ESO Best Race Guide: What Race to pick in Elder Scrolls Online (2020)

Want to know what is the Best Race of Elder Scrolls Online? What Race is best for your build in ESO? How to pick your Race and Class in ESO? All these are common questions for newcomers, and we answer them all!

The Elder Scrolls Online has passed its 5 year anniversary, so it’s understandable that the game has gone through many many changes during that time. One of the most important ones came with the Wrathstone Update in February and March of 2019, but this guide is still applicable for 2020. Nearly all Racial Passives for each Race were changed, markedly shifting the meta. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is “What ESO Race should I play?”, and in this article I will aim to answer just that question.

ESO Best Race Guide: What Race to pick in Elder Scrolls Online (2020)

Should I worry about Race and Racial Bonuses?

While Race is not the most important component of your Build in ESO, their Passives do have an impact, particularly in more challenging content or PvP. Many players start out not knowing what commitment level they will have to the game, and often times they become much more “hardcore” than they originally intended. For this reason, it does make some sense to spend time researching what Race to play, even if you don’t anticipate playing in any serious capacity. While you can change your Race later if you really want to, it will cost you money, and a bit of investigation could save you nearly 30 USD.

It is also important to know that Races are locked into Factions in ESO. Each Faction has 3 races, and Imperials are also available as a special buy that allows you to join any of the Alliances. The alliance you belong to has only one effect in modern ESO: locks you into that faction’s group in PvP (in Cyrodiil). This is not a big issue for most newcomers, but you should check out the Factions page to familiarize yourself with what they stand for, just so you know the company you’ll keep!. You may also unlock “Any Race, Any Alliance” for 1500 crowns in the crown store – but be mindful you cannot change faction after character creation!

How do I pick a race in ESO?

There are two parts to selecting your character’s race. On one side, there’s Roleplay purposes – maybe you want to roleplay an unusual Khajiit raised by High Elves who has discovered an aptitude for Magic. Maybe you want to roleplay a fierce Dunmer Warrior, or maybe you are trying to make your character match your own looks, and discover High Elves don’t have dark hair so you have to pick a Wood Elf or human instead.

  • If you are picking your race for roleplay, you can still try to optimize it by selecting a Class that matches its strengths, so in that case you’ll want to look at our Classes article and our many, many builds.

The second part of race selection is optimization for the best possible build. If this is the route you’re taking, it starts by thinking “What is my playstyle?”. Do you want to use a bow or a greatsword? Then you’ll be focusing your points into Stamina. Are you looking to manipulate the elements and command minions? Then you’re looking at magicka and spell buffs. Do you want to be an unbreakable wall of indisputable power? Then you’ll be looking for Health and Stamina boosts.

  • When selecting a race for optimization, first decide a Weapon focus for your playstyle. Read the Weapon Skills to get an idea of what you’ll do. The second step is to look at the available Classes and select one that will match the role you want to play with that weapon. Once you know your role and if you’re magicka or stamina based (or health), you can look at the races and optimize for any of the roles available in game

Aldmeri Dominion Races

To begin we’ll start with the Races of the Aldmeri Dominion (since it’s the best), who are led by the valiant Queen Ayrenn. The 3 races here are: Altmer (High Elf), Bosmer (Wood Elf) and Khajiit, and they all have very different focuses.

Altmer (High Elf)

Lore: The High Elves, or Altmer, arrived in Tamriel thousands of years ago from Old Aldmeris. They see themselves, perhaps justifiably, as the ruling race of Tamriel. They are a highly cultured people, known for their breathtaking architecture and massive libraries of histories and creative works. They tend to be isolationists, largely remaining on Summerset Isle, and only emerge when they perceive a great threat to their homeland. They are powerful mages and warriors, and the de facto leaders of the Aldmeri Dominion.

The following are the Racial Passives of the High Elves. Please not that where applicable I’ve only covered the max rank bonuses:

Highborn – Increases experience gain with the Destruction Staff Skill line by 15%. Increases your experience gained by 1%.

