Elder Scrolls Online’s Skill System Lets You Be Everything

By Nathan Grayson on December 4th, 2013 at 11:00 am.

Except a giant alligator monster. Probably.

When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be a fireman and an astronaut and a cowboy and a monster truck and Batman and a shoe and a barn and a machine that could produce infinite popsicles and the head of a moderately successful middle management firm. Eventually, however, I realized that I’d have to settle on just one thing, so I decided that I hated money and became a games journo. The Elder Scrolls Online, however, ties no such noose of practicality around the neck of your dreams. Given time and exploration, you can be everything. Video detailing how it all works below.

I’m not sold on other aspects of TESO (though I must say that it’s at least finally getting the visual style down), but the skill system is certainly alluring. Pick up a weapon? There’s an entire skill set you can master as you please. Join a guild or complete some other world activity – like, for instance, getting bitten by a vampire? Skill set. And they can all be tied to one character.

Ultimates also look suitably over-the-top, with the dragon-wing ultra-stomp thing doing an especially nice job of making me want to crank Danger Zone and rain scaly death from on high. Also, there’s one called Rushed Ceremony, but I misheard it as RUSH Ceremony and was desperately sad to find that it wasn’t this:

Oh well. I’ll slay impossible creatures with winding sonic labyrinths of prog rock someday, somehow. Guess it’s time to make another mod.

The Elder Scrolls Online will be out next year. Based on what I’ve played and what I’m seeing now, it mostly just makes me want to go play Skyrim again. I can feel the adventure lust stirring in the most wayward portions of my loins, but TESO – at least, in my experience – is too confined and empty to actually sate me. We’ll see, though. Maybe time has given it room to grow into its series’ massive legacy. Hopefully, even, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

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64 Comments »

  1. chris1479 says:

    When everyone can be everything and no one needs to compromise then ultimately no one is anything in particular. End result: A turgid, indistinct game populated by clones running in circles.

    • N'Al says:

      Lightsabers for everyone!

    • Staminix says:

      Soo deep. Oh my.

      People still need to be healers and tanks to complete dungeons. Thus ultimately they split into a few categories. Tank, Healer, Melee DPS, Ranged DPS, thus making it like more or less every other MMO.

    • Viroso says:

      Eh, I don’t think so. For one we don’t know how long it’ll take for players to become gods. Second is there are those spell customization things. Third, most important thing is, everyone can be the same and the game can work just fine. A lot of games work just fine like that.

    • AngelTear says:

      Actually in The Secret World the same kind of open system worked really well. You don’t have to grind your way up the same quests with multiple characters just to cover different roles, you could learn all abilities but only “equip” a handful at a time. What that meant is that you could be any role, but effectively only one role at a time. And, without endless grinding, you’d still be confined to your main role for a very long time.

      • Nibblet says:

        Actually the tsw system does not work well at all since you are still shoehorned into very spesific talent combinations for optimal performance in your chosen role and then there is the annoyance of having to gear up for every role.
        This is made even worse by some fights demanding you respec and/or re-gear on the fly resulting in you having to carry several gear sets around.

        • Faxmachinen says:

          TSW did try, and invented DPS/healing and tank/healing hybrids, but ultimately there were not enough interesting and flexible skills to go beyond that. It did not help that half the skills would screw your tank over in dungeons (though the recent addition of scenario missions mitigate this).

          I would have loved to see weird builds that focus on nullifying incoming damage rather than healing, or that cool down your group’s abilities faster rather than dealing damage.

          Elder Scrolls doesn’t look like it’ll be doing any better, mind.

    • wpmaura says:

      so true when everyone is special no one is, but this game actually does have a class system and your limited by the amount of things you can level up.

      • AngelTear says:

        I actually don’t think this is true. And in the game.
        The reason most MMOs streamline their classes is that it’s easier to collaborate with strangers if everyone performs the same role in different groups because everyone is effectively the same. (e.g. all tanks are the same, all dps are the same etc)

        If everyone was unique there could be pretty interesting combinations and synergies happening; but the bosses are designed for that streamlined set of classes and people don’t feel like trying out new things with strangers. (That’s actually one of the biggest downside of MMOs in my opinion: you end up doing the same thing over and over again. You don’t tackle dungeons, you “learn” them. Someone makes up a strategy and everyone copies it and executes it. It gets repetitive and takes out a lot of excitement.)

