Elder Scrolls Online – Skill Choices

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Skill Choices

Following on from my earlier post on my initial impressions of Elder Scrolls Online, I wanted to take the time to really look into the Skill Choices in the game, as I feel they are something that deserves discussing a bit.

This is going to be a bit of a show-and-tell article, so open up the handy skill calculator by Esohead here in another window/tab.

For the moment, choose Sorcerer (the class I am most familiar with) and Breton.

If you were anything like me, you would initially look through all those skill options in each of the tabs and feel slightly overwhelmed or excited for the possibilities.  It does look like there are quite a lot.  However, the more I have been considering these options, the more restrictive the system seems.  Let me explain why.

Keep in mind that the Elder Scrolls Online combat system only allows you to have 5 Active Abilities and one Ultimate Ability (hotkey here is R) equipped per weapon set (mas of 2 weapons).  The button on the left that is shown below is the slot for potions.

ESO skill bar

ESO skill bar

 Class Skills
There are three lines of class skills for each of the four class types.  In Sorcerer you have:
* Daedric Summoning
* Dark Magic
* Storm Calling

Each of the three skill types have 5 active abilities, 1 Ultimate ability and 4 passive abilities.  These, plus your weapon skills are the main skills you will likely use.

All the active and passive skills require you to have a certain level in the class.  You will need to spend skill points in gaining passive effects, and like the active effects and Ultimate ability, unlocking these requires you to have certain skill within the field, which means that you have to be using the skills that unlocked earlier.  If you look at Dark Magic, for example, you need to have 20 skill levels in Dark Magic in order to unlock the skill ‘Rune Prison’ and 42 for ‘Daedric Mines’.

In short, this means that you have to pretty much use a ton of your skillpoints to gain levels in a skill merely to get the skills you actually want to use.

But I digress.

If you look at the different skills for Sorcerer, you will notice that the three have very specific types of gameplay involved with them.  Daedric summoning skills are all about summons (naturally), Storm Calling is about damage and shielding, and Dark Magic is about damage and crowd control.  Having a different mix of them depending on the situation would give you a good range of skills, however when you consider that these are ALL the skills for mage class that are available, I came to realize that in fact 15 skills plus 3 ultimate skills was really not a great deal to choose from if you like making alts.  If you level up a character once, the chances are that you will already be familiar with all the skills of that class already.  Nothing new is there.

Ah, I am sure you are thinking of all the other skills that are on the list that I haven’t touched upon yet.  So lets look at each of these.

WeaponsESO - Staff

There are 6 different weapon set types, 4 of them use stamina and the 2 staffs use magic.  While each of these weapon sets do have some interesting and useful skills, it should be noted that certain classes will of course find some weapons more useful than others.  A sorcerer, for example will primarily use a staff, though I can see that there might be call to have a melee weapon as backup.. though in truth, I would think that having more mage skills would be of better use than splitting them to have a melee set as well.

However, be that as it may, you can only equip two weapon sets at a time, and so ultimately you will only ever be using one or two different weapon types, and so putting skills in more is likely a waste of time.

This gives you an additional 10 active skills, as weapons do not have ultimate abilities.  These skills do, however work well with your class skills if you choose your weapon logically.

Armour
Armour only offers 1 normal ability plus passives.  Useful, yes, but not that interesting for varied gameplay

World
The world skills are three skill-lines that you can gain for different gameplay.
*  Soul Magic – 1 active ability, 1 ultimate ability, 3 passive abilities
*  Vampire – 3 active abilities, 6 passive abilities
*  Werewolf – 3 active abilities, 8 passive abilities

Soul magic is likely to be fairly useful for filling soul gems, and if you are not a character with other stun abilities then that ultimate ability might be of use.

Vampire and Werewolf abilities are likely going to be more for rp purposes, or for people looking for a different sort of gameplay.  I know there was some rather heated comments on the beta forums in terms of pvp and vampires and werewolves, considering their weaknesses, but I honestly don’t know too much about them.

On the whole though, it seems like these skills are more for an add-on interest, rather than what the core abilities of your character are likely to be.