Spell Recharge РThis effect can occur once every 6 seconds. Reduces damage taken by 5% while you are using an ability with a cast or channel time. Restores 645 Magicka or Stamina, based on whichever is lowest, after activating a Class Ability.

Syrabane’s Boon – Increases¬†Max Magicka by 2000


Elemental Talent РIncreases your Spell Damage by 258

Just looking at their Racial Passives, you can see that High Elves are more tuned towards the Magicka side of things, rather than Stamina. This means it is ideal to use them as either Magicka DPS or Healers, because they both take advantage of the Spell Damage and Max Magicka increase. These types of Builds use Staffs and are akin to “Mages” in other games, so if you wish to make a mage-like character, High Elf is a good choice.

Additionally, they have an intriguing Passive in Spell Charge, which grants them 645 Stamina if they have higher Max Magicka and 645 Magicka if they have higher Max Stamina, every 6 seconds if they use a Class Ability. This is both good for PvP and for Tanking.

In PvP, players will often CC you, forcing you to Break Free or die. Since this uses Stamina, and Magicka Builds usually have much lower Stamina pools, you will need all the Stamina you can get. And when Tanking, you will have more Stamina than Magicka, which allows you to gain Magicka every 6 seconds. You can use this Magicka for Damage Shields or other Skills that boost your surviveability, making it a valuable Passive.

Best Builds for High Elves

  • Magicka DPS: Excellent (Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Not Good (Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Good (Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Passable (One-Handed and Shield)

Bosmer (Wood Elf)

Lore: The Wood Elves, or Bosmer, are mischievous, curious and nimble. Because their homeland of Valenwood is often attacked by the Colovian Imperials, Wood Elves are experts at the art of defense. They are also gifted archers, perhaps the best in all of Tamriel. The capital of the Aldmeri Dominion, Elden Root, lies in the heart of their homeland. It has evolved into a center of political and cultural importance and is of vital strategic importance in the battle to control Tamriel.

The following are the Racial Passives of the Wood Elves

Acrobat – Increases experience gain with the Bow Skill line by 15%. Decreases your fall damage taken by 10%.

Y’ffre’s Endurance – Increases Stamina Recovery by 258.


Resist Affliction РIncreases your Max Stamina by 2000. Poison Resistance by 2310, gain immunity to the poisoned effect.

Hunter’s Eye – Increases your detection radius in Stealth by 3m. Gain 10% Movement Speed for 6s and a bonus to Physical and Spell Penetration of 1500 for the duration after using Roll Dodge.

Looking over the Passives you can see that Wood Elves are more inclined to be Stamina-based characters, and ones that incorporate some amount of Stealth into their gameplay. This means they will use some combination of martial weapons like Bows, Swords and Daggers.

Stealth is not particularly useful for PvE content outside of questing, but is useful in PvP. And though Max Stamina is good for Tanking, Stamina Recovery is not because Stamina Recovery ceases while Blocking, which Tanks do constantly. These bonuses place Wood Elves squarely into the Stamina DPS category, without much flexibility, if you’re looking to optimize.

Best Builds for Wood Elves

  • Magicka DPS: Not Good¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Good¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Not Good¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Passable¬†(One-Handed and Shield)


Lore: The population of the proud feline Khajiit has dwindled in recent years following a devastating outbreak of Knahaten Flu. They owe a great debt to Ayrenn, Queen of the High Elves, for her help in restoring order from the chaos that followed the plague. They have a wry wit and a hedonistic outlook, but they are fearsome on the field of battle. They are the strong arm of the Aldmeri Dominion.

The following are the Racial Passives of the Khajiit

Cutpurse РIncreases the experience gain with the Medium Armor Skill line by 15%. Increases your chance to successfully pickpocket by 5%.

Robustness РIncreases your Health Recovery by 100. Increases Stamina and Magicka Recovery by 85.

Lunar Blessings РIncreases your Max Health, Magicka, and Stamina by 825.

Feline Ambush – Increases your Critical Hit Damage and Healing by 10%. Reduces your detection radius by 3m.

