I’ve been playing The Secret World for some six months now casually. More recently I bought a digital copy of Elder Scrolls Online ahead of the removal of the mandatory subscription; originally thinking it might be a good modern MMO for my roster. We’d tried it in beta but the excessive phasing used in quest design put paid to any ideas of playing it as a coop game. That plan has gone out the window since I realised that the games are too similar for me to want to play them both at the same time (and since I got hooked on FFXIV again).

Both games do have similar elements:

  • Action combat with a limited active skill bar
  • A story-rich world to explore with voiced dialogue/cut-scenes
  • Skill-point character progression – you earn skill points and then assign them with few restrictions to improve specialisations
  • The choices of skill points spent can lead to certain play styles or builds including the trinity roles of tank, healer, dps or hybrids of the same

Story quality

From a tone and story point of view the games are ages apart although ESO does have some pretty dark quests it’s nothing compared to the occult-horror of the Secret World. TSW wins in terms of the excellently expressive cut-scenes that are used to introduce missions – NPCs often have memorable characters and the dialogues are well scripted.

The Secret World is full of wonderfully weird characters...

The Secret World is full of wonderfully weird characters…

From what I’ve seen so far ESO has some nice quests but the characters are not as well-realised or as closely tied into the stories you are playing trough.


For me Secret World’s combat is very ‘spammy’, you hit builders and then consumers in an endless cycle with the odd utility or defensive cooldown ability. So far this is the same basic mechanic for all skill builds. It’s a balanced and flexible system but not that exciting to play.

ESO seems to have a very flexible system that offers more variety of pacing. My dragonknight feels very tanky and you have the parry, interrupt and knockdown reactive actions as part of basic combat. I do wonder whether I’d grow tired of the combat, as I did with Tera, if I were playing the game intensively however.

Block tell animation

Block tell animation

World interactions

Secret World has a beautifully realised set of zones, although they are naturally spread far and wide across Earth so they’re disjointed for a reason. Within the zones you generally only interact with things that are relevant to the current mission so the wider world is just a background for whatever mission you have active. There’s no gathering from nodes in the world, crafting generally is fueled by deconstructing items or buying materials from the broker.

In ESO, somewhat like the single-player Elder Scrolls games, you can interact with items much more than the MMORPG average. Barrels, boxes and such may contain items to pilfer. I haven’t seen it yet but I guess with the newly implemented Justice system – taking someone’s household goods will now be considered stealing! Beyond picking up items there’s also gathering out in the wilds – the usual options of mining ore, harvesting wood, gathering herbs and the Tamriel-specific rune stones.  Also like the solo games, ESO has a lot of books on shelves in the world so that’s a collection mini-game for those interested in the lore or achievements.



Audience appeal

Secret World is a very unusual game. It’s horror setting is more niche than either the fantasy or sci-fi genres and it’s very dark in many of the featured stories. The game has possibly the heaviest story focus I’ve seen in an online game, yet it also has action combat and the platform-style sabotage category of missions.

You want me to go up there?

You want me to go up there?

Elder Scrolls also seems to be a bit of a weird hybrid in terms of target audience: it has action combat and more of a PVP emphasis given the three factions setup and the entire zone dedicated to large-scale faction combat. Yet the world is well realised and full of stories to explore for PVE fans.

It pays to listen and take your time in ESO. Blessing the corpses of fallen soldiers rewards you with brief animations as the spirits are freed - rush around and you'll miss details like this.

It pays to listen and take your time in ESO. Blessing the corpses of fallen soldiers for this one quest rewards you with brief animations as the spirits are freed – rush around and you’ll miss details like this.



How do you view these two modern action-combat MMOs side by side?

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9 Responses to TSW vs ESO

  1. pkudude99 says:

    Ah the Cost of Magic — hell the 1st few times, then eventually an XP farm every time it’s off cooldown. Fun quest!

    I played enough ESO last night to get “back in to the swing of it” on one of my sorcerers. Took a few fights to get the AE portion of it all down, but I was “in enough: that I could even kill groups of 3 just using single-target abilities, so I think I “got it.” (though using AE abilities killed them all simultaneously and left me at full health….) and even killed a few of the mini-bosses that are designed for a group, but soloable if you’re halfway awake.

