Elder Scrolls Online Ability Primer

Debt of Knowledge

eso 2014-04-13 11-41-22-20 One of the things I have been encountering in Elder Scrolls Online is that the game has an extremely steep learning curve.  There are certain things I take for granted since several of us have literally been playing this game for well over a year.  We all had the same moments the newer players had, where we got our asses handed to us by a mudcrab or a wolf or encountered that first boss that we just could not push past.  Thing is the game has a set of skills that have to be mastered and pushed to almost muscle memory.  Most MMOs you can get by with simply swinging your weapon blindly at the target and hoping for the best.  This is not the case for Elder Scrolls Online, and this morning I am going to try and outline some of these abilities and some strategies I have developed to make sure they work as expected.  I had hoped to accompany each of these with a screenshot, but alas the servers are undergoing maintenance this morning.

Paying Attention to Combat

The most important tip I can give is to pay attention to everything that happens in combat.  All mobs have a “tell” when they are about to perform a specific kind of attack.  If you learn these tells you can figure out what they are about to do and set up accordingly.  This is a fundamentally different concept from say World of Warcraft where monsters tend to cycle through the same animations regardless of what they are going to do.  For example the crocodiles in the game have a pretty heinous tail swipe attack that you need to get out of range for.  Shortly before doing it every time they will scrunch up a bit, bending at the center of their body.  Knowing this gives you plenty of time to run out of the arc of the attack which has a very short cast timer.  This becomes extremely crucial when you start encountering packs of mobs that employ “group tactics” with healers and tanks and ranged dps.

Blocking Power Attacks

The most critical ability is blocking power attacks.  When a mob is about to set up for a power attack beige rays of light will start radiating around their body.  In addition they will be setting up some attack animation like performing a large weapon swing.  Generally speaking if you do not block a power attack you are going to die.  Maybe not immediately, but it will almost always take enough health that it puts you in a severely compromised state.  This means you need to block EVERY power attack to be successful.  In order to block the default control is to hold down your right mouse button until the animation has completed.  The trick here is that blocking takes stamina, so you have to make sure you have enough stamina in reserve to always be able to block a power attack.  If you successfully block the attack, and it is not a boss type encounter… you will place the mob in an “off balance” state that I will cover later on.

Interrupting Spell Casts

While you cannot interrupt a power attack, and simply have to block it… there are some abilities you can interrupt and you should as often as possible.  When a mob is casting an ability that is interruptible red rays of light will begin radiating from their body.  Often times this will be associated with a red telegraph on the ground, but I will cover those shortly.  Pressing both the right and left mouse buttons at the same time will interrupt the cast.  I however find it difficult to time pressing both at exactly the same time.  What I do instead that works so much better for me is to hold down my right mouse button like I am performing a block, and then simply tap my left mouse button while the right is held down.  This will correctly perform an interrupt move and stop whatever spell is being cast.  Successfully interrupting a spell cast will place the mob in an “off balance”state similar to blocking… if the mob is not a boss type encounter.

Moving Out of Red Stuff

Wildstar was the first game I had played that actively used the term “telegraph” to describe the various visual overlays that appear on the ground to indicate that the mob is just about to do something.  For lack of a better term for this visualization method… I am adopting it from this point on.  During various encounters when a mob is just about to do an ability a red telegraph will appear on the ground.  You should not be standing in this red field at all costs.  This means you either need to interrupt the cast if the mob has the red rays of light radiating from it… or simply move out of it.  There are lots of different versions of this telegraph mechanic, sometimes it is a cone shape, other times a long line, and more commonly a giant circle.  In all cases you should not be standing in whatever is about to happen.  Many of these you can block, but it is always best to simply move out of the red until you know for certain which mobs abilities can be reliably blocked.


