The game is set on the continent of Tamriel during the Second Era, but not all places in Tamriel are playable. The events of the game occur a millennium before those of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and around 800 years before The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Two separate conflicts progress at the same time, one with the fate of the world in the balance, and one where the prize is supreme power on Tamriel. In The Elder Scrolls Online, the first struggle is against the Daedric Prince Molag Bal, who is attempting to meld the plane of Mundus with his realm of Coldharbour, and the second is to capture the vacant imperial throne, contested by three alliances of the mortal races. The player character has been sacrificed to Molag Bal, and Molag Bal has stolen their soul, the recovery of which is the primary game objective. The game begins in the Wailing Prison in Coldharbour, where the player character's soulless husk (known as a soul shriven) has been enslaved.
The Elder Scrolls Online is an MMORPG. It is an open role PvP and a PvE where it is possible to visit all the continent of Tamriel. Many parts of the continent of Tamriel are available in the game, with most zones accessible regardless of faction or player level. Some zones are accessible only from DLC which can be either purchased from the Crown Store, or is available for free as part of the ESO Plus subscription service. Players have the opportunity to join any of the three factions warring over the Ruby Throne of the Emperor of Tamriel: the First Aldmeri Dominion (represented by an eagle) led by Queen Ayrenn, composed of the Altmer (High Elf), Bosmer (Wood Elf), and Khajiit races; the Daggerfall Covenant (represented by a lion) led by High King Emeric, composed of the Bretons, Redguard, and Orsimer (Orcs); and the Ebonheart Pact (represented by a dragon) led by Jorunn Skald-King, composed of the Nord, Dunmer (Dark Elf), and Argonian races. Players may also unlock the Imperial race by purchasing the Digital Imperial Edition Upgrade in the Crown Store, which may be a part of any of the three factions. The other major ruling (non-joinable)faction of Tamriel is the Empire, led by Empress Regent Clivia Tharn, which has fallen into instability and disrepair.