Guilds
There are three guilds that operate in ESO and each of them have their own abilities that could be useful for different styles of gameplay:
* The Mages Guild
* The Fighters Guild
* Undaunted

The thing that bothers me about them is this: Would you level up the full guild skills and use them all?  You only have 5 active skills you can have up at a time per weapon set.  Are these all viable as your main ones?  I have not got far enough along in the quests to get the higher skills, but looking at the descriptions, it doesn’t really seem that viable to me.  However in order to make what skills you do use as useful as possible, you need to spend a great deal of points getting all the passives.  That is a lot of skill points just for one or two skills in the case of the Fighters and Mages guild.  Something to think about.

Also, the Fighters Guild skills are really only useful against Daedra and the undead, so it has limited use, while the Undaunted skills.. I don’t really understand at all well.  I will count them, but be aware they are limited in use and situation.

Alliance War
All the alliance war skills are mainly geared towards pvp, although you could argue that some of the passive skills could be useful outside of it.  While a lot of players are going to engage with the pvp in the game, not everyone will, and it is from the pve perspective that I write from.  I would say that they can be used, so that would add another 4 active abilities and 2 ultimate abilities to the list since they could be used in open world raids against anchors or something.

Racial
The racial skills are a bit of a sticking point for me, because unlike in other games, ESO has in fact made the race skills useful.  Too useful.  

Why do I say that?  Because it means that whatever race you are going to choose will impact on how well you play different classes.  I have listed the areas of bonus for each race below to illustrate.  You can see the details of each on the Skill Calculator

Breton  Light armour, Magic, Spell resistance
Orc  Heavy armour, health, sprinting
Redguard  Shields, stamina
High Elf  Destruction staff, magic
Wood Elf  Archery, poison resistance, stamina, stealth
Khajiit  Medium armour, health, stealth, crit
Argonian  Restoration, healing, swim speed, health, poison/disease resistance
Dark Elf  Duel wield, magic and stamina, fire resistance, fire spells
Nord  Two handed weapons, health, armour, cold resistance
Imperial  Shields, health, stamina, melee weapons

As you can see, each race choice has pretty strong racial traits. These traits are such that if you want to really play a strong character, then you really should be playing one of the races that supplement that class. It wouldn’t be very good being a wood elf if you planned to be a staff-wielding sorcerer. I mean, it can be done, but it would further limit your choices, and I expect at top level, players are going to be needing those extra passives.

The way I see it, with the choices in ESO being so slim, players are going to be quickly finding that there are several ‘best builds’ and those builds are going to require racial choices as well as the other skill choices.  Useful race choices sounds great on paper, but it also means that we will be seeing a lot of high level sorcerers being Bretons and High elves, and not much else.

Craft
Craft skills are all passive skills, and so have no bearing really on your skillset, other than to eat at the number of skill points you have to work with.

Decisions, Decisions

So, now you have had a look at the skills, what does it boil down to?

You have 5 active skills and 1 ultimate skill per weapon set, and you get to choose out of the skills offered.  But how many are there to choose from?

Class skills – 15 active + 3 ultimate
Weapon skills – 10 active
Armor – 1 active
World – 4 active + 1 ultimate
Guilds – 14 active + 2 ultimate
Alliance War – 4 active + 2 ultimate

total = 48 active + 8 ultimate
Out of all these skills, I would personally cross off the Alliance War skills, and almost all of the Guild skills.  This leaves us with:

total = 30 active + 4 ultimate

All of these skills are split up neatly into roughly 5 main sections.  Three class skills, and two weapon set skills, and most of the skills in these you will have to learn in order to get the skills you actually want to use.

This means that you actually have very few skills you will choose to utilize once you are levelled further, and by that point you will know the skills you have learned very well.  Well enough to be bored of them.

Where is the choice and interest in re-rolling compared to other games?  Even World of Warcraft, known for its increasingly simple skill trees, it offers more choice in gameplay skills and choices than this does, partially because there are more classes.  When you look at games like Rift, this skill offering in ESO is like the dried up bones in a parched desert plain.

Now, I do think there is some difference in gameplay and effectiveness depending on what passives you collect, however my main gripe about the skills is just how samey the gameplay is going to get when playing the same class.  Skills are going to get boring, and fast because you end up using the same ones all the time, and with only 5+1 skills to use, it also limits what you are using each time you fight.

I understand that ESO limited it to 5 in order to try and simplify the gameplay, possibly trying to make it easier for non-mmo players to learn, but for people who are used to playing mmos, especially those who like making several alts, this basic skill palette is going to get dull very, very quickly.

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