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 several months, I find I am enjoying it as much as – even more than – the previous games.
Initially I did not think that would be the outcome. My first week of “ESO” was veiled in a haze of confusion. 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.
Resolute, I pressed on. I am very happy that I did, because eventually I did figure things out for myself; and once I did, I was rewarded with many hours of fantastic fun. However, I wish, now, that I had known certain things in the beginning, which would have helped me enjoy those first few days so much more.
My purpose in writing this article is to save you from at least 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.
Don’t Worry 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 of (if there is any such thing) and I worried about fitting in with a community of gamers. I am not very social, but solitary by nature. I worried that I would not be skilled enough, or socially adept enough, and that I would face rejection and ridicule from other more experienced players.
I am very glad that I decided to play anyway, because when I did start, I discovered, to my relief, that ESO is primarily 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 required interactions with quest characters, merchants and the like are all with NPCs, just as in Skyrim.
Also – in case this is a concern – you are never required to fight another player, unless you choose to visit the one region set aside for player-versus-player battles. PvP is disabled in 95% of ESO.
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 these segments are totally optional. I’ll tell you more about them later, but in the meantime, don’t worry about them, because they don’t affect new players. These functions are for advanced players, and you won’t encounter them for some time.
Don’t Worry About Your First Decisions
You will probably have questions right away when you begin the game. Relax, because there really 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 Solstheim.) The Standard Edition includes the full base game plus the Morrowind expansion. It is what most people will purchase right now since it is only $9.99. 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 deluxe edition giving you access to Summerset and Elsweyr (currently $59.99), it is well worth it.
Do I need a premium account?
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, convenient. The primary advantage is that you receive a small allowance with which you can buy some quality-of-life supplies that will make your first few weeks 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 as part of a monthly plan.
The other advantage of ESO Plus is that it includes access to more expansions, known as DLC (downloadable content), but you probably won’t get around to these until later.
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.
That said, I wish that I had understood some major differences between ESO and Skyrim before I made my choices. Specifically:
- Be aware that both your account name and your character name are visible to all other players during gameplay. They cannot be hidden. So I would discourage you from using your real name.
- Unlike Skyrim, Magicka is not a specialty just for mages; it is essential for every player. All classes, even melee fighters, depend on 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.
- Archery, as a skill, is different in ESO compared to Skyrim; for one thing, it is not stealthy. It can be a good 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.
- Unless you plan to try PvP, competing against other players, ESO is not a competition. Whatever choice you make is the right one for you.
- Later on, if you change your mind you can change your Race for a small fee; however you are permanently locked into your Class. 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.
- You will see more staff-wielding Sorcerers in ESO than anything else. Sorcerers are gifted with powerful skills unavailable to other classes.
- Dragonknight and Templar are optimized for melee fighting. The Nightblade class is considered by many to be very effective for both sword fighters and mages (in addition to its strengths for stealth characters like thieves and assassins).
- The Warden Class was designed to be an all-around Class balancing all the skills, but as a result it is underpowered in all of them. It can be made to work pretty well, but other classes are stronger.
- Some people create characters specifically designed to participate in combat groups, where there are traditionally three roles: “tank,” “damage” or “healer.” If you are particularly interested in playing in groups, you may wish to design your character to specialize in one of these roles. But if you are primarily a solo player, you will need to balance all those functions yourself, so choose whatever attributes appeal to you most. You can adjust them as you go.
- 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, and you can be successful no matter what choices you make in the beginning.
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 tutorial quest – starting on board a ship, then tasking you to locate the Hooded Figure and then the Benefactor – is designed to help you get acquainted with 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 from which you left.
- In the beginning, your primary focus is survival. You need to obtain weapons and armor to stay alive, and gold. 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 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. The best way to level is by completing quests and exploring the world to discover new locations. Fighting certain enemies repeatedly – known as “farming” or “grinding” – is also a good (though tedious) way to level up and get stronger.
- When you first begin, you will be on an island specifically designed to help new players learn basic skills. The monsters are fairly easy, and provide good practice.
- Unlike Skyrim, items and enemies do not level with you. They are what they are. Many enemies will be far too difficult when you are new. In your first week, avoid delves and public dungeons, and do not go near a dolmen (more later about 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.
What Do I Do Next?
There are thousands of quests, locations, activities and things to explore in ESO. Quests are the absolute best way 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). Type J to open your Journal to learn what you need to do.
Work through your own Alliance story quest. Your assigned Alliance depends on the Race you have chosen. For example, 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.
After you complete the Main Quest, I personally recommend 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 to finish, 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; I estimate it is 10x bigger than Skyrim. Foot travel is not always practical due to the distances involved.
Initially, if you need to travel to another Alliance, it won’t 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.
- Three Guilds are included with the base game:
- Three more Guilds are available to add with various DLCs:
Collect 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.
Start Crafting. Crafting is more relevant in ESO than in previous TES games, as it is a primary source of money. The crafting system in ESO is extremely complex, but even at lower levels, it is a useful way to earn gold. When you reach higher levels, it becomes even more useful; spending only five minutes per day you can pull in 4,600 gold per day. 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 right from the beginning, by doing simple things:
- Collect materials in the wild: wood, metal, plants, runestones
- Collect hide when you kill low level animals like skeevers, wolves, and alit; you gain valuable experience, and you can make armor with the leather
- Do the short quest to get certified in various crafts, then:
- Start taking Crafting Writs (requests to create crafted items) which reward you with gold, experience and supplies – a great way to earn money
- Start researching Traits as soon as you can because it takes a long, long time
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. 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 difficult without assistance. There are three dolmens in Alik’r Desert that always have lots of other players present; try them, 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.
What About Those Other People?
As I stated previously, ESO is primarily 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 need – or 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, 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 shooting. You don’t have to say anything; just jump right in and join them. As long as you contribute at least 1% of the total damage, you will earn a lot of experience and you can loot the reward chest that appears at the end. There are three dolmens in each 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 can team up 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 anything from Guild Traders for now.
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:
- The Alliance War in Cyrodiil. If you aren’t interested in PvP, don’t go to Cyrodiil.
- Battlegrounds: eight small, isolated, remote, contained locations, easy to avoid.
- If another player asks to duel with you, say No. There is nothing to gain.
Is There Other Stuff I Might Want to Get?
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 – invaluable aid for sorting things in inventory
- Skyshards by Assembler Maniac – marks the locations of skyshards on your map
- Clock – Tamriel Standard Time by Tyx – helps you keep track of time
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 allotment 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. Excellent Crown Tri-Restoration Potions can be purchased from the Crown Store. Alternatively, you may get potions in quest rewards, or you can learn Alchemy to make your own.
- 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 eat and drink something before going into a tough battle, if you can. Excellent 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.
- 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!