The latest big, new chapter expansion for Elder Scrolls Online, titled Greymoor, takes players to a large chunk of Skyrim that’s been left unexplored in the sprawling Tamriel MMO thus far. Rather than introducing all of the missing snowy mountains to the north, Greymoor focuses on Western Skyrim, including Morthal and Solitude, and expands the Blackreach, a massive underground cavern system fans of The Elder Scrolls
V might recall visiting.
Similar to The Year of the Dragon in 2019, Elder Scrolls Online is currently in the middle of The Dark Heart of Skyrim storyline, which began with the Harrowstorm dungeon DLC earlier this year, but Greymoor is the first big narrative-focused launching pad of the year.
In lieu of a hands-on demo session at GDC this year, since the conference was canceled, I got to check out a pre-release version of the new Greymoor chapter on a remote preview server last week to see the new sights and try out the new skills and systems.
In terms of the size of the overland and underground zones, plus new delves, public dungeons, cities, and more, there is a lot of content in Greymoor. Although I appreciated the dragons in the Elsweyr expansion and enjoy playing the latest Necromancer class, the locales themselves, environmental design, and general setting weren’t appealing to me. Coming off of Summerset, which is one of the most beautiful and vibrant zones in any MMO I’ve ever played, Elsweyr was a dry and grim punch in the gut. That may have been part of the point, but it didn’t make it any more enjoyable to explore since everything just kind of looked the same.
Greymoor doesn’t seem to have that problem. A lot of the overworld is covered in snow, yes, but much of it isn’t actually and nearly half of the new content is actually underground in the Blackreach. Even though the Blackreach existed already in Skyrim all the way back in 2011, keep in mind that Elder Scrolls Online takes place roughly 1,000 years prior and is in a whole different era. Many more areas are accessible in Blackreach now that aren’t then and that brings up some exciting narrative potential.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Screenshot Gallery
During my time with Greymoor I tried to take a shotgun approach to see and do as much as I could rather than drilling down into any one facet with too much intensity. For example, the new storyline is centered around the Icereach Coven of witches (which you might recall from the Harrowstorm DLC, specifically the Icereach dungeon) and the summoning of violent Harrowstorms that open up portals to the sky and cause people to disappear. These are the new open-world events much like the original Dark Anchors, Summerset’s Abyssal Geysers, and Elsweyr’s dragon attacks. Other than completing the new tutorial quest (which is probably my favorite intro quest in the entire game now, to be honest) I didn’t pursue the narrative beyond that. I wanted to save that content for when voice acting is included and not spoil things. I am extremely excited about the return of Lyris Titanborn though, one of my favorite characters from the original main questline.
Given that this is a pre-release build on a preview server that’s likely a few months, or more, old, it’s in a bit of a rough state in all honesty. Throughout most of my preview session music was just flat out non-existent, which was extremely bizarre for an Elder Scrolls game and almost none of the voice acting was in the game yet. Instead, NPCs spoke via computerized voices similar to what you hear out of Amazon Alexa, but even less human-sounding. To say it was jarring would be an understatement and made it very difficult to focus on story elements or take any characters seriously. I know this will all be fixed for release, but it definitely soured quite a lot of my ability to enjoy the preview session.
In terms of new gameplay content, there are three major pillars: a totally overhauled and revamped vampire skill line, the new antiquities system, and brand new PvE content like the 12-player end-game trial called Kyne’s Aegis, which is located on an island north of Solitude.
First is the newly overhauled vampire skill line. Instead of being a secondary thought for players with mostly passive abilities and bonuses, vampires are now more fully fleshed (pun intended) out and viable as core parts of your character build. The skill line includes several new passives, a new ultimate, and five active abilities that can offer versatility to pretty much any class. For example, one ability turns your character invisible, reduces damage taken by a hefty margin, pulses an AoE over time, and heals you for a fraction of that AoE damage. It just drains your Magicka a bit while active. You can still move while using this power so it will likely become a staple for lots of characters.
Another ability drains your health slowly overtime when it’s toggled, but for every second you leave it active your damage compounds by 10% all the way up until you’re dealing basically double damage. If you combo that with a good, ongoing heal then it could be extremely powerful. Then there’s the ultimate, which transforms you into a hulking vampire lord, heals you up, and buffs your damage output by a large margin.
All vampire abilities are considered criminal acts now as well, in addition to werewolves, putting them in the same category as necromancers in that regard.
Unfortunately the new antiquities system is far less appealing from what I saw. It introduces new mini-games for “scrying” or searching for antiquities in the world and “digging” them up once located. The idea was to create a means of exploration that doesn’t require fighting and raiding and high-skill play, but the end result is something that feels pointless. Until we get a better idea of what kind of rewards it will offer, I can’t imagine investing any real time into the antiquities at all. Both mini games were tedious and confusing as well.
Based on the run around Western Skyrim I took, as well as my whirlwind tour of Blackreach, Solitude, Morthal, and a few caves and delves, I can tell that a lot of effort has gone into making Greymoor feel like not only a good value investment in terms of amount of content, but also in making sure it doesn’t feel like complete deja vu. Many of the landmarks are the same or similar, but there is quite literally tons of new stuff lurking beneath the surface that even the most die hard of Elder Scrolls fans have never seen or heard of before, and that’s extremely exciting.
I’m looking forward to exploring The Dark Heart of Skyrim more when Greymoor hits PC/Mac on May 18th, 2020 and then PS4/Xbox One on June 2nd, 2020.
David Jagneaux is a freelance writer for IGN. Talk RPGs with him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.
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