Game review: The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood (PC)
The Elder Scrolls Online continues to mine the rich backstory of Bethesda’s premier franchise. This year players get the chance to return to Oblivion in the major expansion, Blackwood.
If I could only play one game it would be the massively multi-player RPG, The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). ZeniMax Online Studios continue to expand their interpretation of Tamriel, the fantasy land on which all of the Elder Scroll games have been set. Each year massive amounts of content are added to the game: new quests, characters, items, and storylines.
The year-long storylines are kicked off by premium expansions offering access to new realms with the plots continuing via paid-for DLC though-out the year. This year, Blackwood kicks off a tale that takes players through the Gates of Oblivion first encountered way back in 2006’s The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
The beauty of ESO is that there is no compulsory monthly subscription. Casual players just can jump in and play the content that they own. Extra content can be paid for if players want to, but there are hours and hours of play to be had just with the basic game. Keen players can sign up to ESO Plus and get all the game content delivered to them as part of the subscription.
New players wanting to jump into ESO can purchase The Elder Scrolls Online: The Blackwood Collection, which includes the content from the previous expansions: Morrowind, Summerset, Elsweyr, and Greymoor, as well as the new Blackwood content.
Already a game of epic proportions, Blackwood opens up a huge new area for players to visit. To the East is the city of Leyawiin, which will be familiar to fans of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and to the west the Town of Gidion. Much of the land is marshland, but there's still lots of lush greenery shrouding ancient ruins for exploration.
The Blackwood expansion forms the bulk of this year’s ESO storyline, Gates of Oblivion, which kicked off with the Flames of Ambition DLC. New Players will, after experiencing the new tutorial mission that is part of the Blackwood expansion, find themselves transported to Leyawin with the quest giver right in front of them. Existing players can teleport in via one of the already unlocked Leyawin Weyshrines. From there it won’t be long before your character is approached by the new content’s quest giver.
Something’s afoot in Blackwood. It seems that The Dark Brotherhood is killing councillors. Or are they? No matter what, these are peculiar events and the player’s character is in the thick of it. As well as the main quest line many new side quests fill out more details of what’s going on in the area.
The titular gates of Oblivion are open and there are portals that allow players to be transported to the Daedric realm. Players are challenged to fight their way through the monsters of Oblivion and shut down the Daedric assault on Tamriel.
The Gates of Oblivion quests have you running a lot of errands. As with most MMORPGs, ESO is a mix of exploration, fetch quests, and combat. The Blackwood expansion being only recently released, the areas are very busy, packed with other players checking out the new content.
The large population of other players is a bonus for newcomers who should have no trouble finding fellow adventurers to help them on their quest. The downside is, if you are like me and only occasionally playing in a group, stepping into a packed public dungeon to take down the big bad becomes a joke as the boss is under attack by a dozen other players and usually dead by the time you get there. You can still pick up whatever they dropped from their corpse and continue to the next part of the quest, but it takes the fun out of it a bit. Hopefully, things will settle down over the next few weeks.
The expansion also adds a companion system to the game. This is a great addition for solo players. The developers make players work for their companions with plotlines off of the main quests that need to be discovered. Once the quests are complete, your companions can be spawned in a similar way to pets. Companions can be equipped with gear and level up. The companions seem to do a pretty good job of distracting enemies, but I still found the need to strike the fatal blow.
The deluxe version of the expansion adds new pets, costumes, and mounts for players. Sadly, there’s no physical collector’s edition, so my ESO statue collection will not be getting a new member this year.
As always, The Elder Scroll Online looks fantastic, the environments in particular. The characters are a little less we defined, but overall, it is a great-looking game. I spoke to ESO’s director, Matt Firor a few years ago and he told me that they are continuously making improvements to the game visuals. This is likely why the game always looks like a polished effort straight of the shelf, rather than the seven-year-old game that it is.
Blackwood continues to raise the bar for The Elder Scrolls Online with a great new story and quests, as well as a fantastic location to explore. Returning players will enjoy the new realm, with new players having a massive amount of existing content to play though as well as the new Gates of Oblivion storyline.