What I Wish They Had Told Me When I Started Playing Elder Scrolls Online

As an enthusiastic veteran of earlier editions of The Elder Scrolls series of video games, including Skyrim, Oblivion and Morrowind, I started The Elder Scrolls: Online with extremely high hopes and expectations. Now that I have been playing it for three years, I find I am enjoying it as much as – even more than – the previous games.

But initially that outcome seemed unlikely.

My first week of “ESO” was veiled in a haze of confusion. Aspects of the game seemed dizzyingly complex and/or non-intuitive. I searched the web for help, but the guides I found for new players were almost incomprehensible, filled with insider language and drowning in numbers and advice the purpose of which I did not understand.

I began to feel as if I were doing things all wrong and doomed to fail. I wasn’t really enjoying myself, and I almost gave it up.

Yet, resolute despite my frustration—or perhaps simply stubborn—I decided to press on.

Eventually I did figure things out for myself; and once I did, I was rewarded with many hours and months of fantastic fun. However, I wish, now, that I could have known certain things right away in the beginning. It would have helped me enjoy those first few days so much more.

My purpose in writing this article is to save you from some of the confusion I experienced, in the hope that your first steps in “ESO” will be every bit as enjoyable as I know your later strides will be.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive newcomer guide. You may want to find a newcomer guide to help you, or at least consult a wiki, like this one. Consider this article a supplement: just a few tips to reassure you about what to expect your first few days, and help you get started the right way.

Tip #1. Don’t Stress About the Multi-player Thing

I put off starting ESO for quite a while because, frankly, I was not eager to play with other people. I don’t fit a typical gamer demographic (if there is any such thing) and I worried about fitting in socially with a community of gamers. I am not very social; I am solitary by nature. I worried that I would not be skilled enough, or socially adept enough, and that I would face embarrassment and rejection from other players.

I am very glad that I decided to play anyway. Because when I did start, I discovered, to my relief, that ESO is largely a SOLO game. Other players are around, and you see them, but you never have to interact with them if you don’t want to. Virtually all the quests are solo quests which you do on your own. Your interactions with quest characters, merchants and the like are all with computer-generated NPCs, just as in Skyrim.

There is, of course, a robust community available on ESO, should you want to get involved with it. But you can happily immerse yourself in the game without ever doing so.

Only a few small segments of the game require you to join up with a group, and those segments are totally optional. I’ll tell you more about them later, but in the meantime, don’t stress about them, because they don’t affect new players. Those group functions are for advanced players, and you won’t encounter them for some time.

Also – in case this is a concern – you are never required to fight another player, unless you choose to visit a specific location set aside for player-versus-player battles. “PvP” is disabled in 95% of ESO and most players never engage in it. Other players cannot harm you, unless you give your consent for them to try.

Tip #2. Don’t Stress About Your First Decisions

You will probably have questions right away when you begin the game. Relax, because there are no wrong choices. There are ways to change your mind later.

Which version of the game do I buy?

ESO consists of a “base game” plus several available expansions that add more regions of land with their associated quests. (Just as Skyrim was expanded with Dragonborn/Solstheim.) The Standard Edition includes the full base game plus the Morrowind expansion. It is what most people will purchase since it is only $5.99. It is perfectly fine to start with, and you can acquire the other expansions later.

I can almost guarantee that you will want those expansions eventually, so if you are able to buy the most recent edition giving you access to all available expansions, currently $59.99, it is well worth it. If not, you can still add those expansions and other smaller ones later, individually.

Assuming that you play on a PC or Mac, I highly recommend that you purchase the game through the Steam platform, to ensure that you get the most up-to-date version.

Do I need a paid account to play?

After your purchase of the game, ESO is free to play. A premium account, which is known as “ESO Plus” costs $14.99 per month (less if you purchase 3, 6 or 12 months at a time). It is not necessary, and you can play perfectly well for free. It is, however, extremely convenient. The primary advantage for new players is that you receive a small monthly allowance with which you can buy some quality-of-life supplies that will make your first few weeks much more easily survivable (soul gems, repair kits, restoration potions and food – all of which I’ll explain later). When you are still new, you may find that you will purchase these things anyway, so you might as well get them included as part of a monthly plan.

ESO Plus offers several other advantages, such increased inventory storage space and free access to additional expansions. You probably won’t get around to these until later, so it’s perfectly fine to wait before getting ESO Plus.

What character should I be?

