Fighting in an MMO is one of those things that can either be really fun, or mind numbingly boring. MMO combat systems in the past have been about the action bar, or playing “Whack-A-Mole” healing. It is only recently we have begun to see MMO developers make that push from staring at Group Windows, or Action Bar Cooldowns, and getting the players to stare at the gameplay that is happening. Games like Guild Wars 2 tried to encourage people to stop looking at the action bar, making it so the combat was more visual. There were times I would catch myself looking at the Action Bar to see if an ability was off Cooldown, but it was a step in the right direction
During my brief 2 hour game play at PAX East, I can say Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) is leaps and bounds ahead of any other game when it comes to getting players to watch the screen. There is no Cooldown (CD) on any abilities (except for provisions, which have a 20 second CD). I wrote an article back in December about ESO combat, and after playing the game first hand, that article was spot on. The combat is better than I was expecting. I am not a major fan of Elder Scrolls single player games. I don’t enjoy them, partly because I don’t really enjoy single player games, but the one major thing I did not enjoy was the clunky combat, especially in Skyrim. I found the combat to be very sluggish and slow–swinging my weapons felt like my character was struggling with them. I have spoken to many Elder Scrolls fans, and some agreed that at times the combat felt slow or sluggish. In ESO, I did not have this feeling. The combat is very fast paced, fluid and incredibly smart, a little too smart at times (I died…a lot).
During my 2 hour play test, I played as, Garbrac Pax, a Breton Dragonknight–I felt dirty playing Daggerfall, but Aldmeri Dominion wasn’t available. I was dropped right into the game after being rescued, I won’t go into any detail about what happened, I’ll leave that for you to either Google or wait for the game to come out. Garbrac Pax ran out of the house I was in, got his first quest, and began running around killing Mud Crabs, and bandits.
Just like every other Elder Scrolls game, your Mouse Buttons will be your attack and block. You swing with the left mouse button and hold down for a powerful attack. At lower levels, you can do roughly 1-2 heavy attacks before running out of stamina, but that will change once you begin gathering better gear and using your skill points. One of the comments I made to the Developers while playing was that if I was in mid swing, was there any way to break out of that and block, because when I was holding right click, visually I was not blocking. Maria Aliprando was the developer who was helping us during our playtime, and she said they are working on fixing some of the visuals, but according to the in-game priority listing, blocking takes priority over everything else, so even though I was not seeing myself block, according to the game code I was blocking, which is ok, and I am glad they acknowledged that they are still tweaking specific things. You can block with any weapon, if you are dual wielding or have a staff, it doesn’t matter what you have equipped, you’ll still be able to defend yourself from what could be sure death.
I mentioned earlier that the enemies in ESO are smart, so let me give you an example of how smart these little buggers are. Garbrac Pax was level 2 at this point and I used my first skill point to get the Grapple Chain. So there I was inside an old ruined structure, I see a bandit standing on the stairs so I pull him. He put his bow away and pulled out his sword and continued to attack me. What I didn’t notice was that this bandit had a friend that was hidden behind a box. Once his friend arrived and positioned himself between me and the other Archer Bandit, I switched target, once I did this the Archer backed off and began to turn me into a pin cushion. That is just an example of how the enemies will work with each other to try and take you down.
After I pulled out all the arrows from my wounded body, I continue on my quest down the road, and I am playing with the grapple pull. One of my pet peeves in other games is incorrect pathing. In other games if I pull a creature to me while I am running forward, the creature will end up where I originally was and I will have ran right through him. Or, if I charge at a enemy and he moves while I am in the charge animation, I won’t end up where the enemy is. I didn’t seem to have this issue in ESO. When I used my Grapple and I moved the enemy, he would show up at my new location. I also tested if I jumped off a cliff towards an enemy below, would my grapple throw this enemy into the air like it would in other games. To my surprise no, the enemy showed up in front of where I landed, and for me that made me smile. Maria was standing behind me watching me and she said, you can’t pull them up there, they’d need a path. I told her in other games you can, but to me that is a broken mechanic.
One thing I want to mention before I jump into the Synergy System is something I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of about. ESO is all about having the player watch the screen and not numbers or an action bar. Currently there is scrolling combat text, but it is being removed as people were focusing on the numbers instead of the game itself. And even when I was playing I caught myself starring at the numbers, so I’m glad they are removing it from the game. Don’t fret though, if you do want the combat text, the game will have full integration of LUA UI Modding, so there are options for having it.
