The Elder Scrolls Online is a full 10 years younger than World of Warcraft. Still, the fact that it’s five years old at this point is an accomplishment unto itself — especially considering how rough the game was at launch. It wasn’t until a full two-years later that ZeniMax released the “One Tamriel” update, finally allowing players to go wherever they wanted. In the three years since, ESO has been rolling along at a pretty solid clip. Elsweyr, the latest expansion which released into “early access” this week, is the game’s 16th major content release.
Needless to say, the game has changed a ton since then. With each and every Chapter (that is the game’s annual major game expansion) ZeniMax adds a new tutorial set inside the game’s latest zone. The Morrowind Chapter, released two years ago, was widely regarded as one large step back. Thankfully, Summerset’s was a leap back in the right direction.
The Elsweyr tutorial is by far the best yet. You can still opt out of the entire thing, but those who don’t will jump straight into a lot of combat situations that were previously optional. Sure, it’s intuitive to have light and heavy attacks, but the ability to interrupt and stun opponents is something that even I had forgotten after 400+ hours put into the game. It also throws you into a small dungeon with all the basic weapon types, so you can try out all of them to see which you like. While that’s generally not how MMO players function, if you’re really just taking the game in stride, it’s a welcome addition.
Warm Sands, Cold Bodies
Of course, the marquee feature of Elsweyr is the addition of ESO’s sixth class: the Necromancer. Only the second post-release class, the Necromancer is arguably the most polished yet. Its three different skill lines are ready to support most styles of play: including DPS, tanks, and healers. Each comes with a new Ultimate ability, as well.
Frozen Colossus summons a giant behemoth which springs forth from the ground, slamming its immense fists into your enemies. Another, Bone Goliath Transformation causes you to grow in size and surround yourself with plates of heavy bone armor, making you practically immune to most damage. Then there’s Reanimate, a first of its kind ability which allows you to resurrect up to three friendly allies.
Both the tank and DPS builds seem incredibly competitive when it comes to endgame content. The support build, while feasible, still has many players in the community uncertain, however. The whole point of a healer is to keep your teammates alive. Usually this includes the crucial Ultimate abilities, but this one is only useful if an ally falls.
ZeniMax has also continued its obsession with Elder Scrolls lore. If you perform certain acts of Necromancy, like raising the dead, folks in town will panic, guards will rush you, and a bounty will be placed on your head. The developers also communicated with Bethesda Game Studios to make sure their renditions of dragons were lore accurate and kept up within established naming conventions. Even the Collector’s Edition pet follows these same rules. Purchase it, and you’ll get a small, blue dragon baby that flies alongside you! But small dragons don’t exist in this world. Which is why every single time you equip it, you’ll see an imp that just decides it wants to appear as a dragon. It’s silly, but a cute way to give players what they really want.
The story of Elsweyr is sadly pretty predictable. There’s an illegitimate queen, a dragon invasion, and an army of necromancers. Everything plays out in three distinct arcs. Deal with one; move onto the next. There are a few pleasant surprises along the way, but they’re just small blips on an otherwise empty radar. Rather than a building storm, the story of Elsweyr is just a cloudy day that doesn’t seem to end.
The returning Abnur Tharn and our favorite pot-head Cadwell both return… And honestly do most of the heavy lifting to keep things entertaining. Khamira, the Khajiit from the Elsweyr trailer also plays a large role. Although she’s a new addition, so it takes some time to actually care about her efforts.
Elsweyr is unfortunately a little unbalanced in this way. While the handful of protagonists are a strong suit, the villains in the story are lackluster at best.
While the Usurper Queen’s backstory and tyrannical reign resonate pretty well, thanks to Abnur Tharn, she’s otherwise uninteresting at best. And despite having a name that I never get tired of saying, Zumog Phoom is just your average necromancer. What’s supposed to be a world-ending dragon threat led by Mulaamnir doesn’t come to a satisfying enough conclusion, either.
For fans of Elder Scrolls Online lore, specifically, Elsweyr is a must-play expansion. You learn a ton about Cadwell’s backstory and how he came to be… well, Cadwell. Without spoiling things, it’s a welcome — not to mention unexpected — injection of ESO lore a year removed from the Summerset Isles, with Queen Ayrenn and Razum-dar.
Looking to the Skies
Meanwhile, fighting overworld dragons — the ones that spawn as world bosses in free roam — is great. Once a player spots one, dozens of adventurers rush in from all directions to chase down and defeat it. With spells slinging in every direction, and tanks holding the front lines against waves of flame, it’s incredibly satisfying. ZeniMax really does keep getting better at making these otherwise mundane tasks exciting and more dynamic.
Sadly, we can’t say for the same for the scripted dragon fights in the main quest. These are uninteresting and even frustrating at times. ZeniMax spends a lot of time trying to get you to fear the dragons. You aren’t Dragonborn, after all. But after the first dragon makes no attempt to dodge a ballista, and the latter literally can’t be damaged outside of phase completions, the encounters feel entirely too stodgy and unwieldy.
Don’t Go Elsewhere
Overall, though, it’s a rewarding time to get into Elder Scrolls Online. Now three years into its revamped content release schedule, it feels like there’s always something more to do.
Recent updates have added a new Skill Adviser, helping surface potential builds inside the game for once. There are also new level rewards. Now, with each level you reach, you’ll earn more than just a skill point to slot into an ability. You’ll also earn weapons, armor, and objects from other features of the game like crafting. The Elsweyr update even came along with a new Guild Finder. Joining one has always been a hassle. Either you stay in popular town areas, waiting for someone to advertise their own and whisper them for an invite, or you go online and search. Now you can find one with ease whether you want a trading guild, folks to raid with, or just want to roleplay in the Elder Scrolls universe.
Elsweyr is yet another crucial chapter in Elder Scrolls Online. “One Tamriel” made it so that you can experience any content at any time. And while that does mean a lot of the questing isn’t even slightly challenging anymore, it does mean that you can grab this expansion and jump right into the whole raising the dead thing. Just don’t stop to think about how a necromancer can be objectively good.