Introduction to being a Damage Dealer

Hey all! Thanks for stopping by. This will be my complete beginner guide to being a PvE (Player vs Environment) damage dealer in ESO. 

There are numerous ways to go about dealing damage; this includes an extremely wide range of options that are viable for Overland/Questing content, but narrows down to a much smaller set of options once you reach Veteran Hard-Mode content.  As you move into more difficult content, it will be more important to have high DPS (Damage per Second) from the group, and more optimization will be needed to achieve these results.  

In this guide I will go over all of the different in-game systems that relate to damage dealing and then end the guide with actual steps for building and executing a proper DPS rotation. 

Table of Contents:


Why is Good DPS Important?

Having good DPS becomes more crucial as you work your way from the easiest to the hardest content in ESO. This is sometimes introduced by the developers through mechanics that cause the group to die if certain damage thresholds are not hit in a set amount of time. An example of this is on Zhaj’hassa, the 1st boss in the trial, Maw of Lorkhaj. Zhaj’hassa summons protective pillars that the group can hide behind to block the blast from an explosion that fills the room. However, each time these are summoned, 1 less pillar comes out than on the previous time. This happens up until the point where there are no more protective pillars and the party is wiped.

Other times, content is just more difficult if the damage output is low. An example of this is on Yolnahkriin, the flame dragon boss in Sunspire. Yolnahkriin summons powerful Iron Atronachs at specific time intervals. If the damage output is high, you only have to deal with 1 of these per phase. However, if the damage is low, he will continue to spawn the Iron Atronachs until specific damage thresholds are met. This could lead to several of the Iron Atronachs needing to be dealt with, instead of 1, and thus causing a lot more pain and suffering for the group.

And finally, content is just generally easier whenever damage outputs are high. Even if there are no specific punishments baked into the fight for having low damage, long fights can be tiring and lead to party members having trouble focusing. If you can get through a fight in 6 minutes and only have to deal with certain mechanics a couple of times each, it is a lot less taxing than doing the same fight in 20 minutes and having to repeatedly make sure you don’t mess anything up.

If you prefer to watch, you can check out the video version of the guide here.

ESO - A Complete Guide to Being a Damage Dealer in PvE - Part 1

Magicka vs Stamina Builds

Damage dealing setups in this game are divided into two options for each class, Magicka or Stamina. For example, you can play as a Magicka Sorcerer or a Stamina Sorcerer. As a Magicka damage dealer you will generally focus into abilities that use magicka as the resource and as a Stamina damage dealer you will focus into abilities that use stamina. There are a few small exceptions to this but we won’t worry about that for now. We’ll also cover the different damage types and which category they fall under later.

As a Magicka DPS, the main stats you will look for to improve your damage are: Spell Damage, Spell Critical, Maximum Magicka, and Spell Penetration. Spell Damage increases the damage that your Magicka based attacks hit for and Spell Critical increases the chance for each of those hits to be a critical strike. Magicka increases your resource pool for using Magicka based abilities and also, similar to Spell Damage, it increases the damage that your Magicka based attacks hit for. In general, every 1 point of Spell Damage is worth 10.5 points of Magicka when determining damage increases. Spell Penetration ignores the enemy’s armor in the amount of the bonus. So for the standard 1487 Spell Penetration set bonus, 1487 of the enemy’s armor is ignored.

As a Stamina DPS, the main stats you will look for to improve your damage are: Weapon Damage, Weapon Critical, Maximum Stamina, and Physical Penetration. Weapon Damage increases the damage that your Stamina based attacks hit for and Weapon Critical increases the chance for each of those hits to be a critical strike. Stamina increases your resource pool for using Stamina based abilities, and also, similar to Weapon Damage, it increases the damage that your Stamina based attacks hit for. In general, every 1 point of Weapon Damage is worth 10.5 points of Stamina when determining damage increases. Physical Penetration ignores the enemy’s armor in the amount of the bonus. So for the standard 1487 Physical Penetration set bonus, 1487 of the enemy’s armor is ignored.


In-Game Systems Related to Dealing Damage

Armor Penetration

To start off, we will take a look at the Armor Penetration system.

