Elder Scrolls Online is a bit like skooma. At first, it was unrefined, jagged, and incomplete like the moon sugar that is the base ingredient. Nevertheless, I still gleefully rolled up a Nirnroot leaf to bang a fat line of Tenmar Forest’s finest. As time went on, the Dunmer got hold of it (funnily enough, Morrowind was the first online expansion), slapped something deadly in and the whole world got hooked on a world that had taken it’s time to slowly be refined, explored, and appreciated by its audience. Two expansions later and ESO is being shipped out across the world like skooma in hundreds of Khajiiti caravans. As the years have gone on it’s received universal praise for its regular DLC content and highly polished expansions in the way of Morrowind and Summerset. The third major expansion, Elsweyr, takes us to the home of the Khajiit, and by Talos, you’re going to want to check this out. This is our Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr review.
A caveat before you proceed any further, dear reader. If you don’t like ESO, Elsweyr won’t change your mind and pull you back in. Zenimax Online has committed to their game, and Elsweyr is more ESO all round. Additionally, I’m still working through the story so there won’t be many spoilers in that regard.
You don’t need to have played the previous expansions to get up to date with the story in Elsweyr, but as with all expansions that drop you in further forward in time away from the initial start point, there are continuous characters that veterans will recognize and new players will see for the first time. There’s a reason to start a new character this time around; the necromancer class (more on that later). Each expansion has its own tutorial area and it’s essential to play it through at least once so to set the scene for Elsweyr. The short version is that Abnur Tharn’s (from the original ESO campaign) sister has gone bananas, invaded Elsweyr possibly with the help of a rage of dragons. Is rage a collective noun for dragons? Elsweyr sets out to answer this, and many other, questions.
Oh, and all of this was prefaced by Wrathstone, a dungeon based DLC that marks the beginning of a year-long story arc called Season of the Dragon. I’m not usually one to complain about connected narrative and constant story updates in my RPGs…so I won’t.
It’s now up to you (and only you!) as the sole competent individual in Elsweyr to investigate the dragon attacks and stop Euraxia before she does something undoubtedly evil, stupid, or a combination of both. While all this is going on, Khajiiti of all kinds will bend your furry ear to embark on the most menial of activities. I am, of course, being massively unfair to Elsweyr’s quests. ESO has always prided itself on stories that create their own little worlds within the bigger picture. One of the most memorable quests stems from a historian having a mural fragment stolen, only for the player to discover that the immortal shadow of a Khajiiti god has gotten a little too bored, stolen all the mural fragments and thrown them across the land. It’s up to you to bring all the pieces back with nothing more than a book riddle to help, while the whiskery little bastard looks on and giggles.
Elsweyr itself is disappointingly small. Even though Auridon and Vvardenfell are of similar sizes, for £50 I’m expecting a decent sized map. Partly this is due to my own considerable expectations about the size versus the actual content; Northern Elsweyr jams a hell of a lot into a relatively small area. There are six new delves (open public dungeons), which you’ll blast through in no time. There’s a brand-new Trial called Sunspire, ESO’s equivalent of raids, as well as two new public dungeons which act as a bit of a free-for-all with a self-contained story. Just run in, kill some bad guys with some other equally clueless players and soon enough you’ll have achievement and some good loot to boot.
The stories that are told through the side quests are perhaps the unique selling point of not only Elsweyr, but ESO in general. Each location has a sprawling storyline that contains itself within a few characters, but each side quest will take you across huge chunks of the map roughly in line with the main quest. There are a few names that turn up from the initial campaign. Abnur Tharn is your mentor this time around, and fan favorite Cadwell seems to have broken out of Coldharbour, so you can now chase John Cleese again while doing your best Basil Fawlty impressions.
The biggest draw, of course, is that dragons have returned to the land. Well, that and an entire map filled with kitties. Not only are there the Khajiit that we recognise as the playable race in the Elder Scrolls series, the fearsome Senche-Raht’s as mounts as well some totally adorable teeny Alfiq hanging around that will dispense sage advice. They are, after all, the smart ones. It’s interesting to see that the backlash that came from Warcraft’s Mists of Pandaria introduction of the Pandarian races is pretty much non-existent in Elsweyr; maybe because the Khajiit have been fan favorites for years and not shoe-horned in at a moment’s notice. The world itself has its own beautiful architecture and somehow Zenimax Online has delivered a unique arid part of the world with its own gorgeous buildings. And giant Khajiiti hieroglyphics.
The dragon encounters act as mobile boss events on the map. They appear on their map as their own separate events and (for now) players flock en masse to their location to take them down. The fights themselves are kind of disappointing as the mechanics are blatantly telegraphed and despite a bit of phasing where a dragon will fly up to a perch for a bit, it’s a DPS-fest and then collect the loot. The encounters take the place of the dolmens from the core campaign and it’s a good little farm to get your experience and loot up but I was hoping for more from something that was billed as the big draw to the expansion. To further the point, the returning boss battles that are marked by skulls on the map have somehow come on leaps and bounds in their complexity. There’s one that’s a Sword Master throwing out healing buffs, pulls, knockdowns, self-heals and more. To have the one-off bosses display more complexity than the dragons is a bit disappointing.
For the second time, an Elder Scrolls Online expansion has come with a new class. This time, it’s the necromancer. Everyone needs to play it. In the core game, I mained Templar for good while, before ultimately abandoning it for Dragon Knight. Necromancer feels like I wanted Templar to be but…more. ESO has prided itself on a number of different ways to play each of its classes, and the adviser will help you build a number of DPS, tank and healing builds. Necromancer can do it all, especially if you run as an Argonian get some tasty healing buffs which will make you hella desirable in group content. Everything about necromancer looks and feels cool, from the bone armor to the summoning of minions, past the amazing melee scythe attack animation. Necromancer looks great, plays great and as I said previously, playing one for the first time will get you the tutorial level for Elsweyr and even if you’re a veteran of the game, you’ll have a new map to play this great new class.