Bethesda’s latest Elder Scrolls Online expansion, Summerset, released early for PC just two weeks back. Having been privileged enough to spend some time with the development team back in March covering the official announcement, I was excited to jump into this latest release and see all the work that the developers have poured into their title fully fleshed out. After over a week now of running through Summerset, I have to say that I walking away impressed. So grab that coffee kick back and enjoy our Gamespace Review of Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset.
To begin I have to confess something; I didn’t spend as much time testing all of the new features in Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset as I would normally have done. Usually, when doing a review it’s important to experience as much of the game as possible, from story to mechanics you want to get a good feel for how the gameplay functions and plays. Now don’t misunderstand me, I have spent plenty of time with Summerset and have tested out many of the new mechanics and features, from the new skill line to the new crafting profession.
However, I found myself so wrapped up in the storytelling and quests that this expansion has to offer that I had to really work to pull myself away long enough to try out some of the other aspects of the title. As someone who has been playing ESO off and on since its release, I have always found the story to be a bit of background piece of the experience for me, instead focusing on progression through skyshard hunting and dungeon delving (two of my favorite things to do in ESO). I am, by nature, a progression gamer and have always treated the story as a backdrop for collecting sweet loot.
Summerset, on the other hand, did something that ESO vanilla and Morrowind couldn’t quite do, it pulled me in and had me wanted to know what happens next. The new starter area was a great spin on the prison escape setup and immediately had me wanting to know what was happening in the world. This coupled with some underlying story arcs that may or may not reflect on the current culture of North America, helped to flesh out and create a vibrant, intriguing story experience. I have to say that storytelling in Summerset is by far one of the expansion’s greatest strengths, and for someone who by nature tends to sacrifice story for the sake of gameplay time, this is a big statement.
When I had spent some time talking with the devs back in March, one of the things they were most excited about was recreating and reimagining Summerset as a space in the world. It’s the first time the team has really pushed for a high fantasy setting in ESO and the result is a gorgeous landscape that manages to feel both familiar and mysterious at the same time. Each area from the beautiful city of Shimmerene to the grand capital city of Alinor are wrapped in distinct architecture that helps set it apart from the rest of Tamriel.
The new Psijic Order and their corresponding skill tree are both interesting additions to the game and serve as one of the expansion’s major new mechanics. From a narrative standpoint, it was great to interact with members of the order with the story slowly unveiling aspects of this mysterious guild. At the risk of entering spoiler territory, I will simply say that their backstory and importance to the narrative are expertly woven into the fabric of the expansion.
The new skill tree, on the other hand, is a bit of a double-edged sword. One the one hand there are some really great spells and skills that dynamically change up the flow of combat. Time stop (a personal favorite) saved my bacon on more than one occasion, allowing me to reposition or even lock down enemies for a short amount of time. The grind to unlock this new skill line, however, gets old, fast. As it’s a major new mechanic ( especially since there was no new class introduced in this expansion) I can understand why the devs want it to be a time sink to unlock the skill tree.
Honestly, though, intention and execution don’t always line up and what should be a grand adventure across the landscape of Tamriel instead feels like the old days of High Lord’s Command from World of Warcraft for us Horde players old enough to remember those days! It’s not that the story isn’t engaging (see above) but when compared to unlocking other skill trees, it can feel a bit too grindy. It’s by no means a game breaker, and as mentioned it is fun to traverse the world, it just seems out of pace with the rest of the games progression systems.
The final area I want to touch on briefly is the new crafting skill line. Jewelry Crafting was also introduced with this expansion and as with the other crafting lines, it does a great job at introducing you to the idea. It was nice to have another few pieces that I could modify to help further customize my character but at the same time, it didn’t really feel that much different than, say, blacksmithing. It worked well and did achieve its goal of bolstering “your power with handmade rings and necklaces”, but it also wasn’t overly impressive or refreshing.
One area I hope to spend more time with is dungeon delving. I have always loved the dungeons of ESO, I find them engaging, refreshing and challenging. Summerset promises some new and intriguing dungeons to explore and conquer but for the same of time and scope, I did not spend much time dungeoning.