        • Stephen Roberts says:

          In all my time playing WoW (back in the day) I’ve only ever ‘figured out’ one boss. Every other encounter was pre-told, disseminated instructions. That one boss was the most interesting boss I’ve ever fought, simply because of the value of discovery and player agency that went along with solving it.

          • Koozer says:

            I remember playing when Burning Crusade (the first expansion non-WoWers) came out and going through the dungeons for the first time with bunch of 4 strangers in the same position. Sure we died a lot, but it was fun figuring out mob patrols, boss attacks and all that jazz. These days with the magic group finder and everything made easier, dungeons are just XP pinatas with minimal brains required. It’s always a bit depressing when the tank/healer dies on a boss and we still manage to kill it with no fuss.

    • AreWeHavingFunYet says:

      Sounds like what Guild Wars 2 did, thanks to their “holy trinity is baaaaad” mantra.

    • Tacroy says:

      … there’s still class and race skill lines, not everyone has those.

  2. DrScuttles says:

    Seems fitting in an MMO version of a world where some random chosen person can become the head all the guilds. Each and every single bloody one of them. Even all the secret, illegal ones. In the space of about a month. And a vampire. Or a werewolf. And lead those clans, too.
    It’s amazing they even find time to have adventures with all that admin to take care of.

    • SillyWizard says:

      I would really like a game designer to think about what you just said here.

      It would be lovely for games that put the player “in charge” of various organizations to gradually shift focus to be about dealing with all of the petty office politics of said organizations, and be left with little to no time for skull-crushing.

      I was pretty sad that Dragon Age 2 wasn’t a game in which my now-Head-of-the-Gray-Wardens was rubbing shoulders with the power players in the country, politicking for more land/resources with which to build up the order, and then using the new-found power and prestige to further his own possibly nefarious (or altruistic) goals.

      I want to play this: the player can either focus on being a one-man army and kill all the things; or become an administrator, and influence events all across the land using a wide number of agents. (Or maybe a combination of the two, being unable to achieve the level of power that either of the aforementioned paths could afford.)

      The potential for “meaningful decision-making” in the above situation could be breathtaking.

      • Anders Wrist says:

        I remember an old favourite of mine called Birthright: The Gorgon’s Alliance, which had both the empire building aspects of games like Crusader Kings and the optional adventure mode, where you could go on an adventure in first person and collect artifacts or gold and loot. This would then serve to bolster your character’s power and bloodline, thus furthering your power in the empire building part.

        Despite all its bugs, it’s still a game I wish would have inspired more people today. To my knowledge, there’s never been anything like it, merging those two types of games, both of which I love.

      • Damien Stark says:

        Dragon Age Awakening actually had some of what you’re describing.

        Not to the extent you’d like obviously, but you were the head Warden of a keep, responsible for finding more equipment suppliers and material sources. Every so often they’d assemble the local nobles and you’d have to prioritize things like defending farmland or cities, and siding with one noble or the other in some squabble while tracking down which ones were secretly plotting against you.

        Hardly a full-time game in itself, but I thought it was a nice touch…

  3. Squirly says:

    If seeing the MMO of an established franchise makes you want to play the last singleplayer iteration, something is off.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      Ahh.. The elder scrolls online. All the fun of Skyrim, but includes elves who “gonna fcuk my mother” and Orc wondering “Y I Mad Bro”.

      I can barely wait…..

  4. ravencheek says:

    This is a thing that has bugged me in the last couple Elder Scrolls games, it’s like politically correctness in a high fantasy setting. Everyone can do everything. Regardless of Gender, Race, Skill, Class…
    You want to be a Orc Berzerker who is head of the Thief, Assassins and Mages guild, sure. You want to be a Wood Elf Thief who is champion in arena combat, sure.

    In Morrowind for example if you weren’t the right race, master of alteration or master lockpick there are whole areas of the game that you would just never see. You’re not allowed because we don’t like you/your not good enough to see this.

    I dunno just something that doesn’t sit right with me.

