How to Play Elder Scrolls Online Solo (Advice from a Skyrim fanatic)

You’ve loved the Elder Scrolls franchise since Arena. Or maybe Morrowind was your first RPG. Or you didn’t discover the glories of Tamriel until their most recent, and arguably most famous game, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Elder Scrolls Online, the first MMO for the franchise, offers endless gameplay based on the rich lore introduced in the solo games, while playing on gamer nostalgia through visits to the maps of games past, hidden Easter eggs galore, and visits from familiar beloved NPCs.

There’s just one small hiccup for Elder Scrolls devotees: most of us discovered ESO through our love of the single player RPGs and have absolutely NO IDEA how to survive in a MMO. Interacting with real people, even through avatars, is basically the opposite of why solo gamers play. Guilds, group chat, online strangers, PvP, and organized teams just don’t sound like your cup of tea. Not to mention the gameplay for MMOs is very different compared to the combat and crafting systems we’ve grown accustomed to over literally two decades of world building in the previous games. But dammit the most recent Elder Scrolls solo game was released 8 years ago and we will not be denied!

So can you play Elder Scrolls solo online? Yes you can! Luckily, Bethesda kept us die hards in mind when designing Elder Scrolls: Online. It is easy to spend all your time as a solo player completing the main story quests and zone achievements, hunting rare materials so you can craft special gear, or delving into dungeons. End-game level gear, most skills, and all but a small part of the map are available without even digitally interacting with another human.

Or, if you are willing to play alongside others silently in PvE dungeons or dabble in PvP to get ALL the skill sets and map access, it is possible to do so without interacting with the humans behind the characters you’re playing alongside or against. All player-to-player interactions are completely voluntary. You cannot be attacked unless in an exclusive PvP zone, your house will never be raided, you can mute chats and deny duels and trades. You will see all the other players on your server instance, but you do not need to interact with them to play the game unless you want to, otherwise you can walk right through them. 

What to Expect to See from Other Players

While you can play ESO without choosing to interact with other players, they will none the less be a part of the scenery at least. Large cities and popular zones are always bustling with other players doing business, dueling each other in the streets, farming resources, or completing their own quests. Make sure your Area Chat is off at all times, or you may walk in range of someone and be treated to a startling blast of static, crappy music being blared into a mic, or worse, the conversations (or rants) of the dregs of the internet. Nothing good happens in Area Chat.

However, this can all easily be avoided by keeping chat muted. You will still see everyone running around, firing off random spells, or murdering non-essential NPCs (don’t worry, you won’t have to wait for your favorite shop keeper to respawn), but they’ll just look like oddly dressed, silent, spazzy NPCs themselves.

No one can impede, attack, or steal from you. Players can pass through each other, and their spells, without any effect. So don’t be alarmed by the duels breaking out in the streets. The occasional random person may invite you to duel, which you can decline, or if you want to gain some experience, try it out with little risk.

Or they might send you a group invite to get help on a quest or delve. Grouping simply allows you your own private chat channel and shares the XP your group acquires, but it’s easily declined. Duels, group invites, and guild invites are usually friendly and offer a solo player a chance to dip their toe into the multiplayer aspects of the game.

However, trade invites from strangers are almost always a scam and should be immediately denied. Don’t bother with trading person-to-person unless you are meeting up with real-world people that you know in-game, or leave the world of solo play and have a guild or team you trust to not run off with your gold.

For the most part, other players are just blips passing through the screen that can’t impact your questing or whatever you’re focused on. The one exception is if you are farming for raw materials. The only way to obtain raw materials for crafting is to find them out in the world and harvest them, or purchase them from other players via a guild store. High traffic zones are usually picked pretty clean for raw materials, which take quite a while to respawn.

The best areas for avoiding pesky competition for raw materials is to visit old DLC maps that aren’t as popular anymore, so there are fewer players about. Or, if you have gold to burn, you can browse guilds’ stores by visiting their vendor. The vendor essentially serves as a middleman storefront for the players within a certain guild, and allows you, as on outsider, a safe place to purchase materials or gear without fear of being tricked or scammed. It’s just like purchasing from an NPC, but with way better stuff.

