On the cusp of the release of Elder Scrolls Online’s latest chapter expansion, Elsweyr, I thought it might be fun to go back and rank the previous expansions for this ever-growing MMO. This idea does pose a few problems, as technically only two “chapter updates” have been released (Morrowind and Summerset) since ZOS changed its cadence a few years ago, and much of the game’s content beyond “chapters” is actually released as a combination of paid DLC and free content patches, meaning it doesn’t actually offer “expansions” in a traditional sense.
Unranked: Imperial City, released August 2015
I usually steer clear of the PvP areas within Tamriel, so I haven’t experienced enough of Imperial City to give it a fair ranking. However, it does seem to fit my criteria of an expansion, so I’m going to include it as an “unranked” entry. I do see that ZeniMax introduced Tel Var stones in Imperial City, to which I say: Good lord, not another currency!
7. Thieves Guild, released March 2016
None of these expansions is bad. But somebody still has to come in last, and unfortunately I have to rank the Thieves Guild at number seven. The Thieves Guild DLC launched with a very small land mass (Hew’s Bane), and a quest line to restore the Thieves Guild to prominence. I enjoy exploring expansive landscapes, so the updates with smaller land masses are going to be disadvantaged right off the bat. Hew’s Bane does a nice job of capturing the feel of a desert bazaar, but it’s quite small when compared to the later chapter releases. The main quest line is fun, but it’s a bit reminiscent of the Thieves Guild line in Skyrim (restoring to prominence and all). The passive skills from this update are good for thieving, but not much else.
6. Clockwork City, released October 2017
There is some definite beauty to Clockwork City, and the sounds of gears, springs, and constructs cranking around the steampunk dystopia really add to the ambiance in a way unique to this area of Tamriel. The main story is an interesting continuation of the Morrowind line and a prerequisite to the Summerset chapter. It’s a tidy second act of the trilogy that manages to also be self-contained.
Unfortunately, Clockwork City is also one of those areas that I get fatigued of being in. I have difficulty navigating the many levels of the Brass Fortress, and get tired of trying to guess which mechanical factotums are going to attack me and which ones are going to leave me alone. Trudging through the black oil lakes invokes a gloopy sound effect that makes me want to give my character a shower afterwards. Sotha Sil, why would you abandon your most devoted followers in this mechanized wasteland? It should be noted that the transmute system, a much needed enhancement, debuted with Clockwork City. Unfortunately, it brought with it yet another currency.
5. Murkmire, released October 2018
Releasing on the heels of Summerset, Murkmire felt like kind of a letdown. I have never been a huge fan of the lizard hippy people, so my excitement was tempered from the get-go. For the most part, though, I was pleasantly surprised. The main story in the zone is a lore-heavy dose of ancient Ayleids meets present-day Argonians. It builds slowly over the course of the zone until reaching a very satisfying conclusion. Being a minor release, the land mass is on the small side, but the ancient temples and ruins contributes to an Indiana Jones adventure/archeology feel throughout. It was interesting learning about the different Argonian tribes and how their customs and traditions intersect.
On the downside, if I’m attacked by something, I want to be able to attack back, even if the attacker happens to be plant life. I don’t understand the thought process behind indestructible killer vegetation. Also, despite my being able to ride mounted through most of the Murkmire swampland unimpeded, there are certain spots where the depth of the water unexpectedly dismounts the player. It’s tough to guess where those areas are when the entire zone looks like ankle-deep water.
4. Dark Brotherhood, released May 2016
Three words: Blade of Woe. The first time I sneaked up on someone and used this skill to end his time on Nirn, I couldn’t believe my eyes. That animation was so grisly and unexpected! It brought to mind some of the execution animations from Skyrim. It’s a small touch that enhances the player experience immeasurably. The Gold Coast, while small, is one of the most beautiful landscapes on the continent. Players work their way through a mysterious main quest which, halfway through, gives you some extra motivation to want to precipitate and end the antagonist. It’s a very well-done and memorable quest line befitting of the Dark Brotherhood. While rep-gating the DB quest line is not ideal, at least this expansion provides a contract quest that can be spammed repeatedly until your Dark Brotherhood reputation level is appropriately ranked.
3. Orsinium, released November 2015
Wrothgar is the oft-overlooked (much like this expansion) land of the Orcs. Orsinium brings us a huge, snowy landscape complete with mountainous peaks and treacherous cliffs. The main story involves the re-building of Wrothgar’s capital city by uniting the many scattered Orc tribes for support. However, a twist in the middle of the story leaves the player questioning where his/her loyalties should lie. This is a very strong expansion and may be my favorite zone quest in the entire game. The channeled barbarism of the orcs reminds me of the Klingon race in Star Trek. It is a joy to learn about their honor, traditions, and everyday lives. Orsinium includes the Maelstrom Arena, which is still the go-to game mode for obtaining some of the best-in-slot gear choices.
2. Morrowind, released June 2017
The very first chapter release generated much excitement within the Elder Scrolls community. Morrowind, home of the Dunmer, promised to give us an early glimpse of iconic locations such as Vivec City and Red Mountain. Never having played Elder Scrolls III, I found nostalgia did not pull me in to this release. But I was still impressed by the beauty and sense of ever-present danger within this land.
One thing that I love about Morrowind is that no matter where you go, that huge volcano is looming over you, seemingly ready to wreak havoc as soon as your back is turned. This only enhances the sense of urgency put forth by the main quest line, which is brokered by none other than Vivec, the blue/gold demigod, himself.
The Morrowind release also introduced Battlegrounds, a refreshing take on PvP that is preferred by some players. If all that weren’t enough, Morrowind also introduced the Warden class! My only minor complaint about Vvardenfell is that it can be somewhat difficult to navigate, especially those cantons in Vivec City.
1. Summerset, released June 2018
The most recent chapter is, in my opinion, the best to date. Not only are we treated to the most visually stunning landscape in the game, but we also got jewelry crafting, the Psijic Order skill line, and a satisfying conclusion to the Morrowind/Clockwork City/Summerset trilogy of events. Zenimax pulled out all the stops for this release.
Initially, I was so-so on the idea of hanging out with Altmer all day. But the inclusion of the Psijics, the Sloads, and a mysterious court serving not one but three Deadric princes convinced me of the superiority of this expansion. While the Psijic skill line is a bit grindy, it includes skills that are actually viable for some magika builds. I do wish that the Psijic line were quicker to unlock. I understand that it intertwines with the main story, making it necessary to complete part of the main quest prior to unlocking the line, but this can be a bit tedious when trying to unlock Psijic skills for alts. Despite that small nitpick, I would recommend Summerset as the number one ESO expansion to anyone!
What is your opinion? Where to you think Elsweyr will rank within these expansions?