Last Updated on October 28, 2020 by Aether
The purpose of this ESO race guide is to detail the benefits granted by each race in ESO, and how they relate to the four PvE roles – Magicka and Stamina DPS, Healers and Tanks – in such a way that should be accessible for beginners but potentially still have value to more experienced players.
All of the numbers and values quoted here are readily available in-game or on UESP, but I’m yet to see a guide that assesses how every race relates to every role, rather than listing one or two they’re most suited to. It’s been well-established in the community for a long time now that many players will choose the race they like for aesthetic or lore reasons, rather than for their stats. As such, this guide will discuss the extent to which race makes a difference, and evaluate how all racial bonuses relate to all four roles.
Each race will be given a grade in each role, from A to D. An A grade means that race is likely purpose-built for that role, with multiple good bonuses. B means they have fewer or smaller relevant bonuses. C means they contribute very little, except sometimes more niche or gimmicky bonuses of limited overall use. D indicates a race contributes nothing at all or nothing worth noting to the role. Note that these tiers are based around more traditional builds, to keep the guide simple. As such it will not accurately reflect certain less common builds like higher-damage Tanks and Stamina Warden Healers.
Table of Contents
Does race matter?
Almost any time a player asks which race they should be using for a particular role, they will be advised by someone that race doesn’t really matter, that it won’t affect their build unless they’re playing veteran Trials for leaderboard scores. There is some merit to this argument – all content can be cleared by a team playing suboptimal races – but over time I’ve increasingly found it a dismissive point of view that ignores several relevant factors.
Regardless of a player’s skill level, they will usually have access to content that challenges them (with the exception of experienced players levelling new characters), whether that is going for first-time clears, achievements or pushing for high scores in veteran Trials. In these cases, it sounds obvious to say that any increase to their relevant stats is welcome. If your DPS had been that little bit higher, the boss might have died before its mechanics wiped the party, or you could have succeeded that speedrun achievement rather than failing by a few seconds. If you’d had that little bit more health, that attack wouldn’t have killed you, or if your sustain was better you could have dodged or blocked it.
Such marginal cases only occur rarely, however, and while racial bonuses could be one contributory factor, there are far more significant ones at play. Are you playing your role properly, are you using good equipment, are you responding properly to the fight’s mechanics, are you and your teammates coordinated, did you make any silly mistakes at a critical moment? When you lose a fight or fail an achievement, usually there will be a more significant reason than not taking a small statistical advantage.
For most content, racial bonuses give more margin for error, for both your own and your teammates’ mistakes and shortcomings. If the DPS has higher damage numbers to begin with, skipping the odd light attack will matter less. If the Tank isn’t receiving enough healing, either from themselves or from the Healer, having higher health, resistances and sustain might help them stay alive. Racial bonuses aren’t the sort of difference that are likely to make or break a group – they are not necessary to clear content – but they can give you an easier and less stressful time.
An extensive test taken in the Wrathstone patch, which gave us the racial values we have today, found a 5% DPS difference at most between the highest and lowest races for each class. This predates the Ability Audit that was seen over the most recent patches, and the results may differ slightly if the test was repeated in the current version of the game, but it gives a decent measure of how much difference should be expected between the best and worst races as a DPS player.
Of course, numbers and stats are only one side of the story. The reason this debate exists is because people like certain races more than others. Perhaps they like the aesthetics or the lore, or they have a specific backstory in mind, or it’s a race they played in another TES game. Many players, myself included, simply enjoy the game more with a character they like than with one who is strictly optimal. In the words of Woeler, well-known for being one of the community’s best Tank players, and playing a Khajiit at a time there was no advantage to doing so: “You may play an Argonian, but you’ll never be fluffy.”
List of Races
Altmer (High Elves)
Highborn – Increases your experience gain with the Destruction Staff skill line by 15%. Increases your experience gained by 1%
Spell Recharge – When you activate a class ability, you restore 640 Magicka or Stamina, based on whichever is lowest. This effect can occur once every 6 seconds. When you are using an ability with a channel or cast time, you take 5% less damage.
Syrabane’s Boon – Increases your Max Magicka by 2000.
Elemental Talent – Increases your Spell Damage by 258.
Magicka DPS – A – Altmer have the combination of the joint-highest Max Magicka and Spell Damage, while most of their competitors have only one or the other. Their Spell Recharge can help survivability, allowing them to sustain Blocking, Dodging and Breaking Free more easily than other Magicka builds.
Stamina DPS – D – No Altmer passives benefit a Stamina build much. Spell Recharge will slightly reduce damage taken when using Flurry, Snipe or Uppercut, and every other bonus will revolve around using Magicka.