RPG Character Building

The Elder Scrolls games are legendary for their rich role playing and character building that go way beyond mage/warrior or hero/villain or surface level stylistic choices (although those are fun too), and ESO doesn’t disappoint. All 9 races are available (Imperials require the Imperial City DLC), and the classic skill lines like sneaking, weapon skills and magic schools are expanded and enriched across 6 classes and over 50 skill trees.

Nearly every faction explored in previous Elder Scrolls games are available to join and provide their own skills and gear, and they all provide plenty of solo play content. The Fighters’ Guild, Mages’ Guild, Thieves Guild (DLC), Dark Brotherhood (DLC), werewolf, vampire, and new ones like the Psijic Order (DLC) and Undaunted provide unique experiences for every style of player. These factions are an excellent source of solo gameplay. Each have their own extensive core quest, as well as NPCs that can offer special side quests, or repeatable daily challenges for rewards and unique gear.

The best character type for a solo player to invest in is going to focus on damage damage damage, and one to two healing and buff moves since you don’t have a healer watching your back and potions are pricey!

Every class has the capability to damage, heal, and tank, but some are just better than others and depends on what skills you choose. Pick your favorite play style and invest in anything that lets you blast through enemies faster. Otherwise clearing a single delve will begin to feel like a never-ending button smashing chore.

There are plenty of guides and articles with tips on how to build the “ultimate” solo player, but really you’re only accountable to yourself as a solo player. As long as you can fight enemies with the speed you want and can keep yourself alive, and if it makes you happy, then you’re good.

You may find it beneficial to invest in a second toon that you use solely for crafting skills, especially enchanting, provisioning and alchemy. Most players rely on guildmates or buddies to hook them up with good supplies, so if you don’t invest in these skill lines at all and then find yourself wanting to upgrade the enchantments on your end game level gear you spent so long trying to get, you’ll be up a creek without a paddle. Unless you can craft them yourself of course!

Build your crafting toon’s skill sets by completing storyline quests and farming skyshards for skill points. Daily crafting writs will give the the experience and materials you need to progress.

For the purely solo player that doesn’t want any game play that involves another person, it would be next to impossible to obtain the Undaunted skill line and gear, which requires clearing dungeons.

There are also two skill lines offered through PvP play in the Cyrodiil zone where it is confined. Luckily, the PvP skill lines really only benefit PvP play, and there are some workarounds for dungeons if you’re willing to jump in ques with silent strangers and just knocking a few out every now and then (see Accessing Group Play Zones and PvE). 

Stylistic aspects to character building are all available to solo players too. While a few skins, motifs, pets, and mounts (all of which are purely cosmetic) are only available through certain PvP or PvE accomplishments, the vast majority are accessible to solo players.

Leveling Up

I’ll be honest, the fastest way to level up is to get carried through certain dungeons, zones, or PvP. But that doesn’t mean you have to grind forever as a solo player either, there are ways to speed things up.

I’ll start with what NOT to do. While quests do give you xp when you complete them, running around doing all the possible solo quests you can will take time and give you very little to show for your effort. There are ways to make quests boost your xp along the way, but if you passively hop from random NPC in need to random NPC without any strategy it will take FOREVER. See our section on solo questing for more strategies.

Also, zergs are not great for xp gains. If you see a big group farming an area like Spellscar or dolmens, just stay away. You drag down their xp, and you won’t get nearly as much bang for your buck compared to the other options mentioned above. It just wastes everybody’s time. The only exception to this is zerging in PvP, where xp is earned differently and having a giant horde of allies come pouring in to save a fort is very much welcome.

The main ways you gain xp to level up are through combat and completing quests, as well as some small little achievements here and there like map explorations. But mostly through combat kills. To take advantage of maximizing your combat xp, make sure you always use free experience scrolls of buffs that are offered from the Crown store (they give these out like candy to new players and around in-game holidays!), and make sure your gear has the training trait on it. Even if you never ever plan on crafting again, research this trait so you can whip up some training gear for yourself at least. Or you can buy it from other players but pre-level 160 gear is hard to find in guild stores.