But you are saying to yourself… sometimes I can’t move fast enough to get out of the red stuff.  Thankfully Elder Scrolls has an answer for your.  They have implemented a dodge mechanic that many “action mmo” players will recognize.  Essentially this can be performed a few ways but the default action is to double tap one of your movement keys.  You will perform a short dodge in that direction.  While you are in the dodge animation you are immune to damage briefly.  This means you can use dodge to get through traps, and out of puddles even if the effect has landed.  Personally I find it damned near impossible to time a double tap of a movement key reliably.  Thankfully for someone like me Elder Scrolls also has an option to set a keybind.  I currently have dodge keybound to middle mouse button.  If I click it while standing still it will perform a backwards leap.  If I click it while moving in a direction, it will perform a dodging roll in the direction I was last moving.

Exploiting Off Balance States

So I talked about “Off Balance” states a bit earlier and said I would get into that later.  It is finally later.  Every so often you will perform an ability that places a mob in an “off balance” state.  You can tell this by the fact that the mob will have the standard Final Fantasy/Street Fighter “dizzy” animation with head slumped and swirly bits over its head.  This means a few things, firstly that mob will not be attacking you until it recovers, and secondly you can exploit its compromised state with a power attack.  While the mob is “dizzy” performing a power attack will knock it down.  How does one perform a power attack?  Skip down to the next bullet point for that one.

Power Attacks

Power Attacks are extremely useful, especially as a “from stealth” opener.  To execute a power attack you hold down your left mouse button as your character does an extended animation ending in a stronger attack.  How power attacks work greatly depends upon the weapon you are using.  Some of them are far more valuable than others, but remember in using a power attack there is always an opportunity cost associated with them.  Some builds will favor them greatly, and other builds will favor the faster light attacks.  Your mileage may vary.   I personally only really use them when the mob is in an “Off Balance” state to get the free knockdown effect.


You can exploit and “off balance” state with a power attack to knock down the mob, but there are also lots of other abilities that have a knockdown effect.  As a Dragon Knight I have an ability Stonefist that will knock whatever mob down it hits.  Why this is useful is that it is the only way to actually stop a mob from firing a power attack.  Additionally if you time it just right you can use a knockdown to interrupt a spell cast.  Stonefist for example has a slightly longer than melee cast range, which means I can use it to interrupt casts on mobs that are not within the range of my normal interrupt ability.  The big warning with knockdowns, is that in general boss type encounters are immune to them.  Some of them will not be, and in those cases I highly suggest you exploit the hell out of that fact.

Breaking Crowd Control

One of the things you will encounter that is frustrating in Elder Scrolls Online is that the game has a lot of snares and crowd control… and that they are all very long.  The reason why it is “okay” for a game like this to have such long CC is that every player has a quick and easy way to break free.  You have two options at your disposal and I will cover both.  The first and probably quickest is to simply dodge.  Dodging frees you of crowd control effects and negates any snares that you might have on you, letting you go in a direction of your choosing away from the encounter.  The second option is the actual “CC Break” ability.  It functions just like interrupting a cast and you perform it by pressing down both mouse buttons at the same time.  Again like I said earlier I find this maneuver difficult to pull off with precision timing, so instead I employ the “hold right mouse button and tap left mouse button” alternate maneuver.  You should try both and see which is easier for you.

These Are the Basics

In most MMOs you can ignore the tutorial and just get straight into the combat and pretty much “figure it out” as you go along.  Elder Scrolls Online is not that type of game, and while you are running around Cold Harbor it makes attempts to teach you how these abilities work.  However there are a number of them that it doesn’t cover at all.  The problem is that the game expects you to be fluent in ALL of these techniques pretty much by the time you hit your first “guild quest” encounters.  Doshia and Gutsripper both completely wreck players that do not have ALL of these things firmly under their belt.  My hope in writing this little primer is to help bridge the ability gap that players coming from traditional MMOs have coming into the Elder Scrolls Online.  I am by no means a master at all of these, and I will occasionally screw up… and pay the consequences with a death.  However knowing all of these abilities will leave you better prepared for whatever the game has to throw at you.  Like I said above, after awhile all of these things become muscle memory and you just start performing the right thing at the right time without really thinking about it.

#TES #ElderScrollsOnline #ESO

5 thoughts on “Elder Scrolls Online Ability Primer

  1. Thanks for this information! Now that I’m in the low-30s, mobs are getting more difficult, and the information I read here saved me more than once this weekend!

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