC skills were any of the skills that incorporated a stun, root, snare, blind, fear, knockdown, knockback, silence, or disorient. Interrupts I kept separate, however, a couple of them fit into the CC line as well due to the effects after interrupt. Damage reduction skills were those that mitigated damage in some way as well as skills that gave a percent chance to. Heals were those skills that, well, healed. DoTs were any skill that had a periodic effect including burning or other damage.  AOE is rather broad; this included all forms of multiple-target skills, including basic AOE, PBAOE, cones, pulsing AOE/PBAOE skills and AOE heals and buffs. Toggled skills are those that you can turn on and off. Gap closers include any skill that reduces distance quickly, be it a charge or running away. The rest should be self-explanatory.


Crowd Control Abilities

Every class has a wide array of CC at their disposal

Every class has a wide array of CC at their disposal

When we look at a total of 105 active and ultimate skills from the lines I discussed above, we see that 36.2% of them contain some form of CC. To me, that was surprising. Again, I was looking for a heavy CC character and thought initially that Dark Magic from the Sorcerer line would be the way to go. But to see that more than a third of the skills available have some form of CC, that made me take a step back. As of now we don’t officially know the range on some of these skills, so some may be better from ranged vs melee. The following table presents the availability of crowd control abilities for each of the base classes.

Dragonknight Templar Sorcerer Nightblade
Lave Whip (off balance) Puncturing Strikes (knockback) Bolt Escape (stun) Teleport Strike (stun)
Dragon Leap (knockback) Piercing Javelin (knockback) Negate Magic (silence) Consuming Darkness (snare)
Dark Talons (root) Nova (stun) Encase(root) Veiled Strike (stun)
Stonefist (knockdown) Blinding Light (off balance) Rune Prison (disorient) Aspect of Terror (fear)
Petrify (stun) Sun Fire (snare) Daedric Mines (root) Soul Shred (stun)
Ash Cloud (snare) Storm Atronach (stun) Agony (stun)
Repulse (knockback/snare) Cripple (snare)


Area of Effect Abilities

Another surprise to me was the number of AOE skills present in the game. With such a broad category of area-focused skills, this really shows the importance ZOS is putting on this type of combat. In past MMO games there is typically a large focus on single target skills and effects, yet here we see 38% of the skills have some form of AOE associated with them. Again, a further look into the breakdown of types of AOE (PBAOE, targeted AOE, conal, etc.) is useful for developing a feel for each class’ proficiency in providing area-of-effect utility to a group.

Dragonknight Templar Sorcerer Nightblade
Dragonknight Standard (aoe) Radial Sweep (cone) Bolt Escape (pbaoe) Consuming Darkness (aoe)
Fiery Breath (cone) Spear Shards (aoe) Lightning Splash (aoe) Path of Darkness (cone)
Inferno (pbaoe) Sun Shield (pbaoe) Lightning Form (pbaoe) Aspect of Terror (pbaoe)
Dragon Leap (pbaoe) Nova (aoe) Negate Magic (aoe) Soul Shred (pbaoe)
Dark Talons (pbaoe) Solar Flare (aoe) Encase (cone) Drain Power (pbaoe)
Inhale (pbaoe) Backlash (pbaoe) Repulse (pbaoe)
Molten Weapons (aoe) Rite of Passage (pbaoe) Daedric Mines (aoe)
Obsidian Shield (aoe) Healing Ritual (pbaoe) Storm Atronach (aoe)
Ash Cloud (aoe) Cleansing Ritual (pbaoe) Daedric Curse (aoe)
Rune Focus (aoe)


Healing Abilities

Another concern many players have had is the ability to play a healer or simply heal their own character in game. The obvious choice for a pure healer would be a Templar; however, the Restoration Staff allows players of any class to be a fully capable group healer. It’s worth noting, however, that both the Dragonknight and Nightblade also have some useful active skills for self-healing. The Sorcerer is the one base class with no unique healing abilities, although the Blood Magic passive in the Dark Magic tree has the ability to add some combat health return to the class.