    For me it’d be ESO is prettier and the combat pacing feels faster (though I haven’t played TSW since the changes yet), but TSW definitely has the story to beat ESO any day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

    I like them both, really. My biggest hurdle to playing TSW anymore is that I’ve filled the wheel, and I’ve done enough nightmare dungeons that I’ve got good enough gear that I don’t feel the need to keep playing for advancement, and their mission packs and new issues don’t really take all that long to play through, so I just don’t really feel like I’m advancing when I play anymore. And my biggest hurdle to playing ESO is that the control scheme is fluid and natural feeling and really screws me up for a time after I switch back to a tab-target game 😉 Add that I also am completely enamored of FFXIV right now, and it’s taking up most/all of my gaming oxygen.

    • Telwyn says:

      Same here, FFXIV has me more absorbed. TSW is my “grouped with friends” game something that ESO is unlikely to ever compete for. I do like fundamentally aspects of ESO but the combat is a bit too frantic for long play sessions (as Bhagpuss commented on this post).

    • Sylow says:

      Hmm, yea. The “done everything” is my main reason why i have other MMOs next to TSW. I still love to spend time in TSW and am there two or three evenings a week, but like any other MMO, it by itself in the long run could not keep up with the content consumption rate of its players.

      Normal activities in TSW are:
      – Spending an evening at the Albion or some other place with the RP crowd. While i am a rather casual RPer, my girl is deep into it and also runs her RFG (Radio Free Gaia) radio shows two times a week. (I only am present at one, the other is on friday afternoon, where she has time while i am still at work. )
      – Doing the NY raid with the cabal or outside friends like twice a month. I knew people who religiously ran that every time they could, but that way it turns into a grind and is no fun any more. I rather skip that.
      – Doing dungeons once a while. Usually it’s NM dungeons, but normal and elite difficulty also happens, just for the fun of it. (And newer players usually appreciate getting a helping hand. )
      – Doing missions with my girl, just for the fun of it, just for an hour or two.
      – Hanging around in Kingsmouth providing a bit of help and information for people who ask questions on the Kingsmouth general chat or on the Sanctuary channel. (Sanctuary is the player operated beginner help channel. )

      But despite all of this, i indeed also spend a little time in other games. (Which btw, have the same issue, if played exclusively. I am not aware of -any- MMO where people who play it exclusively would not complain about a lack of content. )

  2. bhagpuss says:

    I don’t think they are very similar at all. They have far more differences than they have similarities, at least from the telescoped-in perspective of an MMO genre fan.

    TSW’s quest dialog and voice acting is so far ahead of any other MMO it’s embarrassing. The writing ESO is acceptable, probably even above-par for the genre but that’s really not saying all that much. he voice acting in ESO is wildly variable – some is decent, some is close to the worst I’ve ever heard (and that includes EQ2).

    Visually they are both very good indeed. TSW has the advantage of a much more original (for MMOs) setting though and they really make the most of it. They both look amazing in screenshots.

    Combat-wise I strongly prefer TSW. I only struggle there on bosses and set-piece fights. In ESO every fight can be wearing. I mean physically – I get shoulder and neck ache in 30-60 minutes in ESO whereas I could play TSW all day without physical symptoms. I think maybe I should try a pet class in ESO and let the AI do the heavy lifting.

  3. Interesting post. I haven’t played ESO myself, but I’ve watched it from the sidelines, and I have noticed a lot of aspects seem somewhat reminiscent of TSW, and as a big TSW fan, that intrigues me.

    I really hope they offer some kind of free trial at some point. I’d really like to try ESO, but I don’t want to blow $70 on a game I may not like.

  4. Sylow says:

    Just a small comment on the “simplicity” of TSWs combat. Instead of writing a lot, i just copy out of a leech-healers posting in a build thread.


    To save you the clicking, the posting of KemosabeTBC refer to reads:

    I suggest you try with different rotations and see what you like best. In any case, if you’re interested these are the rotations I use in NY:

    1st rotation: AS, 3RB, ASx5, TA, Bloodshot
    2nd rotation: LnL+3RB, ASx5, TA, Bloodshot
    3rd rotation: Cannibalise+bloodshot, ASx5, TA, Bloodshot
    4th rotation: AS, 3RB, ASx4, TA, Bloodshot OR ASx6, TA, Bloodshot (depends if you prefer to use 1 extra builder and a 5 resource TA or just a 4 resource TA)

    Repeat rotations as cannibalise and LnL come out of cooldown

    buff rotation: TA,Bloodshot, ambrosia, Bloodshotx2, cannibalise, Bloodshotx2

    I never bother doing bloodshot spam in 1st phase. If you want to go for max DPS go ahead, you can also replace RNS with with energise/dod, which is something I don’t do either. I also use 2 purple execution, no equilibrium. I don’t use abuse or aggression in NY, just Laceration and Breaching (which I bring myself). Oh and 4.1k AR? No way I’m gonna waste precious pax on animas/mats to get like a 1% increase My AR is 3983 (or something like that) without the AR anima.

