MassivelyOP’s first look at Elder Scrolls Online’s Greymoor chapter and Antiquities system

Plus news on today's prologue quest launch!

    
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MassivelyOP’s first look at Elder Scrolls Online’s Greymoor chapter and Antiquities system

With the release date of The Elder Scrolls Online’s Greymoor chapter just a few months away, work on the update is progressing even with staff working from home. In fact, ZeniMax Online Studios made a preview available to the media this past week, and the hands-on, fully playable build included glimpses into some iconic Tamrielic locations from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as well as the new Antiquities system and changes to the vampire skill line.

This special edition of the Tamriel Infinium column will dive into the new landscape areas and the Antiquities system, as I’ll cover the vampire changes in-depth in another post later this week. Do note that all screenshots and videos in this post are from an early build; textures, gameplay, and stats are not final until the full launch. Let’s dig in!

First impressions

Though the chapter does not release until May 18th (June 2nd for consoles), preparations for launch are starting to ramp up. Greymoor is part two of 2020’s year-long Dark Heart of Skyrim theme and encapsulates the largest content update of the year for The Elder Scrolls Online. The goal, according to creative director Rich Lambert, is for the Western Skyrim zone to feel “familiar but different” from the version later in the franchise’s lore timeline.

That’s a comforting thought for me. I fully admit that I’m smitten by Skyrim nostalgia, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to see ESO try to re-invent a classic. And to its credit, ZeniMax seems to have succeeded in that goal.

Upon completing the new tutorial, the player is deposited just outside of the iconic Solitude. The very first thing I did in the game was to run up and down the streets looking for such familiar locations as the Bards College and the Lonely Troll tavern (the precursor to the Winking Skeever). As with Riften before it, you can see see the bones of the city that appears in TES V, but perhaps even more so. It almost feels like a city that’s more in its prime in the second era compared to its state in the fourth. Stonework buildings stand tall and proud. The streets bustle with NPCs.

ESO-Greymoor-Solitude

After a quick self-tour of the city, I ventured out into the wilds of Western Skyrim. At the risk of sounding the fanboy, I want to put on the record that the landscape within this chapter just might be the most beautiful work ever done by ZeniMax. There are a couple of reasons I believe this. Above all else, it’s not all the same. Woods and clear, running streams co-exist with mountainous, blustery regions to maintain the player’s interest while exploring. As in TES V, it’s a fairly desolate area, so many of the unfriendly mobs encountered are beasts of some kind. The snowy parts of Western Skyrim are beautiful, and there are vistas aplenty for gorgeous screenshots of mountain ranges or the Sea of Ghosts. (In fact, there’s even a purchasable player house in Solitude with a slightly limited view overlooking the glacier-filled water.)

To create contrast with the brisk gusty overland, the Greymoor chapter has taken the unprecedented step of incorporating 40% of the landscape content in an underground region: the caverns of Blackreach. Blackreach is a long-forgotten underground system of caves and caverns once populated by the vanished Dwemer race. Blackreach is accessible via a series of elevators scattered throughout the surface of Western Skyrim, as well as a secret entrance hidden somewhere within the landscape. It’s the closest thing Tamriel has to Moria from the Lord of the Rings franchise.

The pathways beneath the feet of the Nords stretch far and wide. So tall is the ceiling of the main cave in Blackreach that it contains an enormous ancient palace: Castle Greymoor. The bridges to the main entrance of the castle are guarded by waves of gargoyles and vampires, protecting the secrets that hide within. Yes, I fought through them the entire way to the front door, and no, I could not enter the castle. I assume the entrance must be tied to a main questline.

Other areas within the vast caverns sparkle with reflective gems and illuminate with glowing fungi. The sounds of crashing waterfalls echo in the darkness. The sights and sounds couldn’t be more different than the above-ground landscape of Western Skyrim, yet the beauty of one rivals the other.

The new Antiquities system

Antiquities is the first new non-combat related system being introduced into the game since player housing way back in 2017. The idea of Antiquities is to encourage exploration and lore seeking through a combination of mini-games and treasure hunting. Antiquity locations are scattered throughout all of Tamriel; they are not limited to the new zone. Rewards for finding antiquities include small housing items, epic gear, and pieces of a mount that require all parts to be found to be assembled. Antiquities includes a passive skill line that both unlocks higher levels of antiquity leads and allows for completions of more difficult scrying puzzles. Having only participated in very low levels of scrying, I did not initially understand what most of the passive skills were supposed to do, but here’s a video tour of my travails:

To begin hunting for an antiquity, players will find that a “lead” is required. Some leads appear in the Antiquities tab of the quest menu, and some leads can be found throughout the landscape. Leads must be scried with an item called the Antiquarian’s Eye, and the level of lead that can be scried is dependent on the number of skill points invested in the Antiquarian Insight passive skill.