Feel free to let your imagination run wild as you invent your character. Be any race you want to be, modify your appearance to your tastes and think up the perfect name (as long as it isn’t already taken). There are no wrong choices. As you play, you will be able to develop your character in any of several directions, so don’t worry about making a wrong choice in the beginning.

You get to create up to 8 different characters, so even if you mess up the first one, you can start over, or try something different later.

That said, I wish that I had understood some major differences between ESO and Skyrim before I made my choices. Specifically:

  • Because you can create several characters on one account, you will have an account name, and each character will have a character name. So you will need to think up at least two names.
  • Be aware that both your account name and your character name are visible to all other players at all times during gameplay. They cannot be hidden. So I would discourage you from using your real name.
  • There are situations in which you may interact with other players, and depending on the setting, they may need to call you by your account name, rather than your character name. So make sure that your account name is pronounceable.
  • You can change your character name later, but you cannot change your account name.
  • Unlike Skyrim, Magicka is not a specialty just for mages; it is essential for every player. All classes, even melee fighters, use at least some Magicka.
  • There are only three attributes for ESO: Stamina (which means physical strength), Magicka and Health. Everyone needs all three, but you only get a certain number of points to assign and you must decide how to divide them between the three. More of one means less of another; you cannot have maximum values in all three. Eventually you will specialize in either melee fighting (up close and personal causing physical damage with a sword or axe, using Stamina) or ranged fighting (from a distance by casting spells using Magicka), and you will assign your attribute points accordingly as you earn them.
  • Archery, as a skill, is different in ESO compared to Skyrim; it is significantly less powerful, and it is not stealthy. It can be a useful secondary skill to develop later, but it’s hard to survive early on using just archery.
  • When you create your character, you choose a Race and a Class. Although you can develop any character in any direction as you play, it can be helpful to select the Race – and especially the Class – that best complements the playing style you prefer.
    • ESO is not a competition (unless you plan to try PvP, choosing to compete against other players). Whatever choice you make is the right one for you.
    • Later on, if you change your mind you can change your character’s Race for a small fee; however your character is permanently locked into the Class you select when you create it. The only way to change Class is to start a new character. So give some thought to this.
  • I wish I had understood, when I started, a few things about Class. Each Class is gifted with a unique set of skills accessible only by that Class. Although I think that they tried to make them equally powerful, they are not. When considering which Class to select, consider these points:
    • How do you like to fight? If you like to get up close to your enemies and fight with a sword or axe, you will be a melee fighter, also known in ESO as a “Stamina” fighter. If you prefer to keep your distance, and attack from far away, you will be a “Magicka” fighter.
    • For Magicka fighting, staff-wielding Sorcerers are the most common. Necromancers are very powerful, if you don’t mind the dark associations.
    • Dragonknight and Nightblade classes are optimized for melee fighting. If you like swords and axes, you will probably want to be one of these two. Nightblades have extra stealth capabilities.
    • Templars are excellent for melee fighting, and are also good for players who want to participate in groups in the role of healer.
    • Wardens were intended to be an all-around Class balancing all the skills. They are versatile but slightly less powerful.
    • Unlike Skyrim, thieves and assassins are not focused classes. Anyone can become a thief or an assassin regardless of class. Stealth skills are associated with game expansions that must be purchased separately.
  • Creating a character is known as a “build” and there is a wealth of advice and opinion available online recommending various combinations of race, class, skills and gear. However, as previously mentioned, you don’t need to worry about most of it at first. Your playing style and your character’s strengths will gradually evolve as you play the game. You can also completely re-make your character later on (for a small fee), and you can be successful no matter what choices you make in the beginning.

Tip #3. What Do I Do First?

You have created your character and you are ready to begin! The very best advice I can give you is simply to play the game. Don’t worry too much about getting it right. The game is well designed to help you learn as you go. There is a good balance of hand-holding and letting you discover things on your own.

In the beginning, follow where the story leads you. The “main quest” – tasking you to locate the Hooded Figure and then the Benefactor – is designed to help you learn the game. Go ahead and dive into the adventure.

You may wish to print out this graphic chart of controls and keys and keep it beside your computer at first.