Healer – B – The same benefits as Magicka DPS are still applicable here. Altmer healing output is among the best, but they have no passives to help Magicka sustain, which puts them behind the A-tier races.
Tank – C – While they may not receive any Health or Resistance bonuses, the Altmer’s Spell Recharge will help a Tank’s Magicka sustain somewhat, helping their support abilities, self-heals and shields.
Amphibian – Increases your experience gain with the Restoration Staff skill line by 15%. Increases your swimming speed by 50%.
Life Mender – Increases your healing done by 6%.
Argonian Resistance – Increases your Max Health by 1000 and your Disease Resistance by 2310. Gain immunity to the Diseased status effect.
Resourceful – Increases your Max Magicka by 1000. When you drink a potion, you restore 4000 Health, Magicka and Stamina.
Magicka DPS – B – The Resourceful passive is very nice, but otherwise, Argonians are not really built for DPS. The sustain from this passive is geared towards helping all resources, and as such does less for a Magicka build than more specialised races.
Stamina DPS – C – Improved potion sustain from Resourceful is the only significant benefit to Stamina builds. Even that is less useful than it is for Magicka builds, as their survivability is improved by having more Stamina to Block and Dodge with, while Stamina builds likely have no use for the Magicka this passive provides.
Healer – A – Argonians combine stronger heals with a good sustain bonus, and even get more Health for good measure. Compared to Bretons, they have more powerful heals and greater survivability, but even with their better potions, their sustain will still fall behind.
Tank – A – Probably the best choice for a beginner Tank, and still a strong option for the experts. This is principally due to the Resourceful passive, which is very useful for Tank sustain, but having high Max Health and healing done (which includes self-heals) is very helpful as well.
Bosmer (Wood Elves)
Acrobat – Increases your experience gain with the Bow skill line by 15%. Decreases your fall damage taken by 10%.
Hunter’s Eye – Increases your stealth detection radius by 3 meters. Increases your movement speed by 10% and your Physical and Spell Penetration by 1500 for 6 seconds after you use Roll Dodge.
Y’ffre’s Endurance – Increases your Stamina Recovery by 258.
Resist Affliction – Increases your Max Stamina by 2000 and Poison Resistance by 2310. Gain immunity to the Poisoned status effect.
Magicka DPS – D – Very few relevant bonuses. While Bosmer can get extra Spell Penetration from Dodging, trying to maintain high uptime will cost a lot of Stamina, and waste time you could have been using skills.
Stamina DPS – A – The Bosmer’s high Stamina Recovery and Max Stamina allow them to deal higher damage with less pressure on sustain than most races. While not the very best in this category, as their sustain usually still falls behind the otherwise-comparable Redguards, they are a very strong option nonetheless.
Healer – D – Essentially no relevant bonuses to traditional healing builds, as reflected by their tier. As a side note, however, they are a very well-suited choice for the rare Stamina Warden Healer.
Tank – C – The Max Stamina is nice, but Bosmer don’t contribute much else to this role. Stamina Recovery is set to 0 while Blocking, so Bosmer Tanks won’t get full value from that bonus. The movement speed increase after Roll Dodging can help avoid AoE attacks in some situations.
Opportunist – Increases your experience gain with the Light Armor skill line by 15%. Increases your Alliance Points gained by 1%.
Gift of Magnus – Increases your Max Magicka by 2000.
Spell Attunement – Increases your Spell Resistance by 2310. This effect is doubled if you are afflicted with Burning, Chilled, or Concussed. Increases your Magicka Recovery by 100.
Magicka Mastery – Reduces the Magicka cost of your abilities by 7%.
Magicka DPS – A – The top race for Magicka sustain, due to their combination of Recovery and cost reduction passives. This makes them a powerful choice for a DPS race, due to requiring fewer Heavy Attacks and not needing to build for sustain as much as other races.
Stamina DPS – D – Bretons have solely Magicka-related bonuses and, aside from a small bonus to Spell Resistance, contribute nothing useful to a Stamina build.
Healer – A – Though Orbs and Springs can no longer be spammed, a Healer build still uses a lot of expensive skills that benefit greatly from the Bretons’ high sustain. Their Magicka Recovery and cost reduction will give even better sustain than Argonians, and though they lack the bonus to healing done, their Max Magicka is higher. This makes them the best choice for most Healer builds.
Tank – B – As Tanks rely on many Magicka skills for support and survival, the Bretons’ sustain bonuses are very useful to them. Their extra Spell Resistance is nice, but not likely to amount to much and while their Magicka sustain will be fantastic by Tank standards, they provide no help to Stamina.
Dunmer (Dark Elves)
Ashlander – Increases your experience gain with the Dual Wield skill line by 15%. Reduces your damage taken from environmental lava by 50%.
