Intro to ESO

For most of us, WoW is the MMO of choice. It’s basically the gold standard by which all other MMOs are measured. With that in mind I decided I’d write up an introduction to ESO from a WoW perspective. The first thing to keep in mind is that ESO is first an Elder Scrolls Game, then closely behind it an MMO. It plays more like a multi-player version of a single player game in some ways, but is very much an MMO in other ways. I’ll get into each of them throughout this write-up.

Differences from WoW

We’ll start with some of the more obvious mechanical and technical differences between ESO and WoW.


ESO, like all good Elder Scrolls games, is story based. There are hundreds of books in the world, stories, poems, history texts, training texts. If lore is your thing you could get lost for an hour just walking into a library or an ancient mage’s sanctum.

Engaging in the story in ESO is more than just reading a good book though. Doing so will grant you additional skill points, even new skill trees. The end of your first full story arch will be different depending on the choices you make during the game. Each character’s story is, for the most part, their own.

Buttons and Combat

eso 2015-02-19 13-49-21-55In ESO you have a lot less you can do at one time. You get 5 skill slots, one “ultimate” skill slot, one usable item slot (potions etc). That it. The usable item slot can be held to give you a wheel with 12 quick links. That’s it. if you want additional abilities you don’t get them. So, individual builds end up being more based on play style than anything.

In combat, you have active dodging. In WoW you get active mitigation as a tank. Here you jump out of the way or move. There is a lot of movement in ESO. There is almost no waiting on ticker-timers in ESO. You either have the resources to use your ability or you don’t.

User Interface

eso 2015-02-23 08-37-02-16The UI in ESO is very minimal. They have tried to keep as much UI out of the way as possible. Those who have played other ESO games, most notably Skyrim will find it familiar. I find it a refreshing change allowing me to get more into the world around me and less into the button buttons and counters/maps/etc.



eso 2015-02-23 14-58-01-58Inventory in ESO is quite different than most other MMOs. It is most similar to Skyrim in that everything is in sorted lists. You have a bag, one bag. There is no bag crafting. You can buy bag upgrades with gold in most cities. Buying a bag upgrade gives you 10 more space. If you have a horse you can feed it oats and it will give you 1 additional bag slot for every day you feed it oats.


You have a bank. It is one bank, shared across all your characters. To move something from one character to another drop it in the bank. You can buy additional bank space similar to buying additional bag space.


Firstly, there are two types of guilds in ESO, those created by players, and those that are standard in the story arch. Here we talk about player created guilds.

You can be in five guilds at one time.  Guilds have banks if they have enough members. Guilds get a guild store, basically an auction house. Guilds can bid on shops in cities and encampments throughout the world. A guild run shop is income for the guild and a way to sell things to non-guild members.

Auction House

There is no auction house. Instead, there are guild stores and guild-run shops.


You don’t have a target in ESO. You have the thing you are aiming at with your mouse. It is more twitch oriented than WoW in that your mouse control is important for combat, similar to an FPS.


Crafting in ESO produces the best gear, food, and potions. Everyone can gather all resources throughout the world regardless of skill.

Skill Points

Skill points in ESO are gained by leveling (1pt/level) or by completing quest chains or finding sky shards. There are a lot of skill points available in ESO, but not quite enough so you don’t have to choose what to spend them on.


eso 2015-02-23 15-04-01-51You don’t get a ride skill, or have to buy faster and faster riding in ESO. Instead you buy a horse at a stable, then you ride it around and feed it every day. What you feed it determines how your animal levels. If you feed it apples it will run faster, oats it will carry more (and you will too), or hay and it will be more hearty and less likely to knock you off if someone hits you while you ride. Your horse levels up as you feed it. You can feed it once a day. Its appearance changes as it levels and the changes reflect what you have fed it. It will gain saddle bags as its carry increases, or additional barding as its resilience is improved.


This is, IMO, the worst aspect of ESO. Fighting in dungeons is a blast, getting into those dungeons isn’t. There is no dungeon finder, no way to automatically group or join an instance. My most recent experience in a dungeon was standing outside of it for about 3 minutes waiting for 4 other people to show up, we all entered, killed some stuff, and wiped. On the second entry someone said “who’s healing this anyway” and nobody answered. Fortunately I had a single unspent skill point and a restoration staff on me, so I spent the point in restoration staff and healed the instance, badly, but we made it through.

New Character Info

eso 2015-02-23 15-04-14-51When starting a progressive, save-ed state game like an MMO one of the first considerations is “how do I level up”. ESO is no different except that you might get choice paralysis. ESO does have the holy trinity, tank, healer, dps, like most MMOs do however your class does not determine your roll. You can be a Nightblade (rogueish class) tank or a Sorcerer healer. You can even be a Dragon Knight spell caster if you want.


eso 2015-02-23 14-56-45-11In ESO, your skills make you. They are what you do, not what your class lets you do. When you pick a class in ESO you get 3 skill lines for that class. In addition to those three skill lines you get 17 other default skill trees. So, as a level 1 character, fresh out of the creation screen you have 20 skill trees. They break down as 3 class, 6 weapon, 3 armor, 1 world, 1 racial, and 6 craft. These skill trees gain experience as you use them, unlocking additional abilities as each skill advances in rank. Unlike WoW where your skills are all determined by your class in ESO you can use any skill with any class. What you use, you get better at. There are also three skill trees you can get by joining NPC guilds, Fighters, Mages, and Undaunted and skill trees for Werewolves and Vampires.