Onto the Synergy system. In my article from December, I talked about the Synergy System and how it will work, so I’m not going to repeat that. Instead I will explain some of the new features of the system that I have learned. We’re going to use a Sorcerer for my example. Playing a Sorcerer you have an ability you can place down, it will last roughly 15-20 seconds, so these abilities will need to be planned and placed strategically. When you activate the ability your mouse will turn into an Area of Effect circle that you can move freely around. This Area of Effect can be placed anywhere within the allotted range; once it is placed, another player can go into it and activate a second ability. So let’s go back and use the Sorcerer for example: you lay down this field of lightning; once it is laid down, someone can go into that field of lightning and text will appear on his screen something along the lines of “Press X to activate Y ability;” once they do that, they would become a conduit of lightning, and will begin shooting out lightning bolts.
Synergy is all about combos working off each other. The Finesse system is all about correct follow up. The easiest way to explain how the Finesse System works, is to give you an example. During my play test, I got distracted by how beautiful the game is and Maria was standing behind me yelling at me to Block. I didn’t notice at the time, but the bandit I was fighting had a slight “sparkle” to him–if you’re paying attention you’ll notice if, but if you have ADHD and pretty water distracts you, you might miss it. This sparkle indicates that a power attack is coming. I didn’t block the first time and the bandit took half my health in that single hit. Once realizing what happened, I began to notice it and pay attention more. When I saw the sparkle again, I cowered behind my shield and once I blocked, the bandit was vulnerable, so I followed up with a heavy attack (holding left mouse button). When I connected the bandit fell on the ground stunned and I continued to bash him into oblivion. That’s Finesse at work.
At level 15 you’re given an ability to swap between weapons, while in combat, which is my personal favourite combat option. There is nothing worse than being a Tank while attacking a keep and all you can do is poke the door with your sword. I can’t tell you how many times I was on my warrior in Dark Age of Camelot, standing at the door poking it, wishing I could back up and help kill the guards, or the defending players. Matt Firor, a developer of Dark Age of Camelot, must have had the same feeling, so ESO has a Weapon Swap. I can go from being the Tank, switch, and pull out my Bow, or a Staff and shoot arrows or lightning bolts at the Guards or Defending players. The Weapon Swap as of the PAX build was bound to the “~” key, but we are given options for Key Bindings, so if a key bind does not work for you, or if you have a game pad, you are able to easily remap your keys.
On the topic of PvP. I have been getting asked, how will Stealth work, am I completely invisible? Yes and no. There are 2 types of Stealth. Sneak which is for PvE content, and anyone who has played an Elder Scrolls game in the past will be familiar with how it works. When you activate your sneak ability your character will crouch down and your reticule will change to an eye icon. An open eye means you are detected and a closed eye mean you are still unseen. If you remain unseen your first attack will be a critical. In PvP however, the sneak is slightly different. It becomes a stealth, it still requires stamina but you are completely invisible except for a round shadow under your character that is visible to the enemy factions, if you hide in the shadows nothing is visible.
At the beginning of the article I mentioned “Whack-A-Mole” healing. I typically play both Healer and Tank in my MMOs, and in previous MMOs my healers never really felt like they were a part of the fights. I usually stand far enough back so I’m not getting smacked by a cleave, or a conal effect that would probably one shot me. ESO is trying to make it so every class is part of the fight. Healing in ESO is a lot different than what we are all used to from MMO Healing. In ESO you cannot target your allies to heal them, all your healing is done with Area of Effect heals. While at PAX I asked the developers why they chose this type of healing and the answer I got is one that makes perfect sense.
Originally they had targeted healing, but they found it incredibly difficult to target members in your group to heal them. Let’s look at World of Warcraft. Forgetting about the raid frame, if someone is in the fray and there are 5 group members, and 3 enemies surrounding the person that needs healing, how do you target them? Typically you would move your camera above your head and click on them by looking straight down. That works in World of Warcraft, because you have free camera movement, but in ESO you do not, you look where you aim. So if there are a bunch of people in front of you, how would you target them? This is the issue the developers were encountering when playing. So they made the decision that only Area of Effect heals would be the most viable, and I have to agree. Looking at it now, having your healer right up front in the battle, allows them to be more aware of what is happening, throwing out heals. Because a healer doesn’t need to go full healing, they could be a hybrid, doing damage to the creatures while providing the support the group needs.
All in all, if I had to sum up my experience with the ESO combat system in one word, it would be fluid. Between how our characters can interact with other real players’ abilities, and how the NPC Enemies react with other enemies and how they fight us, the combat is very immersive and fluid. There were times my heart was pounding because of the combat, a real edge of my seat suspense if you will.
What are your thoughts on the combat system? What specific feature of the combat system is your favourite?