Dynamic – Increases your Max Magicka and Max Stamina by 1875.
Resist Flame – Increases your Flame Resistance by 2310. Gain immunity to the Burning status effect.
Ruination – Increases your Weapon and Spell Damage by 258.
Magicka DPS – A – The same Spell Damage as the Altmer, and only 125 less Max Magicka, making them extremely similar in terms of effectiveness. For the most part, the two can be treated as an aesthetic difference.
Stamina DPS – A – Similarly to their performance in Magicka roles, Dunmer have the same Weapon Damage as Orcs, with only a negligible difference in Max Stamina, though they do lack the survivability benefits.
Healer – B – Again functioning almost identically to the Altmer, the high Max Magicka and Spell Damage make Dunmer a good choice for Healers, though their lack of sustain passives puts the two races slightly behind Argonians and Bretons.
Tank – C – While Tanks appreciate the higher Max Magicka and Stamina, there is little else on offer here. The Spell Damage may marginally improve the debuff a Dragonknight Tank gets from their Engulfing Flames, but otherwise the damage bonuses will not contribute much.
Note – The Imperial race is only available with the purchase of the Imperial Edition DLC.
Diplomat – Increases your experience gain with the One Hand and Shield skill line by 15%. Increases your gold gained by 1%.
Tough – Increases your Max Health by 2000.
Imperial Mettle – Increases your Max Stamina by 2000.
Red Diamond – Reduces the cost of all your abilities by 3%. When you deal direct damage, you heal yourself for 333 and restore 333 Magicka and Stamina. This effect can occur once every 5 seconds.
Magicka DPS – C – Imperial bonuses are principally not built for Magicka, but the Red Diamond passive does provide some useful sustain and cheaper Ultimates. Their Health bonuses are appreciated, especially to less experienced players and groups.
Stamina DPS – B – Imperials get a significant bonus to Max Stamina, on top of getting the same advantage from the Red Diamond passive as listed above. This is smaller than the sustain bonus enjoyed by races like Redguards and Bosmer, but also contributes a little to survivability and cheaper Ultimates.
Healer – B – Higher Health, better sustain and cheaper Warhorns are all useful to a Healer. Imperials fall short in their lack of Max Magicka passives, and consequently weaker heals, but their good sustain compensates to a degree.
Tank – A – Imperial bonuses are very well suited to Tanking, with the highest Max Health, joint-highest Max Stamina, good sustain in all resources, and cheaper Ultimates. They’re the most well-rounded A-tier Tank race overall, with benefits that apply to every aspect of the role.
Cutpurse – Increases your experience gain with the Medium Armor skill line by 15%. Increases your chance to successfully pickpocket by 5%.
Robustness – Increases your Health Recovery by 100 and your Stamina and Magicka Recovery by 85.
Lunar Blessings – Increases your Maximum Health, Magicka and Stamina by 825.
Feline Ambush – Increases your Critical Damage and Critical Healing by 10%. Decreases your detection radius in Stealth by 3 meters.
Magicka DPS – A – While their Max Magicka bonus is smaller than other DPS races, the Khajiit’s higher Critical Damage is a significant bonus. Their higher Magicka Recovery gives marginally better sustain than some other A-tier races.
Stamina DPS – A – Khajiit have the same advantages to Stamina as they do to Magicka, with both being able to make similar use of their increased Critical Damage. As such, they are equally viable in either.
Healer – B – Healers will have lower Spell Critical than Magicka DPS, so while the Khajiit have increased Critical Healing, it will be a less substantial bonus than their Critical Damage is for DPS. That being said, they are still a strong consideration overall, with good healing output and a small sustain bonus.
Tank – B – This one is on the borderline between B and C-tier, with good bonuses across the board, but no particular stand-out features. Higher Max Health, Magicka and Stamina, and Magicka Recovery are all beneficial to a Tank. The boost to Critical Healing can aid survivability somewhat, though it is unreliable with a Tank’s low Critical stats.
Reveler – Increases your experience gain with the Two Handed skill line by 15%. Increases the duration of any consumed drink by 15 minutes.
Resist Frost – Increases your Max Health by 1000 and Cold Resistance by 2310. Gain immunity to the Chilled status effect.
Stalwart – Increases your Max Stamina by 1500. When you take damage, you gain 5 Ultimate. This can occur once every 10 seconds.
Rugged – Increases your Physical and Spell Resistance by 3960.
Magicka DPS – D – While they may be durable, Nords have no bonuses that help deal more damage with Magicka abilities, aside from slightly faster Ultimate generation.