Scrying is the first minigame in the system and is used to narrow down the area within a zone where the antiquity might be found; it consists of trying to reach specific points on the scrying board by finding paths of consecutive runes. The player has a certain number of “moves” to uncover the paths to each point. The more points are reached via the rune pathways, the fewer potential antiquity resting places appear on the map. For example, if all points on the board are reached, only one small region within the map will be highlighted as a potential antiquity resting place. If only half of the points on the board are reached, a player may have to scour two or three different points on the map to find the buried antiquity.

Once the burial region is highlighted on the map, the player must travel to that area and look around for the twinkling mound of dirt. There, the second minigame begins: excavating. The player is presented with an excavation zone and four tools that assist in locating and uncovering the antiquity. A certain number of turns once again limits how many times you can use the tools, so dig carefully! While the antiquity is the primary objective of excavation, the player may find other buried items within the excavation site – possibly even leads to other antiquities.

While it’s still rough in spots, my first impression of the Greymoor chapter is overwhelmingly positive. The landscape art in ESO just keeps getting better, as evidenced by both the above-ground and underground regions included in the release. ZeniMax has included just enough fan service to appease hard-core TES lore hounds, but not so much as to feel like a re-hash of TES V. Antiquities is what treasure hunting should have been at launch and provides a more interactive, leisurely activity than something like fishing or simply running around unlocking points of interest. Overall, I’m very excited about this release. My nostalgia for the zone combined with the newness of Blackreach and the promise of antiquities have the potential to make this chapter my favorite since Summerset.

Dive into the prologue quest today

As of 10 a.m. EDT this morning, players can play the Greymoor prologue quest in the game.

This perilous journey takes players into the depths of Blackreach to confront the schemes of Skyrim’s nefarious Icereach Coven, and it progresses the year-long Dark Heart of Skyrim storyline into the Greymoor Chapter. There are new collectible rewards up for grabs, too!
Once the Prologue is open, use the free Quest Starter, titled “Prologue Quest: The Coven Conspiracy”, from the in-game Crown Store. Players must then travel to the Fighter’s Guild in Daggerfall, Davon’s Watch, or Vulkhel Guard (depending on their Alliance) and speak with fan favorite Lyris Titanborn to accept the first of two quests, titled “The Coven Conspiracy”.

There’s also a new free-play event kicking off on Apri 1st through 13th.

Yes, this also means anyone who downloads ESO will be able to play the Greymoor Prologue quest for free! During this period, anyone on PC/Mac through the ESO Launcher, Xbox One (Xbox Live Gold required), and PlayStation 4 can download and play Base Game free and experience a world of adventure. Note: Steam’s Free Play Event will run from April 1-April 6. To participate in the Free Play Event, players can visit our Free Play page and select their platform. This event gives players access to the ESO base game, which includes four of the game’s original classes, 23 massive unique zones, and an epic main storyline.

Finally, the game is running multiple discount sales in conjunction with the prologue events and in the middle of its sixth anniversary festivities. Check out the latest Greymoor official trailer and let us know what you think about the preview!

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online! Larry Everett and Ben Griggs will be your guides here in Tamriel Infinium on Wednesdays as we explore together the world created by ZeniMax and Bethesda in one of the biggest MMOs in the genre. Larry and Ben welcome questions and topic ideas!

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Leiloni

That Tamriel Infinium banner you have at the top looks very FFXIV.😂

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elenie

I am looking forward to antiquities as I love archaeology type systems in games! I don’t think it’ll be as deep as I would wish for but it does at least look to have more depth than “read map, take shiny collectible”. Thanks for the preview.
Don’t have nostalgia for Skyrim but hey, new zone and quests!

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Orenj

I thought about giving this a shot just a few days ago. Downloaded the new supposedly improved patcher and it wanted 125 GB. Haha no. If they still can’t get even installation right, I have zero confidence in the actual game (especially given Bethesda’s track record)

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

What does the download size have to do with performance? Is it because you already have the game downloaded, I think they made us redownload the game because the last patch tweaked the engine so much we had to redownload. If it’s because of the data involved, well it’s a pretty big game with a lot of real estate, everything is also voice acted so that takes up tons of data as well.

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Orenj

The issue is the game only requires half that amount of space; their patcher is grossly inefficient (and this is supposed to be an improvement!) Call it lack of attention to detail, disregard for players’ resources, lack of technical ability, whatever–it does not bode well.

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Fenrir Wolf

The last time I played it it was tremendously buggy and—as of Somerset’s inclusion—still had the LOD bugs, lag issues, and environment holes that’d been there for ages and reported repeatedly. Plus, the community had had to rewrite half of the bloody UI because the code was horrible.

