I had the chance to attend and participate in a preview for Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, and I have to say, I’m pumped.
I first started playing ESO back in 2014, and though my relationship with the game has come and gone many times, I always seem to find my way back to it. Bethesda has a way of sucking me in time and time again, I just can’t seem to stay away. I’ve played the game on PC and PlayStation 4, with the preview I got a chance to check out was for PC. I hadn’t even finished the tutorial, and I was already off downloading the full game on both platforms, so I could start playing again as soon the Blackwood chapter is officially released.
You’ll notice that I said chapter, not expansion. When I sat down with Bethesda they explained why they choose one term over the other. Most expansions are for veteran players. With World of Warcraft, for example, an expansion tacks on an extra few levels and a new area for players who have already gotten as high as they can. Any new players must start at level one in a starting zone and work their way up to the new content – though more recently games like that have added character boosts allowing you to access the new content right away, but leaving you skipping all the previous content as they are such a low level it feels like there is no point. ESO does something different. Though you start in a tutorial, once that’s over, you get to choose your starting zone — whatever chapter you like. The game is non-linear. Any area can be played at any level without docking you experience or having enemies completely dominate you. This idea really excites me as I get back into the game. I can go where I want, when I want and choose my own adventure so to speak.
Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood focuses around Mehrunes Dagon, everyone’s favourite Daedric Prince. My favourite part about this was the throwback to Oblivion. Veteran ESO players will know all about Dark Anchors, but Blackwood will be doing things a little differently. This chapter will feature a world event called Oblivion Portals, not to be confused with Oblivion Gates. Remember, we are 800 years before Oblivion, so this is just the beginning, a little glimpse at how the Oblivion Gates came to be. The portals will not be marked on the map, rather stumbled upon by players, and once you enter, you will find yourself at one of multiple starting points, making the experience a little different each time. The first time I saw one I was giddy. I was flooded with nostalgia and excitement – and then I walked in and immediately got destroyed because I was doing it solo. Humbling to say the least.
Some familiar faces will make appearances like Eveli Sharp-Arrow the badass Bosmer from Orsinium and Lyranth the immortal Dremora with a curious obsession with mortals. I love seeing games focus on strong female characters and give them a proper place in the gaming world, so kudos to Bethesda on that!
Along with noticeable names, Bethesda has brought another old feature back with a new twist. Back in Skyrim players were able to have followers, Lydia was always my follower of choice, and Blackwood is throwing back to that by bringing in companions. Though followers used to carry our burdens and wear whatever old used armour and weapons we had lying around, our companions will be treated with dignity and respect.
Once you come upon the quest to unlock your companion, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump before they join you on your Tamriel adventure. I opted to go for Mirri Elendis, a Dark Elf who really looks quite intimidating. She is at my side while I rob friends and foes blind and never holds my sticky fingers against me. Her quest was short, a few layers of a dungeon and I’ll spare you the spoilers, but she had some interesting dialogue giving insight into what is happening in Blackwood. Bastian is the other companion available. Though I didn’t choose his play through, he appears to be the polar opposite of Mirri — the good guy companion everyone hopes for.
Players will get the chance to summon and unsummon the companion of their choice once they’ve completed their story and unlocked them, but they must be wary of whom they choose. The companions build or loose rapport based on what you do, so maybe don’t start robbing people if you pull out your knight in shining armour, and don’t act like a hero if you’re hanging out with the sneak-thief. They receive their own specially dropped gear during battle with its own traits and bonuses and can wear costumes and ride unique mounts for ultimate customization. When you speak to your summoned companion you’re met with “Let’s talk about us” and “Companion Menu”, this is where you’ll be able to view your rapport, get to know them, view their equipment, choose their skills and see collectables available for use. Their menus and levelling work very similar to your own already, up to a max level of 20, so it doesn’t take long to catch on.
Companions are undoubtedly my favourite part of this chapter. They allow so much flexibility in the way you play your game. Soloing out in the wild? Give your companion some tank-like skills and hang back. In a dungeon and someone DC’s? Pull out a companion and keep on truckin’ through the trash until they get back. It also allows players that are a little less social to dive into multiplayer content with a few less people. Two players with two companions can complete a dungeon rather than finding more strangers to play with. For someone who plays MMOs, I’m completely anti-social, so this will definitely be the way I play, and I don’t have to worry about losing out on content because of it. I could go on and on about how to use them and what they can do, but I highly recommend you check it out yourself, as everyone’s play style is different.
New currency has been introduced in Blackwood called Seals of Endeavor. You collect them by completing daily or weekly tasks, but unlike normal MMO dailies, these are automatic. Your UI tracks and turns in simple quests like “Kill 2 daedra” or “Apply 10 poisons”, and rewards you with seals. They will not expire, and continue to stack until you’re ready to spend them on anything in the Crown Crates store. This will be this first time players can purchase items through in game activity.
For new players, the tutorial will start you off easy and send you on your way into one of any of the chapters or DLC areas. For the more hardcore players there is a new trial, Rockgrove. It’s a 12 player full trial with three bosses plus hard mode. There is new gear, titles and cosmetics to be had, as well as a new mount for completing all achievements within the trial, which is guaranteed to be a challenge.
Blackwood feels like less of a new chapter, and more of a game overhaul. The base game has also been updated, improving graphics drastically. Players that own the PS4 or Xbox One version of ESO will be automatically upgraded to the next-gen equivalent which they have managed to half the load times on. They’ve given the game voice chat updates and improved action duration reminders with the ability to toggle them on or off. Bethesda has also given players the opportunity to combine their perfected and non-perfected bonuses, allowing them to wear a combination of the two sets to get the non-perfected bonus until they can collect all 5 perfected pieces.
Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood breathed new life into the MMORPG for me. As a longtime fan of the Elder Scrolls series, and impatiently awaiting the Elder Scrolls VI, this chapter really scratched the itch. I’m excited to dive back into ESO and have even inspired some people in my life to become new players. Blackwood has something for everyone from brand new to Veteran players and it will be available on June 1, 2021, pre-order it now. I did!