Restoration Staff Dragonknight Templar Nightblade
Regeneration (HoT) Dragon Blood (self heal + HoT) Rite of Passage (self heal) Mark Target (self heal on kill)
Grand Healing (aoe heal) Inhale (self heal) Rushed Ceremony (heal) Strife (self HoT)
Blessing of Protection (aoe heal) Healing Ritual (aoe heal)
Force Siphon (healing curse) Cleansing Ritual (aoe heal)
Restoring aura (group HoT)


Tanking Abilities

Certain abilities like Nova serve multiple purposes in combat

Certain abilities like Nova serve multiple purposes in combat

The ability to tank is another interest many players have in game. Countless numbers of threads have popped up in the class discussion on “who makes the best tank” and “hey, check out my tanky sorcerer build.” The most significant component of the ability to tank is incoming damage mitigation. This can be achieved through taking less damage from attacks (damage reduction) or not being hit alltogether (evasion). The table below demonstrates that there exist a good variety of skills across the board that assist with tanking. Each class has the capability to be an effective tank, but some may have a comparative advantage due to the amount and usefulness of mitigation skills.

Dragonknight Templar Sorcerer Nightblade
Spike Armor Sun Shield Lightning Form Summon Shade
Reflective Scales Rune Focus Bound Armor Blur
Obsidian Shield Eclipse Conjured Ward
Magma Armor Rite of Passage Negate Magic
Blinding Light

One last interesting finding is the small amount of CC resistance type skills. We know everyone in the game will be able to break CC with the use of stamina, but with such a large amount of crowd control skills available I find it interesting to see only a few skills that can counter this. Rune Focus (Templar) and Immovable (Heavy Armor) provide some form of resistance to CC skills while the Templar’s Cleansing Ritual provides a means to remove some CC. I expect to see more skills in the PvP skill lines to help combat the massive amount of CC that will be thrown around on the battle field.


A Final Look at Things

Are you overloaded with information yet?

Are you overloaded with information yet?

When we look at the distribution of skills that are available we can see where the game is heading. We have heard in countless interviews the plans on Adventure Zones and how “Raid Bosses” may not always be some large menacing beast you need to take down but rather a large group of well-coordinated mobs that attack wave after wave. With a high focus on CC and AOE types of skills in The Elder Scrolls Online, it seems the developers are setting up the players for these specific encounters. Throw in the large amount of PvP available and I think battles will be epic, challenging players to balance all the AOE and CC that is being thrown around.

I feel that the wide distribution of skills really does provide the player the ability to make whatever type of character they desire. Will some classes be better at certain rolls compared to others? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean a Sorcerer tank or Nightblade healer cannot be viable character builds.

What do you think about the distribution of the skills above? Do you wish there were more or less of one type of skill versus another? I realize the introduction of racial actives, PvP skills, Mages, Fighters, and Undaunted guilds, and other skill lines will expand these options even further. However, I think the three major categories of skills (armor, weapon, and class) reveal a lot of the developers’ plans for the future of ESO.

109 responses to “Analyzing Skill Distribution in ESO”

  1. Profile Photo
    Zanthor Titanius


    Total Posts: 74

    Argonian Sorcerer

    The Ruby Brotherband

    I originally wanted to tank as a sorcerer, but the lack of self heals fact that it has less tanking abilities than the Templar might make me switch

  2. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 144

    Altmer Sorcerer

    @schnoffle nice article

  3. Profile Photo
    The Gray Watcher


    Total Posts: 1234

    Nord Dragonknight

    This is a well written article here. I think it really goes to show people that there is less focus on the more traditional ways roles would work, and more focus on how everyone works together in a group. The amount of AoE and CC just goes to prove that there will be much more team focus in this game then in past ones.

      Now going by The Gray Watcher, TGW, Gray, The Gray Tank, and The Gray Warden. Pick a name or invent a new one people!

  4. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 2841

    Breton Templar


    I would like to note that the Sorcerer’s Dark Exchange is a self-heal, albeit very expensive.

    [Active] Dark Exchange – Channel dark magic, restoring your own Health and Magicka at the cost of Stamina.


    As far as tanking goes, the passive abilities are just as important although not relevant to this article.

    Synergies would be another explicitly listed category for group dynamics.

    Otherwise a great article.  Helps the undecided narrow down the pool of classes they will want to try out first in terms of playstyle and active abilities.