    Combat in TSW is as simple as you like it to be, you can cut it down to 5/1/1, rinse and repeat but if you refine your setups and try to really get the best out of your deck, combat can get more elaborate. )

  5. Sylow says:

    And on the decission why i stick to TSW and stay away from ESO, it’s mostly the social aspect. In TSW i have friends, we have fun and things are fine. That does not stop me from going for other games, and i spend quite some time with my girl in GW2 for example.

    In strong contrast to that, ESO has anti-socializing mechanics. If you killed a boss in some places, you never will see that boss again. The moment you deal the killing blow to him, you get moved to a copy of the instance, where the boss does not spawn any more.

    If you are good, you already saw the problem in reading the above passage: once you deal the KILLING BLOW. We indeed in the short time we were there had the same effect a few times. We went for a boss, one landed the killing blow and was moved to the other instance, the second one was left behind, had to wait for the boss to respawn and then kill it again.

    Due to it being all early game, it was possible. But my girl neither is a crack gamer, nor does she run great setups. She’s all roleplaying, and ESO is no different from other MMOs there, a RP-ly built character is a weak character. I don’t blame her, she’s having fun and in any other games, i just do the heavy lifting when the going gets tough. But in ESO i just know, the very first hard boss we’d actually run into, i’d get moved to the “kill done” instance and she’d have to face the boss alone, with no chance of success.

    So, for a social gaming experience, ESO just seems absolutely no go. It’s designed if it was Skyrim and seems to be great for solo play, but the fact that “online” might mean cooperation with other players apparently was told to the developers only a few days before launch.

    • Telwyn says:

      Spot on with the differences in social/anti-social mechanics at work here. We gave up on ESO at beta because the coop was so poorly done (like the devs didn’t even think about it at all!). It would work well for me as a “solo / group dungeon with guild” game but levelling with a few friends, still doesn’t look very good in that light. TSW has been for the most part a really good small group game. Plenty of challenge if you go looking for it, some nice ability synergies if you care enough about builds. The only issue really is some inconsistency over updates to missions when in groups – sometimes all get credit, othertimes only the one taking the action.

      • Sylow says:

        Yes, there are a few inconsistencies, but they actually are not that many. Usually when a mission only progresses for one person and not the other, the task is a “click here” or “use this item”, so nothing which is too bothersome to do. But i admit, there were a very few times when i advanced a mission and she did not, as she just relied on me doing everything but the game expected her to use an item.

        But as it happened very rarely, it didn’t really bother us. (Unlike for example Wildstar, where in just one week of trial play we probably had more “desynced” missions than we had in TSW over several years. )

        The bigger problem in TSW at some time were the solo instances, as formerly there were some which were quite a challenge. By now almost all of those which we found to be rather hard have been changed to be accessible in group, even some which by all logic would be solo tasks. (One of the few which can be a bit challenging and forces you to solo is the very last mission of the Tyler Freeborn storyline. )

        Anyway, for those missions i at some time just handed her better setups and she was able to do them, so the problem was not in twitch skills but rather in good deck building. And yes, there are a two optional missions, the generally feared Cost of Magic and the Castle, which she never completed and probably also never will complete. Their very specific challenges are just beyond her abilities and she rather enjoys other aspects of the game than forcing herself to learn to do just those two missions. As these missions are fully optional, this is no issue, though.

        And to return to the topic, another one the “anti-social” mechanics of ESO: i also find it very much “interesting” (to use a diplomatic word) on how ESO makes people join guilds: auction houses in the game are guild-internal, there is no public auction house. So while in other games guilds are to make friends, have fun togethe and socialize, in ESO guilds are there to trade, make profit from guildmates and potentialls also rip them off.

        If you see the game as a perfect solo-game and want to force people into guilds while the game provides no reason and incentive to be in guild, this move makes sense. If you on the other hand build a MMO where group content is included in your game design and encourages socializing, this move is contraproductive. So again, i believe that multiplayer was not on the original design document and was just quickly tacked on for additional MMO-subscription profit.

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