Massively's Elder Scrolls launch diary: Day two - Skills and progression

Elder Scrolls Online Stros M'kai temple

Never in 15-plus years of MMO gaming have I been so bewildered when it comes to picking a main class and character. Part of this is because I ignored The Elder Scrolls Online prior to March 30th. So I'm drinking from the information firehose in terms of game mechanics while simultaneously trying to keep up with friends.

The other part of it stems from the fact that ESO has an absurd amount of build customizability. I'm glad it has only four classes instead of six or eight because six or eight would probably send me over the decisional paralysis edge and into some sort of fugue state. I think for the purposes of this launch week diary -- and my own sanity -- I'm just going to stick with my Redguard Nightblade and forge ahead. There. Done.


Elder Scrolls Online Redguard Nightblade


As I mentioned in the intro, ESO currently features four classes. They are the Dragonknight, the Templar, the Sorcerer, and the Nightblade. These roughly correspond with tank, healer, caster, and rogue, in that order. I say roughly because ESO's skill lines are really the game's meat and potatoes, as it's entirely possible to build a plate-wearing Wizard, a Ranger with self-heals, and so on and so forth.

Think of the classes as a baseline or an archetype, and then feel free to go wild experimenting with skill builds as radical or as vanilla as you'd like.

Elder Scrolls Online Nightblade skill morph


You basically have access to six actives at any given time, five of which are ordinary skills and one of which is a super-spiffy "ultimate" skill. To acquire skills you must acquire skill points to spend, which can be done by leveling up (one skill point per character level ding), collecting particular shinies called skyshards (one skill point per every three skyshards), and completing story quests and dungeons. There are probably other ways (PvP?) but frankly I haven't gotten there yet.

Elder Scrolls Online fishing

If you've played earlier Elder Scrolls titles, you'll recognize the familiar skill up messages underscored by subtle drum beats every time you advance one of your lines. If you're a newb, what it boils down to is that you level up, say, your two-hander skill, your medium armor skill, and your class specialization skills (of which there are three lines per class) alongside your overall character level as you're out doing whatever you'd like to do.

Whatever you're wearing and using will level up, and as you progress through various skill trees, you'll unlock new abilities, higher-powered versions of existing ones, and the ability to "morph" certain skills and supplement them with extra effects.

For an example, let's look at the active skill Strife from my Nightblade's Siphoning tree. In its base form, Strife DoTs your target and heals you simultaneously. After you level it up a bit, you can choose to morph it into either Funnel Health or Swallow Soul, the former of which adds an ally heal and the latter of which increases the self-heal.

And that's just one active skill from one of the three Nightblade lines. Similar mechanics exist for weapon skills, armor skills, guild skills (i.e., the Fighters Guild or Mages Guild from the single-player games), racial skills, and more.

The weapon and armor skills form the backbone of ESO's foray outside the traditional themepark progression box, as they make it possible to roll a Sorcerer who also wields a greatsword and a bow or a Nightblade who can pick up a magical staff and sling some spells -- or heals -- on occasion. Don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path when you're adventuring, either. Exploration is one of ESO's strong points, and you may run across other skill lines for your toolbox as I did when I happened upon a Daggerfall NPC guild called the Undaunted that opened up an entirely new advancement path once I agreed to join.

And don't forget to spend your attribute points as you level! You've got health, magicka, and stamina pools, and the general rules of thumb for fantasy games apply: health for tanks, magicka for casters, etc. Feel free to experiment, though, because that's half the fun of this game. If -- like me -- you feel a bit overwhelmed, you can always look at what others are building.

Finally, crafting has dedicated skills lines as well, but I'll save that for another article.

Elder Scrolls Online lighting effects

Activity recap

In terms of my day two activity recap, I completed all of the newbie quests in Stros M'Kai after finally settling on my Nightblade and am now firmly entrenched in the Betnikh line. I've played mostly solo thus far and have yet to join a guild or sample the game's PvP, which opens up at level 10. I plan on doing both in the next couple of days, and I'm also hoping to get a look at dungeons and crafting before the week ends, so keep an eye out for those reports.

My opinion of the game is still largely positive. It runs well, ZeniMax has clearly planned ahead for the player load (at least during this early release period), and the visual palette has grown on me even since yesterday. It helps that I left the dreariness of Daggerfall behind in favor of the lush greenery of Betnikh and the sands of Stros M'Kai. I've always been a sucker for MMO deserts, and this one doesn't disappoint.

At the risk of going all buzzword on you, Elder Scrolls Online feels much more immersive than your average MMO themepark. Part of that is probably the IP and my history with it, but it's also the UI, the ability to do what you want with your character, and the little things like rewarding exploration, disguising your character for certain quests (and getting to keep the disguise to wear later), and the way your avatar stops and reads a scroll when you're menu-diving or otherwise disconnected from the hustle and bustle of the virtual world around you.

If you're just joining us, don't miss Day One of Massively's ESO launch diary.

Until next time!

  • Massively's ESO launch week diary, Day One

  • Massively's ESO launch week diary, Day Three

  • Massively's ESO launch week diary, Day Four

  • Massively's ESO launch week diary, Day Five

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?