First Impressions: Elder Scrolls Online story, not scribing, is Gold Road’s apex

A mid-level player's perspective


If you followed my series of Choose My Adventure columns from last month, you’ll know that I ended up making Elder Scrolls Online my second home game — a feat that I didn’t really think was going to happen considering I had fun enough in my previous revisits but not enough to really try to dig in. In summary, the class is the sauce; being a necromantic mage tank is the hook that reeled me in, even if grouping with other players is kind of painful at my level.

So imagine my delight when ZeniMax’s proffered press key came to me, and I was granted the chance to check out ESO’s latest Gold Road chapter. As someone who’s somewhere in the middle tier of the game’s wider community (despite my character being level 42 at the time of this writing), I was kind of certain I’d be passed over for this sort of chance. But since I was given the opportunity to dive in, I figured I’d lean in to the conclusion I drew when I was revisiting ESO for my previous write-ups.

That is to say, I’m going to share the latest DLC content I experienced from the point of view of someone who’s still making the climb – someone who hasn’t crested to max level and raked in thousands of champion points by swirling around in the endgame for years. Is hopping into the newest and shiniest chapter really the right choice for a regular MMO gamer?

Before I dived into Gold Road whole hog, I elected to take the advice that arose from an AMA with ZeniMax Online Studios last week and got through the story quests of the Necrom chapter first. This ended up being a bit of a slog but ultimately the best decision from a narrative standpoint, since it helped lay what I consider to be some important groundwork and needed context for the events that unfolded in Gold Road’s story. In fact I’d almost go so far as to suggest it’s a soft requirement, though it also was a story filled with some of the most uninteresting characters I’ve experienced. Except for Scruut.

With those narrative beats down, I hopped right into the zone storyline and began to trace the threads of fate that were trailing off of Ithelia, the MMORPG’s newly crafted Daedric Prince of Paths. The lead-up to her first arrival had me questioning who was the real villain of this whole story arc, and my first meeting with Ithelia along with previous meetings with her champion Torvesard really had me second guessing. It was a pretty meaty carrot to chase after.

Of course, the way the entire plot wrapped up did sort of cast aside those doubts, as ESO’s stories very often have hard lines of who is good and evil, but even when things got to that point, there still ended up being a bit of nuance for some of the major players, and by the time it was all wrapped up, I came away mightily impressed by the full narrative.

I will admit that the plot did kind of string along a little bit in a couple of places over the course of the quest. Don’t be fooled by the zone guide saying there are five quests; it’s more like eight, followed by a three-part epilogue quest that closed out with an arguably way too long six-phase boss fight. While the resolution certainly stuck the landing, I also think that the story might have been padded for time in a few instances. Also, I’m pretty sure I was meant to take a party with me to that final fight, but stubbornness and some good ol’ fashioned tank privilege saw me win out.

Ithelia is a genuinely arresting and tragic figure (helped in no small part by the excellence of voice actor Alix Wilton Regan), and her whole story felt like a sort of gentle push against the idea of Daderic princes being incapable of changing their nature. Even as a lightweight Elder Scrolls lore nerd, I wound up finding the whole main story really compelling and just the right sort of challenge against the series’ usual worldbuilding without too much boat-rocking.

As for the zone of West Weald itself, it was certainly lovely to traverse, with its rolling vineyards (when they weren’t burnt to ash anyway), wild forest growths aided by some nefarious magic, and lots and lots of Ayleid ruins. In all honesty, I was tempted to pick up the vineyard house that’s set in this region except for the fact that it didn’t fit my necrokitty’s whole headcanon. But then maybe I could spin it to accommodate such luxury…

As for the other major part of Gold Road, the scribing system, I came away from it far less impressed. I wasn’t expecting the ability to craft some overpowered super spells, but things also feel like they were bonked pretty hard with a nerf bat from the jump from what I could tell reading over all of the different possible effects.

I also have to point out that the costs required for buying a base skill and putting affixes to spells is way above my in-character pay grade: To get the Shield Throw skill that I really wanted to have, I needed 50K gold to start. That’s a really high ask for someone who isn’t already very deep into the game. I will admit that not being part of a trading guild probably hamstrings me from fully engaging in the scribing system (I refuse to effectively be a gold farming bot who has to make weekly quotas for a bunch of randos), but even with that asterisk I was sort of hoping this would be a layer of the game that would be a tiny bit more inviting to those who haven’t raked in 3,000 or so champ points.

Still, I will say that the introductory quests for the system were fun and intriguing, and I was particularly engaged by the Luminary quest that was part of scribing’s introduction, which basically had me fulfilling a small but still substantial feeling quest line to unlock benefits and features for the location where scribing takes place. It was a neat little tale involving chasing a myth and helping a powerful spirit right a wrong.

That said, if you’re not already a hardcore ESO grinder, or if you are considering buying Gold Road purely for scribing as part of the basic leveling journey, do not do so. You are setting yourself up for disappointment in my view, and the story that’s told in that introduction is ultimately not worth the price of admission for that type of player.

As for the rest of Gold Road, it’s… well, it’s more ESO: The side quests provide the usual fun times, the trial appears to be interesting (I’m nowhere near trial-ready yet), and the zone itself is lovely to behold. I’m just not sure I’m up to snuff for the other multiplayer activities Gold Road offers, such as the incursion events or the public dungeons; if my time visiting the regular delves of Gold Road’s main story is any indicator, I will once again be proven to be not up to snuff and end up feeling as if I’m being dragged along on a leash.

So what about the question of whether mid-level players should hop in? If you’re just here for the story, the leveling journey, and to find a new place to explore, then I think Gold Road makes a fine addition to the lineup of activities for players still moving on up in the MMORPG, assuming the $40 price tag isn’t a major deterrent. Yet I still can’t help but shake the feeling that every addition to this game is meant for those long-standing vets, especially scribing.

I have to admit that it was nice to get to experience the most recent content alongside most others, even if I still ended up feeling like a remora on the back of sharks in terms of public play spaces. I just don’t know that I’d pay $40 for the opportunity.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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