As I sat down to take in the most recent content release for the Elder Scrolls Online, Greymoor, I was awash with a sense of anticipation. For gamers, including me, who were introduced to the series with Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim almost nine years ago, this feels a bit like a homecoming. Yet, the more I work my way through the content, the more I realize this is just more Elder Scrolls Online – and that’s both good and bad.concept of the system was good when I previewed the early Greymoor build, but ZOS has added even more polish since then. In the production build, once a reward is uncovered, you receive a note from the antiquities guild with additional lore details about the item. For example, upon uncovering a decorative ivory piece, I learned that early Nords would carve symbols of significance into mammoth tusks as a gift for their significant partners.
Generally, I’m a big fan of MMOs adding non-combat aspects to the game. After all, the oft-forgotten RPG in MMORPG stands for role-playing game. Too often this aspect of the genre gets overshadowed by additional combat scenarios and it should be called out when a studio makes an effort to include them. In this case, antiquities is the perfect fit for those who enjoy the exploration aspect of MMO’s or for the growing number of lore-hounds eager to learn more about the ever-expanding backstory of The Elder Scrolls series.
The system does have one drawback, though. The key to finding antiquities is uncovering leads; leads are found hidden around Tamriel and are used to scry antiquity locations. The problem is that they expire after
24 hours 30 days. First off, this doesn’t make sense (as if the antiquity that’s been buried in the same spot for centuries suddenly up and moved), but secondly, it violates one of the primary principles of ESO: play how you want to play. It forces the players down a certain path if they want to participate in the system. For example, if a player is casually questing through an area and a lead drops, that lead needs to be followed up on within 24 hours. In my case, since I only play about once every 24 hours, I’ll need to stop whatever I’m doing to chase the lead, regardless of whether I’m in the middle of defending a zone from some daedric threat. The treasure must be hunted! This goes beyond the long-standing tradition of distracting side-quests in TES games. It practically forces the distraction upon you, which just doesn’t feel right. [authors note: The expiration timeline is actually much longer (30 days) than I stated in the original publication. While I hold firm that it’s silly for them to expire, 30 days is a reasonable timeframe in which to hunt our treasures without immediately interrupting our current playtime objectives!]
When I spoke to ZeniMax at the Greymoor reveal, the devs told me that their goal for this chapter was to build Skyrim – but not the Skyrim we know from TES V. They wanted to put their own spin on the zone. In my estimation, this has been accomplished. Familiar sights and sounds surround us: babbling streams, ancient ruins, snowstorms, mammoths – they all contribute to our nostalgia of the previous title. But this chapter is squarely focused on political turmoil and the looming vampiric threat. There is no hint of the (nine-year-old spoiler alert) necromantic dragon threat to come. The music and sound in the zone contributes to the gothic feel. Other small touches exist, too. The northernmost region of the zone is so cold and blustery that the player’s character accumulates a layer of frost while traveling through it. The vast, multi-leveled Blackreach cavern system shimmers with a beauty rarely seen outside of dream sequences. It’s the best underground zone since Moria in LOTRO.
Greymoor also includes a few head-scratchers. The vampire rework, for example, feels a bit hit-and-miss. In my first preview, I overlooked many of the downsides of running with a fang-toothed toon. I liked the idea of providing active vampire abilities to complement the passives already available. But as I learned more about the changes, it became clear that being the queen of the night wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Fire damage has always been dangerous to vampires in TES, increasingly so as you advance through the stages of vampirism. But now, additional penalties have been added.
Vampirism also reduces player health regeneration, all the way to -100% at vampirism phase four. In other words, a phase four vampire is much more reliant on healing skills and damage shields as its health regeneration is cut to zero. Perhaps most perplexing, as the player reaches higher levels of vampirism, the resource cost of non-vampire skills also increases, meaning resource management for both the health and stamina/magicka for vampire characters becomes more challenging. To counter this, the resource cost of vampire abilities becomes increasingly less.
It’s clear that the game is designed to push you towards going “all in” with a vampire character. It’s as if ZeniMax has created a new class without really creating a new class. Due to the high cost of normal abilities and the decreased health regen, hybrid vampire builds have become quite difficult to justify.
There are some things about the vampire changes that I like quite a bit. The new feeding animation, while sometimes wonky, makes more sense than the old “teleporting column of blood” from the vanilla game. Sustained sprinting while in stage four turns your character into a dark mist. NPCs refuse to interact with vampires at higher stages as well (an effect that can be counteracted with the “mesmerize” vampire skill), and the tie-in to the justice system was all but a no-brainer after the Necromancer class proved it was possible last year. Still, with two skill slots continually occupied with pets for my sorcerer build, I’m somewhat limited in how deeply I can delve into the vampire skill line due to the penalties involved.
Over time, it’s gotten more and more difficult for ESO to one-up itself from chapter to chapter. And while that’s an interesting challenge for the studio moving forward, it’s not all bad. If you’re an ESO fan who loves what ESO does, you’ll probably love sinking your teeth into Greymoor.