When Skyrim came out in 2011, everyone knew it was going to be big — but even within the already massive Elder Scrolls fandom, few had any idea of just how it would blow up into a long-running mainstream gaming phenomenon that spawned memes, various platform editions (including Alexa), and something like 30 million-plus copies sold worldwide.
Nearly two years later, and I still can’t answer this from where I’m sitting. At the time, Greymoor felt like it arrived without much of the splash we expected — but then again, it was a weird year all around. Since then, however, this expansion has quietly cultivated a reputation as a solid piece of entertainment with one of the absolute best systems that the game’s added since launch.
Since I’m quite behind the curve, I’ve only recently completed my very first run through the base chapter (no Markarth — not yet). And I have thoughts to share, even if they are a couple of years late!
So as I indicated in my opening, there are many preconceptions a player can have going into this expansion. The combination of Vikings and gothic horror might be music to your ears. The Skyrim connection could be a plus or a minus. Or maybe you’re like me, more of a neutral party that doesn’t really have much of a connection to the single-player RPG at all and is willing to judge the expansion on its own merits.
I will admit that during the first third or so of my questing through Western Skyrim, I felt like it was all adequate if underwhelming. I’m almost always on board more for the side stories than the main questline in ESO because they tend to tell better tales, but aside from one kind of funny chain that had me bending over backwards to convince two stubborn Nords to meet for a conference, nothing really popped out at me. And when the vampire and werewolf elements started to pop up, I gave a world-weary sigh of one fantasy fan who is sick to death of these tropes.
Yet Greymoor gradually won me over. While the up-above world of Western Skyrim is fine — adequate — it was the caverns of Blackreach that made my jaws drop. I itched to explore this colorful realm that had just the right amount of tunnels and cliffs without being truly annoying to navigate. There’s a whole lot to see down below, and every time that the main questline sent me there, I felt my excitement rise.
And weirdly enough, it was the main story that started to grab me (well, that and a mystery involving missing miners that you encounter early on in Blackreach). I really adore how Elder Scrolls Online latches on to a few recurring characters to help tell the story of a chapter, and here it was a threesome of the vampire Fennorian, the capable Lyris Titanborn, and the reluctant princess Svana.
It’s not the most astounding story I’ve ever experienced, but it was sufficiently interesting enough through its twists and turns to keep me hooked. There are genuine character arcs — especially for Svana — and I think Fennorian may be one of the first vampires I’ve actually liked in this game. By the end, where we were literally racing ahead of an apocalyptic storm to save a city, I genuinely felt like I was reading a novel where I was also fighting to be the hero. Good stuff.
I will say that even if the story and zone aren’t enough to nudge you into a purchase, the Antiquities system definitely should be. It is simply fantastic and has quickly become a favorite past time for me.
Antiquities repurposes every single zone in the game for a secondary activity, which is the discovery and unearthing of special artifacts. This is accomplished via a three-step process. The first is to “scry” for dig sites using a hexagon minigame that will narrow down potential sites to just one if you’re very good. Then you have to travel to the general area and use a little doohickey to point you in the direction of a dig mound.
Finally, there’s a second minigame that challenges you to find and unearth the antiquity — and some extra goodies — before your time/moves runs out. Like the first minigame, this second one can be very simplistic or fiendishly hard depending on the rarity of the item you’re trying to acquire.
This is just a simplistic overview, as the system involves a lot of strategy, skill lines, and difficulty levels. But it’s quite accessible and is always there as a way to take a 10-minute break from questing to get some free gold, mounts, or housing decor. Now, I always get excited when I see purple leads drop while I’m in dungeons, because I know that I’m bound to get something good in the near future.
In any case, it’s such a good system in its design and execution that I have to heap on some praise here. It adds a side progression that doesn’t have anything to do with combat, it’s engaging in its own right, and it offers up fun rewards that make the effort feel worthwhile. It’s easily the single best reason to buy Greymoor if you haven’t yet.
All in all, Greymoor was a great romp, even if it didn’t get the giant crowds that ZeniMax probably hoped.