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Columns: The UI - Has It Won You Over?

By Ryan Getchell on February 25, 2015

The UI - Has It Won You Over?

The MMO community is a weird one. We demand that games take a chance and do something new and innovative, yet we get upset when those new things aren’t what we’re used to. The Elder Scrolls Online received a lot of this attention even before the game was being released. ESO’s User Interface (UI) is minimalist. If you asked me my opinions of it two years ago, I would have told you it sucked. However looking at it now, almost a year after it’s been released, I think it is a great UI. But it could be slightly better.

Name plates

One of the major differences that ESO offers with its UI versus other games is the lack of name plates. Prior to the game being launched and even after the launch there was much discussion about how important name plates are to a game. I used to be right in the thick of things with this discussion. I firmly believed that name plates are a must have for a MMO, but not anymore.


After going back and playing games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft and even Dark Age of Camelot, I’ve come to the conclusion that name plates are ugly. They serve only as a distraction.  How many times in the past have you used the name plates to find a specific person? Probably a lot.

Without them you’re engaged more in the combat at hand instead of playing “Where’s Waldo”. They also create a major cluster of garbled up gibberish on your screen. ESO prides itself on large scale battles, imagine how cluttered your screen would be with name plates hovering over 50+ people.

Guild Wars 2 vs ESO - GW2 Image Source, ESO Image Source

ESO has a very cinematic look to it. No matter where you go in the world it can be breath taking. This is exactly what the game developers and more specifically the artists strived for. You can stand on top of a cliff edge that overlooks Glennumbra and see players and NPCs moving about doing what they need to do and they look like citizens of the city and not players in a game.


This is an area of a game that is commonly overlooked when it comes to developers. By overlooked I mean they typically go for the box and squares style and consider it done. It never feels like there is much flash or thought that goes into this system, yet it is by far one of the most used game systems there are. You can’t play an MMO nowadays without utilizing an inventory system and if you’re anything like me you like to have an organized inventory system. Everything has to have a spot. Your consumables go in a spot, your armour in another, trash in another, etc. However the first time you loot a creature your organization goes out the window. The game doesn’t know what your system is, it just drops things in the first available slot.

Least in ESO the developers we have the ability to filter the inventory. While it is still a very simple filtering system, its leaps and bounds ahead of what I’ve encountered in other games. As I said, it’s a simplistic filtering system but it has the ability to look at your inventory and go directly to armour, consumables, or crafting materials. It’s all there and easily accessible.

As much as I enjoy this inventory system, there are times I’d like to organize my inventory system better than the default ESO system can, for example, in ESO we can’t move our items to arrange them in a specific order. I’d really like the ability move my items around and place my gear sets at the bottom so I don’t accidently sell or worse deconstruct them, without having to install a third party addon.


Now this is where we start getting into the “it could be slightly better” part. While the stats in ESO are relatively easy to understand, health, stamina and magicka, there is are a bunch of stats that are hidden from the casual player. To keep with their minimal UI they opted to keep parts of the data hidden and lump those stats into a stat with a broad term. A great example of this is, Spell Resistance. While the casual gamer will consider this a great defensive stat, and will want to increase it as much as possible, the game utilizes a lot of information that is unseen. Fire Resistance, Frost Resistance, Shock Resistance, these are all stats you can increase using enchants on your gear and through abilities but you have no way to know how much of those specific resistances you’re at.

As much as I enjoy the lack of clutter on my screen with the ESO UI, I feel that if I can increase a specific stat I should be able to see the total of that stat. I have no qualms with Zenimax wanting to keep a minimal stat window, in fact I enjoy it, however for those who want to see a detailed window there should be an option to select between advanced or simple stat window. I know there are addons that will allow you change the stat window, but should a player have to download a third party addon to see something that is already in the game?

Action Bar

A lot of people had some serious words about the limited 6 button action bar, myself again, being one of them. I’ve come to love it, I think it adds a large dynamic to the game that you don’t have in other games.

Without the action bar limitation you could essentially do anything at any time, there is no real choice to be made. You hit a button if it didn’t work you go back to your regular rotation. Whereas with ESO, if you have to think about what abilities you’re going to do, if you want to swap one out you have think which one can you afford to not have anymore.

As a healer, I switch out a bunch of my abilities depending on what the fight ahead might be. Maybe I want more critical to build up my ultimate faster, perhaps I need to get more Hots out to players who are standing outside my small AoE heal. There is so much more player choice when it comes to limiting the action bar.

Guild Wars 2 hosts a limited action bar, but it doesn’t come close to the way ESO implemented it. ESO has so many more options available to the player that the amounts of combinations and rotations that can be created are tenfold in comparison to Guild Wars 2.

Hopefully this article sparked something in you that you really like or dislike about the ESO UI. As I said earlier Zenimax received a lot of flak over the minimal UI but now that we’ve played it for a year and become used to its design, I want to know your thoughts. Do you like the minimal UI? Do you think the minimal UI is a way of the future or do you feel that games like WoW have it right, by putting all the character’s power at the fingertips of the player?

Ryan Getchell / Ryan is our resident Elder Scrolls nerd, and columnist for Zenimax's MMO. When he's not out killing things in Tamriel, he's working in IT professionally.