    EDIT: Didn’t mean this to sound as racist/sexist as it came out, but anyone with a D&D history will know exactly what I’m on about.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      I know what you mean. I’d spend hours agonising over picking the right race and class for ‘me’ in the earlier games. Where as in Skyrim I think I just hit random everything as it ultimately doesn’t matter in the least

      • tetracycloide says:

        It ultimately didn’t matter in Morrowind either. The only real difference was what ‘ultimately’ entails.

    • RedViv says:

      Really nothing to do with PC, even in a world where you literally have different species with mostly different physiology. It’s just about a lack of skill requirements. Even the most PC person will not put the cleaning lady in charge of the Mars orbiting mission just because they are one woman short. :P

      Yes, that hand-holding free-for-all REALLY is a letdown especially in Skyrim. A game in which you can rise to the top of the mage guild equivalent within three days, knowing barely one spell. That’s yet again not PC. Just really stupid and lazy and boring and well you get the idea.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      I get it but some of the skyrim did show those issues but they didn’t effect the player as much as they should have. Such as if i played as a argonian

    • Bull0 says:

      I wouldn’t conflate what you’re feeling with any real-world concerns, it’s just a game design issue. It has the potential to harm your immersion when your player characteristics don’t define your experience to the extent that you feel they should.

    • chris1479 says:

      Completely agree. If there’s no *difference* between any of the races/classes then any distinguishing features e.g looks/backstory somehow become more or less irrelevant fluff as they are basically all the same anyway.

    • AngelTear says:

      I get your point, but on the other hand I can’t help but feel that grinding the same early game multiple times with different characters just to reach one new area (e.g. 10 hours of the same for 2 hours of different content) that maybe turned out to be not so special after all, would just feel boring. On the other hand, I don’t like TES games, so maybe I’m biased.

      If every race started in a different place, was treated differently, had different options etc, so that the world wouldn’t feel the same, despite *being* the same, then it would be a different story; but I guess that would require a lot of additional work.

      • bledcarrot says:

        Fair point about the grinding, but I guess I see it from another angle, that is that it takes away something important from the role playing experience. Role playing games have always been about choices and compromise. You create your character and you make choices in the world based on that character. Over time your character gains experience and you make more choices about how he or she will evolve within the world. But you’re always aware of the opportunity cost in every decision. If I want to be an agile half elf thief who works from the shadows then I’ll skill accordingly, but it will most likely mean I can’t use heavy armour and two handed axes, and that I most likely never will. Future choices might see me introducing other elements to her story though. She happens upon a shady necromancer in her travels and trains in a little magic. Now she can cast a shadow cloak or raise undead beasts. Whatever it may be. The point is that this is what locks in the story of your character, as you play. So the whole re-speccing thing to me loses the depth and permanency of characters and detracts from the role playing experience. They become largely meaningless.

        But I can accept that’s a personal preference.

    • wpmaura says:

      agree but I can see a thief becoming a could melee fighter, thiefs are melee fighters but with a different skill set.

      But I agree Morrowind was FAR better. If people were to pay attention they keep taking away character options in every itteration of elderscrolls games

    • tetracycloide says:

      So it’s fine if you can become the head of every guild and faction in a month as long as there are some trivial skill requirements?

      Which ‘whole areas’ of the game required a specific race by the way because after multiple 100+ hour playthroughs I can’t recall any…

  5. preip says:

    I’m quite curious how this will turn out. I’m not convinced that an online TES will work (or even is a good idea, for that matter) and the video is supporting that position.

  6. yhancik says:

    Can you be a door knocker though?

  7. Nevard says:

    I keep thinking this game has already been out for ages even though obviously it can’t have been

  8. wpmaura says:

    Not Correct for example you have to use magic, I never used magic in Elder Scrolls games, I liked being a pure melee class my favourite being a thief that made there own poisons. This is class base pure and simple and certain weapons and armours tie to enhancing class skills. Lets not forget small zones as well. Do not think this is like skyrim, oblivion or morrowind but multiplayer, this game is SWTOR/GW2 hybrid on a tamriel map

  9. frightlever says:

    Ultima Online let you mould your character however you wanted but you couldn’t maximise every skill, AFAIR. What ESO is doing seems to be, counter-intuitively, unimaginative. Boundaries are what make character skill choice interesting.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I liked Ultima Online’s system quite a lot.

