ESO’s Greymoor Expansion Is a Return to the True Heart of Skyrim

For Elder Scrolls Online fans, the Greymoor expansion, due in June, is a much anticipated return to the lands of Skyrim. Things may be a bit different than fans remember though, we are, after all, 1,000 years before the events of Elder Scrolls V. We recently got to a chance to learn more about what Zenimax has in store and to step foot back in Solitude for the first time in nearly a decade.

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Map showing new (left) and old (right) zones of Skyrim playable in ESO. By NaEGaOS.

What’s New in Greymoor?

Greymoor is the largest piece of content coming to ESO in 2020. With it comes a return to Skyrim, heralded by the addition of Solitude and Morthal alongside a good swath of the western side of the country. Do note, however, that this isn’t the whole Skyrim map. In fact, it’s a rather small portion of it in comparison to the standalone 2011 title though similar in size to the launch zones of Eastmarch and The Rift.

Expansions always add at least one major gameplay feature. In Morrowind it was the Warden class, in last year’s Elsweyr, the Necromancer. But Zenimax has kept with the every other year pattern, at least thus far, and is following up Summerset’s (2018) jewelry crafting and Psijic skill line with the addition of the Antiquities system in Greymoor.

Throughout your time playing, you’ll discover new antiquities to chase. You’ll first need to use the new Scrying skill line to determine where to even look for the loot. This involves what is basically a match game with limited moves. There are various abilities to unlock to speed up the process. As a whole, it looks like a system that will become second nature for high level players, yet still posses a challenge as your ramp up the skill levels. Depending on how well you scry the location of the item, the game will provide you with possible locations on the map. If you’ve done well, it’ll just be one highlighted area. Do poorly, however, and you may have up to three separate locations to check out. Zenimax made it clear that it isn’t possible to fail. Doing well just means finishing things quicker.

Once you’ve found the location, it’s time to excavate the chest. Again, there’s a minigame for this process. Our look at the entire thing was a bit rough around the edges, Greymoor isn’t due until June after all. But you basically want to figure out where the chest is buried on the grid you’re looking at. It may be covered in dirt or rock and you need to utilize the proper tool abilities to dig it out.

This process is much more straightforward than the Scrying one, so experienced players will basically be done before they get to this point. Once you’ve dug out the chest, you’ll find your loot inside. The good news is that the game tells you what the reward is before you even start. You can find furnishings, motif chapters, body markings, mementos, music boxes, new jewelry enchantments, a new mount, or even mythic weapons.

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A Return to Skyrim

While all of these systems sound great and awesome, more than anything, I wanted to experience what it feels like to return to Skyrim after nearly a decade. After a short tutorial, the game has you fast travel to Solitude and it’s from there we started our trek.

Solitude is much like you remember it. Outside the city gates you can walk down to the docks or across the rock bridge, underneath the overhang, and around the city into the cold frigid shores along the icy cliffs. You can also walk up the pathway, past the Battleground vendors and into the city itself. Stepping out is like traveling back (or forward, I guess?) in time to the familiar entryway where Roggvir was executed. The Lonely Troll Tavern, later The Winking Skever, is still first thing on your left with a lot of the vendors clustered around this shopping district.

The path upward to the Castle Dour, AKA the Imperial Fort, has been repurposed. Crafting stations and different trade vendors are scattered among the walk where the Solitude blacksmith will set up shop in a millennium. A gathering of guild traders litter the courtyard. Overall this is a much more peaceful time in Solitude’s life. The fort is still there and likely still plays an integral role in your adventure, but we weren’t able to access any of that in our preview.

Snow begins to fall as we leave town heading towards what should be Markarth. After a short walk we’re back to  the small Dragon Bridge settlement. The iconic bridge still standing 1,000 years in the past. After a good five to ten minutes it feels like Markarth should be just beyond the hills, but in reality it’s way beyond reach. Nearly double the distance we had traveled.

This new zone encompasses Solitude to just short of Karthwasten, over to Morthal, and down to the Labyrinthian which returns as a Public Dungeon. As we get further away, the looming clouded silhouette of Solitude never seems to fade from view.

Despite being big enough to get lost in, the zone isn’t huge, but it is only 60 percent of the space being added to the game. Another 40 percent is underground in the Blackreach. There are a few different entrances into zone, some are natural, others are just Dwarven lifts that send you straight into the heart of the expanse. Either way, no more struggling to get down there like we did in Skyrim.

We opted for the latter and almost immediately came upon Greymoor Keep, an ominous looming tower that extends all the way up to the cavern ceiling. It’s basked in clouds of dust with spires dotting the walls, walkways, and bridges. There we encounter a good vampire who claims other less troublesome vampires have found themselves abducted and taken beyond the walls.

Each of the four sections of Blackreach are visually distinct. Lightless Hollow is full of glowing blueish-green fauna which you’re likely familiar with if you played Skyrim. Dusktown Cavern on the other hand is littered with glowing purple crystals. There’s a ton to explore here if you’re at all a fan of caverns, caves, and ruins. But it’s slightly more natural than a lot of the Dwemer ruins you’ve seen thus far in ESO.

While you’ve technically been able to once again explore the borders of Skyrim since the launch of Elder Scrolls Online, the latest zones in Greymoor are a return to the true heart of that experience.