  5. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 16

    Khajiit Nightblade

    Entropy Rising

    Fantastic Article Schnoffle! I have to agree that it would seem raid encounters are going to be a tad bit “Unconventional” in MMO terms. If not in terms of how they are presented to the player. Hopefully, we will actually have to rely on CC and other similar mechanics to win fights. It’s the challenge that makes raids rewarding and fun.

    I think it’s great how you analyzed the current skills in the game to determine where ZOS is taking the game. Great Job!

  6. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 81

    Khajiit Nightblade


    @schnoffle very nice informative post. Been hoping for a while for something similar. I am curious however if you would put Nightblade’s Drainpower ability in tanking list since it reduces damage.

    ”It is not about who you are ,but who you are with”

  7. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 659

    Dunmer Dragonknight

    Messiah Complex


    well written and interesting article, thumbs up!


  8. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 85

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Knights of Dawn

    I noticed that the Sorcerer seems to have no self heals… This is disappointing. I’ll have to use a Reso Staff to heal myself it seems.

    ”How would you combat evil? Would to accept evil into your heart and destroy the greater evil, or would you stand steadfast and just even if it means you could never truly defeat the evil before you?” – Lelouch Vi Britannia

  9. Profile Photo
    Loki Blood eyes


    Total Posts: 26

    Bosmer Nightblade

    [NA/EU][PS4] Exiles of Artaeum


    I love all of the different builds that people have been coming up with and how much zenimax has put into eso.

    Dam I Cant Wait For ESO!!!

    ”Do you feel that in your blood my son that is the ancient roots of valenwood flowing through you vanes. Go and protect her strike down anyone who would see to harm her. Bring honer to your people and for the Aldmeri Dominion.”

  10. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 73

    Argonian Templar

    Definitely excited, great article @Schnoffle

    True Power Comes From Devotion To A Cause Greater Than Yourself.


  11. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 527

    Bosmer Templar

    @schnoffle Very informative and well written article. I am interested in how each class interacts with the different roles and what people will do with them. My two main characters will be a templar and a sorcerer. They’ll both be mostly DPS with some healing, but I am not too interested in tanking, I’ll save that for a later character.

  12. Profile Photo
    Zairan Arainai


    Total Posts: 474

    Altmer Templar

    Any new ESO info makes for a good read.  Dragonknight still looks like my class, as I want to tank, dps and burn things, especially with aoe fire abilities while in the thick of the action.

    Welcome to the end of your life, and I promise its going to hurt!

  13. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 64

    Dunmer Dragonknight

    Dragon’s Fang

    @Schnoffle, thx for this great work!

  14. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 95

    Nord Sorcerer

    The Obsidian Brotherhood

    Very helpful to have that all side by side. Thanks! Definitely making me take another look.

  15. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 425

    Altmer Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    The-Gray-Watcher said on December 9, 2013 :

    The amount of AoE and CC just goes to prove that there will be much more team focus in this game then in past ones.

    This right here folks. Especially since there are only 4 people in dungeon/questing groups means you will have to co-ordinate together and know other people’s play styles very well.

  16. Profile Photo
    Almeir Grayscale


    Total Posts: 1347

    Argonian Nightblade

    I’m still staying nightblade, but now i have idea’s on how to perfectly structure my breton i was thinking of making. Good article.

  17. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 206

    Khajiit Templar

    Black Market Wares

    Great Read.

    My current build is a Kajiit nightblade with a focus on Siphoning and Assassination DPS. I still cannot wait till we get a Release Date for the game.

  18. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 453

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Great House Hlaalu

    Sorcerer does have a self-heal. Its called Dark Exchange.

    Need to add that in because people are already getting upset.

  19. Member Avatar


    Total Posts: 23

    I am hearing people talk about a specific build and therefore the viability of it in a particular role as a result…..but what impact will weapon swapping on the fly have?  eg a nightblade in the siphoning tree swapping across to a restoration staff on the fly prior to a marked target dying to give increased self heal or a One hand Shield + Restoration staff Templar in the Restoring light tree as heal tank.  As yet to get beta testing these are questions unanswered for me but finding out the answers with friends will be alot of fun

  20. Member Avatar


    Total Posts: 11

    Redguard Templar

    Very nice article. This definitely helps in determining my build for ESO

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