Hands-on Preview: The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood

Elder Scrolls Online has been the MMO of my choice for a while now. It does (almost) everything I’ve longed for from an MMO. It ignores the obsession that post-war MMOs should focus on world content. The quest is seen as an essential part of the game, not just a way to pass levels. Efforts are made to make the world interesting and an integral part of the experience. There’s also an arbitrary character shape that puts all other major MMOs to shame. After all, it fits perfectly into the calendar of quality publications. Old Scrolls Online: Blackwood is the next big release in the game, and it looks like it will be another masterstroke.

I have to admit that I was a little hesitant about The Elder Scrolls Online at first: Blackwood. Compared to the previous chapters, it doesn’t seem to have done enough. I wasn’t nostalgic for The Elder Scrolls IV either: Oblivion, so he didn’t even have that. The new area and theme was nice, but it seemed like they could do more. Last week, I attended an event where ESO’s Creative Director Rich Lambert explained the new features of Blackwood and Update 30. After a full analysis of what was shown, I can say that I am now very excited about Blackwood and that ESO continues to take the place of my favorite MMO. At least until the New World comes looking for new blood.

I have talked about three main themes, which I have broken down here. There was a new area and new activities, the traditional meat of all new content. Then there was the new player system, the companions. Finally, there was update 30 and the next generation update. Overall, we talked about a lot of interesting things. Personally, I am VERY excited about some of the things that are going to happen by the 30th. There are some legitimate changes here that will make the player base incredibly happy.

Blackwood is definitely a fun place to be.

The new area is called (you guessed it) Blackwood. The extent is similar to that of the single-zone landmasses in the previous chapter (Greymoor is managed with two smaller zones) and will undoubtedly be considerable. It is described as a melting pot of Argonian and Imperial cultures and is located exactly between the Imperial City and the Black Swamp. It is a mixture of marshes, forests and swamps (which are distinctly different from swamps). The city of Lehavin is the center of the region, but there are many other cities scattered throughout the region. It has both argon and imperial models, so there should be some diversity. Consider that the action takes place eight hundred years before TES IV. While some of these places may seem familiar to you, they are not the places you remember.

The new activities are the ones we’ve been waiting for, but they look like a lot of fun. A new world event seems particularly interesting. They are called Oblivion Portals and are not really Oblivion Gates. They were described as a prototype of this technology, a test of sorts. Basically, they appear all over the world as a portal to a public dungeon the size of the Deadlands area. The goal is to lead the group, fight your way to the boss, defeat him for the loot and escape to Tamriel. The locations are random, and of course there are several portals to explore. I think they look a lot like Waugh: Legion Invasion points which were incredibly fun and cool.

In addition to the Oblivion portals, there is the usual collection of content. A new set of public dungeons, Sami, dungeons permanent, and a new 12-fight event. Zenimax Online has now achieved a consistent level of quality content in the dungeon and dungeon neighbor style. So I’m sure they’ll be fun, with creative meeting designs throughout the day. But the best thing about ESO is that it doesn’t matter. Unlike other MMOs (WoW…), the whole expansion does not depend on this content. So even if it’s mediocre, there are always plenty of other things to do. Variety: other MMOs need to rethink what that word means.

The first two, but more will follow, I’m sure.

System for new players – Companions. Before this event, I thought this was the weakest part of the chapter. When I think of new systems for players, I think of new skill lines, classes, or complex game-changing shuffles. Of course there was also the new league system, which is great. But it doesn’t offer any new toys to play with. And thanks to the sandbox nature of this game, theoretically applied art is a legitimate part of the gameplay. I didn’t see how companions could fill that common niche in a compilation of content for extensions. Cool, we have someone walking around with us, how does that expand gameplay?

It turns out it can be a lot. Zenimax didn’t just deliver a fighting pet; the companions are a legitimate and fully implemented system. Only two of them will launch The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood: An imperial man named Bastion and a dark elf woman named Mirri. Each of them acts as a full partner and can be used at ANY time in the game. Surface world, dungeons, and even trials. They fill the player’s position, so two players can now roam the dungeon with two companions to complete the party. I love co-op content, so the idea of two-player dungeons is a big plus for me. You are also fully customizable cosmetically and can use your own outfits and mounts. So that cool outfit that isn’t as cool as your favorite now has a home!

Personalization is not limited to cosmetics. It’s a real system and has a whole range of player-level settings. They are meant to be used as players and are built to support you. Are you a tank that just needs a little more DPS? Tell your partner. Do you need a healer? It’s the same thing. They go from 1 to 20 and acquire skills in the same way as the players. So equip them with two-handed weapons and they will learn those skills. They each have their own classes, which are composed of a combination of the skills of the players in the class. However, as they move up the rankings, they can learn new skills, further increasing their versatility.

That would have been enough for me, but Zenimax didn’t stop there. They are not just any walking sticks, they have their own personality. Think of the companions of Biovare. They have likes, dislikes and a friend indicator that shows what they think of you. They also have special ‘Companion quests’ that allow you to unlock new skills and abilities and learn more about them. Speaking of company-specific content: They have their own hardware, completely separate from the game hardware. For example, there are new affixes that change the basic characteristics of companions, allowing you to tailor your companion’s attributes to your play style. All in all, if this system worked half as well as claimed, it would be the basis for something great.

The hanging skeletons really finish it off.

Finally, there is the usual free update that comes with paid content. This is update 30 (I can’t believe we’re already at 30, I’ve been around since the beta…) and there’s a lot of great stuff in it. The big update, of course, is the next generation. It hits the higher settings of the PC version, with a significant increase in FPS, resolution and, most importantly, load time. The split between performance mode and precision mode on each console, the XSX and PS5 versions are the same. And if the XSS version has a lower resolution, it will save FPS and increase loading time. Which, if you ask me, are really important here.

There are two other important points that are more important to me as a PC gamer than anything else. First, the new learning system. Finally, after all this time, the dream of one Tamriel will be realized. Instead of a rotating manual that changes for each chapter edition, there will be a unified manual. And at the end, you can decide which story you want to start. You can choose from the original areas from the base game or from a later published chapter. Previously, you had to fight your way to the starting area of your choice and make the jump. Now you can start wherever you want. Long time, and that’s a big advantage for a new player.

Finally, something big. Update 30 introduces a new quest system called Endeavors. It is a daily/weekly search system with a large number of accounts, with different possible targets. The reward for completing these tasks is a brand new currency called Endeavor Seals. What is this currency you ask? BUY THINGS STRAIGHT FROM THE CROWN BOXES. No more coincidences. It’s not just about premium content anymore. Everything in the crown box can now be purchased directly and specifically with in-game currency. While the prices are still being determined and I doubt they will be the most player friendly, this is an important step for the game. As it stands, the crown caps are the biggest problem in the game. It’s a pretty elegant solution.

Everything in the story of Oblivion Gate begins and ends with Dagon Mehrunes.

I’m very excited about The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood and Update 30 in the game. The new content looks fun and cool, the new game system seems like a literal game breaker, and the solution to the crown capping problem is overdue. Whether everything happens as described at the end is certainly the question. However, I think Zenimax Online deserves some goodwill at this point. The game has only gotten better since the beginning. Sure, there have been setbacks, but overall they have proven that they want the best for the game. And given the lackluster state of the MMO genre, I’m willing to believe in their vision.

Old Scrolls Online: Blackwood will arrive on June 1 for PC/Stadia and on June 8 for the Internet. June for current and next generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles.


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