Following on from last year's Morrowind, the second full-blown expansion to Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls Online, Summerset, is now available.
The Elder Scrolls Online has gone from being a questionable folly, with Bethesda dipping their toes in a saturated MMORPG genre, to coming out on top with a beautiful, immersive addition to their Elder Scrolls mythos.
The huge continent of Tamriel gains another massive area to the south-east- the Summerset Isles. This the lush kingdom of the high elves, a far cry from the volcanic, dark elf realm of Morrowind.
This is the first time since the 1994 game, The Elder Scrolls: Arena, that players have had the chance to visit The Summerset Isles. The new story promises more Daedric intrigue as players journey across the realm following Queen Ayrenn's decree to open Summerset to foreigners. As well as a new land, players can seek out and join a new faction, The Psijic Order. This ancient order of mages can teach players' characters new skills unique to the Summerset expansion.
This new chapter in The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) is a great jumping in point for new players as the Summerset package also contains the base game. The game features a retooled tutorial sequence that places characters straight into the new realm. Players can still embank to other areas of the map and play the old tutorials as very easy intro missions.
The expansion is also a great opportunity for lapsed ESO players to return to the fold. The new realm has its own newbie areas to you to re-familarise yourself with the game.
The mechanics of ESO don't really stray far from those of other, similar, online games. The game is quest based with a central main quest line that progresses the plot and numerous side quests. Anyone familiar with the likes of Skyrim and Oblivion will be very comfortable managing the huge number of available quests.
Combat is different to the single player Elder Scrolls games in that it follows the same sort of style as most other MMORPGs. Whilst you can block and strike, other keys or buttons will activate special offensive or defensive abilities.
The other big difference to the likes of Skyrim is that you are no longer alone in the world. Whereas you were the lone hero in Oblivion, is ESO you are only one of thousands of wannabe saviours Tamriel. For the most part you will only bump into the odd player here and there, especially away from the cities. In popular quest areas you may find yourself vying for a turn to help a forlorn NPC in a manner that really breaks the immersion.
Unlike many aging MMOs, ESO is still highly populated (playing on the North American PC server) with other players right across the world. This means that new or returning characters should have no problem finding a group.
The beauty of ESO, however, is that, just like the main series of games, you can also play it solo with little issue. Tackling big bosses may require a bit of help, but you are relatively free to choose your own path through the massive world.
The game doesn't require continued subscription payments. ESO's unique business model gives players two ways to play, accommodating both casual players hard-core players. ESO Plus is a subscription service that, for around NZ$20 a month, grants progression bonuses more bank space, a monthly stipend of Crowns to spend in the crown store and access to all the DLC (but not the “chapters”, Morrowindor Summerset). This is a good way to pay if you intend on playing regularly. Casual players can spend as much or as little as they wish by buying the DLC and other cosmetic items via Crowns from the in-game Crown Store.
I'm not sure is it is the familiar setting, the slick presentation, or both, but of all the MMOs that I've played over the years this is by far the best and one that, even with a busy life, I enjoy returning to again and again. The visuals that I found jaw-dropping a few years ago are starting to creak a little, but it still looks great.
If you are a fan of Oblivion, Skyrim of even Morrowind from back in the day, The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset is worth checking out. It's also a great place to start if you've yet to drip your feel in the MMORPG genre.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset is available now on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.