There was a time when I was worried about Elder Scrolls Online’s longevity. The game had a horrendously slow start, with 3,000 or fewer average daily players for the first two years of its existence. For a good while it seemed like the game was just limping along, ready to drop dead at any moment. But then Bethesda united the game world with the massive One Tamriel update, opening up the entire game to everyone no matter their level.
Since then, ESO has been on a roll. A massive return to Morrowind arrived in 2017, giving the game a firm nostalgic foundation to stand upon. Last year we got to experience the High Elves’ Summerset for the first time. And soon we’ll get to experience Elsweyr, the home of the Khajiit. But a familiar face, or maw, rather, is returning too — as dragons finally come to Elder Scrolls Online.
Elsewhere No More
Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr is the MMO’s new chapter expansion. That means players will get the base game alongside their purchase if they have not yet picked up ESO itself. As in the past, players will also get an all-new tutorial area. This is now the fourth introduction iteration in the game and Bethesda promises that it’s the studio’s best yet, focusing on combat and giving players more opportunity to get comfortable. I had a chance to play through it and can confirm that it’s much better than the one that came with Morrowind. You’ll get to try your hand at all kinds of weaponry and armor, should you choose. You’re also quickly mentored in the arts of blocking, swinging, and interrupting enemy channels. It was honestly a somewhat refreshing re-introduction to the game, considering how infrequently I’ve been playing lately.
Of course, that pleasant introduction is soon cut short, as Dragons show up to attack your temple. I’m honestly over the whole getting dropped into a random locked room opening, though. People make fun of Skyrim for its introduction, but at least I didn’t just wake up in a prison or hospital.
The long story short in Elsweyr is that the Imperials have taken over the northern of the titular province. The Khajiit have lived in this area for thousands of years and now find themselves sandwiched between the Imperials’ necromancer army and a sudden dragon invasion. So, as per usual in ESO, you’re tasked with solving two huge problems at once: pushing the Imperials back to Cyradiil and figuring out why the dragons have returned.
Along the way, you’ll encounter some friendly faces, including Abner Tharn and our best stove pot-wearing friend, Sir Cadwell. Bethesda promises lots of new characters including Khamira, the silent Khajiit who we met in the debut trailer. Oh, and Razum-dar is back for at least a brief appearance, which is honestly the best news I’ve heard all week.
While the giant new Elsweyr zone is obviously one of the expansion’s biggest selling points, it’s the all-new Necromancer class that will likely have the biggest impact on players. The school of magic has been in the series before, of course, but always wielded solely by the player’s enemies.
To truly get a feel for a class in ESO, it honestly takes some time. It should come as no surprise that I’m not yet ready to offer a solid opinion on how the class is overall. That said, it certainly delivers thematically — each of the Necromancer’s three skill trees offers a different and flavorful experience.
The Reaper tree is an elementalist skill line focused on raising the dead and sending out frost, fire, and lightning damage. The Bone Tyrant centers around using the dead to strengthen yourself. Your abilities will let you graft bones into temporary armor or heal yourself using their life essence. Finally, there’s the Living Death skill line. This is for the support players out there who like to heal allies and remove debuffs. By far the most interesting part of the class is the ultimate ability which resurrects multiple allies in an area around you.
As a whole, I had fun toying around with the class. There are lots of different souls to summon, including flaming skeletons that run into and explode on your enemies, ranged mages, and ghostly spirits. One of the ultimates summons a giant flesh colossus that smashes the ground around it. Another transforms you into a Bone Goliath, drastically increasing your health and providing you with an incredible amount of health restoration with each attack.
There’s honestly something pleasing about being a little evil in the service of good. The town guards don’t understand that, of course — they’ll attack you on sight if you resurrect the dead near them.
Zenimax says it has learned from The Warden class, which released alongside Morrowind. While it’s heralded as a good all-around option, it also requires lots of micromanaging. With the Warden, you need a specific spell rotation at the start of every fight and trying to keep a handle on your bear can be a bit much. This time around the developers wanted to focus on positional gameplay without the micromanaging.
Corpses are, unsurprisingly, a big part of the Necromancer class. Each defeated enemy — assuming they don’t vaporize — is a source of power for a practitioner of the dark arts. Various abilities will be stronger when nearby consumable corpses. Others will let you tether to a specific corpse, giving you advanced powers when near it.
Zenimax promises a high mastery curve, but says the class as a whole is easy to pick up. In my hour or so of hands-on time, that seems to be the case.
This isn’t Skyrim. You aren’t Dovakiin. Dragons are hard. That’s roughly what Bethesda had to say to me as we started the discussion around dragons. For those who are sensitive about lore and feeling, Zenimax consulted with Bethesda Softworks directly to make sure that our fire-breathing friends fit within the lore of the series.
The dragons are supposedly “dynamic,” though we didn’t get to experience this for ourselves. That means that while the flying lizards will appear in quests and trials, they also have their own dedicated overworld events. Think Dark Anchors from the base game or Abyssal Geysers from the Summerset expansion.
But these are different in that they aren’t always the same. Dragons will choose lairs randomly in Elsweyr and players will have to go and hunt them down. They also show up for everyone in the region when they’re active, so no more waiting around and hoping someone shows up because you can’t solo the event.
If you really want the best of the best, however, you’ll need to head to Elsweyr’s new Sunspire trial. This twelve player raid is most similar to the fan favorite Maw of Lorkhaj. Players will be tasked with taking down multiple dragon bosses throughout. If you’re up for a more difficult challenge, the hard mode gives each and every boss encounter new mechanics.
The Fast Track
And heck, if you aren’t sold on Elsweyr and just want to stick with what you already have, Zenimax promises some very important quality of life improvements when the expansion comes out.
One of these is what they call “alt character unlocks.” In short, a huge portion of your time in Elder Scrolls Online is spent gathering collectibles, unlocking skill points, and completing achievements. If you want to play another character, you’re just going to have to do that all again. To ameliorate this, Zenimax is adding a fast track option to the Crown Store. Don’t want to gather all of those Skyshards again? As long as you have the achievement for collecting them on your primary character, you’ll be able to purchase them for another. This will all cost crowns, of course, but it seems like a solid investment for those with limited time who want to branch out.
I didn’t get to see the system in action and don’t have details on pricing, but this seems like an excellent purchase option for those with active ESO Plus subscriptions that don’t just want to splurge on cosmetics.
Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr releases on Jun 4 and will retail for $60 for players who don’t own the base game. For those who already do, it will be $40. Looking for more ESO coverage? Soon we’ll have a guide up for the Necromancer class which details each and every ability available to it.