Skills in ESO will use your resources, mana, health, or stamina. A Destruction Staff could for instance be used by a Nightblade to be able to cast elemental attack spells using their mana pool.


eso 2015-02-23 14-56-48-87Which weapon you use is perhaps one of the more important decisions you make in ESO. At level 15 you gain weapon swap, allowing you a hot key to switch between two different weapons so you will typically end up with two weapon trees. They effectively will determine your roll in a group, though they don’t necessarily have to.

  • Two Handed – stamina based large weapons, gives things like cleave
  • One Hand and Shield – stamina based tanking option. grants taunt and damage mitigation abilities
  • Dual Wield – stamina based melee dps option for quick attacks
  • Bow – stamina based ranged dps
  • Destruction Staff – mana based ranged dps
  • Restoration Staff – mana based healing


eso 2015-02-23 14-56-52-20There are three armor skill trees. Armor skills are centered around which attribute the given armor governs and the rolls most commonly associated with that armor. When leveling up it is recommend that you mix and match different armor types to give you skill with each kind of armor.

  • Light Armor – centered around mana light armor skills allow you to regain mana more quickly and defend against incoming spells. light armor can also improve your own spell damage with enough skill in the tree
  • Medium Armor – centered around stamina medium armor is the armor of choice for rogues or bowman. it allows greater mobility, improved damage on physical attacks and uniquely it grants improved sneaking allow any class to be a classic stealthy rogue
  • Heavy Armor – centered around health heavy armor is the armor of choice for tanks. it can increase your health pool, armor rating, and how much healing you receive when healed by another player. it can also improve your damage with melee weapons so it is not a bad choice for a melee dpser


eso 2015-02-23 14-56-55-70The world category has one skill tree, Soul Magic. This is the tree that lets you trap souls in empty soul gems for recharging weapons or resurrecting yourself or group members.




eso 2015-02-23 14-57-05-00At this time there are three guild trees, Fighters, Mages, and Undaunted. Each provides unique benefits in dungeons, pve, and pvp.

  • Fighters Guild – primarily concerned with kill daedra the fighters guild skills are focused abilities to that end
  • Mages Guild – concerned with the utilitarian abilities mages require (light, traps, mana management) the mages guild abilities make spell casters more effective
  • Undaunted – these adventures delve into dungeons head first. the skill tree adds some utility to these players in terms of healing, traps, crowd control, and defenses.


eso 2015-02-23 14-57-06-88Your racial skill tree will be different for each race. It is typcailly a handful of passive abilities that define the characteristics of your race. In traditional elder scrolls games you were a Breton for example you had an affinity for magic. In ESO you still would in that your racial tree would allow you to improve your mana pool and spell defenses.



eso 2015-02-23 14-57-11-65Crafting in ESO is the most rewarding of any MMO I’ve encountered. Crafted armor, weapons, food, potions can all be better than what you can buy from vendors or win from dungeons. There are six different crafting trees in ESO.

  • Alchemy – making potions for use in combat, short term effects. the most powerful potions can restore all three character resources at once
  • Blacksmithing – making heavy armor and all forms of melee weapons
  • Clothing – making light and medium armors
  • Enchanting – making enchantments for all weapons and armor. enchantments can vary from simple resource pool buffs to reducing costs or even making things like potions more effective
  • Provisioning – making food and drink for players. these are the long-term buff items that will increase one or more of the three character resources.
  • Woodworking – making staffs, bows, and shields


ESO has four classes. They are:

  • Nightblade
  • Sorcerer
  • Templar
  • Dragon Knight


This class is the most rogue-like of the bunch. It allows teleporting attacks (think backstab),  enhanced sneaking, invisibility, and a number of poison like abilities. Many abilities are stamina based, many others are mana based. Which class trees you chose to play will determine which resources you want to spend character points in.


Sorcerer’s are skilled at spell craft. All three of their skill trees are mana based and are pretty traditionally mage-like. As a sorcerer you can summon pets, use dark magic to control the battlefield or rain down lightning on your enemies. Sorcerers can fill any roll relatively easily. A sorcerer wielding a sword and shield wearing full plate armor can tank while using lightning to enhance their aoe damage and dark magic to manage the battlefield. A sorcerer wielding a restoration staff and beefed up on light armor skills can heal effectively while using class abilities to manage battles. Or any number of DPS options.


Templar is the paladin of ESO, in so much as there is one. They have the most diverse of the class skill trees. The only class who has a dedicated class skill tree for healing they are the preferred healing class. They also make excellent tanks or spell casters. Having more roll oriented skill trees means the templar relies on weapon and armor skills slightly more than other classes to fill out their rolls.