      Through use, you could increase any skill to the maximum (100), but you had a certain limit on total points available (700), so you could only get maximum skill level in seven different skills. Alternatively you could have more skills, but at lower levels, in order to be more of a jack-of-all-trades.

      Don’t know why that system hasn’t been copied more.

      • jrb9249 says:

        I have always wondered the same thing. Ultima Online was really unlike any other MMO, and nearly perfect in my opinion–especially its housing and skill systems. To think ESO’s game developers said that implementing housing was “too difficult in an MMO”, makes me sick (albeit they did claim that they were misquoted, and are just not “focusing on housing” right now). I understand you have limited resources, so not focusing on housing right away is just fine, really. However, when you do implement it, please remember that housing is simple: (1) create a vendor that sells housing deeds of various shapes and sizes, (2) create certain terrain that allows housing, (3) don’t publicly identify/advertise that terrain, (4) make sure the terrain is semi-plentiful and mixed in with popular areas like the out-skirts of towns, (5) allow users to place houses anywhere on that terrain using the house deed, and (6) limit the number of houses per account to one. The result is simple economics: (1) players will initially go crazy buying their favorite house deeds and search for areas to place them, (2) many players will purchase multiple accounts to get extra houses–i.e., MORE MONEY DUH, (3) players will sell houses to eachother and (5) the market price will be determined naturally through supply and demand. I remember in UO houses were priced by size and location, and the ability to place vendors in your house created the concept of player-run shops, which essentially gave you your “auction house”. It was genius.

  10. fluffy_thedestroyer says:

    When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be a fireman and an astronaut and a cowboy and a monster truck and Batman and a shoe and a barn and a machine that could produce infinite popsicles and the head of a moderately successful middle management firm. Eventually, however, I realized that I’d have to settle on just one thing, so I decided that I hated money…

    That sums up my life lol

  11. The Random One says:

    “Rushed Ceremony” is a hilarious skill name.

    “We are gathered here today for the marriage of-”
    “GET TO IT ALREADY PRIEST”

    • Koozer says:

      “I am sure we all have fond memories of-”
      “Just get him in the hole, the buffet’s going cold!”

      • MichaelGC says:

        Reminds me of the short-short marriage ceremony in Spaceballs

  12. Bracknellexile says:

    Whatever happened to the days when games let you set up private servers? If I could take Skyrim, start a server running a small group (say 16 players) and add a dozen or so friends as traveling companions, that’s a TESO I’d throw money at. Private server plus all the awesome mods Skyrim had? Even better! (I can’t see TESO being very moddable beyond a few aesthetics if its mechanics are all controlled server-side).

    The main thing that puts me off MMOs is the lowest-common-denominator mentality of the population. I want to play with friends, I’m happy to pay to play with friends, I just don’t want to have to play with all the idiots and morons who think sexism and racism are funny while we do it.

    • fluffy_thedestroyer says:

      Cause I smell microtransactions with this release. Controling your users is war easier if they use your servers. All the information from your PC from hardware and software you use to the demographic info they can take from your IP address is a mine gold for them when they need cash from us… But that could be my cynical view on their business model, ya I could be wrong but I would love to see private servers in the style of Neverwinter Nights but i don’t think thats going to happen

    • aliksy says:

      Timid, unimaginative developers who think MMOs are big profits?

      I wanted Skyrim, Dark Souls, and Left 4 Dead to have an awkward three way and produce a game. I want co-op with friends, and I want people (friends, or anyone if i make the game public) able to hop in and control the bandits/goblins/etc.

      • cpt_freakout says:

        Add Savage/Natural Selection 2 ‘commander’ or DM gameplay and you’ve got yourself a Kickstarter project well funded, my friend.

  13. Nibblet says:

    As far as the PC crowd goes this game was doomed the moment they decided to use the Hero engine (tiny maps , tons of instancing, loading screens everywhere and an inability to handle the “massive” part of an mmo) but this is obviously aimed at the console crowd.
    It is extremely simplistic and “action” oriented and since it will be the first and only console mmo i am guessing they are banking on a lack of competition as much as the draw of the franchise.
    Would not be surprised at all to learn this winds up making them a ton of money.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      The best part of Elder Scrolls, except for the game :P, is the plethora of mods. No such thing in console games or MMO’s.