Enemies in ESO have armor that reduces the damage they take from your attacks. Overland enemies (Questing, Delves, and Public Dungeons) have 9100 armor. 4-man Dungeon and 12-man Trial enemies have 18200 armor. Maelstrom Arena is an exception to these rules (there are guides available for the specific armor amounts present for each round) but no PvE enemy goes over the 18200 amount.

What does this mean? Theoretically, if an enemy NPC had 25000 armor, they would mitigate 50% of your damage. However, the highest armor level for PvE enemies in the game is 18200, as mentioned before. If you divide that out, you’ll see that 18200 armor will resist 36.4% of your outgoing damage. (Please note that your character’s armor works differently and is based around a 33000 value for 50% mitigation and is capped there.)

How do we get around this?

Armor Penetration is the means in which we cut through the armor to get more of our actual damage value instead of the mitigated value. If we have no penetration and go against an enemy with 18200 armor, they will resist 36.4% of each of our attacks. So if I hit with an attack that should deal 20k damage, it would only deal 12720 damage. However, if we had 18200 penetration in our build, they would not resist any of our attack and we would get our full attack value. So our 20k attack would hit for 20k.

There are also abilities and sets in the game that debuff, or lower an enemy’s armor, so most of the time it is not necessary to bring the full 18200 penetration in order to get the full attack value. You’ll want to make sure to coordinate with your group on what abilities/sets are being run so you know how much penetration to bring on your end. Any penetration over the enemy’s armor amount will be wasted and not increase damage further.


Critical Hits

Critical Chance (Weapon Critical)

In ESO, Critical Chance is a bit different from most other games and built around a system with flat number amounts instead of percentages. 21912 Critical equals a 100% chance to critically strike. You can divide this out and see that 2191 Critical will give us a 10% chance and 219 Critical a 1% chance. Set bonuses are in these flat number amounts instead of the % chances. For example, a standard set bonus for critical chance is 833 critical. So if you divide 833 by 21912 you will see that it is a 3.8% bonus to critical chance.

Critical Damage

Critical Damage is a 50% boost to damage done at its base level. There are many ways within the game to boost this higher, including: champion points, gear, abilities, and passives.


Armor Weights

Light Armor

Light armor is the preferred armor choice for Magicka based DPS setups. This is due to the passives that are gained from the Light Armor skill line and also because the set bonuses on light armor are generally more beneficial to Magicka based builds.

In the Light Armor passive skill tree, you can gain 2% Magicka cost reduction and 4% Magicka recovery for each piece of light armor worn. If you have at least 5 light armor pieces equipped, you also gain 2191 Spell Critical, 4884 Spell Penetration, and the ability to cast Annulment, a damage shield ability.

Medium Armor

Medium armor is the preferred armor choice for Stamina based DPS setups. This is due to the passives that are gained from the Medium Armor skill line and also because the set bonuses are generally more beneficial to Magicka based builds.

In the Medium Armor passive skill tree, you gain 328 Weapon Critical, 2% Stamina cost reduction, and 4% Stamina recovery for each piece of medium armor worn. If you have at least 5 medium armor pieces equipped, you also gain a 15% bonus to your weapon damage and the ability to cast Evasion, an ability that reduces incoming area damage by 25%.

Heavy Armor

Heavy armor is not recommended for PvE damage dealing in ESO. This is because none of the passives that are gained from the Heavy Armor skill line grant damage bonuses.

However, there are some sets that are classified as “Heavy” that happen to have good set bonuses for damage. A couple of popular examples are Elf Bane for Magicka and Berserking Warrior for Stamina. We can still use these sets on a DPS by slotting the items as jewelry and weapons, or jewelry and 2 body pieces. This allows us to run another set that is in the correct weight for our build and still get the strong Light or Medium armor tree passives. Because of this, you will not be able to run two heavy sets together in your setup without suffering a significant damage loss.


Damage Types

AoE, Single Target, DoT, and Direct Damage

AoE (Area of Effect) damage is any damage dealt that hits multiple targets or covers an area that would have the potential to hit multiple targets. Single Target damage is any damage that only has the potential to hit one target.