A few things to know:

  • Unlike Skyrim, there are no do-overs in ESO. You can’t load a previous save. When you die (and you WILL die, a lot) you can only come back at the same point at which you died.
  • In the beginning, your primary focus is survival. You need to obtain weapons and armor to stay alive, and gold to buy them. Completing quests is the most effective means. Each time you complete a quest, or defeat an enemy, you receive a reward containing various items. That’s how you initially get gold, weapons and armor.
  • Your secondary focus should be leveling up. The more experience you have, the stronger you will be and the easier it is to survive. When you are new, the best way to level is by completing quests and exploring the world to discover new locations. Questing and exploring helps you become well grounded and strong. Fighting certain enemies repeatedly – known as “grinding” – may be a fast (though tedious) way to level up, but it keeps you from developing effectively. For tips on grinding, consult wikis, guides, or videos on YouTube.
  • When you first begin, you will be on a “starter island” specifically designed to help new players learn basic skills. The monsters are fairly easy to kill. Take advantage of them to practice using your weapons.
  • Unlike Skyrim, items and enemies do not level with you. They are what they are, and their levels do not change. Many enemies will be far too difficult when you are new. In your first few days, avoid delves and dungeons, and do not go near one of those big chains dropping down from the sky (more later about these “dolmens”) unless there are several other high-level players there already.
  • You can only use weapons and armor that are rated for your level or below. You will soon discover that all the best stuff is restricted for use by players of a higher level. The first major milestone is to reach level 50. This will enable many new options for you. The second milestone is to reach level 160, which will allow you to use any and all weapons and armor in the game.

Tip #4. What Do I Do Next?

1. Quests

There are thousands of quests, locations, activities and things to explore in ESO. Quests are the absolute best way for new players to level up, and to grow in experience, skill and fortune, while immersing in the many evocative story lines.

For the best possible experience, I strongly recommend the following.

To help you find and start various quests bookmark and refer to this web page.

Start the Main Quest as soon as possible (find the Hooded Figure and then the Benefactor). Once you start it, at any time you can type J to open your Journal to review what you need to do next.

Work through your own Alliance story quest. Your assigned Alliance depends on the Race you have chosen. If you are a High Elf, Wood Elf or Khajiit, you are part of the Aldmeri Dominion so work through that quest line. Nords, Argonians and Dark Elves are in the Ebonheart Pact; while Redguards, Bretons and Orcs belong to the Daggerfall Covenant. Each alliance has a story line.

After you complete the Main Quest, you will be invited to start Cadwell’s Almanac. This is a comprehensive series of “story quests” that amount to a “grand tour” of Tamriel. There is a story quest line to be completed in each of the 15 primary lands of the base game. It takes weeks, but the stories are compelling and it presents an unparalleled opportunity to become acquainted with the whole world of ESO.

About transportation: as you explore each zone, be sure to take the time to “discover” all the “wayshrines,” which are nodes allowing you to fast travel. Tamriel is huge; 20 to 30 times larger than Skyrim. Foot travel is not always practical due to the distances involved.

Initially, if you need to travel to another Alliance, it may not be accessible by foot and you will need to go by boat or carriage. Consult this page for transportation routes. Once you reach the new Alliance, and visit wayshrines there, you will be able to fast travel to them when you want to return.

I recommend the Guild quests. Each Guild has a quest line that rewards you with a valuable set of skills through which you can develop abilities you will find very useful. You can do them concurrently with the above or wait and do them after you finish the main story quest.

2. Skyshards

Collect all Skyshards. You need them to unlock new skills. Additionally, just the process of collecting them will give you much valuable experience, since some are tricky to find or guarded by challenging enemies.

3. Lore Books

Collect all Lore Books. You need them to unlock the valuable skills from the Mages Guild. In addition, get into the habit of reading every bookshelf you can; some will contain skill books that give you a free boost in your skills.

Tip: Install the add-on Map Pins to mark the locations of lore books, skyshards and more on your game map.

4. Crafting

Start Crafting. In Skyrim, crafting was an interesting, but optional sideline; but in ESO, crafting is an essential part of everyday gameplay.

  • Daily crafting is one of the primary ways of earning gold.
  • All players need potions, which require Alchemy skills.
  • All players need enchantments, which require Enchanting skills.
  • All players need food and/or drink, which require Provisioning skills.
  • You may need to craft your own armor or weapons, using Blacksmithing, Woodworking and/or Clothing skills.

The crafting system in ESO is complex, but at higher levels, you can pull in 4,600 gold per day in less than five minutes.

At your earliest opportunity, get certified in all seven crafting professions. It is a very good idea to begin crafting early on, since it takes awhile to progress in the relevant skills and “research” the knowledge you will need.

