The Elder Scrolls Online and Action Combat
I was recently gifted a copy of Summerset in The Elder Scrolls online by a friend. Naturally this act of generosity lead to me returning to the game. Although I participated in the beta test, I only seriously started playing ESO from January to July last year. I created a High Elf Sorcerer and levelled to the current cap of 50 and then started working on gaining Champion Points, which currently stand at 187. Although I enjoyed the experience, especially from a narrative perspective, I did struggle to a degree with the action combat. It can be a quite a culture shock playing ESO after years of traditional, older MMOs that have a more static combat system. There is a tendency to default to old habits and ways that frequently leads to mistakes. Older MMOs often share common key mappings and system methodologies. ESO often flies in the face of that, so you find yourself having to “unlearn what you have learned” to coin a phrase. It can be done and you can adapt. I managed last year but now, due to the time elapsed, I am now having to do so again.
With MMOs such as The Lord of the Rings Online or Star Trek Online, combat is based around Tab Targetting. By pressing the tab key you highlight the nearest enemy and if you continue to press, cycle through all potential threats in the immediate vicinity. Once you’ve selected your target of choice you can attack it by using the skills on your hotbar. Due to Hard Locking, unless there’s an algorithm designed to make you occasionally miss, you will never do so. It’s a practical and straight forward form of combat. Hitting your enemy is not exactly difficult, although it can be argued that the expertise lies in the choice of skills used and their specific rotation. Different enemies with different buffs, strengths and weakness need to be approached accordingly.
The FPS genre offers a far more taxing approach to combat. Favouring a No lock system, the player is required to accurately aim a reticule to efficiently land hits upon a target. This is approach requires a level of skill right from the get-go and is very dependent upon the player’s situational awareness and reflexes. It’s one of the reasons I don’t play such games much these days as I have slowed with age. However, MMOs with action combat such as ESO have compromised with both Tab Targetting and No Lock mechanics. Although the tab key will select an enemy, and the reticule has to be aimed, there is a degree of assistance provided. Hence if your aim is slightly off, yet broadly in the right direction, then your attacks will reach the target although there may be a reduction in efficiency, the more your aim is out. This Soft Lock system requires a more mobile approach to combat. Standing your ground and key mashing is far from effective. Soft Lock also means that ranged attacks will ignore obstacles in the way, such as other mobs.
The net result of the fluid combat in ESO is that players have to be aware when to attack and when to defend. Dodging is essential in certain situations. Blocking via the right mouse button is also important in melee combat or close quarter situations. Then there are different types of primary attacks, other than your hotbar skills. The left mouse button governs attack types. Tap it once for light attack and hold it down for heavy. What you have to learn is to how to manage combat for your class. You have to consider your enemy and their skills so you can work out an appropriate strategy. Navigating the PVE content may not be too taxing but much of the group instance content does require a measured approach. Again, old school key mashing tends not to work and will result in death, inconvenience and in extreme cases, rage quitting.
As I’ve already mentioned, it is entirely possible to adapt to this contemporary approach to MMO combat but it require practise. There are lots of common mistakes that are made while trying to embrace this new methodology. Having the reticule on the screen is perhaps the primary difference that old school MMO players may immediately struggle with. I instinctively try to click on skills and instead simply find my character rotating or accidently attacking whatever is nearby. It takes a while to press the “.” key first to bring up the mouse arrow. The simple act of aiming takes a while to become second nature. It can also seem odd swapping between weapons type in mid-combat. However there are certain advantages to be had over old style MMO combat. The reduction in hotbar skills and the nature of action combat means that induction animations tend to be relatively quick and players are less likely to get caught out by Animation Lock. ESO also spares players from excessive and superfluous skills bloat on the hotbar by imposing limits.
Because there has been a year long gap in my playing ESO, when I logged in the other night, I was naturally rusty with regards to basic key mapping and navigating the UI. Furthermore, I had completely forgotten whether I had assigned some of my addons to the keyboard or the mouse. However, I found once again that Dolmen Farming was not only profitable, but useful as a training environment. So I immediately travelled to the Alik’r Desert and spent some time bouncing between the three Dolmen’s that regularly appear there. As for action combat, I have mixed feelings about it. This mobile approach is more credible and suits the idiom of the Elder Scrolls IP. But it does present a slightly higher barrier to entry than older, more static combat systems. Yet it also creates an additional motivation for co-operative play and grouping. If you find that the subtleties of fighting in ESO allude you, there is safety to be found in numbers.