ESO Gameplay Guide: Elder Scrolls Online

Latest posts by Adam Braunstein (see all)

Elder Scrolls Online is one of the best MMORPGs out there, and while plenty of games have the community that it has, none other in the genre can claim they have decades of previous single-player hit titles to back up their tale. As with most elder scrolls games, you have a wealth of options for how you want to play, and finding out which niche fits you best is essential.

My experience with elder scrolls online is vast, as I’ve been a hardcore elder scrolls fan since the early 2000s. I’ve always found their games to instill a sense of wonder that just isn’t quite there with other titles in the same genre. It feels like a real-world you’re exploring, so that goes far when trying to build the scenario for an epic adventure.

Elder Scrolls Online takes that notion and expands it to an insane degree. Instead of just giving you one large area to explore as Skyrim or Oblivion did, Elder Scrolls Online gives you pretty much every area that’s ever been talked about or covered in previous Elder Scrolls games. That means from Daggerfall to the Alik’r Desert and beyond.

Of course, with all that ground to cover, you’ve got to have the gameplay to back it up. As always, you’re provided with various ways to play here. Let’s look at everything you need to know when playing Elder Scrolls Online.


I don’t know about you, but exploration is my favorite part of any Elder Scrolls game. The wonderful worlds crafted by Bethesda have secrets and endless things to discover as you play, and you can rest assured knowing that they didn’t take their foot off the pedal in this regard in Elder Scrolls Online.

You will be able to explore areas on foot or do so on horseback. In terms of what you’ll be finding during your exploration, that varies from area to area.

Generally, you’ll be discovering new locations, new cities, new towns, and most importantly, new dungeons. Elder Scrolls Online knows why you play these games, and that’s for the juicy dungeon crawling that the series is known for.


elder scrolls online Dungeons

The dungeons in Elder Scrolls Online come in a few different flavors. While you can play solo throughout the game and experience most of the dungeons available that way, there are a few dungeons that are only able to be completed when teaming up with others.

Public Dungeons

The Public Dungeons are the big dungeons of the game that require multiple players to succeed in them. These usually involve unique mechanics and can be incredibly tough if your team communicates with each other.

One thing to keep in mind here is Synergy, and using skills on top of each other will go a long way to achieving that. At the end of each of the Public Dungeons is a tough boss, and overcoming them will lead to new weapons, armor, and other valuable items.

Synergy is important to note because it’s not just you and your party that will use it, but monsters too. Monster of the Public Dungeons will start planning their attacks and combining their skills against you the second you enter a room, so you need to be ready to do the same. Otherwise, your party is going to get destroyed.

When entering an area, you will commonly see things like an enemy blowing a horn to rally the troops to you and also doing things like laying traps. The AI here is impressive, and you can regularly find such tactics like a mage setting fire to an area happening. This means you’ll have to be aware of your surroundings at all times in these big dungeons.

Roles in the Public Dungeons are far less strict than that of other MMORPGs. You can still have your tanks, healers, and damage dealers, but every player is free to have the ability to do all of that if they so choose. The key to winning in these dungeons is through communication and Synergy, not following age-old role-playing.


Combat in Elder Scrolls Online is very similar to combat in Skyrim, so if you’ve had some experience playing as the Dragonborn, you’ll be right at home with a lot of the mechanics here.

Melee Combat

elder scrolls online Melee Combat

Like in previous games, you’ll have a ton of options for the weapons you can choose from in Elder Scrolls Online. You’ll have swords, greatswords, daggers, axes, one-handed axes, and two-handed hammers to choose from.  You can mix and match with one-handed weapons and dual wield them, giving you some flexibility when it comes to attacking. With each weapon comes the ability to use three kinds of attacks

There is a light attack, which is quick and deals small damage, a heavy attack which is slow and deals a huge amount of damage, and a medium attack which you can activate by charging a heavy attack and triggering it midway through the charge.