  • You can lay the foundations for your crafting career by doing simple things:
    • Do the short quest to get certified in various crafts, then:
    • Collect materials in the wild: wood, metal, plants, runestones.
    • Collect hide when you kill animals like skeevers, wolves, and alit; you gain valuable experience, and you can make armor with the leather.
    • Start taking daily Crafting Writs (requests to create crafted items) which reward you with gold, experience and supplies – a great way to earn money. Daily Crafting Writs are available near the crafting stations in the main city of every zone. If you own the Summerset or Morrowind DLC, the daily crafting locations in Alinor or Vivec City are popular.
    • Start researching Traits a.s.a.p. because it takes a long, long time.

Tip: Install the add-on Dolgubon’s Lazy Writ Crafter to make daily crafting writs super fast and simple.

5. Dolmens

Help out at Dolmens. When you see and hear a giant chain and anchor drop from the sky, the spot where it lands – a “dolmen” – is about to be the site of a brief but very intense battle. These small battlegrounds are an outstanding way to practice your combat skills and level up, both with regular experience points and also specifically with Fighters Guild skills. Just be sure that when you are new, you only approach dolmens where a bunch of other players are around; a new player cannot survive a dolmen battle alone, and even veteran players find them challenging without assistance. There are three dolmens in Alik’r Desert that always have lots of other players present, but I prefer the three dolmens in Auridon, which usually have several players helping but are not quite so chaotic. You do not need to communicate with the other players, and no one will pay you any attention. Just show up; when the bad guys appear, start shooting; and collect your rewards from the chest when all have been defeated.

Why is everyone running?

In the beginning it may startle you that everyone is running all the time. They are not doing it on purpose to annoy you. That is simply the default for players, and in fact virtually everyone prefers it—as you soon will also. Tamriel is a huge place, and if you were to walk all the time, you would most likely grow very impatient very quickly. So while it is possible to walk, I recommend that you just get used to the running. You will soon discover that it is an incredibly minor, insignificant quirk of the game, that you will quickly learn to ignore.

Note that while players run, NPCs mostly walk. That can be a useful thing; if you see someone walking, most likely they are an NPC and not a player.

Another thing that takes getting used to is that players are all phantom, like ghosts. You cannot collide with another player; you will simply pass right through them. Most people, out of courtesy, try to avoid visually colliding with other players. But in truth, doing so has zero effect on either of you. I promise, eventually you will get used to it. So don’t stress about it now.

Tip #5. What About Those Other People?

As I stated previously, ESO is largely a solo game, and you never have to interact with other players unless you want to. But even if you prefer not to socialize, there are times when you may want other players fighting alongside you.

Dolmens. The enemies that appear at dolmens are very powerful, and you cannot best them by yourself. But if other players participate, by working together you all can win. In the more popular dolmen locations, several players will be hanging around, waiting for the anchor to drop, and when it does, all will swarm in and start fighting. You don’t have to say anything; just jump right in and join them. As long as you contribute some damage, you will earn a lot of experience and you can loot the reward chest that appears at the end. There are dolmens in nearly every zone, but you will be most likely to find a decent group of players at dolmens in Auridon or Alik’r Desert. For best results wait until there are at least 4 to 6 other players present to help. One tip: do not stand still during the battle. If you stand in the same place for more than a couple of seconds during a dolmen battle, you’ll get zapped with an extremely powerful charge that will kill you outright.

Random Players in Dungeons. When you are in Delves and Public Dungeons, you may see other players doing the same quest you are doing. Although it’s not necessary to interact with them, you may find yourselves casually helping one another. Some dungeons have a very tough boss at the end, and if other players happen to be around, the extra firepower is often very helpful.

Group Dungeons. When you see a location on your map with a plus sign on it, that means it is designed to be taken on by a group (usually a group of 4). They are almost impossible for low level players to complete alone. If you prefer not to interact with other players, stay out of group dungeons. Note: the “veteran” region of Craglorn consists almost entirely of group dungeons and should be avoided until you are more powerful and willing to team up with a group.

Undaunted is a guild devoted to taking on group dungeons. You are assigned to a team with 3 random other people to take on a selected group dungeon. Some of the groups turn out better than others, but even if the groups are inconsistent, participating in Undaunted gives you access to a very useful set of skills, experience and gear that you can’t get any other way.