I don’t blame ESO specifically for the last one, though. GW2 is one of the rare, rare examples of an honest-to-goodness genuinely impressive UI in an MMORPG. There was so much in ESO that had to be fixed by comparison.

There were so many reasons I just gave up on that game. It’s a shame too because before One Tamriel I was very fond of it. I was fond of it right up until around Somerset when the poor balancing, bugs, issues, and refusal to listen to their playerbase just got the best of me. It was sad to see that what followed after I left was them chain-jumping the shark. Dragons in Elsweyr was an obvious cry for help.

Alomar
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Alomar

Unfortunately, without performance improvements that actually work and bug fixes to bugs that have been present for years this isn’t nearly as attractive to play.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

The performance boosts have made the game run smoother for me, maybe it depends on your hardware? I mean it’s not like I run a beast or anything my PC doesn’t even count as Mid Level, watching Linus Tech on Youtube I was under the impression I had a cheap budget entry build with Ryzen 3 and Radeon RTX570 (I guess I’d have to have Ryzen 5 to be firmly in the middle class).

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Fenrir Wolf

Before the launch of Somerset, I and some other players begged them to delay it and to focus on bug-fixing and updating the game in areas that needed it. Somerset could’ve stood being delayed but they believed that the road to profitability was rushing out content and leaving the game in an increasingly shoddy state. It was that and the horrendous balancing issues that constantly destroyed my character and reset months of grind that had me give up entirely.

Like I said, dragons in Elsweyr, redguard necromancers, all of this was an obvious case of The Elder Scrolls Online having jumped the shark due to the untested travesty of Somerset being released long before it was ready. Their response to this was populist appeal, which they continue to do. Sure, this brings in fairweather players who stop by to try but what it doesn’t do is create sustainable profit.

Which is something I think they’ve now realised in their increasing desperation. ESO is being kept alive by ZeniMax’s good graces right now and I can guarantee that. Suits need to realise the value of actually paying customers.

Those who just want content will pass from one game to the next like a parasitic swarm of locusts, they’ll devour with excessive grind, leave demands on the forum for more content, then leave without having spent a sole penny on the cash shop. This isn’t a good demographic to chase. The one you actually want is the altaholic creatives who like to roleplay, buy outfits, decorate houses, and whatnot.

Balancing to reset the progress of guilds just alienates those creates as they’re rarely guild-going sorts. They almost never are. Usually the guilds tend to be the aforementioned locust swarms. So ZOS were repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with their awful, irresponsible business choices.

Having 15 per cent of your potential player base where 14 per cent of them are incredibly profitable is better than having 60 per cent of your potential player base where less than 0.1 per cent of them are profitable. The latter is the situation that ESO now finds itself in, facing excessive server costs due to increased population coupled with almost no profits.

This is the lesson ArenaNet learned with Heart of Thorns. They believed that the aforementioned parasitic locust swarm was their most profitable demographic and designed Heart of Thorns around those players, which lead to cash shop purchases almost completely drying up.

They had to apologise and completely change their marketing tactics. Sadly, the homunculi in charge at ZOS aren’t nearly so self-aware. So they’re still chasing the impossible, magical unicorn of a massive, profitable playerbase. The truth is is that MMORPGs are past their prime, the extraverts have moved onto the new fashions—like Fortnite and whatever will follow that—so the only ones who remain in MMORPGs are those who find something they enjoy about the genre.

Often, the ones who remain will be creatives who enjoy alts, fun content, self-expression, and really good stories. That’s what you want to focus on. Not levels. Not grind. Not gear.

I mean, it’s all down to whether they want to be at all profitable or not. Time and time again the evidence has aired this out. Wildstar aimed at the grindy, guild-loving locust swarm and look how that turned out. The same was true of Warhammer Online, and every failed WoW-clone. You’d think they’d figure this out by now. Goodness knows we’ve tried to tell them.

The only one that seems to have listened is ArenaNet.

I really did love ESO before they crushed every last bit of good will I had for it. It started out good, too. It did seem so promising, but they all do… They all do. Then the execs get greedy and they chase magical unicorns like horrible little sociopaths and put illusory bags of immediate profit that don’t exist over the long-term but less immediate sustainability that does.

Conversely, this is why Valve is so good at business. They’re pro-consumer, they listen to their customers, and they play the long game and focus on sustainability over immediate profits. They’re going to be around long after all of their competitors (like Epic Games) have turned to dust.

Good businesses understand the value of sustainability. ZOS is not a good business.

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Krista Allen

I like levels, grind and gear in my MMOs. Raiding and difficult content too. You may not really know what people who play MMOs are interested after all…