      • Nibblet says:

        True, but they still sold tons of skyrim copys for the toy boxes in spite of them not being moddable.

  14. Darth Gangrel says:

    “They told me I could become anything, so I became everything”.

  15. Shigawire says:

    I haven’t tried the game, so I can’t judge whether or not that is going to be as decent as Skyrim. I fear it’ll be too similar to Age of Conan or WoW.

    But the graphics… I’m disappointed in how they have lowered the graphical standard from Skyrim.
    Whereas Skyrim had vast view distances for the terrain, with epic mountains, this game seems to have a perpetual and convenient “fog” everywhere, just to hide the fact that the view distance is terrible. Similar to what was done in Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2. They claim that it’s impossible for an MMO – but I think it’s only “impossible” because of marketing purposes. I’m not expecting to see actual characters and monsters far away in the distance.. just the terrain thanks. No, I suspect the real reason is that they set up the graphics to the lowest common denominator – so supporting 4-5 year old computers is their goal. Why not make it scaleable though?
    Should be possible to support both.

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-05-31-why-the-elder-scrolls-online-doesnt-and-cant-look-like-skyrim

  16. Stevostin says:

    ” I must say that it’s at least finally getting the visual style down”

    Not. Technically, it’s not even on par, and visually, I have yet to see even one decent landscape. Animation also feels MMOish.

    The fact that there is not even one first person view in that video also scream “impending doom” to me. I’ve played hundreds of hour in TES games, and 0 (null)(nada) were played in TPV. I also just finished ME3 and while I can cope with TPV, it’s overall an annoyance, with lesser aim, lesser feel of the surrounding, lack of immersion for the only gain of… well, seing your character from the back.

  17. SillyWizard says:

    Since when do Americans say “journo?” Tory bastard….

  18. Michael Fogg says:

    That’s a Deadra (demon) called a Deadroth, not an ‘alligator monster’

    • Nibblet says:

      I think we can all agree the daedroth are clearly a subset of the alligator monster family.

  19. tk421242 says:

    I would be more likely to play this if it was in fact a truly open ended skill system like Secret World but they show in the video that is it not at all. It is still a class based game that requires you to pick one class at creation that limits what skill trees are available to you. Currently something like 4 classes and each has three skill sets to choose from. Even if I can mix and match skills from those sets I can never go and learn skills from another class so that to me is a barrier.

    Even if each class has skills that allow them to play differently if I want to try a new skill from a different class I have to roll a new character…. that is something that just has not appealed to me in years for an MMO. As I get older my gaming time is more limited and having to make a new character and play through the same content again is not something I want to do… especially if they keep with their plan of being a subscription game. No thanks.

  20. Smoof says:

    Just wanted to say: One of my biggest annoyances about this game is that I can’t be a Redguard. I happened to get into a beta weekend a few weeks ago (I actually didn’t go any further than creating a character and running around the first area briefly) and wanted to make my go-to race choice for any TES game: Redguard. Perhaps this will change in the future, but the only type of Redguard I could make looked like a white guy with dark skin.

    Not to mention, all those white guys are just lame looking serious faced, chiseled chin, broad shouldered dudes.

    Anyway, that’s my silly rant for now.

  21. Megakoresh says:

    This progression system will only work if the skills, and perks as well as ability sets can be always reset and respecced without loosing anything other than perhaps a small fee. Otherwise it will just break the game. This is an MMO, not a SP game. You can’t allow complete freedom to 1000 people at once, or you completely eliminate player identity.

    Elder Scrolls works with maximum 4 player coop. NOT Massive Multiplayer. Even if they allow us to traverse the entirety of Tamriel, it’s still going to feel awkward and there will still be a ton of sacrifices to make it a survivable MMO. Like Mods. Mods will be the first on the list of sacrifices. And IMO Mods are one of the biggest things that define this franchise.

    Why won’t they just make that game a normal Elder Scrolls game with a possibility of 2-player Coop? It would be so much better and make them a lot more money. What’s with developers trying to make an MMO out of everything. It’s a boring, expensive, grindy genre with a lot of bad tropes and a lot of limitations and it has some of the highest failure rates in the industry. Seriously, we don’t need an ES MMO. All we ever asked for is a small scale Coop!