The Khajit Racial Passives are a bit of mixed bag, and really facilitates any kind of play, though perhaps not quite as good as some other Races. Being harder to detect when Sneaking, and increased chance of Pickpocketing, marks the Khajit as a Stealthier character. This helps with some questing, stealing, and PvP. Consider selecting the Nightblade Class when choosing Khajit if you plan to PvP, the reduced detection range makes them much harder to find. Khajits also benefit from higher Critical Strike Chance because of their Crit Damage and Crit Healing bonus, so be sure to use gear that has this Stat.

Best Builds for Khajiit

  • Magicka DPS: Good¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Good¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Good¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Good¬†(One-Handed and Shield)

Daggerfall Covenant

The second Alliance we’ll cover is the Daggerfall Covenant, who are led by the High King Emeric. The 3 races here are: Breton, Orsimer (Orc) and Redguard. This Alliance possesses some of the best Races in ESO.


Lore: The men and women of High Rock were once ruled by High Elf overlords. Some Elven blood still runs in their veins, giving Bretons an innate grasp of magic that distinguishes them from the other human races. Passionate and flamboyant, intelligent and resourceful, the Bretons are renowned and talented craftsmen, shrewd merchants, gallant cavaliers, and inventive wizards. They can also be proud and quarrelsome. Tales of warfare between the kingdoms of High Rock account for much of their history, but most revere the Eight Divines and value prosperity over glory.

The following are the Breton Passive Skills

Opportunist РIncreases experience gain with the Light Armor Skill line by 15%. Increases your Alliance Points gained by 1%.

Gift of Magnus РIncreases Max Magicka by 2000


Spell Resistance РIncreases Spell Resistance by 2310 and 100 Magicka Recovery. The Spell Resistance granted by this effect will be doubled if you are afflicted with Burning, Chilled, or Concussed.

Magicka Mastery РReduces the Magicka cost of your abilities by 7%

Bretons have a heavy focus on Magicka, and thus make very good Magicka-based DPS or Healers. The cost reduction of Magicka abilities, in combination with the Magicka Recovery gives them excellent sustain, allowing them to DPS or Heal longer before needing to use a Potion or Heavy Attack to regain Magicka. The Spell Resistance is also nice to have, as it helps keep them alive longer, particularly in PvP. If you know you want to play a Magicka Build, this Race is a fantastic choice.

Best Builds for Bretons

  • Magicka DPS: Excellent¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Not Good¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Good¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Passable¬†(One-Handed and Shield)

Orismer (Orc)

Lore: Though other races often regard the Orcs as barbarians and even beasts, these noble warriors have an ancient culture forged from endless warfare in their harsh mountain homelands. Orcs live under a simple code of honor by which the strong survive and the strongest rule. As the greatest smiths in Tamriel, their weapons and armor are prized by warriors everywhere. During the reign of the Second Empire, when their kingdom of Orsinium was finally granted provincial status, its restoration helped solidify their devotion to the new Daggerfall Covenant.

The following are the Orc Racial Passives

Craftsman РIncreases experience gain with the Heavy Armor Skill line by 15%. Increases your crafting Inspiration gained by 10%.

Brawny РIncreases your Max Stamina by 2000.


Unflinching Rage РGrants 1000 Max Health and heals you for up to 600 when you deal damage with a weapon, with a 4 second cooldown.

Swift Warrior – Increases your weapon damage by 258. Reduces the cost of Sprint by 12% and increases the Movement Speed bonus of Sprint by 10%.

Orcs have a heavy focus on the use of Weapons, putting them square into the Stamina DPS category. Their extra Health and healing, also help should they decide to Tank or PvP. Their Sprint cost reduction and Movement Speed increase also help tremendously with PvP, where you need to Sprint often, and can help them catch their prey or escape if they find them self in a bad situation. Select this Race if you plan to PvP often, or know you want to Stamina DPS.

Best Builds for Orcs

  • Magicka DPS: Not Good¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Good¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Not Good¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Good¬†(One-Handed and Shield)


Lore: The Redguards of Hammerfell are talented and athletic warriors, born to battle. A desert people, their ancestors migrated to Tamriel from the lost continent of Yokuda. Their culture is based on preserving ancient traditions and defying their harsh environment. They prize honor and dignity above all else, combining a deep reverence for the divine with a suspicion of all things magical. Their capital is the merchant port of Sentinel, but their roots are deep in the sands of the Alik’r Desert. In their youth, Redguards endure a rite of passage in the desolate wastes of Alik’r as a test of endurance and discipline. Only the strongest survive.

