A Shift in Tanking
I had a conversation the other morning about Dragon Knight tanking, and what abilities I use. As a result I thought it might be a useful blog post in waiting. The big thing about Elder Scrolls Online is that as a tank we have to throw a lot of our preconceived notions away. In previous games our mission in life has been to generate as much threat on as many targets as possible, and somehow through the grace of your healer manage to stay vertical. This is very much not business as usual in the Elder Scrolls. The moment I stepped into a dungeon I admit that I tried to do this, and found that my healer simply could not handle keeping me alive. There really are no AOE “threat” tools, nor is there really even a concept of threat as we know it in other games.
Instead of focusing all of the healing on a single player, the ESO method is more to try and spread the damage out among multiple targets at the same time evenly. As a tank you still play a crucial role as you can handle the hardest hitting targets while the healers/dps deal with the squishier targets. It takes some getting used to, but when it works it just works seamlessly. The group make up is far less important than it has been in other games. We’ve managed to make dual healers, and dual tanks work… which would have been a recipe for disaster in other games. The biggest thing is that the ESO dungeons require you to play in a much more fluid manner than before. Since a lot of the mob interactions are not static, you need to be able to adjust to changes as they happen.
I thought I would start off by talking a bit about the abilities that I use while tanking dungeons. Please note, that Belghast Sternblade my main is an Imperial Dragon Knight, and I have focused on Sword and Shield and Heavy Armor obsessively. I don’t even have an alternate weapon loadout because I have been purely focused on this one thing that I like doing. Here I am going to walk you through my hotbar, and some of the choices I have made to support being “tanky”.
This is the most archetypal Dragon Knight ability and generally one that people take immediately when they get their first skill point. I used to do this but now end up taking it as a second pick due to reasons I will explain later. Who does not love Deathgrip and feeling like Scorpion from Mortal Combat. This will become the most crucial ability you have in that you can use it to gank mobs away from squishier targets and will use it to pull with. I have not spent any points on morphing the ability, and at present I am leaning towards Extended Chains, the morph that increases distance.
This ability morphs from Puncture, and is literally the first thing I always choose when I am building a tanky DK. The reasoning behind the first pick is that whatever you pick first… will ultimately be the ability you are able to morph first since skills begin leveling the moment you place them on your hotbar. This is the bread and butter tanking ability. Ransack taunts the target for 15 seconds, deals damage, decreases the targets armor, and buffs your armor by the amount decreased. As a result this will literally be your most useful key to press ever since it does four different things at once and increases your survival while doing it.
Stone Giant is a morph of the ability Stone Fist from the Earthen Heart tree. At face value it is an extremely useful ability because it knocks the target down for a short period of time. This will allow you to interrupt abilities that normally could not be interrupted. Additionally it has a slightly longer than melee range allowing you to knock a target down and reduce damage on someone else. When you morph it however you get a short term armor buff after casting it allowing it to also function as somewhat of a survival ability as well.
This ability allows you to lock a number of targets down by encasing them in a cage of bone. While at face value this does not make a ton of sense for a tank build, since you are going to be up close and personal anyways… it does when you realize that it is a short term CC allowing you to control the flow of the mobs at the beginning of an encounter. I tend to hang back and as the first group of mobs comes running in, case this locking down most of them and giving the healer and dps time to acquire targets.
This ability is my one size fits all damage reduction buff morphed from Spiked Armor. I try my best to keep this on me at all times during a fight, or at least during the times when I am tanking the heaviest of hitters. Namely this ability increases your armor for 20 seconds and deals damage to your attacker while doing so. The morph makes it so you get an additional 25% armor increase for the 2.5 seconds. This is more in the line of pre-emptive triage when you know you are going to be taking more damage.
That is my toolbox abilities and pretty much the only ones I use other than swapping in a view situational abilities. If I know we are going to be fighting Daedra or Undead I tend to swap in Silver Bolts for Stone Giant, since the effectiveness of that ability greatly eclipses the minimal survival you get. If I am soloing, I swap out Dark Talons for Shield Charge, because I like ping ponging around the map and I don’t generally need to lock down targets. Occasionally I will swap in Consuming Trap if I know I will need healing after combat. For the most part these are the only active abilities I have, and I am completely fine with that.
