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Is ESO Free to Play? The Ultimate Guide

Hey friend! If you‘re an MMO fan like me, you may be wondering – is ESO, or The Elder Scrolls Online, really free to play in 2023? As a long-time player and expert on ESO and other MMOs, let me walk you through everything you need to know.

The Short Answer

ESO is not completely free-to-play. You have to make a one-time purchase of the base game, which then allows you unlimited gameplay without a subscription. But there are some caveats, so keep reading to learn more!

Evaluating ESO‘s Upfront Costs

Let‘s start by looking at what you need to purchase upfront to play ESO:

  • The standard edition of the base game costs around $20 on average.
  • The ESO Collection bundles the base game with previous Chapters and DLC for around $40.
  • The High Isle Chapter costs $40 on its own for the newest content.

So at minimum, you‘re looking at a $20 base game purchase. That initial box cost is more than some totally free MMOs, but quite low compared to games like World of Warcraft that require both purchase and subscription.

What You Get with the Base Game

Now, what do you get for that initial $20 investment? A ton of content, actually!

  • Hundreds of hours of questing and exploration
  • Morrowind Chapter with new class and 30+ hours of content
  • No level cap – you can reach max CP860 currently
  • PvP modes like Alliance War (massive 100v100v100) and Battlegrounds
  • Dungeons, Raids, Arenas for group PvE
  • Player housing with millions of decorations
  • Crafting, outfitting, antiquities systems

As you can see, ESO packs a ridiculous amount of content into the base game. You won‘t run out of adventures anytime soon.

How Does ESO‘s Upfront Cost Compare?

To give some perspective, here‘s how ESO‘s upfront cost stacks up against some other popular MMOs:

MMO Upfront Cost Subscription?
World of Warcraft $40 for latest expansion Required $15/month sub
ESO $20 for base game No sub required
Guild Wars 2 Free to play No sub

As you can see, ESO‘s one-time fee is quite reasonable compared to other top MMOs. And not having a required monthly fee is a huge plus!

Can You Play ESO Completely Free?

Now you might be wondering – is there any way to play ESO completely free? Unfortunately no, you can‘t access any content at all without purchasing something.

But Xbox Game Pass members can download and play the full base game for free! Here are a few options:

  • Xbox Game Pass – ESO is included with Xbox Game Pass for console at $10/month.
  • PC Game Pass – Likewise, get access on PC for $10/month.
  • Game Pass Perks – Sometimes they offer free ESO DLC or items for Game Pass members.

Now keep in mind – you lose access if you unsubscribe from Game Pass. But it‘s a great way to try out the game risk-free!

ESO‘s Optional Ongoing Purchases

While ESO‘s base game gives you tons of content out of the box, their business model does include some optional ongoing purchases for players who want more.

ESO Plus Membership – $15/month

ESO Plus is ESO‘s optional subscription that gives you some nice quality-of-life perks:

  • Access to all current DLC zones
  • 1650 monthly Crowns to spend in the store
  • 10% bonus XP, gold, and crafting inspiration
  • Double bank space
  • Unlimited storage for crafting materials
  • Free dye stamps and costumes each month

As you can see, ESO Plus gives players a bunch of nice bonuses. But it‘s not at all necessary to enjoy the core game.

New Chapters – $40 at Launch

ESO releases new big zones called Chapters every year. They always launch at $40 and include:

  • A new large zone to explore
  • A new storyline to complete
  • New raids, dungeons, and gear
  • Sometimes a new class or skill line

Most recently, the High Isle Chapter launched the Breton-themed Systres archipelago to explore. Chapters are must-buys for serious players who want all the newest content.

DLC Zone Packs – $15 to $20 Each

In between major Chapters, Zenimax releases smaller DLC zones that add a few hours of questing each. These cost around $15 to $20 apiece. ESO Plus members get access to all DLC zones while subscribed.

Is ESO Playable Solo?

One common question from prospective players – can you play through ESO‘s quests solo? Or do you need to group up with people to progress?

The answer is that the vast majority of overland questing and exploration can be done solo. You only need to group up for the following:

  • Veteran dungeons
  • Veteran Trials (12 player co-op raids)
  • Some public dungeon bosses

But activities like normal questing, public dungeons, battlegrounds PvP, housing, fishing, antiquities, and more can all be enjoyed on your own. So don‘t worry about having to find groups just to progress through the story!

The Verdict: How Much Does ESO Really Cost?

At the end of the day, how much you end up paying to play ESO depends entirely on your playstyle.

If you take it slow with just the base game, you can easily spend 100+ hours exploring Tamriel for just $20. That‘s an amazing value compared to playing ESO for $15 per month via subscription.

On the other hand, power players who want every DLC zone and Chapter will end up spending over $200 per year for all the latest content. ESO caters to both budget and hardcore players.

Overall, I think ESO strikes an excellent balance between upfront cost, ongoing purchases, and value. You can play for cheap if you want – or go all out for every new adventure. And the base game alone provides endless hours of excitement.

Hopefully this guide gave you a detailed look at what it takes to get started with ESO in 2023. Let me know if you have any other questions! I‘m always happy to help new players discover the joys of Tamriel.