Dragon Knight

The most traditional tanking class in ESO the Dragon Knight is a warrior who utilizes training and skill. they have many tanking abilities in their class trees having two of them closely tied to the roll. The third is tied more closely to melee DPS than other rolls. Though the class is geared around tanking a Dragon Knight makes an excellent rogue-like player or even a reasonably hearty mage if wielding a destruction staff.


Crafting in ESO produces the best gear, food, enchants, and potions.  You can buy everything from vendors in the game, but if you want the good stuff, it is crafted. Choosing to put a point into a craft skill in ESO means not putting it into a combat skill. They aren’t separate.


eso 2015-02-23 15-01-02-08In ESO, you automatically know how to craft every type of item in a given craft tree. If you look at blacksmithing you can make every sword, every armor. What you don’t know are every style, or every trait each item can have. Styles are learned by finding style books in the world. They are simply that, the style/look of the armor or weapon.



One of the best ways to learn how to make something is to take it apart. In ESO you can d othis via deconstruction. The item is destroyed, you get some parts to make new items, and learn some skill at the same time.

Traits and Research

eso 2015-02-23 15-00-19-49Traits are the properties of an item or weapon. You can have a sword that is sharper than normal, or a piece of armor that is more comfortable and lets you sprint at less cost. These traits are learned through research. If you have an item with a trait you do not know you can go to the appropriate crafting station and research that trait from that item. The item is destroyed in the process.

Learning traits can take a lot of time, but it is background time measured in real-time hours rather than in-game hours. You can study one trait at a time in a given skill tree unless you have taken the skill that lets you study two. This means you could research a sword in blacksmithing and a leather belt in clothing at the same time.

The time it takes to study a trait on a given item gets longer for each trait you know for that item. The first trait you learn takes 6 hours. So, the first trait on a sword is 6 hours, the first trait on a heavy glove is also 6 hours, even though they are both blacksmithing. The second trait on that sword though, that’s going to take longer (i think 12 hours).


Knowing enough traits on an item allows you to make a set piece. Throughout the world there are crafting stations that allow you to build item sets. A set is made of 2, 3, 4, or 5 items. To make a set you just go to the station, and build an item with the set item crafting list selected in the UI. If you know enough traits the items will show up in that list. If not, they don’t. You can still use these stations to craft normal items as well, so they are handy to find.

Clearly the more powerful sets require more traits to be known. Even a two trait, two item set can take days to learn to make as you have to study at least 4 traits to make that happen. For this reason it is easier to get into sets if you mix and match items. If you have a woodworking, clothing, and blacksmithing item in your set you can be researching them all at the same time. If your set is entirely clothing it will take a LOT longer to learn enough traits to make it. This is only an issue early on however, as you go through the game you will learn a lot of traits and be able to make many different combinations  of set items.

You can have as many sets as you can wear. There is no limit but there are only 8 or 9 if you dual wield/use a shield gear slots. So you are limited on how many set items you can equip at once.


The enchanting skill tree allows someone to make enchants. The stores sell enchants, but they are all of the lowest quality. As an enchanter you can make much better enchants if you have the proper aspect runes.

Enchanting major armor pieces (chest, legs etc) gives more points than enchanting a belt or bracers, even from the same enchant. Enchants aren’t limited to sockets like they are in WoW, instead there are armor, weapon, and jewelry enchants. You can use a health enchant on any armor piece you have.

Food and Drink

Food is made by provisioners. Like other items, you can find or buy food without making it. Like other items though your crafted food gives higher and/or more buffs. Consummate food items can improve all three resources at once. As a rule, food improves your resource pools while drinks improve your regeneration rate on the resources. You can only have one food/drink buff at a time. So which type you want is up to you.

Basic food is generally crafted out of two ingredients, easy to find normally. As your food quality improves it requires more ingredients and they are typically harder to find. Guild shops are a good place to look for the hard to find stuff.

To learn to make higher level recipes or recopies of higher quality you have to spend points in the provisioning tree.


Like food, potions can be found throughout the world. Like food, they are better when crafted by an alchemist. you can make potions that restore mana and improve spell power at the same time. Or potions that grant mana, health, and stamina all at once. Potions that increase weapon critical strike chance while making you run faster or granting health regeneration while also granting health.

Potions are crafted by combining reagents with a water base. The quality of the potion is determined by the base used. You can use more powerful bases by spending points in the Alchemy tree.


Agathezol is a gamer, programmer, father, husband, and musician. When he's not writing blog posts nobody reads he generally writes protocol stacks, network code, and core telecommunications software but has dabbled in game design, web programming, mobile device software, and desktop software.

2 thoughts on “Intro to ESO

    1. The 1g horse it gives you is worth it IMO. I’ve not enamored with the imperial race however. I have a lost dorks guild in the Daggerfall Covenant. I’m not sure if it is still an option but being in the beta and getting the package I got lets me play any race in any faction.

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