“You can be whatever you want to be.” It’s a common adage parents tell their children, but it applies equally well to the popular MMORPG The Elder Scrolls Online.
This freedom to be anything your heart desires is one of the strengths of The Elder Scrolls Online. But, just like children finding out that with freedom comes a whole load of difficult decisions, players can become overwhelmed and intimidated with all the choices afforded to them.
Free-to-Play vs. ESO Plus
The first choice you need to make is whether to go free-to-play or join ESO Plus — a paid subscription to The Elder Scrolls Online that gives you a lot of perks, but no in-game advantages over other players.
The Elder Scrolls Online is definitely not pay-to-win. But it is pay-to-make-life-a-whole-lot-easier-and-get-access-to-more-stuff.
When you’re first setting out into the world of Tamriel, there’s really no need for you to join ESO Plus. You can get an excellent feel for the game and its combat style without having to pay a monthly subscription.
The Elder Scrolls Online has an action combat system, which is very active — with blocking and animation cancelling — meaning there is loads of room for you to improve your skills as well as your character’s stats.
But, there is a downside to free-to-play, and this is one that really ruins the immersion. You’ll spend an unnecessary amount of time managing your inventory thanks to the lack of a crafting storage space without ESO Plus. Many players probably end up getting ESO Plus just so they don’t have to deal with the inventory issues anymore.
As with all Elder Scrolls games, the narrative and lore are rich and deep. It’s like reading a good book or watching a fantasy TV series that’s actually good. You won’t want to put it down. And, when it’s done, you’ll want more. Thankfully, there always is more with ZeniMax’s regular content updates in the form of DLCs and, less frequently, chapters.
ESO Plus members get access to the latest DLCs for free. However, as a free player you won’t. You’ll need to purchase them through The Elder Scrolls Online’s Crown Store.
Chapters are expansions that need to be purchased by everyone. But again, you should start out free-to-play. Once you finish the free content, which will take you a fairly long time, you can consider ESO Plus to play your way through the latest DLC content.
So, you’re ready to play. You want to make your mark on Tamriel by slaying some evildoers or robbing the rich and, well, keeping it for yourself. You make your way through the the incredibly detailed character creation, deciding everything down to the size of your nose and angle of your jawline.
Let’s say you’ve picked your race, a Kahjiit (because you’re a cat person), and you pick Templar as your class (because you enjoy healing), and off you’ll go. Simple, right?
Not in The Elder Scrolls Online. Before you can begin, you’ve got some homework to do. Freedom comes with a price, after all.
While Templars are great for healing, they can also be a magic damage class, or a health tank, or even a magic tank. And the other classes are as flexible. Sorcerers can be healers, or even stamina damage dealers. Nightblades, the quintessential damage class, can play as a support class.
There are so many options. The reason for this is that your skills don’t only come from your class, but also your choice of weapon, armor type, and the groups you affiliate with.
Also, the race you choose does affect your character’s abilities — a little. Having a less-than-optimal race won’t ruin your endgame, but if you do care about being min-maxing and want to “be all that you can be,” then you’ve got more homework to do.
Some people might find this all a bit overwhelming. However, if the idea of breaking MMORPG class stereotypes excites you and you can’t wait to try a Nightblade that sucks the life out of its enemies while healing its allies, then you might have just found your next MMORPG.
Plus, The Elder Scrolls Online has a very passionate community, so there are plenty of guides out there to help you choose the race and class you want.
Now that you’ve completed all your research, you’re finally ready to set off into the slightly less unknown. You start off… in jail. It just wouldn’t be an Elder Scrolls game if you didn’t.
You break your way out and make your way to the mainland. Once there, you’ve got a whole bunch of new decisions to make. It’s a big, beautiful world out there.
There are tons of zones to explore, each with their own unique stories, characters, mobs, and secrets to uncover. You get sidetracked numerous times as each new person you meet tells you their story of woe and pleads for your aid. Even these smaller side-stories are relatable and convincing, so you’ll find it hard to resist lending a hand — most of the time. Plus, there’s always the chance of more good loot at the end.
Sometimes you have to slay a powerful monster; other times you uncover the secrets of a seemingly innocent town. Occasionally, you find yourself playing messenger boy or girl for two people who have three or four loading screens between them. This is not fun and whoever designed these quests needs to spend some time running messages around the ZeniMax office as punishment.
You might lose track of the main story line every now and then, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Just enjoy getting lost in the world. Or go kit out your very own mansion, or lair, or man cave — because you can. Player housing was added to The Elder Scrolls Online a few DLCs ago and it gives you a ton more stuff to do. And more decisions to make, like: does that monster head look better by the oak table or the pine dresser?
All in all, now is an excellent time to get into The Elder Scrolls Online. The champion point system — the way you get more powerful after you reach the max level of 50 — is currently capped, allowing you to catch up to those who have been playing for years and reducing the grind that has been filtering into the game.
There’s still going to be a grind — otherwise there would be no endgame — but at least you know where it ends. Max level gear is still accessed at champion point 160, the same as it has been for ages, so you can be confident that you’re not going to have to suddenly set out in search of more just as you reach that benchmark.
A new chapter called Elsweyr was released in May 2019. So, “you can be whatever you want to be” while also slaying dragons.