A beginner's guide to The Elder Scrolls Online in 2024

TESO Gold Road
(Image credit: Bethesda)

Like a scantily armoured fugitive making the intrepid trip from Skyrim's de facto starting town of Riverwood to Solitude, or a fresh-off-the-boat fledgling following road signs to get from Seyda Neen to Vivec, The Elder Scrolls Online has had to come through its fair share of tribulations before reaching its destination. 

But today, almost exactly 10 years on from its launch, it's doing pretty well for itself, with *checks Steam Charts* tens of thousands of simultaneous players and a wealth of expansions that have made much of Tamriel available to explore. Its eighth expansion, Gold Road, has just come out, taking players to the expanded and reimagined city of Skingrad (a nostalgic trip for Oblivion fans) to take on a scheming Daedric prince. 

With all that going on, new adventurers may be tempted to hop in, so I've put together some tips, tricks, and pointers for those new to The Elder Scrolls Online.

Don't expect 'Skyrim Online,' but don't not expect it either

When The Elder Scrolls Online first launched, it was impossible for giddy fans of the series to avoid getting swept up in the fantasy that this would basically be single-player Elder Scrolls in MMO form. Initially, the game definitely wasn't that, but it's slowly grown to incorporate systems like sneaking, thievery, jail time, and bounties that let you play it in that freewheeling vagrant way you could play the single-player games.

At its heart, The Elder Scrolls Online is very much an MMO—with all the grinding, crafting, gear-swapping, and human traffic that entails—but you can also break away from that to pore away at the rich lore in Tamriel's book-filled libraries, live the quiet life in your rural home, or engage in the well-written questlines solo. These days, The Elder Scrolls Online offers a lot of flexibility in how you engage with it, to the extent that even if you're not a fan of that MMO hustle-and-bustle, you can still find a place here.

TESO Gold Road

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Get your crafting certification

This guide isn't going to shove optimal builds and min-maxing down your throat, but there are a few things you'll want to get in motion early in your ESO journey. A big one of those is crafting writs. Even if you don't aspire to become the next Eorlund Gray-Mane of Skyrim, getting your crafting certification as soon as you can (Level 6) unlocks daily crafting quests that generate a good amount of gold and XP for new players.

There are several crafting paths you can go down—such as blacksmithing, woodworking, and alchemy—with each offering similar rewards for pursuing its daily writs. You'll find the two main master crafters, Danel Telleno and Millenith, in any of the alliance cities, so go have a word and get started on this nice and early. It's worth also researching traits for your items early on that boost your XP gain, because researching traits later gets significantly slower (an MMO's gonna do what an MMO's gonna do). 

And always try to keep that research queue full, because it fills up in real-time and is pretty much a passive levelling system that ticks away in the background, so if you're not using it, you're basically missing out on free progression.

Learn this secret respec trick

The Elder Scrolls Online has a relaxed approach to builds and levelling, so you don't need to worry about investing 200 hours into a build that turns out to be a dud. Respeccing is relatively easy too. The 'official' route lets you respec your attributes for 3,200 gold at any of the Rededication Shrines dotted around the world, while skill respecs cost 50 gold per skill.

That method isn't too expensive, but there is a well-known workaround that effectively lets you completely respec your character for free (which, yes, does sound alarmingly like those clickbait videos that promise to reveal the big secret to gaining visible abs in a week). Just grab the free Armory Station from the Crown Store, then once you have a home, use it to create a blank build without any of your attributes, skills, morphs, or champion points. You can then reinvest all your earned points into this blank build.

TESO Gold Road

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Start those skill lines early

Not unlike mainline Elder Scrolls, each time you use a skill—whether it's casting a Destruction spell, picking a lock, or getting clobbered while wearing a certain type of armour—you gain XP in that skill. What's different here is that you get unique active and passive abilities in every single skill as you level it up. 

A popular tactic is to equip a mix of different armour types—light, medium, heavy—as you level up early on (you'll need to wear three pieces of a given armour type to unlock its skill line) to gain skills fairly evenly across all three. Many players like to wear different armour types early on a  3:3:2 to get them levelling, later switching to 5:1:1 in favour of their preferred armour type once they hit level 50 in each of those skill lines. With that said, the game won't punish you if you want to look the part and wear complete armour sets of one type, and you'll in fact get bonuses for doing that too. So by all means go ahead and do your thing.

Don't fret about being a newbie

One of the more interesting, if somewhat controversial, aspects of The Elder Scrolls Online is its level scaling system. The world scales to your level, which means that you can explore much of the overworld freely without worrying that some high-level mudcrab will pince you to death. This may make the core game feel a bit easy for some, but it also means that players of any level can group with each other. So if you're a newbie and your pals are level 50, you can still band together without the whole team having to completely babysit you, which is great if you're joining more experienced friends in the game.

So if you're up for donning a mishmash of armour types and exploring the most fleshed-out world in the Elder Scrolls series, then you should now be good to go. You can get The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road on Steam, while Game Pass subscribers can hop in and start playing the base game as part of their subscription. Also, if you choose to buy the latest expansion, Gold Road, it comes bundled with all seven previous expansions. That's pretty solid value, and feels like a reward for those who have held off buying the game until now.

Robert is a freelance writer and chronic game tinkerer who spends many hours modding games then not playing them, and hiding behind doors with a shotgun in Hunt: Showdown. Wishes to spend his dying moments on Earth scrolling through his games library on a TV-friendly frontend that unifies all PC game launchers.