You will also need to block, and seeing as this is a real-time combat game, that means you’ll be timing your blocks by reading your enemy attacks. Most physical damage is blockable, but magic attacks will go right through your shield most of the time. To block magic damage, you’ll have to find a specific shield that absorbs that kind of damage.

Archery Combat

Every party could use an effective bow user, and Elder Scrolls Online provides more options than usual if you want to attack from afar. There are a variety of bows you can acquire and arrows that have different effects, and the weapon skills you can get from each bow can alter your playstyle quite a bit here.

Mage Combat

In Elder Scrolls Online, you can become a force of nature as a mage. There are tons of spells to choose from, and you can activate multiple at a time. Each spell has an element attached to it, and it’s important you learn which spells your enemies are weakest to in order to effectively win your combat encounters.

Skills and Talents

elder scrolls online Sorcerer

Normally, that would be all you’d be able to do in an Elder Scrolls game, but with Elder Scrolls Online, it’s an MMORPG, so you know you need something to fill up that ever-popular hotkey bar, and here, that’s going to be weapon skills.

There is a handful of each of these for each weapon, and while you can’t really base your entire offensive attack on them, you can definitely use them as a last resort effort in battle; just be wary about the charge time needs between each skill usage.

Each has 3 skill trees with 10 abilities. Once you choose your class, you cannot get the abilities of other classes in the game. The classes available to you are the following.

  • Sorcerer
  • Templar
  • Nightblade
  • Dragonknight

In addition to your class skill trees, you also get skills for your weapons as well. There are skills available for the following.

  • Two-Handed
  • One-Handed and Shield
  • Dual Wield
  • Bow
  • Restoration Staff Skills
  • Destruction Staff

If that wasn’t enough for you, you’ve also got World Skills available as well, and these are specific skills that can be discovered through your exploration of the world. They can be acquired through joining specific guilds or just by your exploration of various places. Here are the World Skills available.

  • Soul Magic- allows you to capture souls and fill soul gems
  • Vampire- skills that allow you to use Vampiric abilities
  • Werewolf- skills that give you access to Werewolf abilities

If you discover the various guilds throughout the world, you will gain access to even more skills.

  • Mages Guild
  • Fighters Guild
  • Dark Brotherhood
  • Thieves Guild

Each guild gives you access to skills that would be unattainable otherwise.

There are also Armor Skills, Champion Skills, and even Alliance Skills to acquire, so you can expect to be still hunting for a long time while playing Elder Scrolls Online. That’s a good thing because there are hundreds of hours of content to explore.


elder scrolls online Crafting

To keep your character competing with some of the best players and most brutal enemies in the game, you are going to have to get to know the crafting system. Like many MMORPGs, you can craft gear to get stronger in various areas.

In Elder Scrolls Online, there are 7 types of professions. You have Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Clothier, Enchanting, Jewelcrafting, Woodworking, and Provisioning.

You can choose whichever one you want, but in order to raise craftier tiers and become better at it, you need to invest skill points into these areas.

Realistically, you will only be able to specialize in 1-2 of these, so you should figure out where you want to specialize. The skill points you use here are the same ones that go into leveling your armor, race, weapon, and others, so you really don’t want to spend all your skill points in crafting as you’ll end up being completely useless otherwise.

In order to level your crafting skill, you need to actually craft an item, and over time, that will increase your level.


There are a lot of things to do in Elder Scrolls Online, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed while playing. You should know that this is not a normal MMORPG game. It’s also not really a normal Elder Scrolls game either, so finding out how these two forces combine is part of the fun.

One way to get on the right track is by questing. You will notice quests are available nearby when you see a tracking icon on your compass. Once you see this, approach them to begin the quest. Black icons mean that this quest is not repeatable, and blue icons signify weekly quests.

You can keep track of your quests by pressing J on the keyboard, and it’s here you can review your active quests, set a quest as your focus, share quests with group members, abandon quests or check out the lore library to put this wild world into context. You can also check your achievements and leaderboards here as well.

