Here I outline what I would change about the existing mechanics and features. Special Abilities and Hotkey Sets may see like a new mechanic, but really, it’s repurposing the Shout mechanic in Skyrim into something better.
Shouts in Skyrim were meant as some sort of super attack. While on paper this idea sounds nice, in practice, it was mostly your ‘push the enemy back’ panic button that you would use to create distance between you and that Draugr Deathlord that’s about to lodge an axe in your skull. Until you obtained the really game-breaking Shouts like Slow Time, it was mostly used to dash all over the place or to troll the Greybeards.
I propose to repurpose and expand the Shout mechanic and use it to access Special Abilities. While Power Attacks are great for increased damage, they don’t offer much in the way of variety. My solution would be to keep Power Attacks (they’re fine where they are) but also offer the player additional buttons to use to perform the previously mentioned Special Abilities. Just like you could Fus-Ro-Dah one of the Greybeards off of a mountain with Z, you will also be able to bind different abilities (or even spells, for that matter) to different hotkeys, like X, C, V, B and even the additional mouse buttons if you happen to have a mouse with said buttons. This gives you the ability to prepare an array of abilities you can readily execute at the tap of a hotkey, dashing forward or spinning in a deadly whirlwind of blades.
One advantage of this system is that it can preserve the momentum of battle; if you use the Special Abilities hotkeys for your spells, for instance, it saves you from having to do the dance of equipping a spell, unequipping it, scrolling through your favourites menu, re-equipping something else, and so on. You may then decide to hotkey sets of hotkeys to your favourites menu, which provides you with the convenience to swap out entire key setups at the tap of a button, or just loop through your hotkey sets one-by-one by pressing a dedicated ‘hotkey loop’ button (as indicated by the left and right arrows in the image above). Imagine you’re a Battle-Mage type character; one setup could contain a number of physical special moves, while another setup could contain all your offensive spells. Similarly, yet another setup could contain utility spells that you may then swap out of when combat starts.
Each hotkey would have its own separate cooldown unless otherwise stated (for instance, casting a Master spell could force a global cooldown on all hotkeyed spells), and the UI should indicate so by showing an icon with its hotkey with some sort of animated overlay. Using a Special Ability would consume one Ability Charge, which covers 90% of that ability’s cost, and the remaining 10% is deducted from either the character’s Stamina or Magicka for spells (Master spells could perhaps consume multiple Charges). If one has no Ability Charges left, the ability’s full cost will be taxed from the character’s relevant resource pool. Ability Charges regenerate over time, one after the other, which opens up the possibility of having a Perk that makes them recharge independently. Special Abilities cannot be performed and their icons are consequently darkened if the character has insufficient Stamina or Magicka. In the case of physical abilities, they can also become unavailable if their weapon requirements, like the Whirlwind ability in the image above, is not met; if the character was wielding a sword or two, then the ability icon would not be greyed-out.
While this may seem like it would be a problem for console players, controllers still have a good number of buttons they can use. The shoulder buttons can be used for left/right hand, block and dodge (more on those two below), the directional buttons for UI stuff like the inventory and spell menu, which leaves the X, Y, A, B buttons as the spell hotkeys. I maintain that you should not be playing first-person or third-person games with a controller, but people are incorrigible, and there you have it.
With the introduction of dual-wielding in Skyrim, you were free to equip both hands with a one-handed weapon each. This meant that you could use both right and left clicks to attack, which also meant you could no longer block incoming blows. This was a problem for me. Not only is that limiting to your character, but it is also felt unintuitive.
Blocking should be possible regardless of your equipment. Whether you wield two axes or one giant sword, you should be able to use your weapons to parry melee attacks, at least. The solution I propose is simple: a dedicated block button. This is mostly due to asymmetrical weapon setups, where you have a sword in one hand and a staff in the other – right-click handles your right hand, left click handles your left hand, and the block button will raise your guard. If you’re using a two-handed weapon, or sword-and-shield setup, then left-clicking will causing you to pommel-strike or shield-bash. Both have the same effect, but shield bashes stagger more and pommel strikes perform faster.
Blocking with an asymmetrical weapon setup will each use the weapon’s independent blocking method. What I mean by that is that if you have a Sword in one hand and a Wand in the other (see Magic Weapons below), your character will simply cross both weapons and trigger their blocking animation. The Wand, in this instance, will raise a sort of shimmering barrier and drain Magicka instead of Stamina when blocking.
Shields themselves will provide more protection overall since things need to be balanced out. Shields will have the ability to block larger amounts of punishment, but will also be able to block projectiles that inflict Physical damage. Weapon-blocking will only be able to block projectiles if the timing is right and the proper Perks are learned.
Oblivion had it, but with the current state of Elder Scrolls combat, Unarmed Combat would be somewhat of a wasted effort. With a dodging mechanic, more responsive combat and better animations, this could become a welcome revival of a lost art. Your dreams of making your own Monk-like character would become reality.
This is an idea that could further incentivise players that shields are worth using, but also how Combat Styles could deepen combat complexity. Location Damage is present in practically every FPS game you can think of and can be a thing for the next Elder Scrolls as well. We shouldn’t overlook the elephant in the room, however, as Fallout 4 already has that in the way of limb damage. In Fallout 4, you can take damage to your body parts and as they get maimed, you suffer negative side-effects. This mechanic could very well be ported over to the Elder Scrolls, which can open up new ways for combat to take place. For instance, a quick, assassin-type character will be able to dodge behind a target and back-stab them. While this shouldn’t score a critical hit, it should deal bonus damage.
The following video is a Skyrim mod that adds Location Damage to the game.
I rarely used staves in Oblivion or Skyrim. They weren’t particularly powerful and needed to be recharged constantly. I would always save my Soul Gems for Enchanting rather than wasting them on some random Staff, mostly because I couldn’t be bothered. I see it mostly as having a gun that I have to reload by going inside my inventory. Not very fun, is it?
Having an ‘automatic reload’ for Staves is not going the fix the problem, either, if one agrees there is a problem there at all. My interest in Magic Weapons stems mostly from the fact that I think Mages need some love and giving them a whole new roster of toys makes them more compelling.
There are two mains schools of thought in fantasy concerning the use of magic: either the mage can cast spells innately without any help, or he requires the use of a tool like a wand or a talisman or totem. In The Elder Scrolls, mages are of the first variety. Initially, I wanted Magic Weapons to be like spell-enhancers, but this method meant that building an ‘unarmed’ Mage would be inferior to an armed one. To this end, it would be better to make Magic Weapons act similarly to how normal weapons do, with their own attacks and damage. The difference here is that they will consume Magicka instead of Stamina, and their mastery may require their own skill trees, or become a specialisation of the Enchantment tree.
Magic Weapons will also no longer be able to cast spells or have charges. They have their own ‘spell’ that they use and depending on the element they are attuned to they will inflict the corresponding Energy damage (see Damage Types on page 5). Whether Magic Weapons have Power Attacks will depend on the weapon itself. More details on Magic Weapons are available in Part 3 – Weapon and Equipment.