DoT (Damage over Time) abilities deal damage over a specified duration of time. Direct damage abilities deal their damage up-front, in a one second instance. Sometimes abilities will have both of these components, where the initial hit deals direct damage, but there is also a lingering damage over time that is left behind as well.

How do These Work Together?

Damage abilities are combinations of the damage types listed above. For example, you can have an AoE DoT, or AoE Direct Damage. You could also have a Single Target DoT or Single Target Direct Damage. I’ll list some examples below:

Cast Time, Channeled, and Instant Cast Abilities

Cast Time abilities require a specified duration to pass after pressing the button before the ability will fire. An example of this is Uppercut. You press the button and then 0.8s later, the hit lands.

Channeled abilities are similar to Cast Time Abilities in that they require a specific duration to pass after pressing the button. The difference is that the ability begins working immediately and then continues to have an effect throughout the specified length of time. An example of this is Flurry. You press the button and the 1st hit lands immediately, followed by 4 more hits over the 0.6s channel.

Instant Cast abilities happen right when you press the button. There is no time delay or channel before the hit or effect occurs. An example of this is Force Pulse.

Physical Damage

Physical Damage abilities include the following damage types: Physical, Bleed, Poison, and Disease. These damage types are generally used on Stamina DPS and are boosted by Weapon Damage, Weapon Critical, Maximum Stamina, and Physical Penetration.

Spell Damage

Spell Damage abilities include the following damage types: Magic, Fire, Frost, and Shock. These damage types are generally used on Magicka DPS and are boosted by Spell Damage, Spell Critical, Maximum Magicka, and Spell Penetration.

Secondary Status Effects

When a Poison, Disease, Fire, Frost, or Shock ability lands, it has a % chance to trigger a secondary effect. They are as follows:

  • Poison: Poisoned Status -- A Poison DoT
  • Disease: Diseased Status -- Minor Defile Fire:
  • Burning Status -- A Flame DoT
  • Frost: Chilled Status -- Minor Maim
  • Shock: Concussed Status -- Minor Vulnerability

You can find the % chances to trigger and more specific details on the Status Effects Guide.


Weapon Types

Stamina Weapons

Two Handed

In the Two Handed Skill line we have Swords, Axes, and Mauls. The difference in these types comes from the Heavy Weapons passive. Swords increase damage by 6%, Axes have a 16% chance to apply a bleed, and Mauls ignore 20% armor resistance. Swords are generally the strongest for Area damage, Axes for Single Target damage, and Mauls for PvP, where enemies have higher resistances.

Dual Wield

In the Dual Wield Skill line we have Daggers, Swords, Axes, and Maces. The difference in these types comes from the Twin Blade and Blunt passive. Daggers give a bonus of 5% critical chance per dagger equipped. Swords increase damage by 3% per sword equipped. Axes have an 8% chance per axe equipped to apply a bleed. Maces ignore 10% armor resistance per mace equipped. PvE content generally sees a combination of Axe and Dagger performing best, while Swords and Maces are better suited for PvP.

Bow

There is only one type of bow in the bow skill line. It is a common weapon to use in PvE for Stamina DPS.

Magicka Weapons

Destruction Staff

Magicka DPS are really limited to one weapon type, and that is the Destruction Staff. In this skill line you can pick from Fire, Lightning, or Frost. The flame staff is generally better for Single Target damage and the Lightning staff for AoE damage. The Frost Staff’s bonuses are more defensive than offensive and it is generally used for the tank role over DPS. The difference in these types comes from the Ancient Knowledge passive.

Other

Restoration Staff & One Hand and Shield

These skill lines could still be used for DPS but do not have good passives to support it and therefore not recommended to do so in Veteran content.

Traits

Weapon Traits

The common traits you will see used on weapons for DPS are the following:

  • Infused -- Increase Weapon Enchantment Effect by 30% and Reduces Cooldown by 50%
  • Sharpened -- 2752 Physical and Spell Penetration (1376 on 1h weapons)
  • Precise -- 7% Weapon and Spell Critical (3.5% on 1h weapons)
  • Nirnhoned -- Increases the Weapon/Spell Damage of the Weapon by 15%
  • Charged -- Increases Chance to Apply Status Effects by 220% (110% for 1h weapons)
    • Note: This option is generally only used on Dragonknights due to their unique passives.