While you’re questing, there are certain things you need to be aware of. Questing will always send you to areas that have a ton to discover, so be on the lookout for treasure chests, Dark Anchors, points of interest, Skyshards, treasure maps, lore books, Mundus Stones, crafting resources, and public and instanced group dungeons.

These are all things that you’ll find randomly, so forget those guides (except this one) and keep your eyes peeled; this stuff will find you.

Breaking the Law

elder scrolls online Thievery

As is customary in Elder Scrolls games, you are free once again to be an absolute terror to the land of Tamriel and beyond. If you choose to be a mischief-maker, there are several options at your disposal for causing chaos for the innocent people out there. 


Yes, you can rob just about anybody in Elder Scrolls Online. To do so, creep up behind them slowly, and when you get close enough, you will see a red prompt appear over the character, which will signify that you are in stealing distance. You will also have a percentage that will tell you how likely you will succeed at your evil deed.

You can steal anything that isn’t glued to the game world, including weapons, armor, food, drink, and other miscellaneous items. You can steal from NPCs and containers, but you cannot steal from other players in the game world.

As you are stealing, that percentage will change depending on how visible you are and how aware the NPC is of your presence, so be quick about it.

Killing and Assault

Most of the NPCs in Elder Scrolls Online can be killed if you want to kill them. This will then allow you to loot the corpse, which can occasionally give out some great reward.

If you just assault someone, they will immediately run to go report your crime, so it’s at that point where you should either high tail it out of there or finish them off to keep them quiet. Of course, all this chaos you’re causing does have some consequences. 


When your crimes are witnessed, you will start having a bounty on your head. When this happens, guards will start approaching you and demanding you to give up your stolen goods and pay a fine. There are three levels of the bounty that you need to be aware of.

  • Disreputable- This level of bounty will have the guards ignoring you unless you approach them first. You’re generally fine here, and it’s likely your crimes haven’t been reported.
  • Notorious- You’ve likely been seen committing a crime of some sort at this point, and guards will begin chasing you whenever you enter their sight. It’s at this point that you will be asked to pay a fine and return stolen goods when caught.
  • Fugitive- You’ve likely committed murder or multiple assaults at this point, and the guards will kill you on sight. When this happens, you need to run and run far because the force of guards chasing you will likely be too much to overcome. 

If you want to lower your bounty, you can wait for it to lessen over time, find a Fence that will assist you in getting rid of it or you can just pay your fine and get it over with. 

Outlaws Refuge

elder scrolls online Outlaws Refuge

Throughout the major cities in Elder Scrolls Online, you will be able to find areas called Outlaw Refuges which are places that will house you while you’re escaping from the local guards. Here you will find several NPCs that can support your crime spree. 

  • Fences- These guys will help you launder any of your stolen goods so they can’t be taken back by the guards.
  • Moneylenders- Moneylenders will help you store any stolen items that you don’t feel like selling.
  • Merchants- Like normal merchants, they may be selling things that aren’t available in normal stores.
  • Guild Traders- They will sell you Guild store items for various guilds.
  • Quest Givers- These Quest Givers will offer you quests specific to the Thieves Guild.

Legerdemain Skill Like

If you want to increase your criminal skills, the Legerdemain Skill Line will grant you abilities that gain levels as you participate in various criminal activities. These include stealing, lockpicking chests and doors, selling stolen goods, and laundering the various items you’ve stolen as well. 


If you want to veer off the path of the main storyline and instead go for something a bit more community-based, then Factions might be where you want to end up. Whether you want to fight for a particular Faction or not, your character’s starting allegiance will determine the area you begin the game in.

Regardless of the choice you make, you will still be able to complete all the quests available in the game. The only thing that is permanent is your PVP allegiance, so keep that in mind when choosing.

The Alliance War

There is a war going on in Elder Scrolls Online, and when you pick your starting Faction, you are essentially pledging yourself to its cause. There are three Factions to choose from in the Alliance War.

Daggerfall Covenant

elder scrolls online Daggerfall Covenant

The Daggerfall Covenant is a pact that was created between all the people of the northwest region of Tamriel. This includes the Bretons, Redguards, and even the Orcs. This incredibly diverse alliance was built on the idea of peace and order regardless of race.

