The dragons that dominated the landscape of Skyrim were full of personality and flair. Moving around animatedly, they took to the skies, landed powerfully, crashed down, and unleashed their Thu’um to devastating effect. The Dragonborn in Skyrim had to contend with Alduin, the World-Eater, Paarthurnax, and the numerous scaled descendants of Akatosh himself. In the Elder Scrolls Online, the dragons are of a different sort, constrained by the type of game that ESO is but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to battle.
Aside from the dragons that inhabit the dungeons and Trials of Elsweyr, you encounter the winged-beasts of legend both in the story and as roaming World Bosses. When I say roaming, I refer to the fact they will randomly appear at new locations, waiting for challengers to approach. And by waiting, I do mean waiting. The dragons reside in the middle of a clearing, following you with their eyes in an imitation of their readiness for battle. This contrasts with Skyrim iterations, were the dragons were burning, flying, perched on Word Walls, or having heated battles with cows and goats. In this regard, dragons act exactly like other World Bosses.
But that’s where the similarity stops, as they can be immensely challenging to battle, if you haven’t got a swarm of mages, archers, and melee fighters on your side. The dragon World Bosses aren’t meant to be fought solo, instead drawing together dozens of players to whittle down the health of these mighty beasts. It’s a nice nostalgic throwback to see and hear the dragons using their Thu’um to send players flying and devastate them with their assortment of area of effect attacks. Even if you aren’t right underneath the wings of the dragon, you’re still in danger of being bombarded with fire raining from the sky or killed through an immense blast of power.
With this constant threat, you really have to stay on your toes, even at range, as anyone in the radius of battle is a potential morsel.
However, and this could be due to my internet, due to the large numbers of players congregating and sequencing attacks at one time in one area, the battles can get a little laggy and unresponsive. It takes you out of the fight a little bit, leaving you to battle with an arrow volley that just won’t fall, as opposed to a mighty dragon.
That being said, it’s a fantastic idea to have the dragons hold such a high health pool. Like Zenimax have said time and time again, ESO players aren’t Dragonborn and cannot fend off these ancient beings with any real ease. Something which is made abundantly clear if you attempt to solo one of these bosses. While it is possible to take down a dragon solo, they have something like 16 million hit points, so it may take a while to whittle down that health pool. And if you make one wrong step, it’s back to the drawing board with the dragon’s health restoring quick smart.
This is something that is duplicated in the story. While you have a few encounters with dragons across the Elsweyr portion of the Year of the Dragon storyline, you’ll spend precious little of that time fighting the dragons. Even when you do battle them, it’s with the help of items or allies before going back to slashing, hacking, zapping, and dodging, until the dragon finally dies. While it ties in with their difficulty and inherent tankiness, the battles within the story can seem a little lacklustre. Particularly in the final battle, which I won’t spoil, you really just have to keep an eye out for one move that occurs periodically. Other than that, it’s business as usual, having to contend with ground-based and aerial attacks.
Again, like I mentioned above, I understand there are restraints in relation to the engine, type of game, and mechanics, but with more agency or randomness in the battles, the dragon fights could been uplifted. Now, that being said, the fact that, in the story, players aren’t directly responsible for outputting the largest portions of damage, plays into the immense strength of the dragons as well as the lore.
This is the thing I truly love about the dragons within the story. These are incredibly powerful beings, even among the race of dragons themselves, and they are brought low by players through use of incredible artefacts, without which, the entire continent of Tamriel would have been decimated. It still might, the year isn’t over yet. The lore is awesome.
What I think could be improved would be to add some variations to the dragon-instances. Add a couple different mechanics the dragons can implement in terms of attacks. Currently, there are different damage types depending on what dragon you’re facing but if there were some that prefer to do sweeping aerial attacks, spewing fire as they rush past, or divebombing attacks, it could add some variety as players grind for those half-digested satchels full of treasure.
Again, I don’t know the true constraints of the game engine or the development side of things, so any additional mechanics combined with the number of players per instance could result in decreased response times.
Dragons are one of my favourite things about the Elder Scrolls series, so I may be setting expectations that are too high. Either way, I look forward to seeing what else the Year of the Dragon has to offer, starting with the upcoming Dungeon expansion.
All that’s left for me to do is to try and find some friends (in general as well as in game) and tackle Sunspire.