Today Zenimax Online Studios released a lengthy video detailing how skills and character progression will work in Elder Scrolls Online when it launches next year (see embedded video below). Likewise, we’re going to put it all down here on paper for you, with a combination of knowledge gleaned from our own playtime, the ZOS devs themselves, and of course the aforementioned video. In short, saddle up, grab your thinking caps, and let’s detail why ESO’s character progression choices might be the most varied and nuanced in recent MMO history.
There are three main facets of skill progression, outside of your character’s overall level (1-50 at launch). You have your abilities themselves: usually determined by class selection, weapon choice, or even guild allegiance. You also have several different types of skill lines which determine the access to what abilities you can use. And of course you have the skill points, which are the sort of currency you spend to gain new abilities.
Let’s talk about Skill Lines, baby.
Let’s talk about you and me… or not. Let’s stick to skill lines. You have the individual sort (class and racial), the global skill lines (weapon, armor, crafting), and the dynamic skill lines (mages guild, fighters guild, werewolf, vampire, and even emperor skills). The thing is, while you could mix and match your build from all of these different lines, you’ll need to rank up each one to gain access to the deeper abilities in the system.
Weapon abilities are ranked up by equipping the associated weapon, and by equipping weapon skills on your skill bar. Use the sword and shield, and you’ll rank up that skill line. The higher rank you are, the more powerful skills you’ll have access to equip on your bar. The same is true for Armor as well, as each type of armor has its own skill path with active and passive abilities. Class skills open up as you gain experience too. So while you might be level 5 or 6, your fireball spell could be even higher or lower depending on if it’s equipped or not.
Crafting skills go up as you do things that are associated with specific crafting professions. This is called gaining “inspiration”. If you deconstruct a suit of armor, your blacksmithing will go up. If you create a new potion, you’ll gain inspiration for alchemy. It’s like “experience” for your overall character level, but doesn’t affect your character’s overall level. This system is reflected in Guild and other dynamic skill lines with reputation. The more stuff you do that’s associated with a particular guild, the more your rank will go up and the higher access to other skills you will have.
But Bill, How Do We Get All The Skill Points?!
You might be saying: “Boy, that’s a crap ton of different skills… how will we gain them all if we just have fifty levels?” That’s the thing with ESO, your progression won’t stop at the level cap, unless you want it to. You’ll still gain access to higher ranks within the different skill lines. Some quests will offer skill points too, as will collecting skyshards (think of these as collection quests for the explorer types), and even PVP. If you gain ranks in the Alliance War, you’ll gain skill points too. We’re told there will more than enough ways to gain skill points well beyond the level cap so you can keep trying out new builds and new ways to play. But choose wisely, because there won’t be a respec option in ESO. If you want to try something new, you’ll have to play the game and earn the points.
The Many Breeds of Skills
Skills come in different types too. Many are active, or as you well know: skills that you need to have on your ability bar to activate. Active abilities grow in strength if you have them placed in your ability bar (not just if you’re using them). If you always have a fireball and a frost spell equipped but only use the fireball , they’ll still both level equally. Spells are abilities that use Magicka, and every class will have access to some (not just Sorcerers).
Feats are abilities that use Stamina and are more often associated with weapon and armor lines. Lastly, there are Ultimate actives: these are powerful skills that charge based on how well you fight. Block or dodge special attacks and you’ll open up the Ultimate faster. You can only have one active at a time on your bar.
Lastly, Passives are the often overlooked, but infinitely helpful of the many skills in ESO. You don’t need to activate these. They just always give you a bonus. There’s no limit to how many you can learn, as long as your skill line rank is high enough. And almost all passive skills can have skill points pumped into them to make them even stronger.
Okay, Got It… But What’s All This About Morphing and Synergy?
Some active abilities have access to what is being called “Morphs” as you level them up. What’s this mean, exactly? Let’s say you use your two-handed cleave ability to the point where it’s level five or so. Now it has unlocked a morph, and you can choose which of two different shapes the leveled up ability can take. One version will hit more targets and cause a stun, while the other will hit less targets but do more damage via bleed effects. A long time ago, Paul Sage told us you’d be able to go back later in the game and learn the other paths of each morphed ability. It remains to be seen if this is true, but we sure hope so.
Then, finally, we have Synergy. Simply put, these are learned-by-the-player effects that happen when you play alongside others. One great example is an electric storm sort of spell the Sorcerer can use that will send a notification to his group members to press a button at a certain time. If they do, they’ll charge the electricity even more and make that spell’s effects even stronger. The deeper you go into the various skill lines, the more likely you are to find synergies like this hidden within.
Whew… that about covers it. The only thing left to do is wait and see what exactly each skill will bring to the table, and just how crazy of builds we can make throughout the game’s leveling process. I’m looking forward to making a plate-wearing sorcerer with some solid staff/two-handed wielding too. How about you? Let us know your thoughts.
Bill Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com and RTSGuru.com. He’s a giant nerd, lover of games, and has been writing and complaining about them since 2002. You can follow him on Twitter @TheBillMurphy.