Here is what You Should Know If you’re Returning to the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) in 2023, after a break of a year or more.
You may be confused by some of the popular gameplay styles, builds, or the predominance of dual wield. While a returning player may easily pick back up the storyline quest or remember how the inventory or other user interface systems worked, there can be a lot of new things to catch up on and questions about how to create the most effective builds. For example, what are some of the meta gear setups and why are they effective? What’s up with armor types, traits, skills, passives and how do I actually setup my build for the reminder of the year?
In this game analysis I’m going to break down some of the most important changes that have occurred in ESO recently, and what you can do for the reminder of the year and into early next year to be effective and understand the ‘why’ to the current state of the game.
Returning to ESO in 2023? What You Should Know
The first significant thing that sets the stage for most of what I have to share with you is the hybrid changes, which were made back in March of this year with the Ascending Tides DLC Update 33. This essentially changed scaling and of highest offensive abilities.
Let’s say you play a stamina Nightblade, a class which usually maxes their attributes in max stamina and weapon damage. The game will scale the effectiveness of NEARLY all abilities in the game based on your max stats – in this case weapon damage and stamina VS what the ability cost. Thus, you can ramp up two stats, and then use your off stat pool for damage over times, healing, sustain, or anything you need! And these magicka costing abilities are not JUST as effective as your stamina costing abilities.
So now stamina builds get super hard-hitting damage over time effects or healing that were pretty much limited to just the magicka class. For Nightblades think Twisting Path, if you play a Templar think Ritual of Retribution, a Sorcerer think Hurricane, and so on.
Now magicka classes get access to super hard hitting DoTs that were limited to stamina builds like caltrops or stampede.
And for better or worse what you end up having is a hybrid playstyle and NOT a traditional all magicka or all stamina playstyles. Sure, you will still stack or max out one or both of those stats BUT you blend the ability cost and skills to optimize both your damage and resources sustain. Thus, you’ll see “stamina builds” run 3 or so magicka costing DOTs and you’ll see “magicka builds” running a couple of stamina abilities.
And that leads us to the current meta which Hybrid Builds are the most effective way to play – both in PvE and PvP. In addition, this change has also affected weapons, and you will now see the two most prevalent weapon choices being Dual Wield for the front bar and Two Handed for the back bar. Dual Wield in PvE produces typically the most raw damage due to Twin Blade and Blunt passive which is very significant because of the amount of critical it provides.
Critical Damage Cap
Another extremely important that was made in November of 2021 was a cap which was implemented on critical damage.
As you can see here, players will now get no benefit setting their characters up with critical damage going beyond 125%. You can find this information about your character sheet and checking out the advance stats tab. You get 50% base, plus whatever buffs you have added. You’ll want to leave room for the 20% buff from Aggressive War Horn after applying any additional buffs from gear or champion points. I often test this in combat on a 21 million parse dummy (which will provide you with all of the buffs that you would typically receive in a trial) and after applying all of your buffs, check the stat page to see what your number is.
You want to get close to this number without spilling over – otherwise in PvE it’s a dead stat. As you might guess, this ends up contributing to the hybrid playstyle, where players are running 60% or critical chance, with close to 125% critical damage and wearing proc sets or other raw damage sets like Bashei or Coral Riptide.
Is this starting to make sense? Dual Wield gives you the best stat perks, that way you can diversify your overall stats and not exceed the critical damage, instead pumping out either the most raw damage or using proc sets for an optimal build.
Sticking to the hybrid changes, you have two handed on your back bar – even on magicka builds. Why? First, you want to diverse your stat pool so it’s easier to sustain on your primary stat. Secondly, overall the most damage producing combo as of the making of this gameplay analysis is running a Veteran Malestrom Arena Perfected Two Handed Sword and the skill Stampede.
This will do mind numbing single target damage and decent AoE damage. You’ll also save some of your magicka sustain as well so you don’t have to channel heavy attacks on the back bar with a destruction staff. Sure, the old meta setup with 2h vMA destruction fire staff is still effective and works great, but if you’re running in a serious veteran trial and every dps looks, feels, sounds exactly the same this is why.
Speaking of trials, the more serious content you get into, the less range becomes relevant and effective. Meaning, using bow or fire staff outside of general DPS isn’t an effective means of play. The majority of the time everyone is stacked in a somewhat close diamond formation with the tank on the opposite end, keeping the bosses back towards the group, while all DPS stack behind boss with healers behind them.
Range builds (bows, in particular) get zero benefit playing in this meta with everyone running dual wield and two handed. While you can change and run whatever you want, the ‘stack and whack’ massive DPS boss burst is simply how ESO is currently and what you want to be aware of. Running dual wield on a magicka Sorcerer may seems strange, but once you see the super high damage numbers that result you’ll want to adjust.
Back in 2021 the armor bonuses changed as well, and it’s relevant to this disscussion here because very few people understand them and how they affect your character, build and the overall meta.
Medium armor users get two juicy passives:
- Agility: Increases your Weapon and Spell Damage by 2% for each piece of Medium Armor worn.
- Dexterity: Increases your Critical Damage and Healing done rating by 2% for every piece of Medium Armor equipped.
But remember what I said about critical damage cap being 125%? So how does stacking as much critical damage as possible, outside of PvP benefit you? It doesn’t – that’s why you want to diversity your armor choices.
Now if we see what light armor gives:
- Prodigy: Increases your Weapon and Spell Critical rating by 219 for each piece of Light Armor equipped.
