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Is The Elder Scrolls Online Free to Play Forever?

The short answer is no, The Elder Scrolls Online is not free to play permanently in its entirety. However, you can enjoy hundreds of hours of gameplay just from the base game, which only requires a one-time purchase.

While ESO does have paid expansions and an optional subscription called ESO Plus, there is a massive amount of content available for free. Keep reading as I provide a detailed look at what parts of ESO are free, what requires payment, and whether it‘s worth playing without spending any money after buying the base game.

Free Trial Events Give You a Preview

Every so often, Bethesda hosts special Free Play Events for ESO that allow you to try the game free for a limited time before purchasing.

The most recent free event ran from March 31, 2022 through April 18, 2022. This gave players full access to the base game and Morrowind Chapter for free during that period.

However, free trials are temporary. Once the event period ends, you won‘t be able to continue playing unless you buy the game. So these events let you preview ESO risk-free, but are not a permanent free option.

Hundreds of Hours of Gameplay Included with Base Game

If you decide to purchase The Elder Scrolls Online, you get full access to the base game permanently, with no need for an ongoing subscription. This alone provides countless hours of adventure.

Vast Open World to Explore Freely

ESO‘s base game features a massive open world spanning hundreds of square miles across Tamriel. You can freely explore zones like Glenumbra, Stonefalls, and Deshaan at your own pace, discovering hidden secrets and treasures.

Unlike linear MMOs, ESO doesn‘t restrict where you go. The entire world is open for adventure from the start. You can follow the main stories or simply wander and uncover new quests organically.

Hundreds of Story Quests and Side Activities

Each zone in the base game features a compelling main storyline taking 10+ hours to complete. That‘s 60+ hours from the three faction zones alone. And you‘ll also find hundreds of side quests, delves, world bosses, and points of interest to keep you busy.

From mystical Harrowstorm rituals to the sociopolitical quests of House Redoran vs. Telvanni, the writing and lore are incredible. And activities like public dungeons, fishing, antiquities, and treasure hunting offer diverse gameplay.

Full PvE Dungeon and Trial Experience

ESO features over 45 dungeons and trials with normal and veteran difficulties providing challenges for any group size. The base game alone has 16 dungeons and 2 trials including classics like Fungal Grotto and Banished Cells.

With sophisticated boss mechanics and unlockable hard modes, these exhilarating group challenges offer some of ESO‘s finest PvE content.

Massive PvP Warfare

The Alliance War pits your faction against the others in epic open world PvP across Cyrodiil‘s sprawling battlegrounds. Siege keeps, capture resources, and fight for your alliance‘s domination.

You‘ll also find 4v4v4 skirmishes in the Chaosball and Team Deathmatch modes of Battlegrounds. ESO has some of the most diverse and satisfying PvP of any MMO.

Robust Crafting Systems

ESO features deep crafting systems for alchemy, provisioning, enchanting, clothing, woodworking, blacksmithing, and jewelry. You can craft powerful gear or sell items for profits.

Mastering crafts takes hundreds of hours, but is very rewarding. And the intricate housing system lets you decorate and design personalized homes.

Unlimited Character Progression

Unlike most MMOs, ESO doesn‘t limit leveling. You‘ll keep gaining Champion Points beyond level 50 which can be invested for varied bonuses. And the customizable class system means countless viable builds and playstyles to master.

There‘s really no ceiling to character progression. Even after hundreds of hours you can still meaningfully advance your character.

As you can see, the base game has an incredible amount of activities and freedom. You could play for months without running out of things to do.

DLCs Add More Zones and Story Content

Since launch, ESO has steadily released both major expansions and smaller DLC game packs. These offer additional zones, quests, dungeons, and features.

Some of the most popular DLC zones include Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, Orsinium, Clockwork City, and Murkmire. You can buy DLCs individually in the Crown Store or purchase bigger bundles.

Without any DLCs, you still have the entire base game to play through. But they do provide more story content and areas to explore when you want something new.

ESO Plus Grants Temporary Access to Most DLCs

Rather than buying every DLC, many players opt for the ESO Plus optional subscription. With ESO Plus you get temporary access to all DLC zones and quests, except for the latest expansion chapter which must be purchased separately.

This allows you to play through DLC zones as long as your ESO Plus is active. You also get free monthly Crowns to spend in the store and other perks like unlimited crafting storage.

While completely optional, ESO Plus makes it easy and affordable to enjoy all the game‘s DLCs without buying them individually.

Major Expansions Must Be Purchased

In addition to DLC game packs, ZeniMax also releases major expansions once a year that introduce huge new zones, features, and advancement to ESO‘s main story.

Expansions like Morrowind, Summerset, and High Isle must be purchased separately even with an ESO Plus membership. They are not available as free DLC.

However, you can still play through all the original base game content without any expansions. Purchasing them is only required when you want access to their specific new areas and quests.

You Can Grind for Premium Currency

While the easiest way to purchase DLCs and expansions is spending real money, ESO does have an in-game premium currency called Crowns. Players can slowly earn Crowns without paying by grinding gold and purchasing Crown Store items from others.

Some reliable ways to grind gold in ESO include:

  • Completing daily crafting writs on multiple characters
  • Farming raw materials from resource nodes
  • Soloing public dungeons then selling valuable item drops
  • Ranking high in end game gear scoreleaderboards during events
  • Flipping profitable items at guild traders

This process takes considerable time and effort. But enterprising players can grind enough gold through these methods to buy Crowns from others and thus unlock DLCs and items without cash purchases. It provides an alternative for determined players with lots of spare time.

Account Limitations as a Free Player

While the base game gives you endless content, free players do have some account limitations including:

  • Only 8 characters per server, compared to 12 for ESO Plus
  • 60 inventory slots vs 200 for ESO Plus
  • 100 housing item cap, compared to 2000 for ESO Plus
  • No access to DLC zones unless purchased separately or unlocked via subscription

However, you can experience hundreds of hours of adventure even with these restrictions. And if you ever want to expand your account, you can always purchase DLCs or subscribe to ESO Plus later on.

For most gamers, the sheer amount of quality content and freedom in the ESO base game make it incredibly worthwhile even if you never spend another dime after purchase.

The world of Tamriel is vast and compelling to explore. The quests and lore are fantastic with stories you actually care about. And progression systems like Champion Points, gear loadouts, crafting, and housing offer so much character customization and advancement.

While DLCs and Chapter expansions add even more adventures, the base game provides more than enough value for the initial buy-in cost. You‘ll easily enjoy hundreds of hours experiencing everything it has to offer.

For fans of open world exploration, immersive questing, dungeon challenges, and flexible progression, ESO is absolutely worth playing for free. The base game gives you tremendous bang for your buck.

While not completely free to play forever, The Elder Scrolls Online provides:

  • Time-limited free trials to preview the game
  • Hundreds of hours of content in the sizable base game
  • No need to pay a monthly fee unless you want access to DLCs and perks
  • The option to grind for premium currency instead of paying real money
  • Very few restrictions in the base game, allowing endless gameplay

With its outstanding open world, stellar writing, and extremely deep progression, ESO offers one of the best free MMO experiences after paying the box cost. You‘ll get more than your money‘s worth from the base game alone.

So while not permanently free, I highly recommend Elder Scrolls Online even if you plan to stick to the base game only after purchase. The quality and quantity of adventures available make it well worth the buy-in price.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.