The Elder Scrolls Online

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: ZeniMax Online Studios
Release Date: April 4, 2014


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood'

by Adam Pavlacka on April 16, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Elder Scrolls Online is the first Elder Scrolls game to allow gamers to explore the legendary Elder Scrolls world with others.

Every year, the world map of Tamriel fills in a bit more as expansions are released for The Elder Scrolls Online. Last year's Greymoor adventure saw western Skyrim get added. Later this year, ESO is going to open up the area east of Cyrodiil and Elsweyr, when Blackwood revisits the land of Oblivion.

For new players, the biggest improvement is the updated tutorial. While generally similar to what we've seen in prior expansions, the updated tutorial feels more direct. It also finishes up in a portal room that connects to most of the major locations in Tamriel. This is convenient, as you can step through a gate and be ready to start a main questline. Walking through the Blackwood gate, I ended up right outside castle Leyawiin, with the first Blackwood quest-giver in sight.

Because of its location, you'll find a mix of races in Blackwood, with Leyawiin itself populated by Argonians, Imperials, and Khajiit. It's obvious that you're exploring a crossroads within Tamriel from the very start of your journey. Leyawiin is the major hub city within Blackwood, so it has all of the services that you'll need. Gideon is the second city in Blackwood. If it sounds familiar, this is the same Gideon that appeared in the very first Elder Scrolls game, Arena.

Being a crossroads also means that Blackwood has a mix of biomes. The questline will have you adventuring through forests, bogs, and swamps, as well as heading underground into large cavernous areas. The different biome types promise to provide variety in landscapes and enemy forces. That's not even counting the Oblivion Portals, which are portals to the Deadlands. These portals spawn randomly throughout the zone but don't appear on the map. To find an Oblivion Portal, you'll have to adventure through Blackwood. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the portals don't always start you off in the same place in the Deadlands.

Without spoiling the story, Blackwood's arc promises to involve plenty of magic of the Daedric kind, with Mehrunes Dagon serving as the ultimate big bad. Things start off simple enough as you try to determine who is murdering local councilors, but the situation quickly escalates. In addition to politics, there are cults to deal with, killer frogs, and two side-quests that each lead to a different companion joining your journey.

Companions are new to Blackwood and promise to liven up the adventure for solo players. Essentially an AI-controlled partner, a companion fights by your side and helps you take down the mobs of Tamriel. They're not going to do everything themselves (so don't try to hide while they do the work), but they can pull aggro or attack from the side while you tank a group of monsters. Once you have a companion unlocked, they can be used almost anywhere within the game, including dungeons and trials. The only places where companions can't be used are PvP and solo arenas.

The catch is that you don't get either of the two companions from the start. You have to unlock them by completing their respective questlines. For example, to unlock Bastian, one of the companions, I had to help him complete a rescue quest. After that, he became available for me to use.

Designed to act as virtual players, companions have their own inventory sets (sorry, you can't share clothes with your companions, but you can customize their outfits) and their own experience. Companions start at level one and can go up to level 20. They also have their own skill trees and abilities. You can customize how your companions act by reordering their abilities. If you put healing abilities in the first slot, that will be what they cast first. If you want them to be a tank, put tank abilities first.

An additional aspect of the companion system is how much they like you. A rapport system tracks what they think of you. This is a range, rather than a set number, but it does change based on how you play. For example, Bastian is generally law abiding, so if you pickpocket someone, it might lower his rapport with you. On the other hand, if Mirri the Dark Elf thief is your companion, she's likely to be impressed if you successfully steal from someone else.

Because companions are treated as players by the game, they also count toward player limits in specific events. In a 12-player trial, if you have six humans and six companions, the trial is at maximum population. Now, one way this comes in handy is if you have a full set of 12 humans and one drops out. Instead of being down a player, someone can spawn a companion to fill that missing slot.

Two of the major returning characters in Blackwood are Eveli Sharp-Arrow and Lyranth. You cross paths with Eveli early on. She acts as an investigator who's trying to figure out what's going on in Leyawiin and Blackwood. Lyranth is an immortal character who finds mortals intriguing. She has no desire to rule over mortals; she simply wants to understand them. Both of these characters will play major roles throughout the ESO storyline for the rest of the year.

For experienced players, Blackwood contains an all-new 12-player trial called Rockgrove. It features three unique bosses and new gear, titles, and cosmetics to unlock. If you can complete all of the trial achievements, you will earn a new mount.

The release of Blackwood will also see the release of enhanced versions of the game for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. On the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the new performance mode runs at 1440p at 60fps, while fidelity mode runs at 4K at 30fps. On the Xbox Series S, these numbers drop a bit, with performance mode running at 1080p at 60fps and fidelity mode running at 1440p at 30fps. I didn't get to see the console-enhanced version of the game, but the developers are promising a laundry list of features beyond simple resolution, including a doubled draw distance, higher-res textures, improved anti-aliasing and shadows, depth-of-field, ambient occlusion, screen space global illumination, and more. They're also promising a decrease in load times by nearly half.

A new endeavor system provides daily and weekly tasks to complete. You don't have to manually accept or track them; the UI does that for you. Why should you care? These tasks can award a number of things, including coin and XP, but the tasks will always award seals of endeavor. These seals allow you to purchase items directly from crown crates, wholly via in-game activities.

Other quality-of-life improvements include updates to the voice chat system, with a lot of work being done on consoles in this area. Combat performance has been improved. Perfected and non-perfected items can now be combined, so you don't break a non-perfected set bonus simply by swapping out a single piece for its perfected equivalent. Finally, an option to toggle the title music has been added. Every yearly expansion has brought a new title theme. If you prefer the music from a previous release, this allows you to swap back to it.

Bethesda is promising a lot for The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, but what is most appealing about this release is probably the enhancements for new players. The companions alone are likely to make solo play more viable. Look for Blackwood to appear on PC, Mac, and Stadia on June 1, 2021, with consoles following on June 8.

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