Last week I was given access to an on-hands preview of the upcoming Greymoor Chapter of Elder Scrolls Online. For anyone who isn’t familiar with how preview events work, I wasn’t playing through a completed version of the new content or even the most current iteration (this build was almost a month old) of the upcoming content for that matter. All of the base frameworks are in place but, like a house that is still under construction, not everything is finished or working as intended. Some character and NPC animations may be unfinished, part of the UI may be a work in progress, and some textures may be a placeholder or lower quality than you will find in the finished product. But, even without all the pieces in place, there is enough there to give you an idea of what the development team is working towards and my first impression of the new zone and story content is pretty positive.
Like the dirty casual player I am, I didn’t grab a max level character and dive straight into the new 12-player trial, Kyne’s Aegis (I did stop by to take a look and it does look cool), but instead I started my journey in Western Skyrim the way any new player would – by quickly running through the new player tutorial quest as fast as possible before getting started on the story quests. Like the tutorial quest from the base game, I was led through the basics by a companion I would see again during my adventures in Skyrim. This time around it wasn’t Lyris Titanborn showing me the ropes (we will meet up with her later though), but Finnorian, a vampire of House Ravenwatch.
The tutorial did exactly what it needed to do – teach me the basic controls and highlight the basics of the character UI and leveling up. There wasn’t as much meat, er…blood since we’re dealing with vampires in the Greymoor story, to the introductory quest as there was when Lyris first introduced me to ESO, or maybe I’ve just run through the tutorial enough times that it just seemed more streamlined and condensed. In any event, it wasn’t long before I was taking my first steps in Western Skyrim.
Once I was out in the world of Western Skyrim I began taking on the main quests of the Greymoor story. While the story quickly pointed me in the direction of Solitude, in typical TESO fashion I was sidetracked by multiple NPCs needing aid. I helped out with a few tasks to get a taste for what the side quests would offer in Greymoor before making my way to Solitude. To no surprise, they were of the vanilla variety, plain and basic but tasty none the less.
Leaving the citizens of Skyrim to fend for themselves, I refocused on my main objective and hastily made my way to Solitude. As I neared my destination I was approached by a stranger whose last action was to give me a letter before expiring at my feet (no, I didn’t kill him). Shortly after I had my first interaction with Lyris Titanborn who immediately recruited me, involuntarily I might add, to aid her in her investigation.
Without giving any spoilers, let’s just say there are sinister forces at work. An assassination, an untrusting king, and a couple of leads are all I had to work with as Lyris and I set out to uncover the schemes of the Icereach Coven. Over the next several missions I would find myself traveling all across the land, and below it, as we searched for clues.
The main takeaway from my time with the story missions was the feeling I was the main character and not just a supporting actor. Lyris has a presence that extends beyond her physical size and Finn (I said he would be back) is, well, a vampire. Both of my companions are capable on their own and didn’t need the likes of me to protect them (remember, I started at level 1). I have always despised stories where someone who could solve the issue at hand with the snap of a finger hires a band of adventurers to do their bidding while they sit back and take a nap, and this adventure could have easily turned into a game of fetch with me playing the role of the dog. By having the party work on separate but connected objectives the writers allow Lyris and Finn to remain powerful while still allowing me to flex my own muscles.
Taking In The Sights
Along with taking in the first portion of the story, my casual style of gameplay in The Elder Scrolls Online is centered around exploration more than constant combat, so after playing through the first few story missions (I didn’t want to spoil it all before the final version comes out) I spent the majority of my remaining time just exploring Western Skyrim. To be completely honest, it’s been a very long time since I played TESV Skyrim, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I first entered Greymoor’s version of Skyrim.
During an interview with Rich Lambert about the Dark Heart Of Skyrim, he mentioned that the TESO version of Skyrim would be familiar but different, and that is a perfect description of what I encountered. The marshland was there and so was the snow, but the sighting of a harrowstorm in the distance reminded me this was a different land. Approaching Solitude and seeing it come into view upon its perch high above me gave me a feeling of deja vu. It was like visiting your hometown after being away for a decade or two, or in this case a thousand years in the past.
