Hey there! As a fellow gaming enthusiast, I know deciding to jump into a new MMO can be tough. Questions like “How much is free?” and “Do I need to spend money to enjoy this?” naturally come up.
Well friend, you’ve come to the right place. In this detailed guide, I’ll give you straight answers on exactly how much of ESO’s content is free, what requires payment, whether it’s worth playing without spending, and more.
After hundreds of hours in Tamriel across multiple characters, I’ve experienced ESO as a free player, paying customer, and ESO Plus subscriber. So I’ve seen it all! My goal here is to arm you with the knowledge to evaluate if Elder Scrolls Online fits your playstyle and budget.
Let’s get to it!
How Much of ESO is Free?
This is the big question! After buying the base game, you can play an unlimited amount of time with no subscriptions required. There are zero limits placed on your character progression or gear.
Here’s a quick overview of what’s included for free:
- The entirety of Tamriel – every zone and region is fully explorable
- Hundreds of quests – factions, main story, guilds, and more
- 8 classes with diverse abilities to mix
- Robust character customization for your hero
- Hundreds of active abilities and passive skills
- Quadruple digit number of equipment and build options
- 4-player dungeons, 12-player trials, and solo arenas
- Crafting systems like enchanting, alchemy, armor and weapon creation
- Player housing to design your perfect home
- Faction PvP battles with siege warfare
- Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood faction quests
- Unlimited Champion System for high-level progression
That’s a massive amount of content! With so many zones, quests, classes, skills, and activities, you’ll easily get hundreds of hours of playtime without paying a cent beyond the initial purchase.
Now, ESO does have paid expansions that add new areas, stories, and features. But nothing within the base game is locked behind a paywall. You have full access to core progression and gameplay systems.
ESO’s Paid DLCs and Expansions
Since launch in 2014, ESO has seen several major expansions. These come in two forms:
Chapters: Large expansions that add new zones, main quests, and major features:
- High Isle
DLC Packs: Smaller DLCs that add zones, dungeons, and side activities:
- Imperial City
- Thieves Guild
- Clockwork City
There are also minor DLCs like dungeon packs and smaller zone updates.
Without purchasing these expansions, you won’t have access to any of their new worlds, stories, dungeons, and features. I‘ll talk more about your options to buy them later.
ESO Plus Membership Perks
In addition to direct DLC purchases, ESO offers an optional $15/month premium membership called ESO Plus.
This subscription grants you:
- Access to all major DLCs and Chapters (except the newest Chapter)
- 1650 Crowns per month to spend in the in-game store
- An unlimited Craft Bag for storing crafting materials
- Double bank space for additional storage
- 10% bonus XP and gold acquisition rates
- Exclusive deals and discounts in the in-game Crown Store
The Craft Bag alone is a game changer, letting you easily collect crafting resources that would otherwise fill up your limited bag space.
But again – ESO Plus is 100% optional. You get ample inventory space from just playing, along with tons of content.
Analyzing the Data: Hours of Gameplay
Now that you understand what’s free vs. paid, you may be wondering just how many hours of playtime that base game includes.
Analyzing completion data from thousands of players on websites like HowLongToBeat, we can estimate:
- Main Storyline: 30+ hours
- Faction Storylines: 90+ hours
- Side Quests: 130+ hours
- Guild Questlines: 40+ hours
- Dungeons/Trials: 80+ hours
That’s a staggering 370+ hours of content, and doesn’t even include the limitless Champion System for max level.
When compared to the median playtime of other popular RPGs like Skyrim (75 hours) and The Witcher 3 (50 hours), the free gameplay ESO offers is massive.
And this aligns with user reviews:
“I’ve played 150 hours without any DLCs and still have lots to do!”
“As a new player without ESO Plus, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of content available.”
So while paid expansions provide even more gameplay, you can enjoy hundreds of hours exploring Tamriel even without spending a dime after buying ESO itself.
Can You Enjoy ESO Without ESO Plus or DLCs?
Absolutely! Here’s what players have to say:
“The base game zones offer an incredible amount of content on their own. ESO Plus just enhances an already great experience for me.”
“I don’t feel gated by a paywall at all. I can play at max level and create fun builds with the free classes and skills.”
“After 200 hours I’m still finding new quests and challenges. No need to rush into DLCs.”
The core progression of ESO is entirely unlimited. Even without new classes or zones added in expansions, you have complete freedom to create your ideal character and explore Tamriel.
There’s so many ability combinations, builds, playstyles, dungeons, and more to enjoy at no added cost. The world Zenimax created is utterly packed with adventures.
And when you do feel ready for new stories and lands down the road, DLCs will be waiting!
Buying DLCs and Chapters À La Carte
If you want to pick and choose which specific expansions to purchase, you have options:
Buy Chapters individually at launch for ~$40
Buy discounted DLC bundles like Guilds and Glory
Use the Crowns from your ESO Plus membership
This lets you customize your experience. For example, buying just the Thieves Guild DLC to try out that gameplay style.
Chapters also become DLCs down the road, so you can eventually purchase them separately if you missed their launch.
Compared to subscribing, buying À la carte is generally more expensive long-term. But it allows complete control over your spending.
Is ESO Worth Playing in 2023?
In 2023, The Elder Scrolls Online remains one of the top MMORPGs out there. It has vibrant multi-platform communities and sees consistent content updates.
As pressure mounts for developers to move away from mandatory subscriptions, ESO’s model offers a refreshing amount of free gameplay while monetizing new content.
And by all accounts, fans are quite happy:
“I love how I can take breaks, come back later, and there’s always something new to do.”
“ESO has the best open world experience I’ve found in an MMO. No required sub to enjoy it is a huge perk.”
Nine years after launch, ESO continues to succeed by focusing on providing quality gameplay first, while selling new adventures. This balance has served it well, with zero signs of slowing momentum.
For those who love immersive quests, customization, achievement-hunting, and casual play, ESO remains a premier destination in 2023.
The Verdict: Dive Into Tamriel
After analyzing all the data, I believe ESO offers an incredible value proposition:
- Hundreds of hours of fully unlocked gameplay with just the base game
- No subscription or DLCs required to enjoy core content
- Paid expansions introduce new zones, stories, and features
- ESO Plus grants all DLC access and convenience bonuses
These options let you experience Tamriel on your own terms.
Casual gamers can play for months without spending. Veterans have frequent new stories and lands to explore. And thanks to no “pay-to-win” mechanics, everyone plays on an even field.
So if you’re looking for your next adventure, I fully recommend jumping into ESO. The world Zenimax has crafted is utterly packed with quests, challenges, discoveries and surprises.
See you in Tamriel, my friend! Let me know if you have any other questions.