Delves, marked with little torch icons, are a great source of xp for the solo player. In addition to the combat xp you’ll get from clearing out baddies, there is always a quest giver located just outside the entrance, and often one or two more you can find inside. These quests are easy to complete as you clear through the delve, so you get the xp from the quests without really wasting any time. Public dungeons are also good for these reasons, but they are much larger. There are usually achievements associated with them, though, that can get you a little xp. Just be prepared to tuck tail and run from time to time if you find a boss that’s a wee bit too much to handle on your own. 

Finally, PvE as a solo player is a super efficient way to level up. Before you hit level 50, you can get almost a whole level up per dungeon. Avoid veteran or DLC dungeons, they take way too long, you’re likely to wipe with a randomly assigned group which is an infuriating waste of time, and you get plenty of xp from the normal dungeons.

Questing

This is perhaps the main reason solo players enjoy ESO, and the bulk of how you’ll spend your time. The lore and worldbuilding is so rich for this franchise that even without the DLC they roll out several times a year, you can pretty much expect to never run out of quests. All of the random world encounters and side quests that players have grown to love in previous Elder Scrolls installments are available in ESO. And these are best enjoyed solo, without the distraction of group chatter to drown out the NPCs or people rushing you through it.

Taking time to explore all of the leads and information that the NPCs have to offer can make for a much richer experience. Your new friends might show up to help at the end of main storyline battles or even provide tips for completing the quest more efficiently or optional side objectives that provide additional rewards.

Quests can range from super involved main storylines to simple “take this thing to this person” or “find my missing pet”. If you want to maximize the xp and rewards you get while enjoying the world building that questing offers, try to pick up a bunch of quests at a time and then work through them based on what’s closest together, not necessarily following one single questline at a time. This will save you a lot of backtracking and time fighting respawned enemies. And if you picked up a quest that you aren’t really enjoying, drop it! There’s no penalty and you can always pick it up again and restart it later if you have a change of heart.

Each map zone has their own main storyline with multiple quests (indicated with a special marker now). These give more xp, a piece of leveled set gear, and skill points upon completion, whereas a smaller quest will usually just have a piece of leveled generic gear and/or some coin and a little xp. Skill points are especially valuable to players higher than level 50, since skyshards and storyline quests are the only way to keep earning them at that point.

Acquiring End Game Level Gear

As soon as you hit level cp160, you can start acquiring end game level gear for your toon. Your best shot is boss drops. Do your research and find an armor set that enhances your playstyle best, and then find out where you need to go to get it. Nearly all the popular sets are available through boss drops, either through dungeons and trials, or world and delve bosses. These are usually superior to the kinds of gear you can craft at special crafting stations.

Crafted sets are still worth looking into though, as they offer some unique play styles that are more conducive to solo players that are free to follow their dreams and not deal with gatekeeping trial leaders and bloodthirsty PvP.

If you loved a set of gear you obtained through main storylines but have tragically leveled past them, you can get newer pieces of those sets through delve or world bosses in the storyline’s zone, or if you don’t have time for that you can check guild vendors. Zone gear is their bread and butter.

If you have your heart set on an armor piece or weapon that is from a dungeon or trial, though, you can ONLY obtain it by going through that dungeon. Use activity finder to queue up the dungeon you want, and then drop a line in the group chat that you’re looking for specific pieces.

Everyone gets different stuff from the boss drops, so just because you didn’t get lucky this time, it doesn’t mean a teammate had the same outcome. People are usually happy to trade gear with you, and will often link unwanted set pieces they find in group chat for a teammate to claim. Make sure to return the favor! You’re not going to get that much gold for them from NPC shops anyway.

Once you have the set pieces you want, and you have the requisite skills and materials, you can upgrade them at a crafting table. As previously mentioned, you’ll want the enchanting skill line for this, since custom enchantments are super expensive and require finding a player willing to make them for you. If you want to change or add a trait to an item, you will need a transmute station, available through the Clockwork City DLC, or at a friend or guildmates house if they bought one.