Stamina DPS – C – Nords have high Max Stamina, but are otherwise lacking in the way of damage passives. Their extra Ultimate will make a small contribution, and their immunity to the Chilled status may prevent their damage from being briefly debuffed on rare occasions.
Healer – C – Although lacking in Magicka passives, a Nord Healer would appreciate the slightly faster Ultimate generation to improve Aggressive Horn uptime or to save the party in an emergency with a skill like Barrier or the Necromancer’s Reanimate. Their survivability passives can help keep a Healer working through high incoming damage.
Tank – A – Tanks benefit greatly from the Nords’ high Resistances and Max Health, and make better use of their Ultimate generation passive than any other role. Compared to other A-tier Tank races, Nords have the most difficult sustain, but are the most durable and can cast Ultimates sooner.
Craftsman – Increases your experience gain with the Heavy Armor skill line by 15%. Increases your crafting inspiration gained by 10%.
Brawny – Increases your Max Stamina by 2000.
Unflinching Rage – Increases your Max Health by 1000. When you deal damage with a Weapon ability, you heal for 600 Health. This can occur once every 4 seconds.
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%.
Magicka DPS – D – The heal from Unflinching Rage applies to all Weapon abilities, including Magicka ones, but otherwise there’s nothing relevant here.
Stamina DPS – A – Orsimer tie with Dunmer for highest Weapon Damage, but also have slightly higher Max Stamina, greater survivability, and can Sprint faster. They have no bonus to sustain, but if that can be managed, they can deal more damage than any other Stamina race.
Healer – D – In most situations, Orsimer have nothing to offer to this role besides a little extra survivability. The Sprint boost might be nice if you end up in a particularly bad PUG.
Tank – B – Greater Max Health and Stamina is always beneficial to a Tank. The additional self-healing from Unflinching Rage will be appreciated, but as a Tank will have powerful sources of self-healing already, it will in many situations prove less useful than a bonus to sustain would have been.
Wayfarer – Increases your experience gain with the One Hand and Shield skill Line by 15%. Increases the duration of any eaten food by 15 minutes.
Martial Training – Reduces the cost of your weapon abilities by 8%. Reduces the effectiveness of snares applied to you by 15%.
Conditioning – Increases your Max Stamina by 2000.
Adrenaline Rush – When you deal direct damage, you restore 950 Stamina. This effect can occur once every 5 seconds.
Magicka DPS – C – The Martial Training passive applies to Magicka and Ultimate costs, and as such will benefit the sustain and damage of Magicka builds somewhat. However, only their weapon skills will be affected by this, while their class and guild abilities are not, and they receive no other Magicka bonus.
Stamina DPS – A – Redguards have the best Stamina sustain of any race, with cheaper weapon abilities and the Adrenaline Rush passive, and gain a further damage increase from their high Max Stamina. Their Ultimate cost reduction may not help classes like Necromancers and Wardens, who will often prefer their class Ultimates, but will be useful to builds running a weapon Ultimate such as Ballista.
Healer – D – The sustain help from Martial Training will be appreciated by Healers, but they will not get reduced costs on many of their more expensive abilities like Energy Orb and many class skills. Their reduced Ultimate costs will also not apply to the commonly-used Healer Ultimates like Aggressive Warhorn and Barrier.
Tank – B – The additional Stamina sustain from Adrenaline Rush can contribute significantly in helping a Tank to repeatedly block. However, they will gain little benefit from the Martial Training passive, as most Tank builds use only a few weapon abilities and no weapon Ultimates.
ESO Race Guide Summary
To summarise, race choice can make a certain difference in performance, but at the same time that difference can easily be overstated. While as stated before, an optimal race will make all content easier and give more margin for error, it is only strictly required for the very hardest content, that most players will never touch. As such, players often must decide for themselves whether stats or aesthetics and lore are more important to them – unless, of course, their favourite race is also the optimal one for the role they want to play.
For quick reference, all races are listed below, sorted by role. For elaboration on these rankings, see the relevant section under each race.
A-tier – Altmer, Bretons, Dunmer, Khajiit
B-tier – Argonians
C-tier – Imperials, Redguards
D-tier – Bosmer, Nords, Orsimer
A-tier – Bosmer, Dunmer, Khajiit, Orsimer, Redguards
B-tier – Imperials
C-tier – Argonians, Nords
D-tier – Altmer, Bretons
A-tier – Argonians, Bretons
B-tier – Altmer, Dunmer, Imperials, Khajiit
C-tier – Nords
D-tier – Bosmer, Orsimer, Redguards
A-tier – Argonians, Imperials, Nords
B-tier – Bretons, Khajiit, Orsimer, Redguards
C-tier – Altmer, Bosmer, Dunmer
D-tier – None; Tanks use all stats so all races have benefits