No, Elder Scrolls Online is not permanently free-to-play. While ESO does frequently offer free trials and events that allow you to play for free for a limited time, there is no way to play ESO forever without paying anything. To continue playing after a free trial ends, you will need to purchase the base game and any expansions you wish to access.
ESO‘s Time-Limited Free Trial Options
ESO provides opportunities for new players to try the game risk-free through free trials, including:
- Free Play Events – These timed events allow free access to the base game for around 1-2 weeks. The latest event is active until April 17, 2023.
- Free ESO Plus Trials – 7-day trials unlock all DLC packs temporarily. Occur 5-6 times per year.
- Free Play Weekends – Similar to Free Play Events but only for 3-4 days. Happen every 2-3 months.
However, these free trial options are always time-limited. According to the developers, there are currently no plans to make ESO permanently free-to-play.
Purchasing the Base Game for Unlimited Access
Once a free trial period ends, you‘ll need to purchase the base game in order to continue playing ESO. This provides lifetime access with no recurring fees.
The Standard Edition frequently goes on sale for 70% off, dropping the price to around $10-15 USD. It includes the original game zones plus the Morrowind Chapter.
Other editions like Greymoor or High Isle include additional content and are ideal for new players. But the base game alone still provides hundreds of hours of adventures.
Ongoing Costs: Expansions, DLCs, and Optional Subscriptions
Unlike some MMORPGs, ESO does not require a mandatory monthly subscription fee. However, there are still some ongoing costs:
- New Chapters – Major expansions release annually priced around $40-60 USD. Provide access to new zones and major features.
- DLC Packs – Smaller DLCs adding new dungeons, zones, etc. cost 1500-3000 Crowns (~$15-$30) individually.
- ESO Plus Subscription – Optional $15/month subscription provides all DLC access, craft bag, Crowns, etc.
So while ESO isn‘t permanently free, it provides good value compared to subscriptions required by games like World of Warcraft.
Maximizing Free Trial Periods
For new players wanting to evaluate ESO risk-free, maximizing the free trial periods is key:
- Create your ESO account ahead of time so you can play instantly when a free event starts.
- Download the game client and get tutorials ready for a smooth start.
- Review guides on how to optimize your first 7-10 days playing for free.
- Focus on following the main story quests and faction zones first.
- If possible, try during a Free ESO Plus event to access all DLC areas.
With some preparation, you can experience a ton of ESO‘s best content completely free. This will help you decide if you want to continue playing when the trial ends.
Tips to Unlock Content for Cheap
While ESO is not permanently free, you can unlock all of its content for a reasonable price by:
- Buying the base game on sale and playing that fully first before purchasing more.
- Subscribing for 1 month when you want to play through a specific DLC zone.
- Saving up ESO Crowns from daily login rewards to buy DLCs during sales.
- Waiting for seasonal promotions and Crown sales throughout the year.
- Sharing DLC access with a friend who has ESO Plus via game sharing.
New players should avoid the trap of thinking they need to buy every DLC at once. With some patience, you can enjoy all of ESO for a modest overall cost.
Ideal for Solo, Casual Play
Unlike many MMOs, ESO offers a very solo and casual-friendly experience. The flexible One Tamriel system lets you explore any zone at your own pace without level restrictions.
All quest lines, world bosses, public dungeons, and the majority of group dungeons can be completed solo. You can easily play for hundreds of hours without ever joining a group or guild.
ESO also has various systems like companions and Armory that further enable casual, time-limited playstyles. You can experience almost all of the game world on just a few hours per week.
Offers Unmatched Breadth of Content
The amount of content in ESO is staggering. Here‘s a quick overview:
- 30+ Main Story Quests – Around 30 hours to complete.
- 50+ Zone Storylines – 100+ hours per alliance.
- 27 DLC Game Packs – Dozens to hundreds of hours each.
- 8 Chapters/Expansions – Around 10 hours per Chapter.
- 28+ Raids and 100+ Dungeons
- Housing, Antiquities, Fishing, etc. side activities.
All together, completing every activity ESO has to offer would require thousands of hours of gameplay. This depth of content exceeds that of most MMORPGs today.
While daunting for new players, ESO‘s sheer breadth of adventures make it an unparalleled game for Elder Scrolls fans. The longer you play, the more you appreciate the staggering scope ZOS has created.
Final Verdict on ESO‘s Costs
The Elder Scrolls Online is not permanently free-to-play – you will need to purchase the base game after any free trial. And there are costs for expansions, DLC packs, and an optional subscription.
However, by taking advantage of frequent sales and promotions, you can unlock access to thousands of hours of content for a very reasonable price. The game‘s flexible design is also friendly to casual, solo players.
For fans of exploring expansive worlds at their own pace, Elder Scrolls Online provides one of the top values in the MMORPG genre today. While not free forever, it‘s worth the price for what you get.