DO NOT BUY ON STEAM.
What version of the game should I buy?
Content in ESO comes in several types: the base game, DLC, chapters, and “upgrades”. There are multiple ways to obtain DLC, and depending on how you think you’re going to play this game, different versions may have more or less value to you.
Currently if you are buying the game for the first time, you have two choices, the Morrowind bundle and the Summerset Bundle. It’s possible you may still find keys for Tamriel Unlimited (the game without the Morrowind chapter) or Gold Edition (the game without the Morrowind Chapter, but with four DLC included) around, but from the website this bundle is the only option. Yay simplification! It’s $30 full price and $10 on sale. There is also the “ESO Collection” which includes Summerset, Morrowind, and Gold Edition for a mind-boggling $80. Probably not worth it unless you’re absolutely certain you’ll love the game.
The Summerset Bundle costs $40.
Now there is only one way to get DLC permanently, and that’s through the crown store. You can also get the DLC as long as you have ESO plus active. Which method to go depends on your playstyle. If you can afford $15/month, when you are actively playing the game, it is a much better deal than buying the DLC outright.
So what are these DLC, Chapters, and Upgrades?
Chapters are once-per-year expansions. They add much larger zones and more content than DLC. They do not raise the level limit or anything (level limit works differently in ESO than most games anyways). However they do add new skill lines or otherwise substantially expand gameplay in a way DLC do not.
There are currently two chapters, Summerset and Morrowind. An existing account can be upgrade to include Summerset for $30 full price.
Morrowind has been downgraded to a DLC and is purchaseable with crowns or included in ESO+. If you don’t currently own Morrowind and want the Warden class, you’ll have to buy it as a separate upgrade.
Overall it is cheapest to purchase as many chapters as you can when you buy the game (so right now, buy the Summerset bundle!) rather than upgrading later. When the chapters get downgraded to DLC later you will permanently retain all of that content.
DLC expand game content, but in a more limited way. There are currently eight DLC. The first four are in Gold Edition. They can also be purchased in the in-game crown store. Access to the DLC is granted as long as you are subscribed to the game (which is $15/mo). So you can have access forever if you purchase them or on an as-needed basis if you subscribe. If you subscribe, any skills, loot, achievements, etc. will be retained even when the subscription ends.
DLC go on sale for 75% off on their anniversary. The crowns to buy them also go on sale a couple times a year. So it’s possible to get the DLC permanently for a low price. However, because they are crown store purchases they will only apply to the server (NA or EU) that you purchased them on, not both.
- Imperial City: Imperial city is a new PvP zone in the heart of Cyrodiil. Full of daedra, enemy players, and two challenging four man dungeons, this is an important DLC for both PvE and PvP players. Probably around ~10 hours of story content and a lot more of dungeons/pvp.
- Orsinium – Visit Wrothgar, the ancient home of the orcs, and help rebuild Orsinium. This is the largest DLC in terms of single player story content (~25 hours) and has a solo trial which is the most challenging solo content in the game.
- Thieves’ Guild – Join the Thieves Guild as they fight their way to supremacy (again). Interested in sneaky heists, parkour, and making a massive profit on the backs of others? This is the ~20 hours of solo content for you. Also includes the game’s fourth 12-man trial, Maw of Lorkhaj.
- Dark Brotherhood – Hail Sithis. This is about ~10 hours of solo content.
- Shadows of the Hist – two four-man dungeons which are the most difficult in the game, focused on Argonian lore
- Horns of the Reach – two four-man dungeons with interesting new mechanics, focused on the reachmen and their conquest of Western Skyrim
- Clockwork City – a new quest DLC, also includes a new 12-man trial. 10-15 hours of solo content. Trainwiz approved!
- Dragon Bones – two four-man dungeons focused on dragon priests.
Upgrades unlock new features to your account. They can be purchased in the crown store.
- Imperial Race. Imperial race comes from an “upgrade” – you might see imperial edition for sale still. Imperial upgrade can also be purchased in the crown store for 2100 crowns (this is $25 full price and around $10 on sale). This was the original base game collector’s edition
- Any race, any alliance. The base game has all races locked to their alliances. This doesn’t really matter because all alliances can play together for all content except PvP, so you can roll an AD altmer and still play with your DC friends if you like. However, if you are devoted to a particular PvP faction, you may want to get this upgrade. This upgrade is 1,900 crowns. It can still very rarely be found on grey market sites sold as “explorer’s pack” or “adventurer’s pack”. Note that the bonus maps and such are not a selling point – they’re actually a complete waste of time. Only get this if you want any race, any alliance. (This was an original base game pre-order bonus).
- Warden Class. When Summerset launches warden class will be added as an upgrade. It was originally part of the Morrowind Chapter.
There is also an ESO plus subscription, which gives access to all DLC (not including Summerset), as well as a crafting bag, costume dying, 1500 crowns per month, double bank space, double housing decorations, and some other stuff. Pretty nice for the hoarder. It does not give Summerset or any upgrades.
One note: XBOX, PS4, and PC are all separate accounts, that require separate purchases of the game, and you cannot move characters between the servers at any point. PC is definitely the best experience due to addons and increased game stability, although the console servers are a bit more active.
If you intend to play on both EU and NA, you can use the same account (on PC). However, things purchased in the crown store will only apply to the server you purchased them on. Things purchased on the website will apply to both servers (that is, Summerset, subscription, and crowns, will show up on both accounts, but DLC and cosmetics are server-specific).
If you’re looking into acquiring cosmetic items like costumes and houses, or you want to own the DLC outright or get more character slots, you may want to wait for a crown sale. This chart shows the “value” of each pack.
Note that the last crown sale was on May 4th and was only a 20% discount across the board, much worse than shown above.
Where should I buy the game from?
First of all, don’t buy the game on Steam. Steam causes no end of troubles for this game, especially on patch day (Although the last few patch days have gone smoothly, so there is hope!). There is no benefit to having this game on Steam – it doesn’t keep the game up to date. Also, when Steam has a sale, so does the main website, for the same price.
Usually the best place to buy the game is on Greenmangaming, which usually has good prices and is a legitimate reseller. The elderscrollsonline.com website itself is good of course. There are often other legitimate resellers with good prices so look around. When you buy from these places you simply put the code on the official game website and download from there.
Keep in mind that most key sellers are selling keys for the website, not for steam. However, some, like humble bundle, are selling steam keys. Keep in mind what you’re purchasing – while most people don’t have any trouble with steam, on patch days I only see people who have the game through steam having trouble. In addition every so often the steam authentication servers go down which prevents you from logging onto ESO for several hours until it’s fixed.