Zenimax Online Studios invited us to play the latest episode of The Elder Scrolls Online in Germany this month, offering one or two delicious Sweetrolls to lure us out of the office. However, due to the current circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Bethesda decided to cancel the event for safety reasons and instead let us check out the MMO's new chapter on a preview server. We didn't get one of those tasty cakes, unfortunately, but we were allowed to spend several days dealing with witches, werewolves and vampires.
The Black Heart of Skyrim is the name of the current year-long story arc in The Elder Scrolls Online, and the main part of the game's next chapter: Greymoor. Almost 1000 years before the events in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, we set out into the mountainous, snowy landscape that so many of us fell in love with. In fact, we return to well-known places such as Solitude, Morthal, and Blackreach in order to face a mighty vampire prince who wants to bring disaster to Skyrim.
In the 30+ hours of questing that Greymoor will provide us with (according to the publisher, at least), we'll spend some more time with Lyris Titanborn, who has been with us since the first few hours of The Elder Scrolls Online. Parts of the country are being plunged into a red mist (called Harrowstorm), a mist which transforms people into soulless zombies. Ominous magic circles and vampires are apparently involved in these strange happenings, but the king of Skyrim does not see the danger coming. Thus, it's up to us to take the fate of this world in our own hands and face the dark forces with our most trustworthy ally Lyris at our side.
We don't want to reveal too much about the story at this point, but fans of The Elder Scrolls V's Dawnguard expansion, and people who are generally interested in Tamriel's supernatural side, will likely enjoy the new content. As in the previous chapters, Greymoor is supported by three expansions. March's content update introduced Harrowstorm and marked the beginning of The Black Heart of Skyrim. According to the publisher, two additional add-ons await us in August and November, to continue and close the Greymoor chapter.
Apart from the main missions, it looks like Greymoor will be packed with new content; Kyne's Aegis challenges twelve players to best a sea giant, we'll find new world events, and there's going to be an additional set of skills. There will also be a major update to the vampire and werewolf skill lines that will be anchored in the MMORPG's judicial system. Exercising these talents in the public, however, will be seen as a crime in the future and will be punished accordingly.
What we weren't able to see is the treasure hunting system that'll send us through Skyrim, digging holes in the ground. Game Director Rich Lambert tried his best to illustrate this feature during his presentation, but it is difficult to imagine without seeing it in person. There are two mini-games you have to complete in order to get your reward: first of all, there is a Match-3 puzzle and our performance during this phase will determine the size of our search radius. After this is done, we have to find the actual excavation site where the antiquities are stored. Once found, you have to carefully dig it up and therefore another mini-game comes into play. Lambert described it as a mixture of "Battleship meets Minesweeper", whatever that means...
As a reward, new emotes, mounts, music boxes, mystical items and more await you. We have yet to see the final version of this mechanic to determine whether it's really worth our time, but with the help of a new archaeology guild, over time we will be able to expand our skills in identifying the excavation site and digging up the treasure in different ways. We are still kind of puzzled but the antiquities system could be a nice way to expand the gaming experience outside of the dungeons and current late-game content for solo players.
Our highlight so far is connected to the structure of the new map: Western Skyrim. 60 per cent of the content is located above the surface. However, we'll spend the remaining 40 per cent of our time below the surface, deep in the depths of Blackreach. Skyrim players will remember this dark and cold region; Dwemer ruins, the feeling of lurking danger, sneaky Falmer, as well as huge, fluorescent jellyfish trees. Thanks to Greymoor, we are returning to this unique locale, and the dark gothic style fits wonderfully into the MMO and it offers a strong contrast to the other regions of The Elder Scrolls Online. We can absolutely see this region becoming the new favourite location of many old players.
Even if you aren't a fan of vampires or werewolves, the upcoming part of Greymoor offers of a wealth of new content for players to explore. There are fun quests that make use of the dark atmosphere and the breathtaking surroundings are a nice change of tone. It's a pity that we couldn't get our hands on the new antiquities system, so we can't say if players will have backpacks full of antique artefacts in the future or whether this mechanic will be in the background for most of the time.
During our time in Greymoor, we fought huge vampire-like creatures, freed a group of werewolves from their enslavement, and went against a circle of witches with an allied blood-sucker. In the course of the chapter, we encountered a variety of opponents, ranging from armed Falmer to stone colossi. Both the quest content and the battles never felt like recycled content either, something we often experience in other MMORPGs.
If you already own The Elder Scrolls Online, you can try out Greymoor's prologue quest for free today. In addition to this, the TESO Free Play event will take place from April 1 to April 13, so players who have no previous experience with The Elder Scrolls Online will have access to the base game and the new prologue quest at the same time.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor will be released on May 18 for PC and Mac. Console players, however, will be able to play the new chapter on Xbox One and Playstation 4 starting on June 2.
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