After the preview server shut down I was compelled to load up TESV and try to recreate some of the footage I had taken, and I am glad to say that it was very easy to do so. I was surprised by just how closely the Zenimax team recreated the zone. Many of the same landmarks can be found in both games, with Greymoor presenting the land with the artistic style we are used to seeing in TESO. Not only did they add in familiar landmarks, but the scale of the map was also spot on. Not everything was exactly on point but it is close enough to fool all but the most diehard Skyrim fans.
With the complete Dark Heart Of Skyrim story planned to unfold over four separate DLCs, the Western Skyrim map felt a little small. Then I remembered that Blackreach was almost the same size as the above-ground map (60/40 split), making me take another trip down below. Regardless of size, the biomes of Blackreach are just beautiful. The glowing flora and geological structures make it feel like a foreign world. It’s a stark contrast to the dwarven ruins and newer settlements scattered across Blackreach. Even with a ceiling above you, the whole area feels massive, quite the feat considering there are multiple zones. I can’t wait for the final release to really dig in and see all that Blackreach has to offer.
An explorer and collector at heart, I spent a fair amount of time checking out the new Antiquities system being added with The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor. From what I experienced while playing with the new system this is going to give anyone who has already spent hour upon hour discovering all the books and points of interest scattered across Tamriel a whole new reason to travel the land. The hunt for artifacts goes much deeper than the “see an icon on your map and travel to it” previous exploration checklists offered by adding in new skill lines to level up and a couple of mini-games to master.
Your hunt for artifacts is broken up into two activities – scrying and excavation – and each segment has its own mini-game paired to it. Yes, I had that same feeling in my gut when I heard there would be mini-games involved, but don’t grab that roll of Tums just yet. These games are more than just smashing the spacebar as a cursor moves back and forth along a slider; damn, that gets boring quickly, doesn’t it? Thankfully, both mini-games being added with Antiquities are puzzle style games and require thought instead of quick reflexes. Each puzzle comes in multiple difficulties (green to gold, go figure) and the harder the puzzle the more rare and exotic the artifact rewarded. The lower difficulty puzzles are pretty simple but cracking the legendary ones will require leveling up the skill lines and unlocking passive abilities to improve your chances of success.
After acquiring a lead on an artifact (either found or given to you) the first thing you must do is scry its location. When you begin a scrying session you are presented with a board with a hexagonal grid. Placed around the grid are a few glowing tiles with the remainder of tiles containing various symbols. Your goal is to connect your starting point at the bottom of the board to all of the glowing tiles by highlighting sets of symbols to create a path between them. The size of the board and the number of different symbols is dependant on the rarity of the prize you are hunting for. Investing in passive skills will give you a slew of tricks to light up more tiles or extend the number of turns you have to complete the puzzle.
Once you successfully complete the scrying puzzle an area on your zone map will be highlighted, indicating the general location of the artifact in question. Somewhere in that area will be a sparkling mound and clicking on it will begin the Battleship type mini-game of excavation. Equipped with a variety of tools, you must locate and unearth the relic buried under multiple layers of dirt. One of the tools helps you divine the location of the item while others will remove varying amounts of dirt. Once the primary relic is located there is also a chance to uncover other bonus items with any remaining time available.
Please note that the scrying and excavation looked very simple in the above video but that is because I cheated and maxed out my skills so I could show them all off. Even before leveling everything up the easiest difficulties were still fairly simple but trying to recover rare and legendary relics was impossible.
Even as a work in progress it was exciting to see what the Greymoor chapter had to offer. Zenimax has done a great job of creating a Skyrim that gives the respect due to the original content of TESV while staying true to their own vision. The portion of the story I played through was very engaging and I had to fight the urge to play on and spoil my playthrough when the final version is released. I fully expect both veteran The Elder Scrolls Online players and anyone who is checking it out for the first time to be delighted with what the Greymoor chapter has to offer.