PvE

Just because you don’t want to spend time making small talk with in game friends doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy one of the tentpoles of MMORPGs: dungeons. Epic battles, some of the most gripping quest stories, and end game level gear await in ESO’s dungeons and trails (their version of a raid). Players accustomed to gaming on their own can easily dabble and reap the rewards of this multiplayer activity.

The activity finder allows you to queue up for a place in a random dungeon, or dungeon of your choice. Make sure you have the correct team role assigned to yourself, or it will mess the run up for you and your teammates. While damage is the most common role for solo players, you can still build a decent healer or tank toon as a solo player. You’ll just want to switch between skills that are more useful when you’re solo questing on your own and ones that will help you fulfill your role in a dungeon.

Making it through a dungeon, especially on normal, doesn’t require masterful coordination between teammates, so most random activity finder groups don’t use chat anyway. However, the randomness also means that you may get grouped with a Leeeeeeroy Jenkins! or a healer that is more interested in sword fighting than heals.

Trials are epic in ESO and offer some of the most exciting battles of the game. You will need to interact with other people a bit more in these though, as the bosses have a lot of mechanics and require good coordination among teammates. You can always find pickup groups (PUGs) through area text chat in Craglorn for trials, or form your own by calling out for volunteers. Just make sure you have some time on your hands.

A normal trial run with an adequate group can take 30 minutes, a PUG with new people, or uninvested players that need to leave part way through, can take an hour or two, and a lot of that is spent just getting the 12 man group together. They’re worth the wait though, and you might even make your first ingame friends through trial PUGs. Make sure you can at least hear the group chat even if you’re not speaking on the channel though, as the group leader will often be calling out attacks and warnings that are crucial for success, especially on a team with players that are new to the trial.

Zerging through PvP

Playing against other humans is an entirely different ball game from PvE and questing. It is completely counter to solo play as you are constantly under attack from enemy players or saving/being saved by teammates. But the Alliance Wars are a huge part of the ESO storyline, and the only way to access the land of Cyrodiil and the Imperial City is by entering a PvP campaign. This is also the only way to obtain Assault, Support and Emperor skill lines, but if you’re a solo player, these skills aren’t super necessary as they benefit multiplayer settings.

A solo player’s best intro into PvP is through zerging. It’s not glamorous, but it gets the job done. You will not last long as a single player in Cyrodiil. The map is huge, so if you’re encountering players, they’re usually in a group with their teammates coming from a respawn or captured location. The odds of you being able to sneak and hunt loners successfully are pretty slim. But if you have the patience to walk and walk and walk and wait and wait and wait for the reward of an assassination here and there, then try to find areas that aren’t actively under seige at least. They’ll be less defended and you’ll have the best odds.

To find a zerg, just check the map to see where the active battles are and get there as fast as you can. People in your alliance will often call out attacks in area text chat too, so you can know where the zerg is headed next or where you’re alliance needs help. Unlike zerging in the rest of the map, in PvP you can still get a decent amount of xp this way. Kills do get you xp, but so does capturing and protecting territory successfully. By taking part in a battle, you win xp simply for showing up and helping. You get more if you do more, of course. 

Players that are wary of other players need not miss out on any of the fun in ESO! The designers kept us solo players in mind and delivered a game that allows for an immersive RPG experience, as well as a soft intro into MMO staples like dungeons and PvP. It doesn’t take lots of different toon builds to enjoy all of the different play styles, either.

A player can easily flit between questing for hours, run a few dungeons, and then partake in a few battles in the Alliance Wars, all without guilds or ingame connections. And if you really click with a PUG or randomized group, you may have just made your first online friendships, opening up even more possibilities for your gaming experience. 

Lemonsmith

Lemon's the optimist at Hey You Video Game! Not even lag, bad game mechanics, or RNG can get him mad. Lemonsmith's favorite video games are The Last of Us, PUBG, Apex Legends, and Donkey Kong Country.

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