- Concentration: Increases your Physical and Spell Penetration by 939 for each piece of Light Armor worn.
These give you great boost to critical and penetration. Penetration being the most important stat for medium armor users currently, and it is also what shapes a lot of end game tanking sets.
Enemies in ESO typically have 18,200 resistance. Medium armor users playing in group want to get as close to that cap and not overpen. Other games give you more damage jump over that amount, but not ESO. Thus, tanks run Crimson Oath, Tremorscale and use the Pierce Armor ability to reduce that armor to next to nothing.
Now medium armor users can throw on 1 or 2 pieces of light and get the juicy benefits of critical rating and penetration without hampering their builds. Light armor users can throw on 1 or 2 medium and get critical damage which is otherwise really lacking.
This is all to explain you come to current meta where the lines are blurred between magicka and stamina and the most effective builds, regardless of class, look very similar in terms of weapon combinations, armor combinations and skills. This isn’t meant to debate whether these changes are good or not, but just to inform you that’s where we are in the game.
The previous gear meta you may or may not be familiar with, but I’ll show you some charts that gives the typical layout. Don’t worry too much about the exact sets you see here, this is my stamina Nightblade set up which is going to serve as an example.
This particular chart is showing my solo setup. Traditional 5 pieces of medium armor on the body at all times, with a Mythic or Monster helm and another 5 piece set on jewelry and weapons while the back bar uses and arena weapon like this one from vMA.
This is still an effective way to play. But let’s take a look at the more current parse setup I use from my website:
Relequen’s on the body, Kinra’s on the front, a Mythic, 1 piece from a Monster set and arena weapon. This works VERY well on a dummy and you can swap Kinra’s for another set like Whorl of the Depths or Pillar of Nirn, etc etc but it remains the same premise.
In trials on the body specifically you’ll want a 3 piece, proc or upkeep set and arena weapons.
Now, however there’s a new sheriff in town and this loadout is essentially how I do all my pvp setups. And it’s called the Proc Loadout. This will not demolish a parse dummy, but in actual content will absolutely dunk on dungeons and trials.
This is a bit more complex, but here we will have a back bar 5 piece active proc set. This is very familiar to PvPers who have Daedric Trickery or Mara’s Balm, Rallying Cry etc. But we will put Pillar of Nirn, one of, if not THE hardest hitting proc on the back.
Then you can run a Monster piece of choice depending on group composition and your liking, some good options are:
- Kjalnar’s – This will nuke bosses, but only on person can run it
- Zaan’s – An all-around great if, you can maintain light weaving
- Stormfirst or Nerien’eth are my basic go-to Monster sets depending on the class.
The weapon traits are still Nirn or Precise on the main hand weapon and Charged in offhand. You’ll use Divines on body and Bloodthirsty on the jewelry along with Infused back bar to maintain weapon and spell damage enchant even when you flip over.
You’ll also notice I have 5 medium and 2 light armor pieces and currently what I run on my hybrid Templar which uses 4 magicka abilities so the sustain comes in handy and you’re able to do damage with both stat pools making sustain much easier.
Lastly with skills, I won’t get into every little detail, but let’s focus on Ultimates for the biggest impact. Let’s consider the two ultimate choices most people run but probably don’t tell you why. First up is the front bar Flawless Dawnbreaker.
Merely slotting it increases your weapon and spell damage via the Slayer passive and when you kill an enemy Banish the Wicked gives you 3 ultimate. Typically, I front bar this and only activate it when a dungeon/trial mob has heavy mobility OR I can’t get to my back bar ultiamte.
Next, we have our back bar ultimate and the Mages Guild Shooting Star is currently one of the best overall when used specifically on mobs or bosses which don’t move much. The reason why is that you can save up ultimate in between trash packs and start off a more difficult fight with this. There is a delay before it hits, which allows you to channel a fully charged heavy attack. So assuming you did a pre-buff ritual, fire off the ultimate, hit the boss with a fully charged heavy attack, your Shooting Star drops, and you’ll spike strong damage right at the start.
In addition, if there are multiple enemies around you it’ll feed back into another ultimate. You can bar swap quickly and when you kill something on the front bar Banish the Wicked will proc more ultimate due to Flawless Dawnbreaker being slotted.
Now some back bar ultimates are more damage producing with certain builds like Standard of Might for Dragonknights or Sorcerers can use Greater Storm Atronach. But in general, you’ll constantly see the previous two ultimtes being used and this is why.
Recap and Review
All of this is what leads us to the current meta: Heavy hybridization with less class identify and more generality within builds.
The most common DPS loadout is a Stamina hybrid dual wield front bar weapon and two handed on the back. In overland game you can generally use whatever weapons you want, but the math of the game and its current meta promotes a specific type of gameplay for any type of harder content.
- Hybrid changes means your off-stats are just as effective as your main stat
- You still need to stack or max out one, weapon or spell and magicka or stamin
- There’s a critical damage cap of 125%. Look at your character sheet and add 50% to the number and make sure you don’t go over
- Dual Wield currently provides the most benefit for builds with Twin Blade and Blunt passive. Two Handed is a great back bar option
- Armor changes give you flexibility, but try diversifying in into two armors to max character stats
- Look at my gear charts and check the website, the old meta gear setups still work, but the PvPish loadout is very strong in PvE content
- You can play around with your in-class ultimates but Flawless Dawnbreaker and Shooting Star are staples currently
Thank for reading all the way through! I hope you get something out of this and welcome back to the game! Feel free to stop by on Twitch and ask me questions – its usually the easiest way to interact with me live.