It’s spring. The birds are chirping, the pollen is flying, and a young person’s thoughts turn to another major chapter release for The Elder Scrolls Online. The yearly ZeniMax release has become as steady and predictable as a city made of clockwork.
Ahem, I said, “a city made of clockwork.” *Taps mic* Is this thing on?
While High Isle is traditionally a Breton area, it is also quite a vacation spot for those in Tamriel with the means to travel. The mild climate and seaside views make for a relaxing getaway for the rich and noble. For the purposes of our story, it also makes for a neutral spot where representatives of the three alliances can meet to discuss bringing an end to the long-running (well, single-year if you go by the official ESO timeline) three-banners war in Cyrodiil. Peace talks are to be brokered by The Steadfast, a group that the player is not immediately familiar with. Opposing the peace talks are the Ascended Quarter, a group in favor of abolishing all alliances completely. With this background, it’s apparent that this year’s chapter shies away from the apocalyptic nature of previous chapters in favor of a more worldly political circumstance.
The landscape of the new chapter is broken down into three distinct regions. The port city of Gonfalon, where the peace talks are supposed to occur, is our landing spot. The harbor at Gonfalon makes for a natural point of entry. The northwestern side of High Isle is more densely forested and a bit wilder than the picturesque views of the southern port city. A Germanic feel accompanies some older Breton and druidic ruins, along with actual druid settlements. The druids in High Isle split from the more familiar Wyrd faction at some point in the past, and possess an interesting relationship with the magmatic phenomena appearing throughout the map. Lastly, a wild jungle region covers the entire prison landmass of Amenos, an island where Tamriel’s worst offenders are banished. Once sentenced to Amenos, prisoners are left to fend for themselves or band together with other deviants in order to survive.
Apart from the new landscape and story, one major new system has been included in the chapter: the collectible card game Tales of Tribute. It’s described by ZeniMax as a “competitive turn-based two-person resource deck-building game.” Tales of Tribute is designed to mimic a tavern game appropriate to the lore and feel of ESO. Cards and decks can be collected by completing various quests and achievements as well as completing overland content. Players can compete in PvE Tales of Tribute campaigns or test their mettle against other ESO players in PvP. For those with interest in this game-within-a-game, head over to speak to Brahgas, the NPC voiced by none other than Billy Boyd of Lord of the Rings fame.
But the chapter isn’t all about solo content; ESO is a massively multiplayer game, after all! Players who wander the High Isle overland content will discover two public dungeons, designed for two to four players. Public dungeons present an opportunity to randomly encounter other players striving to achieve the same goals, bring a group of friends along, or make a solo attempt at clearing difficult bosses and rooms. The new dark anchor-esque dynamic events are lava vents, the very core of Tamriel oozing to the surface and bringing all manner of strange creatures with it. Lava vents are designed for groups of four to eight players. At the pinnacle of PvE group content sits a new 12-player trial, Dread Sail Reef.
Strangely, of all the things ZeniMax has touted for the High Isle chapter, I’m most interested in some of the smaller touches that don’t typically make it to the sales brochure. For example, two new companions are available to unlock via specific mission chains. This is good news for those of us who thoroughly enjoy the companion system but are ready for a change of face. Many of the smaller changes will be available to all players regardless of whether they’ve purchased the chapter – like quick slots, which have been extended into three quick slot “categories” (tools, emotes, and traditional quick slots) that can be easily accessed with a few button clicks.
I’ve spent only a little time in High Isle in this pre-launch period, but I’ve played enough ESO in my time to be able to recognize patterns and differentiators. As far back as the Greymoor launch, I noted that a bulk of the content felt much the same as previous releases, making it difficult to get overly excited about it. I’m not the only MOP staffer who’s noticed this. And for better or worse, this trend does continue with High Isle.
While I welcome a departure from the world-ending storyline and enjoy many of the new visuals like NPC knights on horseback and ships sailing off into the distance, there’s a level of sameness that permeates the chapter. For those who love ESO, that may be a good thing. Certainly, I don’t blame ZeniMax for sticking with a formula that works. Tales of Tribute is certainly a departure from the standard content, but I’ve got to believe that it’s a very specific niche of player who will log in to ESO to play a collectible deck mini-grind.
Even so, I’m about ready for my annual jaunt through Tamriel. I’ve pre-purchased the chapter and am looking forward to some Breton storylines, jousting competitions, and new companions. I’m one of the few on staff who actually thinks ESO is one of the best-looking fantasy MMOs out there, and I genuinely take pleasure in the time I spend there. At this point, it’s like comfort food. I’ll eat it. I’ll even enjoy it. But I don’t expect anything too new or exciting.
The Elder Scrolls Online High Isle chapter will be available June 6th for PC, Mac, and Stadia and June 21st on Xbox and PlayStation platforms.