The Elder Scrolls Online has improved and expanded exponentially since it’s launch in 2014. It has proven to be every bit as “massive” as the MMO-moniker would imply, which means Zenimax Online Studio’s gem can easily overwhelm both new and returning players. With most of the world sitting at home in self-isolation, and the upcoming Greymoor expansion looming over the horizon, more and more people have decided to explore the absolute wealth of content spread across Second Era Tamriel.
I recently returned to the game to catch up on older Chapters (ESO’s term for expansions) prior to Western Skyrim’s debut in a few weeks. I’ve always enjoyed a pleasant on-and-off again relationship with The Elder Scrolls Online, but even I find find myself a touch lost whenever I slide back in and see the overwhelming amount of stuff I haven’t touched. Fans of the series will find The Elder Scrolls Online refreshingly familiar, yet the little difference and always-online nature will quickly place even the most ardent of fans off-balance.
Those subtle difference tend to perplex new players making the jump from the single-player titles into ESO, and considering the game doesn’t give a skeever’s ass how you go about playing it nowadays I can’t fault anyone for walking away before even completing the tutorial. The Elder Scrolls Online is a huge fucking game, so it helps to get your bearings straight if you plan to enjoy it with minimal fuss.
Below are the three best tips I believe make ESO an infinitely more enjoyable experience for both new players and those returning after a lengthy hiatus. Each should help enterprising adventures land more solidly on their feet with minimal fuss. The Elder Scrolls Online may be an MMORPG, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the RPG portions of the game. Let’s start with the first tip:
*Special Greymoor Edit* Just, before we do, remember that ESO is still an MMO. That means the servers can buckle under the strain of a new expansion launch, weird bugs may require downtime to repair, and there will sometimes be login queues. I know these things are frustrating, especially to those jumping over from the single-player Elder Scrolls games. Having played MMOs for nearly two decades now I can tell you this: the majority of the time these issues disappear after a few days. The always-online nature of the game will be your largest hurdle to overcome, but once you make your way up and over it you’ll find an amazing game waiting for you.
You should totally play The Elder Scrolls Online like a regular Elder Scrolls game.
While you can’t play The Elder Scrolls Online offline without other players running about, you are free to wander the world as you see fit. One Tamriel removed the old leveling requirements for zones, thus the whole game now syncs with your level. There are still powerful elite enemies that require a group to takedown sprinkled about (and the game does a good job indicating where these are), but otherwise you are free to do as you wish.
There are some minor differences you should note, however, if you are entering The Elder Scrolls Online fresh off of Skyrim or any of the previous games. First thing to consider: Tamriel has been broken into zones. While roughly a third the size of Skyrim (sans Cyrodiil), these zones are still large, sprawling environments that are just as lousy with points of interest as the maps from the regular games. You may not be able to climb the Throat of the World, but you’ll certainly waste hundreds, if not thousands of hours trying to explore every inch of the numerous zones within The Elder Scrolls Online.
Second bit: you can’t kill every single soul that you see, nor loot the world barren like you can in a traditional Elder Scrolls game. Thanks to the inclusion of both the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild you can still murder random citizens, pilfer their pockets, or loot their homes, but certain critical NPCs can’t be attacked and there is a limit to how many illicit goods you can fence a day. For all intents and purposes the systems in place ensure The Elder Scrolls Online still feels like a proper Elder Scrolls game, but if you took pleasure in placing a bucket over someone’s head before clearing out their home then you may find yourself disappointed by the minor limitations in place here.
Third, and last stipulation: the quest design in The Elder Scrolls Online certainly feels like it leads you by the nose, more so than the original games. This is by no means a terrible thing, but you’ll need to get use to seeing quests at nearly every delve, every point-of-interest, and in every city. Quests in The Elder Scrolls Online tend to be lengthier, story-driven affairs, and the shorter “fetch ten rat hides” quests much rarer in comparison. You’re still free to tackle all of this as you wish, but if you want to follow the main story you’ll want to read my third and final tip in this guide.
Those quibbles aside, you can play The Elder Scrolls Online with the same whimsical abandon as you would Skyrim, Oblivion, and the other single-player titles. Go spelunking in forgotten tombs! Poke your nose into every nook, cranny, and crevice to see what secrets you may find. Read every lorebook you can get your hands on (there are hundreds). Help random citizens in elaborate side quests for gold and rewards. Or, pick the world clean like a vulture feasting on fresh carrion. Tamriel is your oyster, so don’t be afraid to crack it open and enjoy it at your pace. That said:
Play the game with whatever race, class, and equipment you want.
Unlike Skyrim and the older games in the series you’ll start The Elder Scrolls Online by picking a faction and a class. This may seem absolutely bonkers to some, but you shouldn’t stress over these choices, not even if you plan to enjoy the more MMO-oriented trappings later. Sure, there are “optimal builds” for endgame trials and veteran dungeons, but you’ll just burn yourself out long before reaching max level if you worry about adhering to the meta early on.
