Tamriel Infinium: Elder Scrolls Online’s Necrom is more fanservice, but I don’t hate it


In my last column covering Elder Scrolls Online, I came to two conclusions based on the very rocky year of 2022 for the game: First, that ZeniMax needed to inject some serious excitement into its MMO, and second, that ESO had to stop playing it quite as safe as it has been. Dependable is nice, but afraid to get out of a rut ends up holding one back.

This is why I was eagerly awaiting the reveal of the 2023 showcase for Elder Scrolls Online. Would the studio actually be shaking things up as per the letters posted at the end of last year indicated? Would it strike upon that intoxicating mixture of innovative and exciting? Now what we got that reveal, I don’t think my feelings could be more mixed on the subject.

Let’s start with the facts of the showcase reveal itself. The centerpiece of the year will be Necrom, a chapter that’ll take us to the Telvanni Peninsula (Eastern Morrowind) and Apocrypha (one of the planes of Oblivion, this one last seen in Skyrim). We’ll be getting a new class, the Arcanist, as well as a pair of interesting companions and an unknown type of world event.

June’s chapter will be part of a longer story arc that’s apparently going to be told over multiple content releases, including the spring and fall’s DLC. One big difference here is that this chapter is putting both of its zones in the game at the same time instead of splitting them up between a summer and fall drop. Also, the popular assassin Naryu is coming back as one of the key story NPCs.

As for the Arcanist, ESO’s seventh class is a magick-heavy profession that generates and spends a resource called Crux on different combat abilities. It can shoot out destructo-beams (my terminology), fling Runeblades (ZeniMax’s phrasing), heal and shield with runeforms, and open portal gates between worlds.

Past that, ZeniMax continued to make vague promises of a shake-up of the cadence quo, as it were, with the last two updates of the year. An “endless dungeon” was mentioned without much of an explanation as the big feature addition.

So with that cadence, does it not seem as if ZeniMax isn’t really changing its yearly output so much as shuffling around the schedule? We’re still getting two zones this year, just that they’ll both be in the summer… and the feature that usually is packaged in with chapters is arriving later on. I guess I’ll really have to see how this year shakes out to make any sort of judgment call, but I’m not buying that this is any sort of daring new course for the company.

Initially, I felt evenly divided on the showcase reveal, with my opinion on it split right down the middle between like and dislike. But the more I’ve thought on it, the more my internal scales have tipped toward “like.”

But I do want to get out some gripes first. As I indicated earlier, I don’t think that any of this is that radical of an announcement as ZeniMax was making it out to be with last year’s producer’s letter. So much of this showcase felt like fanservice — Morrowind! Dunmer! That assassin girl you like! Cthulhu for some reason!

The Morrowind thing kind of bugs me – not that I mind the region in general, but that it’s going back to a well that worked for ESO that one time, so let’s do it again! And ZeniMax is banking on that sweet Morrowind nostalgia lining up the fans a second time, what with the subtitle for Necrom pushing it right in everyone’s faces. Granted, ESO players have never been to Necrom itself, but I don’t think you can say that you’re aiming higher when you’re aiming for something similar to what you did six years ago.

It’s not the biggest quibble, but it does lead into my second issue, which is that none of this truly bowled me over. It’s a tall order, I guess, to ask studios to impress and excite me with something new and bold. But it’s what I hope will happen. So far this year, every studio and game that I’m following laid out plans that are solid but not killer. ESO is no exception to this. No part of this showcase left me with my mouth open or my fingers twitching with wanting to get my hands on what’s to come.

But as I said, my opinion is swinging over in favor of what ZeniMax is doing with ESO. After all, it could be so much worse, starting with no chapter or no ambition. I see a studio still trying and laying out a pipeline of a really good amount of content, and I am looking forward to checking out the new storyline.

The big buzz is surrounding the Arcanist, the game’s first class since 2019’s Elsweyr and only the third new one since the original launch. There was some real worry that for various reasons, ZeniMax wasn’t going to be able to pull off any new classes anymore, and I am quite happy to see that isn’t the case.

The Arcanist certainly exudes flash and fun, with a wild mage aesthetic and a penchant for portal jumping. I’m sure that following the announcement, there were a whole lot of players who immediately started to rearrange their plans to make room for a new alt. And hey, an additional free character slot with expansion purchase! No complaints on that.

I’m very cautiously interested in the Arcanist from this initial glance, but I’m going to have to see a whole lot more of its gameplay and skill lines to decide if it’ll be worth playing.

I very much approve of releasing both of the year’s zones in one go so that we can experience the full story and not have to wait and pay for part two. That “two-for-one” approach deeply appeals to me, as does getting a nice variety with these zones. We get a classic Morrowind zone with an iconic city that hasn’t been seen since the pixelated version in 1994 and an Oblivion zone that’s gunning for eldritch horrors brought to you by the color green.

More companions? Totally groovy, especially the addition of an Argonian. Love them lizards. The endless dungeon? I’m intrigued, so tell me more.

I do hope that ZeniMax does all it can to promote and market this chapter because the studio needs to make more of a big splash than gentle ripples with this year’s tentpole update. In the meanwhile, I’m here for all of it. If nothing else, this definitely is a lot more interesting in concept and scope than last year’s High Isle.

Traverse the troubled land of Elder Scrolls Online in the Elder Scrolls Online! Justin Olivetti will be your guide 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.
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