Last week, after the Xbox and Bethesda showcase, Zenimax Online Studios laid out the beginnings of what players can expect in 2023 from The Elder Scrolls Online. A new storyline taking players back to Morrowind, this time to the Telvanni Peninsula, kicks off in March, with things really ramping up in June with the annual expansion release.
Judging by the reveal, Shadow over Morrowind and Necrom both feel like a vast departure from last year’s Legacy of the Bretons storyline. While the 2022 adventure aimed to tell a more focused, localized story full of political intrigue while expanding on the high-fantasy lore of the Bretons, this year Creative Director Rich Lambert describes it as Elder Scrolls meets cosmic horror.
“We’ve talked about this before, but that’s kind of one of the things we always try to do is change up the vibe and feel and look every year,” Lambert told me in an interview last week. “Last year was kind of more traditional fantasy. It was brighter and airier. And this year, we were like, ‘Okay, let’s pull out all the stops. Let’s go a little crazy, a little alien, and dig into some more stuff we’ve never really done in ESO. There are little bits and pieces, but we’ve never really focused on a Hermaeus Mora story. So now’s the time.”
This year’s storyline takes players back not only to the Telvanni Peninsula, a region in Morrowind not seen since 1994’s The Elder Scrolls Arena, but also back to the realm of Hermaeus Mora himself: Apocrypha. This Eldritch horror-themed realm is being reimagined by the ESO team, which is something ZOS has done throughout the years when bringing back iconic locations to the MMO.
From Blackwood’s Oblivion realms to the original 2017 recreation of Vvardenfell in Morrowind, this is something the team has become outrageously adept at doing. Everything is paying homage to that original incarnation, though Lambert explains that the team certainly tries to put their own unique spin on the location to make it feel at home in The Elder Scrolls Online.
“We certainly pay homage to the Apochrypha you saw in [The Elder Scrolls V: Syrim’s] Dragonborn DLC,” Lambert explains. “But you know, like we always do, we try to put our own spin on it. And one of the beauties of any Oblivion realm, any Daedric realm, is they can morph and shift and change based on the whims of that Prince. The other aspect of that too is they can be infinite in size and shape. And so, we love paying homage to what you’ve seen in the past, but then really going out and exploring and detailing out completely different things.
“And we didn’t even show all of the differences and things that we changed, new stuff we came up with. We’re saving that for a little bit later on and spoilers: it’s pretty wild and pretty different.”
The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom isn’t simply adding the Telvanni Peninsula and Apocrypha, but also the titular city of Necrom itself. The city holds a special place in the hearts and minds of every Dunmer, as it’s effectively the burial ground of their people. Rivalries are put to rest in the city, unsettled scores are left alone while in the city of Necrom as it’s a sacred place for the Dark Elves. It’s an ancient city, but one that the casual Elder Scrolls fan might not have heard about before now, but it will play a central role in the upcoming expansion in June. It’s a reminder that the world of Elder Scrolls is so much more than what many fans experienced having only played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
“This is an ancient city,” Rich tells me talking aby Necrom. “If you start digging around into the lore and whatnot, some people say it even predates the Tribunal. So it’s been around forever. It is this reverent city of the dead, where a lot of nobles and important family members are buried and worshipped. If you dig around in the lore enough, you’ll find all kinds of different stories about the city that was rumored to be built upon one of Vivec's great conquests.
“And so we tried to leverage as much of that stuff into the world-building of the city. And so when you wander around the city, you’re going to see towering spires of rock that if you look at them the right way they could perceptively be ribs of a downed create or whatnot. So there is just so much really cool lore and it’s been around for so long, we wanted to dig into that.”
However, probably the most exciting bit of news for many, myself included, was the introduction of a new class - the first since 2019’s Necromancer was released with The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr. The Arcanist is a caster that draws its power from Apocrypha itself, tying the class beautifully into the story and setting of the new adventure. While the class will feature the standard meta of a Tank, Healer, and Damage line of skills, what shakes things up a bit is the new combo system called Crux.
This new system allows players to build up points into Crux by utilizing different skills. Once three Crus points are built, it augments skills by making them stronger, completing the combo. However, while there will be familiar points to the class thanks to just how ESO’s class building is, it should feel mechanically different to play versus the others according to Rich.
“Crux is essentially our name for a combo point system, where the class has some number of abilities that build crux, [and] some number of abilities that spend crux. You can morph abilities to be builders or spenders as well. So there’s this toolkit that you can play with. But it feels different than all your other classes because you’re managing this Crux. And when you spent it, your abilities can do different things.
“Some are just flat you get extra damage or extra healing. One of my particular favorite abilities is called Remedy Cascade, which is a heal and it’s basically this healing beam that shoots out in front of you and you can aim it. So there’s already a mechanical difference in the healing and it’s tons of fun. But when you spend Krux on this ability it’s heals and also returns Stamina and Magicka. So there’s another thing [to think about]: do i really need this heal now, or can I wait until I get another Crux or two? Do I wait a beat to get some more Crux in order to spend it to return more resources? So it adds this new element of having to thing about what you’re doing in order to maximize the effects.”
To me, this is a welcome sight, as MMOs can very often - too often - just fall into the normal skill rotation. Even an action-MMO like ESO that weaves action combat with traditional class and weapon skills can feel this way without even really knowing it. Having to think more laterally on the battlefield, especially during a tense moment, is something I feel lost a bit when just slamming home my skill rotation for my chosen role. We’ll have to wait to see how this really plays out in practice, but it’s exciting nonetheless. Lambert agrees, stating that there is “nuance” to the class that players are going to have to learn.
“One of the things that’s been an interesting challenge for us as well on this is we’re trying to make sure that the class is easy to pick up by anybody. But there's a little bit longer mastery curve to it. So a new player coming in [can] pick it up and play right away. But there’s a lot of depth to it, there’s a lot of nuance to it. And the hope is as players start to play some more and play around with Crux, they’re going be working at this for a while to really master it, which would be really cool.”
Last year the Zenimax team announced a shift in how they are releasing content over the year moving forward, doing away with the overarching year-long stories that we’ve seen for a few years now. While at first glance the storyline announced felt like the year-long stories from yesteryear, Rich states that we should see some difference in how each update releases and pans out. Many of the changes coming that players will see are based on feedback from the audience, especially as Rich states the team has been pouring over and heard “loud and clear” the criticisms surrounding the MMO in recent years.
“We spent a lot of time dissecting player feedback about High Isle’s story, about Blackwood’s story, and the things that players liked and didn’t like. We definitely heard loud and clear some of the ‘some of this feels formulaic’ comments and we’ve tried to change that this time around.
“We’ve tried to address the feedback. We’ve got this crazy, different story than we normally would have. It’s that kind of cosmic horror vibe which seems to have gone off exceptionally well in the community. It’s going to be a really fun story, and I can’t wait for people to get their hands on it and the new class.”
It all will start in March with the “Scribes of Fate” dungeon DLC, which launches on March 28th for PC (though it’s on the PTS now alongside the prologue quest for Necrom). The full chapter release of The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom will be launching on June 5th for PC while the console release will hit later in the month on June 20th.