The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset Preview
In the next installment of The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda engulfs us with high fantasy as we are taken back to the Summerset Isles: home of the regal, elegant, proud (some might say snobby) High Elves. This is our first voyage back to the Altmeri motherland since The Elder Scrolls: Arena, and we arrive as Queen Ayrenn opens up the Summerset borders to foreigners — something we can all safely expect to get a lot of crap about from the haughty natives. While we can’t expect any new character classes or 4-player dungeons, the upcoming expansion does offer a vast new area of the Tamriel map to explore, a chance to engage more deeply in the lore that enshrouds the area, and the much-demanded jewelry crafting skill line, among many other things.
After I receive my first quest from my good feline friend Razum-dar, I make my way through ethereal forests of purple and pink trees; traversing over meadows of flowers and airy bushes because apparently, pathways mean nothing to me. I approach a city with intricate, grey stonework and countless spires reaching towards the sky, and I can’t help but think: This is the fantasy haven I have always dreamed of.
At first glance, the most appealing thing about ESO: Summerset is how gorgeous the new island is. Following the chapter model that began with the release of Morrowind, the developers have opened up a new section of the map with a massive zone for us to explore. The climate is so beautiful and diverse that it would probably be better off being its own separate game, but nonetheless it makes for an enriching expansion. Most of the mainland is lush forest brimming with colors that exude an other-worldly feel. Because the Altmer are a highbrow people who don’t fuck around with cheap ales and meads, wine is a key feature of the culture and vineyards can be found all over the island.
“The buildings tower over us with humbling beauty, offering amazing panoramic views to anyone who climbs up to the higher districts or sky bridges.”
Not only do we see green forests and countryside, but we discover tropical lagoons and coral beaches in addition to enormous cities. Some of the most impressive cities in all of Tamriel can be found on Summerset, with incredible verticality being a principal element of the architectural design. The buildings tower over us with humbling beauty, offering amazing panoramic views to anyone who climbs up to the higher districts or sky bridges. While running through noble cities that remind me strongly of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings is captivating and fun at first, I fear that the spread of the cities are too large and result in a lot of pointless and tedious running. Not only will you find a decent amount of area, but you will also find staircase after staircase because the cities are designed to be tall and multi-leveled. If you are a seasoned player and already have a mount this will not pose too much of a problem, but for brand new players who are adventuring for the first time, the amount of running will be exhausting and possibly a little disengaging.
In addition to the bewitching scenery, there is also the promise of delving into the storyline of the Psijic Order; something that up until this point has not been explained very well or explored very deeply in previous Elder Scrolls games. We will be able to meet the mysterious and reclusive mages of the Psijic Order and travel to their home island of Artaeum, which will in turn unlock a new combat-oriented Psijic skill line. The skill line is said to have five active abilities, five passive abilities and an ultimate ability. Because we are not seeing a new character class, this skill line is a much-needed feature that would have made for a disappointing expansion had it not been included in the deal.
Summerset seems to be up front in what it promises, and while I had no letdowns upon my first playthrough, I can’t speak for the thousands of people who discover for themselves within the first number of hours that ESO is just not the experience they’re interested in. Plenty of people who obsessed over previous Elder Scrolls games found themselves uninterested in the MMO style of ESO, and this new chapter is not going to change that. However, if you are already a dedicated player or have enjoyed all the geekiest parts of the Elder Scrolls games thus far, I think the pack will only enhance the experience and make you feel more immersed.
One of the bonuses for first-time players is that the expansion features a new tutorial scenario that takes the player directly to Summerset without having to go through the bullshit Wailing Prison that the rest of us had to deal with pre-Morrowind, and all players can travel to Summerset without needing any prerequisites. The new jewelry crafting line allows for more strategy with customizing individual combat styles by introducing nine attachable traits, and the expansion will also spotlight a brand new, beautiful soundtrack.
“For anyone who loves fantasy and specifically elements of Elven culture, this expansion is going to be breathtaking.”
Overall, I think there is a lot of reason to be excited for The Elder Scrolls: Summerset. No, the expansion is not going to change the entire game and make those who have previously been disinterested suddenly fall in love, but for those of us who have been loyal players or for the people who simply haven’t started yet, this offers a compelling new Elder Scrolls experience we haven’t seen in the series since 1994. For anyone who loves fantasy and specifically elements of Elven culture, this expansion is going to be breathtaking.
While there will be a new 12-player trial called “Cloudrest” and numerous public dungeons, it’s a little disappointing that there won’t be any 4-player dungeons, but if I know the Elder Scrolls — and I’d like to think that I do — there will be plenty more to explore.