Trading Guilds. Above I referred to the six Guilds in the game. In addition, there are hundreds of player-created guilds, for trading, socializing and the like. You won’t be ready for trading guilds until you hit level 160, but I mention them because you will see Guild Traders on the outskirts of any city. They look like merchants, and they are, in a way, but they don’t function like regular merchants, and they won’t be useful to you until you reach level 160. Although you can purchase armor and weapons from them at any time, virtually all the armor and weapons sold through Guild Traders is restricted to level 160 and you won’t be able to use it until you, too, reach level 160. So, don’t purchase gear from Guild Traders for now.

Social Guilds. If you are open to the idea of conversations with other players, you may enjoy joining a social guild. Typically, social guilds have members who enjoy helping new players. They also may organize skyshard runs, dungeon runs and other events to help you accomplish objectives.

Player-versus-player. This option is available to you after you reach level 10. If you don’t like the idea, don’t worry, because you can completely avoid player-versus-player combat (PvP). It is tightly restricted, and only available via three situations:

  1. The Alliance War in Cyrodiil. If you aren’t interested in PvP, don’t go there.
  2. Battlegrounds: small, isolated, contained locations, easily avoided.
  3. If another player asks to duel with you, say No. There is nothing to gain.

Apart from these specific consensual situations, no player can harm you.

Tip #6. Is There Other Stuff I Might Want to Get?

Reference pages. Bookmark this interactive map of Tamriel and this ESO Wiki.

Add-ons. Just as there were mods for Skyrim, ESO has various player-created add-ons available, some of which are very useful. To get and use them, install Minion. I recommend the following add-ons at minimum:

  • AUI – Advanced UI by Sensi – several improvements to the game UI
  • Advanced Filters by Randactyl – useful aid for sorting things in inventory
  • Map Pins by Hoft – marks locations of skyshards, books, etc. on your map
  • Dolgubon’s Lazy Writ Crafter — helps you complete daily writs in a snap

Crown Store. Most things in the game can be purchased with the gold you earn as part of the game. The Crown Store provides additional premium items that can be purchased with Crowns, which you buy with US$. You access the Crown Store from within the game by pressing the comma key. You can get a monthly allowance of Crowns if you sign up for a $14.99/month ESO Plus account.

Supplies. There are some supplies that will be very, very handy in the early stages of your game. You can get along without them but having them can vastly improve your experience. All of these can be found or crafted in the game, and eventually will be easy to obtain, but in the beginning that may be difficult, and you may wish to purchase them from the Crown Store.

  • Soul Gems are essential. If you have an enchanted weapon, you will need soul gems to recharge it periodically. But more importantly, you need soul gems to resurrect yourself when you die. Trust me – you will die often. Without a soul gem, you can still resurrect but it will be in a different location from where you died (which might cause you to lose progress in your quest). With a soul gem, you can resurrect in the same place, so you can continue right where you left off. Eventually, you will be able to fill your own soul gems, but in the beginning, you’ll need to get them elsewhere. Occasionally you’ll find them in quest rewards and loot, but if you are like me, you’ll need many more than you will find. If you know a more advanced player, who probably has a supply of extra soul gems, you may ask them to gift you some. Otherwise, consider purchasing them from the Crown Store.
  • Potions are crucial to help you survive during a battle. Learn to use the Quickslots feature so that you can drink a potion during the fray, to bolster your health and keep yourself alive. Crown Tri-Restoration Potions can be purchased from the Crown Store. Additionally, you may get potions in quest rewards, or you can learn Alchemy to make your own for free.
  • Repairs will be necessary. Each time you are in a fight, your armor and weapons get damaged. You need to get them repaired or eventually they will no longer be effective. The easiest way is to pay a merchant to repair them. I recommend you do this a.s.a.p. after every battle. You can also purchase repair kits from the Crown Store, which can be useful when you can’t get to a merchant.
  • Meals can help you survive. Cooking can be a fun crafting pastime, but more than that, eating and drinking gives you a temporary (and significant) increase in strength, which can help you survive a battle. Always make sure you have eaten something before going into a tough battle, if you can. Crown Fortifying Meals can be purchased from the Crown Store, but you can also practice cooking to whip up your own pre-battle fortifying meals for free.
  • Soul Gems, Crown Tri-Restoration Potions, Crown Repair Kits and Crown Fortifying Meals are found in the Crown Store under Utilities > Supplies.

That is all the wisdom I can think of to share at the moment. I will add more to this page as I think of it. In the meantime… be brave… try it… and have fun in the amazing world of Elder Scrolls Online!

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