What I do focus on instead are the passives. I take the opinion that I would rather be awesome all of the time than some of the time. If you look at the heavy armor, racial, and sword and shield trees… there are a number of amazing abilities that passively increase your resistance and general sturdiness. Essentially if it passively improves my ability to survive, I want it, and I will prioritize it over picking up an active ability since you can only use five at any given time. Were I rebuilding my level 16 character, I would have gotten the five abilities above and simply not touched another ability period until I had soaked up all of the passives.
Setting up the pull for the fight is likely where you will have the most trouble adapting to the way Elder Scrolls Online works. Generally speaking I gank a priority target over to the group using Fiery Grip. In doing so you want to make sure no one else in the party touches anything else. A large group of mobs will run at you, but if you take the time to notice not all of them will be attacking your group. In fact if you are fighting humanoids some of them will stand back like a crowd in a Kung Fu movie and cheer the combatants on. It is important to be able to evaluate the situation and deal with only the targets that are actually engaged in combat. If you accidentally hit one of the more passive opponents they will engage and give you one more add to deal with.
This is why I feel that abilities like Dark Talons are so important. As the tank I hang back after ganking that first target to me and see who comes running up after the squishies. As that pack of mobs comes into combat range, I tap Dark Talons locking them in place and giving my group time to figure out what the kill order will be. All of this is of course improved by having access to voice chat, but in theory each dungeon is going to have certain priority targets. Healers mainly will be the thing you need to focus down first, then likely Evokers or other mage types as they can do a large amount of AOE ground effect damage making it harder to stay out of the fire. As a tank you will focus on the harder hitting melee targets. If it has heavy armor, it is going to try and tank down your healer… stop them from doing that.
The above video is of us running Fungal Grotto, and it was shortly after starting this dungeon… after running several other dungeons… that we made the connection to how the mob behavior is working. My friends and I are learning this from scratch just like you guys are, so I do not claim to understand everything about the pull behavior. That said I feel confident that our working theory is going to test out. Fungal Grotto was immensely easier thanks to our wait and see stance on the pulls, and adjusting to only the mobs that actually decided to attack us. It is tank instinct to charge into the fight and try and make everything angry at once… this instinct will get you killed rapidly. This is a thing I have had to stop doing myself, and as much as I hate to admit it… we are far better off for this change in my personal behavior.
The most crucial skill we have noticed yet is the need to be able to adjust to things as they are happening. The problem with the way mob packs are designed, is it is damned near impossible to determine what mobs are going to aggro and engage at any given time. Similarly you have to be able to shift focus to pick up new high priority targets as they engage the battlefield. You might be fighting five trash mobs, and when you take one down… the boss of the encounter might engage even before the rest of the trash is finishes. It is crucial to be able to calmly shift focus to what just became the new highest priority for you as the tank. This involves a lot of faith in your team mates, that they will also similarly adjust.
Another instinct that you will have to completely obliterate is the “burn down” mentality of hopping on the boss and damaging it at all costs. Generally speaking this is always the wrong answer. Dungeons in the Elder Scrolls are for the most part about mitigating the amount of damage incoming to the party, and in a big pull the easiest way to do this is to knock out a hard hitting but squishy target. In fact I would say that more than likely damaging the boss is always your LAST priority. You want to try your best to clear all adds before you focus on the boss at all. Think raid encounter, and prioritize the things that can kill you and your friends over the big thing that hopefully the tank is going to deal with. Additionally as the tank make sure you are doing everything you can to reduce the amount of damage you are taking. This means juggling cool downs, and making sure you block, dodge and interrupt everything that you can.
The Elder Scrolls is already one of the more difficult tanking experiences I have encountered in an MMO. That said it is also one of the most empowering. I am no longer a big dumb meat shield that’s entire purpose is to piss off everything equally and somehow survive. I became just as valuable and tactical as other party members because what I choose to taunt, and choose to stun matters greatly in the overall success of the dungeon. My decisions matter, and not in a ham handed tank all the things way any longer. If you are familiar with MOBAs, this style of tanking will feel similar. As tank you are essentially there to direct the flow of combat, and interrupt whatever it is that the enemies are trying to do. If you master it, the dungeons will become far easier. I am so far from mastery at this point, but I feel like I am at least stepping down on the right path.
#ElderScrollsOnline #TESO #Tanking #Dungeons #DragonKnight