Tamriel Infinium: A guide to Elder Scrolls Online’s combat basics


I was looking back through some of my posts about the Elder Scrolls Online, and I noticed that I’ve mentioned combat quite a bit. I talk about how it feels, how it’s action-oriented. I even have a couple of articles about different class builds. My favorite thing to talk about is how that your class really doesn’t determine your role in a group. But somehow, I’ve never really discussed the basics of ESO combat.

ESO’s combat is a bit slower-paced than some other games, like DC Universe Online which actually has a very similar system. I think it has a slower system than Guild Wars 2, but that might just be an animation difference. ESO‘s combat is far less clunky than The Secret World, and the hits definitely feel as if they have more weight.


The hits

Let’s talk about those hits. A simple left click swings or shoots your primary weapon. This is the most basic damage that you can do in the game. It requires little thought and will hopefully be used only as a filler when you cannot do anything else. Unlike hits in some other games where a simple hit restores some stamina or magic power, the basic hit in ESO doesn’t — but it’s better than doing nothing.

If you hold down the left click for about a second and half, you will activate the game’s heavy hit. Classic MMO players can think of this as a channeled ability without the channel bar. With ranged weapons, a heavy hit can give you a moment to aim or regain your bearings. Because this ability is channeled, it can be interrupted by both NPC and players, so your timing is crucial. Of course, you can use it at just about any moment during a battle, but it can act as an opener or as an heavy hit after a dodge. Some enemies will even be knocked down entirely by a heavy hit.

I should make a quick mention that there is a 1.5 hit that is a bit better than the normal hit but not as strong as a heavy it. That can come in handy during PvP when you don’t have time to do a full wind up. Basically, a 1.5 hit is delivered when you release the channel before it’s finished. Of course, you do have to be about halfway through the channel to gain the half-hit damage.

Blocking and interrupting

As in many action games, blocking is crucial to survival. To block, you simply hit and hold the right-click button. You have to know when to block and when not to block. Thankfully, ESO tells when most enemies are ready to take a heavy swing at us. You’ll know this by yellow action lines emitting from the enemy; that is when you should put up your block. At low levels, it takes enemies longer to wind up, but don’t let that fool you; in later levels, they swing much faster.

A good combination to learn is the block and knockdown. When an NPC does a windup and you block the hit, this will stun the NPC. Then while the NPC is stunned, you can do your own heavy it and knock it down. This does extra damage to the NPC and essentially gives you an extra hit while it is down.

Interrupting is similar to blocking in that you’ll have to learn to do it well in order to survive. To interrupt, simply press both mouse buttons at the same time. When a mob is casting an ability, it will usually light up with red action lines. This indicates that the action it’s performing can be interrupted. Most of the time, if you perform an interrupt correctly, the mob will take damage.

When first jumping into the game, you might find it difficult to know when to block and when to interrupt. One tell is red and the other is yellow, but in the heat of battle, it can get confusing. If you’re ever confused, err on the side of blocking. You will take more damage by blocking an interrupt, but you won’t spend as much stamina blocking a interruptible ability as you would unsuccessfully trying to interrupt a blockable ability.



All action- and pseudo-action MMOs seem to have a dodge roll now; Guild Wars 2 and WildStar come immediately to mind. Dodging simply rolls your character out of the way of a hit. By default, dodge rolling in ESO is peformed with a double tap to the movement key in the direction you’d like to go. But I’d suggest not sticking with the default. I’d remove the keybind to double-tap and place roll on a single key. This will allow you to hit the roll key and the direction key to roll in the direction you’d like to go. Because dodging costs about half your stamina, it’s best to remove the chance of its accidentally being hit by hitting the movement keys.

Slows and roots

As in every MMO that involves fighting of any kind, there will be monsters and environmental effects that slow you down or root you in place completely. Many such stuns can be thwarted by hitting both mouse buttons at the same time. And thankfully, there is a timer in this game that prevents you from being stunned more than once in a row. This is indicated by a yellow swirly thing at your feet. It’s super important to recognize this tell on yourself and your enemies. You won’t believe the number of times that I’ve tried pulling an enemy when it had the swirly around its feet. Don’t be me; don’t pull enemies with swirlies.



Multiple guides have been written about which abilities are best to use when. And I’m not going to try to summarize any of them here. But do understand that in the leveling process, it very difficult to completely wreck your build, and eventually, you’ll be able to reset your skills if you do happen to make a mistake.

Secondly, I’d like to mention that abilities have no cooldown. You can use only five abilities at a time, but your abilities can be spammed if you’re so inclined. However, all abilities cost stamina or magicka, depending on the ability. Remember this, especially when dealing with stamina abilities. If you do end up spamming an ability too often, you could be stuck without a defensive ability or dodge roll when you need it most.


Before closing out this very basic summary of ESO combat, I’d like to mention Ultimates. You can have only one Ultimate on your toolbar at a time. And although Ultimates don’t have a cooldown, they all require Ultimate points to recharge. Different Ultimates cost different amounts, and it can get very complicated, but during the leveling process, the best thing to do would be to decide which Ultimate works best for you and stick with that. Personally, I’m using the werewolf Ultimate because it’s fun, but it’s not the most efficient by any means.

Hopefully, I’ve been able to help you out some. Unfortunately, I’ve only scratched the surface. I didn’t even talk about sprinting in combat nor building distance. But maybe we’ll save that for the next Tamriel Infinium in the lead-up to the console launch next month. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online. Larry Everett will be your guide here in Tamriel Infinium every other week as you explore together the land created by ZeniMax and Bethesda. If you have any burning questions, send them his way via email or via Twitter.
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