Developer: Zenimax Online Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 01/06/21 (PC, Mac and Stadia) 08/06/21 (Consoles)
Platforms: PC, Mac, Stadia, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox Series X|S and PS5 – Reviewed on PS5
When The Elder Scrolls Online launched back in 2014, to say it had a rough start would be an understatement. However, in the 7 years since, ESO has become an incredible Elder Scrolls experience that has garnered huge amounts of praise from the community, cementing itself as one of the greatest MMO’s of all time. The many DLCs and Expansions that have released on a regular basis, add so much to the game and offer high quality content for players. Whether you want to roam the lush vistas of the Summerset Isles, or get nostalgic in the iconic island of Vvardenfell, there is something for everyone.
For 2021, ESO has entered its Gates of Oblivion year-long adventure. This years major expansion (chapter), Blackwood, takes those Oblivion fans on a reminiscent trip back to the city of Leyawiin and surrounding area, for an adventure full of thrills, fun and Deadric machinations.
Ambition and Destruction
The narrative driving this chapter forward is a bit of a mixed bag. You must investigate a sinister plot that involves the Longhouse Emperors that were deposed from power. The first half of the story is a bit slow as you slowly uncover the nature behind the plot and what the four ‘ambitions’ are. Along the way, you do meet some really great characters, mainly the Dark Brotherhood assassin, Elam Drals. I love him and he brings such personality and wit to the story and I hope we see more of him in the future.
When the narrative does begin to pick up and we see more of Mehrunes Dagon’s involvement, that’s where the chapter becomes really good. Unfortunately, it ends a bit too rapidly, with the game setting up exactly what the next dlc will explore, especially the story zone dlc that will release at the end of the year. I understand that is the nature of the year-long adventure, but it still ends up feeling a bit short. What I did really like was towards the end of the story, depending on how many side quests you completed, you could get the help of those you assisted in the big fight at the end. It’s a nice touch that shows your actions affect the world and missions. It’s an overall good story, but doesn’t hit its full potential and falls a bit short.
Plenty to Explore and Do
That nostalgic feeling when wandering the streets of Leyawiin is so obvious while playing. Even though there are obvious changes to the design and layout of the town, especially the better visuals, it still looks much like it did in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and the style is captured so well. The rest of the region doesn’t wow me like I thought it would for the most part. With the exception of a few locations on the map, the region feels a bit underwhelming, especially compared to the likes of Skyrim, Blackreach, Vvardenfell and Summerset. Aesthetically it just doesn’t do it for me. On the plus side, there is so much to do here and the quests are just as good as ESO and its chapters are know for.
Zenithar’s Abbey is a brilliant public dungeon, full of interesting lore and bosses that will definitely challenge you. The side quests, as always, stand out from other MMO’s for being well written and engaging. The voice acting is superb and really helps them in feeling more involved and full of personality. One particularly memorable one involves an author of romance novels, as she recruits your help in finding the truth behind local happenings that she can use for her next book. It ends up spiralling into much more and the ending is brilliant. There are also the typical world bosses and new trial to keep you busy, alongside Oblivion portals that act as a sort of cross between delves and the dark anchors. The chapter offer around 15-30 hours worth of content, depending on how much you decide to do.
Arguably the biggest addition in this chapter is that of the companions system. When I first heard this would be a feature, as a mainly solo player, I instantly became excited by the possibilities. Public dungeons and world bosses would regularly pose too much of a challenge to beat as a solo player, but with a companion, these become a much more manageable threat to conquer. With the Blackwood chapter, two are available to recruit and need to be found in the region and their quest completed. Once that’s done, they’re yours to travel with and fight by your side. They can be taken and used in most PvE content, but not in PvP.
Companions are such a brilliant and much needed addition to the game. They act in most ways just like another player character. With their own class, abilities and equipment, they are incredibly customisable and allow for a variety of builds, just like your character. Companions gain experience and level up just like you do, although they only gain a portion of experience from enemies killed, not from sources like completing quests. This means they do level up relatively slowly if you’re using a low level character. As they can equip any type of weapon, whether thats a bow, restoration staff, or two-handed weapon, they can fulfil any role you need. If you’re a DPS and you need a Tank, then you can customise the companion to suit that. As they level up, they learn more skills and even get their own ultimate (each only has one though). With their own bar of skills, you can allocate the order they use them and will be used automatically in combat, where their ultimate can be restricted to activate manually. It’s a strong system overall and makes them extremely useful for solo players.
There is also a rapport mechanic, where your companions wills like or dislike certain actions you take, affecting your rapport meter relatively. If it drops low, then they wont be able to be summoned for a time, while at higher levels of rapport, new dialogue options appear and personal quests become available.
One downside is the way companion gear is found. Since they use a separate type of gear (you can’t equip them with stuff you use), you need to find this special gear. There are vendors that sell basic, white quality gear, but you need to find stronger stuff out in the world and you cant craft it yourself. It has a very low chance to drop from regular enemies, but a higher (but still low) chance to drop from bosses, like those in public dungeons and events such as dark anchors. Furthermore, they only have a chance to drop if you have the companion summoned. The drop rate is far too low unfortunately and you will rarely find gear. Aside from this issue, the companions are an excellent feature that I really appreciate.
The Elder Scrolls Online is a brilliant MMO and Blackwood is another good expansion in a long line of great ones. While the region added and its story didn’t impress me as much as previous releases, it still offers plenty to see and do, and fans of Oblivion will instantly reminisce those times and appreciate the narrative even more. The real star of the show is the companions system itself and despite a few issues that could be improved upon, it’s a long awaited feature that solo players will find a necessity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to spend some more time exploring Tamriel with my companion, Bastian, and go questing.