Choose to side with them, and you will be fighting for a noble cause that believes in harmony among all in order to succeed.

Ebonheart Pact

This pact is made up of the Nords, the Dunmer, and the Argonians. Of the three alliances, this combination of races is among the strangest. The Nords and Dunmer have a long past of war, and the Argonians were slaves to the Dunmer for 1000’s of years.

To say these races are at odds with each other would be an understatement, yet they have banded together in order to fight the coming war. This is a shaky alliance, but each part of it is so powerful and proficient in combat that their differences don’t matter all that much. They know how powerful they are and are willing to stake their freedom on that fact.

Aldmeri Dominion

This is a covenant made up of two races of Elves and the Khajit. The High Elves, the Wood Elves, and the Khajit have banded together in order to keep the younger races of the world from taking over and bringing disaster on the planet, as has been seen in Elder Scrolls past. This combination of warriors is pretty fierce in their own right.

The Khajit are great combatants in the field, the Wood Elves are great at building defenses, and the High Elves are incredibly efficient at magic as well. This is the Faction to play for if you believe in power above all else.

Once you’ve decided the Faction you are fighting for, it’s time to head out on the battlefield and fight for your people!

The Alliance War: PVP

elder scrolls online PVP Alliance War

While the game does not require it, you can choose to engage in the Alliance War whenever you like throughout your time with Elder Scrolls Online. You can engage in big or small battles or just fight intermittently throughout the world as you encounter opposing Faction members.

You can be as involved or standoffish as you’d like when it comes to the PVP. If you want to be part of the Alliance War, you will start by participating in a campaign.

What Is a Campaign?

Campaigns consist of all 3 Factions of Cyrodiil fighting at the same time. The goal of any campaign is to limit the presence of an opposing force in the lands that you can control. There are multiple campaigns available, and each one can happen simultaneously, with each one having its own progress.

When you first create a character, you get assigned to a campaign. When you reach level 10, you can visit Cyroddiil from the Alliance War Interface, and this is your home campaign.

You can join other people’s campaigns as a guest if you’d like. This lets you team up with your friends if you want, but your leaderboard rankings will not increase when you do this, so it’s just for fun.

Can I Change My Campaign?

If you want to change your current campaign so you can join up with a friend, you are allowed to leave your current campaign and join another one as long as it is not overpopulated. You are allowed to change your campaign one time for free, but it will cost you either Alliance Points or Gold to do so after that.

This system is in place so that players will feel more dedicated to their cause and not jump around every time one campaign isn’t going their way. Each campaign has its own leaderboard, and it is here you can track your achievements throughout it. Build this up enough, and you can become Emperor,

What Is My Factions Goal?

The goal of all the factions is to take control and defend as many objectives as possible. This includes Keeps, Towns, Mines, Villages, Outposts, and Fortresses. Each object that your Faction controls will boost your overall scores and gives out various bonuses to Faction members. This score is used to determine the winner of the Alliance War.

While each of those is important for your side, the ultimate goal is to control all 6 keeps around the Imperial City.

Being Crowned Emperor

elder scrolls online Being Crowned Emperor

Becoming the Emperor is the highest honor you can achieve in Elder Scrolls Online, so with that in mind, know that it won’t be a walk in the park to achieve such a thing. If you achieve this title, you will become the most powerful force in the game. That’s not hyperbole; it’s a fact. 

First off, you need to be in a strong alliance that has enough power to take and hold all 6 keeps in the area. This is impossible to do on your own, so your alliance needs to be communicative and dedicated to making sure this happens. Each time you capture a new keep, you will need people to hold it, and that will make taking the next keep that much more difficult.

Since there are 3 alliances, you need to make sure you’re keeping tabs on both of them at once, and this can be a very tricky thing to accomplish because each one might have different methods of conquering the land.