The following are the Redguard Racial Passives

Wayfarer РIncreases experience gain with One-Handed and Shield Skill line by 15%. Increases the duration of eaten food by 15 minutes.

Martial Training РReduces the cost of weapon abilities by 8%. Reduces the effectiveness of snares applied to you by 15%.

Conditioning –¬†Increases¬†Max Stamina¬†by¬†2000

Adrenaline Rush – When you deal direct damage, you restore 950 Stamina. This effect can occur once every 5 seconds.

Much like the Orcs, Redguards have a substantial focus on the use of Weapons, and have a reduced cost when using them. This combined with Max Stamina and Stamina restoration via attacks, makes them perfect for the Stamina DPS role or even a Tank. Additionally, the snare effectiveness reduction is excellent if you plan to Werewolf, as snares are really their Achilles heel. If you know you’ll be using Weapons and will be Stamina focused, seriously consider taking Redguard as your Race.

Best builds for Redguard

  • Magicka DPS: Not Good¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Excellent¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Not Good¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Good¬†(One-Handed and Shield)

Ebonheart Pact

The last Alliance we’ll cover is the Ebonheart Pact, who are led by Jorunn the Skald-King. The 3 races here are: Dunmer (Dark Elf), Nord and Argonian. These races are some of the tankiest in the game.

Dunmer (Dark Elf)

Lore: The Dark Elf homeland of Morrowind has been invaded many times by the Akaviri and the Nords. This history of conflict has transformed the Dunmer into hardened warriors. They also have a natural affinity for magic and great intellect, making them skillful sorcerers.

The following are the Dark Elf Racial Passives

Ashlander РIncreases the experience gain with the Dual Wield Skill line by 15%. Reduces your damage taken by environmental lava by 50%.

Dynamic РIncreases Max Magicka and Max Stamina by 1875.


Resist Flame РFlame Resistance by 2310, gain immunity to the burning status effect.

Ruination РIncreases your Weapon and Spell Damage by 258

The Dark Elves are an interesting Race because they are equally good as Stamina and Magicka roles, making them a great choice for those that are not certain just how they wish to play their character. In addition, they are ideal for those wishing to take the Vampirism Skill Line, as the extra Flame Resistance will help to offset some of their weakness to Fire-based attacks. Consider taking this Race if you can’t decide between Stamina or Magicka, or you know you want to be a Vampire.

Best Builds for Dark Elves

  • Magicka DPS: Good¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Good¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Good¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Good¬†(One-Handed and Shield)


Lore: The Nords once conquered most of Tamriel, and as a result, feel a certain entitlement to rule. They broke the power of the Ayleids, nearly drove the High Elves out of High Rock, and conquered much of Resdayn, the precursor to Morrowind. The Nords are excellent with arms. They are quick to anger, boisterous, and strong. They are natural-born warriors who fight with an ecstatic ferocity that terrifies their enemies.

The following are the Nord Racial Passives

Reveler РIncreases experience gain with the Two-Handed Skill line by 15%. Increases the duration of any consumed drink by 15 minutes.

Stalwart РWhen you take damage, you gain 5 Ultimate. This effect can occur once every 10 seconds.

Resist Frost РIncreases your Max Health by 1000. Cold Resistance by 2310, gain immunity to the Chilled status effect.

Rugged – Increases your Physical and Spell resistance by 3960.

Nords are a very tough to kill, and should be considered by those that wish to Tank as their primary role, or for those that wish to PvP, as extra Physical and Spell Resistance goes a long way in both of these cases. The increased Ultimate generation is also ideal for both of these, since Ultimate abilities often determine the victor in Cyrodiil, and it can really improve your effectiveness in group content. Select this Race if you know you want to Tank.