Armor Traits

The common traits you will see used on armor for DPS are the following:

  • Divines -- Increases Mundus Stone Effects by 7.5%
  • Infused -- Increases Armor Enchantment Effects by 20%

Divines is the optimal trait, but Infused is not far behind on your big pieces (Head, Chest, and Legs.)

Jewelry Traits

The common traits you will see used on jewelry for DPS are the following:

  • Arcane/Robust -- 870 Magicka/Stamina
  • Infused -- Increases Jewelry Enchantment Effectiveness by 60%
  • Bloodthirsty -- Increases Damage Against Enemies Under 25% Health by 10%

Bloodthirsty is usually the optimal trait to go with. Some situations can call for Infused over Bloodthirsty depending on your setup and goals. Arcane/Robust is 3rd best of the 3 options, but still decent for DPS.


Enchantments

How to Trigger Enchantments

Once you have an enchantment on your weapon, you can trigger it with any light or heavy attack. Another way to activate it is by using abilities from your Weapon Skill Line. The initial impact of these abilities will trigger the enchantment to fire.

Each DPS weapon line also has a DoT ability that will continue to activate this enchantment even when you are no longer on that bar. Those abilities are:

Abilities from non-weapon skill lines will not trigger your enchantments.

DPS Weapon Enchantments

The most commonly used front-bar Weapon Enchantments for Stamina DPS are Poison Glyphs, Disease Glyphs, and Absorb Stamina Glyphs. Another common option is to override your enchantments by slotting poisons. The poisons you will use have Ravage Health and Gradual Ravage Health (Blessed Thistle + Fleshfly Larva + Nightshade.)

The most commonly used front-bar Weapon Enchantments for Magicka DPS are Flame Glyphs, Shock Glyphs, Frost Glyphs (Wardens), and Absorb Magicka glyphs.

It is best for both Magicka and Stamina DPS to slot an Infused Weapon Damage Glyph on the back-bar. With it being Infused, the cooldown is taken from 10s down to 5s and can be kept up 100% of the time.

One more glyph to note is the Prismatic Onslaught Enchantment. This does heavy damage to Undead and Daedra. It has no effect on other enemies. If you have a spare weapon you can slot it on and swap it in for fights with Undead and Daedra, it is recommended to do so. This does also include Vampires and Werewolves.


Mundus Stones

Common PvE Mundus Stones for Dealing Damage

  • Shadow -- Bonus to Critical Damage
  • Thief -- Bonus to Critical Chance
  • Lover -- Bonus to Penetration

The most commonly used Mundus Stone at end-game is The Shadow. Builds generally have a high enough Critical Chance that this large bonus to Critical Damage outweighs the other Mundus Stones.

If you find your Critical Chance is a bit low (lacking passives, gear, etc.) You may see better results with The Thief.

If you are a low Champion Point level and don’t have many points to put into the penetration CP, you may see better results with The Lover. This also holds true for running in pick-up or non-optimized groups where you are likely not hitting the penetration cap through coordinated debuffing.


Food, Drinks, and Potions

Commonly Used DPS Food & Drinks

  • Bi-Stat w/ No Recovery
    • Health + Stamina
      • Braised Rabbit with Spring Vegetables or other similar recipe
    • Health + Magicka
      • Artaeum Pickled Fish Bowl
      • Melon-Baked Parmesan Pork or other similar recipe
  • Recovery
    • Health + Stamina + Recovery
      • Artaeum Takeaway Broth
      • Dubious Camoran Throne
    • Health + Magicka + Recovery
      • Clockwork Citrus Filet
      • Witchmother’s Potent Brew
    • Stamina + Recovery
      • Lava Foot Soup-and-Saltrice
    • Magicka + Recovery
      • Ghastly Eye Bowl

Commonly Used DPS Potions

  • Spell Power + Spell Crit + Magicka
  • Weapon Power + Weapon Crit + Stamina
  • Magicka + Stamina + Heroism

The Mechanics of Dealing Damage

Ability Weaving

What is Weaving and How Does it Work

In ESO, your abilities have a cooldown of 1 second. This means that no ability, unless specified in the tooltip, can be activated until 1 second after the previous ability was activated. This is referred to as a GCD (Global Cooldown.) A big part of getting great damage is working as quickly as possible around this cooldown. The longer you wait after the 1 second period to use your next ability, the less damage per second you will do.