Your choice of faction will determine which of the three races you can make your character, and which side of Tamriel you’ll start your journey on. One Tamriel abolished the majority of limitations initially tied to faction choice though, so if you choose to join the Ebonheart Pact to make a Dark Elf, but want to explore Rivenspire then you can do so. Your choice of faction will not lock you out of exploring whatever zones you desire to see most (the optional DLC and Chapter zones aside – you need to pay for those).
You can purchase the “Any Race, Any Alliance” Bundle for roughly $25, (cause you can’t purchase $20 worth of Crown Points directly – yes, it’s stupid) if the race/faction limitation annoys you enough. This addon will allow you to choose whatever damn race you wish regardless of faction choice. Personally, I wouldn’t bother. With how freely you can travel in The Elder Scrolls Online this is a nicety, not a necessity. Faction choice only matters in the PvP zone of Cyrodiil, but you shouldn’t worry about that unless you absolutely need to play with “the best team.” I.E. you’re already looking to min-max before leaving character creation (which, again, I don’t recommend – not with your first character).
Class choice is a little more restrictive, but not near as bad as you may think. The Elder Scrolls Online utilizes skill lines for player progression and skill acquisition. Want to use two-handed axes? Then equip one and you’ll level up the two-handed skill tree and unlock abilities and passives from that line. Every class has three skill lines unique to each, so my Dragon Knight can’t access Templar skills for instance. In the end, your choice of class will not lock you out of any armor or weapon types.
You can play a heavy armor wearing spell caster Magicka Nightblade, or a Stamina-oriented medium armored Sorcerer that slings arrows if that’s what turns you on. Your class will provide a unique flavor and template, but in no way locks you out of content. Select the one that fits your fancy and preference. Yes, some classes perform certain roles better at endgame than others, but the meta is constantly shifting, so don’t let that bog you down at the start.
In short, don’t pull your hair out trying to plan and follow a meticulous meta-build early on. You can play the vast majority of the game solo with whatever broken ass build makes you happy, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You can always respec your skill points and attributes later with in-game gold (and get a scroll to do so for free at level 45), so when you are ready to enter the endgame you can nitpick your build then.
Besides, you’ll need to be level 50 and Champion Rank 160 before you can even think about the endgame (because that’s the highest level gear will roll), and the fastest way to reach those milestones is by completing main story quests in The Elder Scrolls Online. Which, brings me to the third tip:
Play the main story in sequence for the best experience.
The Elder Scrolls Online may not care how you play it, but the game does feature a main narrative with a linear plot. The game is written in such a way that you’re able to pick up and play whatever Chapter you want without losing your bearings, and you are more than welcome to ignore the main narrative here as you would the main story of Skyrim. If you don’t give a damn about narrative cohesion then by all means, play them in any order you want, but following the flow to an extent does make the experience a touch smoother.
Playing the story will provide you with gold, experience, and some good equipment. It also leads you to many of the coolest areas tucked away with the game. If you decide to engage with the main narrative of The Elder Scrolls Online it’s best to do so in the order it was written. This can be a touch difficult to do, considering your freshly minted character will begin their journey in the tutorial attached to the most recently released Chapter (throwing you in the middle of the latest narrative out of the gate). Once you knock that out you can easily double-back and start from the beginning.
To play the game’s story in sequence you need only finish whatever tutorial you found yourself in then open the map. Zoom all the way out until you see the entire continent of Tamriel and look for a wayshrine that leads to your faction’s starting hub. These are:
- Ebonheart Pact : Davon’s Watch
- Daggerfall Covenant : Daggerfall
- Aldmeri Dominion : Vulkhel Guard
Just look for the Hooded Figure to kick off the original main narrative with “The Vestige”. You’ll be briefly whisked away, but don’t worry, you’ll be returned to Tamriel shortly. Once you’ve made it back safe and sound to your alliance’s starting zone grab the zone quest therein (look for the notched stone icon instead of the typical Skyrim quest triangle, or use the Zone Guide in the Group Finder/Map). The starter zone quest kicks off the second main narrative arc from the original game that’ll lead you across all your alliance’s major zones, and you’ll complete the original Coldharbor narrative in parallel to this chain.
From here the order is simple enough to follow:
- Coldharbor/Faction Story
- Morrowind (Chapter)
- Clockwork City (Story DLC)
- Summerset (Chapter)
- Elsweyr (Chapter)
- Dragonhold (Story DLC)
- Greymoor (Chapter)
The story DLCs have to be bought either with Crowns from the Crown Store, or via an ESO Plus subscription. These are not mandatory for understanding the main narrative of The Elder Scrolls Online, but they help (though, arguably, Dragonhold does conclude the story from Elsweyr). If you want to keep it simple then follow the Chapters in that order. All other story DLC not listed above doesn’t factor heavily into the main narrative and can be safely viewed as side stories. These are great and I recommend trying them out at some point, but don’t bother with them until you are ready. Don’t stress the dungeon DLC if you are just here for the Elder Scrolls story and flair. They add some nice small details, but are not required to enjoy the main narrative.