Best Builds for Nords

  • Magicka DPS: Not Good¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Passable¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Not Good¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Excellent¬†(One-Handed and Shield)


Lore: The Argonians are possessed of a cool intellect, and are well-versed in the magical arts, stealth, and the use of blades. They are also guerilla warfare experts, long accustomed to defending their borders from invaders. They often serve as the scouts and skirmishers for the forces of the Pact.

The following are the Argonian Racial Passives

Amphibian РIncreases experience gain with the Restoration Staff Skill line by 15%. Increases your swimming speed by 50%.

Resourceful РIncreases your Max Magicka by 1000.Whenever you drink a potion you restore 4000 Health, Magicka, and Stamina.

Argonian Resistance – Gain Immunity to the diseased status effect. Increases Max Health by 1000 and Poison and Disease Resistance by 2310.

Life Mender – Increases your healing done by 6%.

Argonians used to be one of the worst Races in the game, but they have been one of the best for some time now, and they are the ideal Race to choose if you plan to be a Healer because of their increase to Healing Done. They also make very good Tanks because of their Health increase, and their ability to regain many resources when they consume a potion. These same Passives, also make them one of the best PvP Races in the game, since all of these things are useful in Cyrodiil, tanking or not.

Best Builds for Argonians

  • Magicka DPS: Passable¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Not Good¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Excellent¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Good¬†(One-Handed and Shield)

No Alliance

The last Race on our list belongs to no Alliance, and that is the Imperials. This Race is only obtainable if you purchase the Imperial Edition Upgrade from the Crown Store, otherwise you will not have access to it.


Lore: The Imperial reside in Cyrodiil and the Imperial City, with its proud Empire now collapsed due to a Daedric invasion.

There are the Imperial Racial Passives

Diplomat РIncreases experience gain with the One-Handed and Shield Line by 15%. Increases your gold gained by 1%.

Tough РIncreases your Max Health by 2000.


Imperial Mettle РIncreases your Max Stamina by 2000.


Red Diamond – When you deal Direct Damage, you restore 333 Health, Magicka, and Stamina. This effect has a 5 second cooldown. It also will reduce the cost of all abilities by 3%.

Imperials make ideal tanks, not only because of their bonuses to Health and Stamina, but because they regain all 3 resources when they deal damage, and have cost reduction for all abilities. Tanks use both Stamina and Magicka quite regularly, and regaining them really helps out. Health is just an added bonus. These same qualities make them a decent choice for PvP as well, though not as good as some other Races.

Best builds for Imperials

  • Magicka DPS: Not Good¬†(Destruction Staff)
  • Stamina DPS: Passable¬†(Two-Handed Weapon, Dual Weapons, Bow)
  • Healer: Not Good¬†(Restoration Staff)
  • Tank: Excellent¬†(One-Handed and Shield)

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest misconceptions I see regarding “The Best Race“, is that it is somehow tied to a Class. This is not true 95% of the time, and I have noted when a Class dovetails nicely with a given Race. Which Race is right for you is largely dependent on what you plan to do, an what resources you plan to pump your Attribute points into. And, since new players don’t always know what they want to do, it can be hard to make a good recommendation.

If you are a beginner and you are not sure which Race is right for you, I highly recommend trying either Khajit or Dark Elf, as this will allow you to play both Stamina and Magicka versions of your Class. These Races are not usually regarded as “the best” for any given role, but your character does not need to be 100% optimized to do 90% of the content in ESO. The only places you may struggle are in Veteran Trials or PvP, and frankly you may struggle there anyway, since they are difficult regardless of Race.

Lastly, keep in mind that Champion Points are account wide. This means that if you get up there in your Champion Points, and decide that you really want to play another Race and don’t want to spend money on a Race Change Token, they will carry over to your new character. It is quite normal for players to figure out what they really want to be a good time after they begin playing, and this makes it a bit less painful. Don’t be afraid to roll a new character if you aren’t happy with what you chose.

Stay tuned for more ESO Builds and ESO Content throughout 2019 as we dive deeper into Elsweyr and Scalebreaker DLC.


Senior Editor at Fextralife. I enjoy gaming, playing and watching sports, cooking yummy food, watching a good movie and hanging out with Fex.

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