Light and heavy attacks do not share this same cooldown with your abilities. Therefore every 1 second you have time to use 1 light attack and 1 ability. Heavy attacks take longer than 1 second to perform so this will push that time back a bit. This is commonly referred to as light attack weaving or heavy attack weaving.

To put these together you will: light attack > ability > light attack > ability

The biggest key is to build a rhythm with it based around the 1 second intervals. If you try and activate your ability too quickly, your light attack will not fire and you will miss out on its damage. If you activate your abilities too slowly, you will lose potential damage by not being fast enough.

You can also find some video examples in the Weaving Guide.

How to Light Attack Weave

There are 2 common ways to light attack before your abilities. One is to press the light attack button right before you press your ability each time. The other is to constantly spam your light attack button, and then just press your skills at 1 second intervals.

This method is probably not as doable on a gamepad as it is with a mouse and is a lot harder on the hand! There are many types of training dummies in the game. Use them to practice this until you get it down!

What is a Light Attack Ratio?

You’ll commonly see people refer to something called a Light Attack Ratio or LA Ratio. This is simply the ratio of light attacks per second over the course of a certain period. Since the internal cooldown of abilities are 1 second, the closer you can get to a 1:1 ratio, the better.

To find out where you are, you will need an add-on like “Combat Metrics” that tracks the fight data. After finishing off the training dummy, look at your data and you will take the number of light attacks you performed, and divide it by the total fight time in seconds. For example if you did 185 light attacks in 200 seconds, you would be at 0.925. Remember, the higher this number, the better!

  • Above .95 is mastery
  • Above .9 is great
  • Above .85 is good
  • Above .8 is decent
  • Above .75 is okay
  • Above .7 is the minimum to aim for

And remember, these numbers will be lower in actual combat situations due to dealing with mechanics. These are the numbers you should aim for on the dummy, so that when you get in actual combat you can perform as well as possible. If you have abilities that are channeled or have a cast time the LA Ratio will also be lower.


Building a Rotation

Pre-buffing > DoT Placement > Direct Damage

The 1st step to building a rotation is pre-buffing. This just means casting any abilities that grant you bonuses BEFORE combat begins.

The 2nd step is generally DoT placement. This will often start with your AoE DoT abilities. Then you move on to your Single Target DoT abilities (if you have a specific target that has a high priority.)

The last step in the rotation is using your Direct Damage abilities. This is often referred to as your “spammable” ability. The idea is that your DoTs are applied and ticking for their damage while you are simultaneously dealing damage with your Direct Damage ability. This could be a Single Target Direct Damage ability if you have a priority target to focus, or an AoE Direct Damage ability if you are trying to hit many targets.

What Happens Next?

After the initial section of your rotation is complete, if your target is still alive, you will need to reapply your DoTs as they expire, and refresh any buffs on yourself that may be running out. As many abilities are on different timer lengths, some rotations can be trickier than others to keep everything active.

Generally the easiest rotations are referred to as “static rotations” because they repeat themselves after a certain point. This would be something like: DoT x > DoT y > DoT z > Spammable x7 (repeat).

Generally rotations are a bit more complicated than that, but to start off they don’t necessarily need to be to get a decent damage output. Just make sure you aren’t letting your DoT abilities fall off for too long, you are landing your light attacks between each ability, and you are operating as closely to the 1s GCD as possible.


Summary

Putting it All Together

Congrats on sticking it through until the end! I know it is a lot of information to take in and that the systems in ESO are fairly deep and complicated, but eventually, if you keep at it, they will start to make sense!

Some pieces of this big puzzle only make a small difference, and others a bit more. But with so many moving parts, it really adds up when you start doing each one optimally.

I really hope this guide will help you to become a better damage dealer!