Stop and smell the nirnroot.
There’s plenty to dig into within The Elder Scrolls Online: crafting, motif farming, PvP, trading, etc. Thing is, you’ll never see any of that content if you try and treat the game like a job. You’ll sputter out and run out of gas shortly after embarking on your journey. New and returning players sometimes forget that, myself included.
Thus why I earnestly believe those to be the three best tips for all new and returning players. Enjoy the game at your own pace without worrying about some pre-ordained meta, and savor the story as it was meant to be experienced.
Now, before you go, here is a selection of general tips that will make your time in The Elder Scrolls Online even easier.
- The game uses a megaserver, but you need to be in the same region to play with friends. If you are all on the NA server, for instance, you are good to go, but you can’t play with someone on the EU server.
- The community on both servers is typically pretty chill and helpful. Ask for help crafting leveling equipment in chat and you’ll be surprised by the number of people willing to help a new or lapsed player for free.
- On that note: don’t sleep on your equipment. The game may scale to your level, but keeping your equipment up to date makes life easier. You can request help crafting replacements via chat, loot new pieces off enemies, earn gear from quests, or even try crafting some of your own (if you choose to try your hand at leveling a profession).
- You can easily manage your inventory, even if you hoover up everything you see. Pick one or two professions you like and bank those materials – sell everything else. Provisioning is an excellent starter profession, and is easy to level.
- If you do need more bag space it can be purchased for gold, and your mount’s carrying capacity can be increased for 150 gold once a day up to a cap of 60.
- If you own Greymoor go to Solitude and grab the Antiquarian skill line before starting on your journey. The green-quality items you can dig up in every zone sell for 250 gold, and can be farmed as much as you like. A great way to bolster your early-game reserves.
- If you do plan on crafting later down the line be sure to break down unused equipment at workbenchs in cities. This will give you crafting experience, and you can flip the materials for gold.
- If an item has a magnifying glass next to it that means you can research the trait on it. You should always research traits, so don’t break these items down unless you already have something in the oven.
- For the full Elder Scrolls experience play the game in first-person, but if you try group content third-person will make it far easier to avoid attacks.
- Speaking of combat, don’t forget to block! It will reduce damage, even on non-charged attacks. You can also weave abilities between light attacks by first pressing the light attack button, then immediately the skill you wish to use.
- If you run low on magicka or stamina during combat use a heavy attack to restore some. Staves will restore magicka, and everything else stamina.
- If you want to run group content practice first as a DD (damage dealer). Longer wait times; less stress. You’ll be able to learn how to use your abilities within a group without feeling responsible for their safety.
- If you want to enjoy the story in a dungeon tell the group before starting in chat. Most players blitz through dungeons these days, so it helps to have everyone on the same page. Most people are fine with this in the normal dungeons.
- Whether you cooked it yourself, or bought it from a tavern, always have food and drink on hand for buffs. They’re insanely easy to loot in the wild as well.
- You can create outfits at an outfit station with patterns you have unlocked to mask your appearance. This is great, but does cost gold. Don’t worry about this feature early on.
- Speaking of gold: fast traveling from a waypoint is always free. Only pay to transit early on if you find yourself in a situation you can’t otherwise escape from.
- The Mages Guild and Fighters Guild stories are worth doing while you work on the original story, but don’t break your back for them. Do them, but don’t agonize over them.
- If you see someone fighting a monster near a gathering node DON’T TOUCH THE NODE. Gathering nodes are not shared, and that person was likely trying to collect that resource before getting attacked. Don’t be a dick; leave them their claim.
- There isn’t a traditional auction house in The Elder Scrolls Online. Instead, guilds can pay to sell their wares at specific stalls in cities. You can be in more than one guild, so if you care about trading try and find a good trading guild.
- Don’t forget to level your horse daily at the stables. There are three categories, each with a cap of 60. Considering you can only allot one point across all three a day you’ll want to keep up with this. Capacity is the best to start with.
- If you are ever lost you can open your map and look at the Zone Guide on the left. This can also be reached from the Group Tab. This will break everything within a zone down to a granular level.
- You can also use the Zone Guide to select any zone and resume its zone quest where you left off. Use this if you get a bit lost and your journal is overflowing with quests.
- The optional ESO Plus subacription is best used to access all the DLC and older Chapters you do not own. Yes, it will double your bank space, grant you an unlimited crafting item bag, and increase your experience earned, but you don’t need these things to enjoy The Elder Scrolls Online. They are nice, but the game isn’t balanced around them. If you simply like the game and want to support it then go ahead and subscribe (I’m subbed for this exact reason), or buy Crowns directly. Otherwise, you don’t need ESO Plus.
- This article was updated on May 27th, 2020