With LOTRO on pause until mid-February (due to no content releases/unlocks), my attention and time has turned back to Elder Scrolls Online as a main MMO game of choice. It’s been a good decision, all in all, due to the rise in excitement over the upcoming expansion and my general desire to want to return. I’m continuing to make my way through Elsweyr with my Warden, generally enjoying the quests and sights as much as anything else.
But one thing I’m not enjoying, one thing I’ve never really enjoyed in this game, is its combat. I know that ESO’s combat is a common criticism, although I haven’t read up much on it. Instead, I’ve tried to formulate in my own head why fighting in this game seems so… unsatisfying.
I suppose I can point to a limited skill bar and rather dull weapon choices for starters, but I don’t think that’s it. It’s not even the action combat angle, although I think that this is much more dull than tab-targeting combat in MMORPGs. It’s certainly not the time-to-kill; I can jump into a small pack of mobs, throw on ice armor, throw down some AOEs, and hack everyone down with my trusty bear in about 20 seconds or less. That’s pretty decent. So it’s not that combat is lengthy, it’s just unfulfilling.
What makes the combat experience fulfilling, then? There are a lot of factors that devs have to get just right — to fine-tune — but perhaps the greatest among these and the least talked about is feedback. No, not “players whining on the forums,” but the audio and visual feedback from combat actions.
Early MMOs had rather lousy feedback. What you would see and hear visually would almost always be disconnected to what was actually happening in the combat log; it was more of a vague visual representation than an accurate reflection of reality. It always felt loose and encouraged you to look at the log more than the visuals.
ESO is better than this, but there are some of the same problems at play here. It feels loose… that’s the only way I can put it. Hits and attacks don’t have strong audio sounds to go with them. Enemies don’t react to most individual blows. And the health meter of both the player and the enemy is downright weird: It grows shorter from the outsides to the middle in a loose way that doesn’t seem to register what’s happening at that very microsecond but rather just in general. I’m used to MMO health bars depleting in more definitive and noticeable ways.
The end result is smacking bad guys around doesn’t have that feedback that draws me in. I don’t slam a mace against a head, hear a crack, and see a chunk of life instantly disappear. I’m just spamming a few special abilities and a lot of mouse clicks while moving to reposition to avoid attacks or aim certain cone abilities just so.
As we look ahead to a year of vikings and vampires, I hope that ZeniMax looks for ways to improve the combat feedback in ESO to make it much more satisfying to all of us.