Once you’ve taken 6 keeps, then you need to be the highest-ranking player in your alliance. Once you’ve taken the 6th keep, the game automatically chooses the highest-ranking player and crowns them the Emperor.

In order to get to this position, you have to spend all your time in the game fighting against other players in opposing factions, capturing objectives, and completing quests for your side as well. You will need to spend a lot of time making sure you’re the only one at the top of the leaderboard, but the reward is definitely worth the work.

Tips to Become Emperor

Play with Groups

While this may seem counterintuitive, playing in groups can make it easier to soar up the leaderboards because you can not only get more kills playing with other people, but you’ll also complete more objectives as well. The rewards for playing in groups are always way better than playing solo, so keep that in mind as well.

Fight in Siege Battles

Whenever you see a siege battle going down on the global map, know that it’s time to haul your butt over there and start fighting. Siege battles are important, but any large skirmishes or group fights you see going on will be important to take part in, so don’t snub your nose at any of them as they can all lead to you getting the ultimate crown.

The bigger the battles you’re participating in, the more points you will get.

Master the Game

elder scrolls online

When trying to become Emperor, you’re going to be going against all kinds of players, and while some may be pushovers when it comes to facing them in combat, others might be experts who can take you down with ease. Getting killed in battle isn’t going to do you any favors, so take some time to learn how the game works and how to manage your resources carefully.

In large battles, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and while everyone wants to be the hero of the day on the frontlines, that player is usually dead within seconds. Be smart, pick your spots, and you will make your impact.

You might think that the Emperor is reserved for the warriors of the world, but that’s the farthest thing from the trust. Healers and Tanks can also reach the top as well. You get massive amounts of points for capturing objectives, so simply playing your role in a group is good enough.

What Does Being Emperor Get You?

Once you’re crowned, the rewards are pretty substantial. You receive a special skill line that stays with your character forever. It’s focused on increasing the effectiveness of sieges and PVP battles, but it can also come in handy during PVE fights.

You will also gain better power damage better physical damage, your skills will be stronger, and you’ll be an incredibly tough opponent for any that oppose you. You will also get a unique Emperor costume, so all that encounter you know just who they’re dealing with.

Losing Your Emperorship

All good things must come to an end, and the same goes for your Emperorship. It’s a hell of a lot easier to lose it than it is to gain it, and once another alliance captures the 6 keeps around the Imperial City, they will crown their own Emperor, and you will be dethroned. You will keep your Emperor skill line, but the abilities will become significantly less powerful.

The other way to lose it is by changing your campaign. This is not recommended. If you really want to lose it, though, just switch up your campaign before it’s finished, and you will be stripped of your illustrious title. 


Question: How Long is Elder Scrolls Online?

Answer: Elder Scrolls Online is an almost endless title currently. You can find hundreds of hours’ worth of quests and various activities to do, and the Alliance War is essentially never-ending, so you can always participate in that if you happen to get bored doing other things. There are also tons of DLC that will add new areas, quests, and storylines to the game. 

Question: How Many Players Can Play Elder Scrolls Online at Once?

Answer: Each server of Elder Scrolls Online hosts 1000’s of people, but in any specific game world, you should expect to see around 600 people in the game world with you at any given time. 

Question: Can I Play Elder Scrolls Online Alone?

Answer: Unlike most MMORPGs, Elder Scrolls Online is built to be played alone as well as with others. All of the quests in the game are doable on your own, but things like Public Dungeons and Siege Battles in the Alliance War will have to be done with the cooperation of others. 

ESO Gameplay: Conclusion

Elder Scrolls Online is a vast and intimidating world, and you can find yourself getting lost in it, much like Elder Scrolls games of old. It’s one of the only games of the genre that lets you play exactly how you want.

If you want to follow the main quest, you’re free to, but you can also just hang out fishing and making clothes, and that’s a fine way to spend your time as well. The options are almost limitless, and I hope this guide gives you a glimpse into what to expect when starting your epic journey.

Read More: Elder Scrolls Oblivion Best Ways to Kill The Adoring Fan

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