On stage at the HyperX Arena here in Las Vegas, Rich Lambert looked calm and collected as he unveiled Zenimax Online’s vision for the next stage in The Elder Scrolls Online’s story. The trailer showing the latest installment in the ESO universe had just ended and the MMO’s Creative Director joined Bethesda VP of Marketing Pete Hines to go through what fans can expect to see this year from the team at Zenimax.
Many people likely expected the name of the upcoming Skyrim-based chapter to simply be called Skyrim. It fits with the previous naming conventions that the team has used with the previous expansions – Morrowind, Summerset and last year’s Elsweyr, however, Rich wanted his team to create something that was their own.
“Skyrim is already done. We wanted to make sure we were kind of forging our own path and telling our story and I think this is a great way to do that, “Rich told me at the HyperX Arena yesterday.
As a result, we’re seeing the Dark Heart of Skyrim this year, which is a year-long story being told over the course of four major releases. As we discussed in our run down of the announcements at the ESO in Vegas show, we know the first dungeon DLC, Harrowstorm will be hitting in Q1 (Mid-March according to the team), while Greymoor, the large Chapter, what ESO calls expansions, will hit PC on May 18th with console to follow shortly thereafter.
With the Dark Heart of Skyrim story, we see characters returning to the forefront of the main questline, specifically this time with fan-favorite (and my personal favorite Nord), Lyris Titanborn, playing a pivotal role of uncovering the threats attacking her homeland. As an established character – she’s legit the first character you pretty much meet as a Vestige in the original ESO story quest – I’m actually excited to quest alongside Lyris throughout Greymoor personally. And, according to Rich, she’s going to be there every step of the way.
“She’s your mentor and guide through [Greymoor]. So, she’s with you through the entire journey and teaching you about the Nords and some of the political intrigue that’s going on …, you know the East and the West don’t get along at all. You get to learn a lot more about who she is as well.”
Venturing into Western Skyrim will be a treat for returning fans to the Tamrielic province. This isn’t the first time the ESO team is taking an established area and recreating it for the MMO – heck, Eastern Skyrim has been in ESO since it released years back, and the team has since released the Gold Coast showing Anvil, as well as fully recreated Morrowind in the eponymous chapter a few years ago. However, Skyrim in ESO isn’t a 1:1 recreation of the world found in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but familiar places will be there: Solitude, Dragonsbridge and more. The team has an interesting approach as they need to figure out what these places might have looked like millennia in the past compared to their single player counterparts.
“One of the things that we’ve learned to do over the years in working with the Elder Scrolls universe is trying to reimagine what an area would feel like a thousand years in the past,” Rich said. “And so that was the lens we kind of looked through when we’re going through and rebuilding Solitude, looking at Morthal and all these locations in the world and focusing on an area and making it feel familiar, but something’s not right. Something’s different, they’re either younger versions, not quite as established and built up or something slightly different so that players have to take almost that kind of second look.
“This is different. Why is it different? I don’t remember this and then they slowly start to dig into the lore more, start talking to the NPCs in that area and understand why.”
The large underground cavern of Blackreach is back in Greymoor, with Rich saying it’ll take up close to 40% of the total area of the new zone with the Chapter.
“It’s awesome, it’s a really cool space. It’s almost an overland space underground, right? Like, it’s this giant open cavern. There are claustrophobic areas, but it’s this huge, huge cavern with these really interesting spaces, weird shapes and different colors. It’s a really interesting place.
“There are almost lakes within there, there are areas that are a little bit more of the mushroomy type areas that you saw in that screenshot [screenshot below], but there are also these really cool, amazing crystal formations – these geodes all over the place. And so those are very different biomes and so we’ve got those kind of spread out all over and it really helps navigate the space, but make it feel fresh and interesting over the course of the entirety of exploring down there. You don’t get that sense of fatigue.”
As a result of this taking place in the Second Era, some of the stories told in TES:V, such as the tales of the Falmer, will come to life as well. Rich tells me there will be Falmer to run into down in Blackreach, as well as vampires making the cavernous area their home.
For those who are looking for the familiar, Rich recommends to simply “explore and wander the space” and really dig into the world around you. One new way that can drive player exploration forward is the new Antiquities system the team is bringing to The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor this May.
As a separate system, this is the largest in-game mechanic brought to the MMO that isn’t combat oriented since Housing. And talking with Rich you can see just how excited he is for players to get their hands on this mini-game and start exploring Tamriel more.
Thankfully too, the new Antiquities system won’t just be tied to the new expansion. Players will be able to search for relics and items throughout all of Tamriel – past, present and future.
“Really what we wanted this to be was not more of the same,” Rich said about the upcoming Antiquities system. “I think Michael [Schroeder, Senior Systems Designer] has a really great soundbite in that video [during the stream], which is “this is a different verb.” This is a different way to play Elder Scrolls Online. And the feedback we get from our players all the time is “We love the lore, we love the exploration, give us more of that.” And this was a way to do that. It ties extremely well into the lore, it times extremely well into kind of the essence of Elder Scrolls and gives you really cool, interesting rewards.”
Those rewards can range from gear to furnishings in your house and more. The idea is that this system will provide something for every ESO player, regardless of your own playstyle. Some items you can gain are Mythic items – Gold, starting at CP160 items that augment your play in and out of combat. You can only wear one Mythic item at a time, and Rich gave an example of an item that increases your movement speed by 200% out of combat – 100% while in combat – but the Mythics will all have their own stats and uses to fit your playstyle.
Like the Summerset Chapter, Greymoor will not be bringing with it a new class. The Necromancer class in Elsweyr was a ton of fun (I still find myself playing that class over my Imperial Templar I’ve played since Day 1). Rich said this isn’t a direct result per se of the Antiquities system, but it was a factor.
“We put a lot of our time and energy into this alternate form of gameplay. You know, we don’t always do a new class or a new combat-oriented skill line. We touched on that a little bit, scratched that itch with the revamp of the Vampire. But this was more focused on “How do we turn players on their head and really change the game for them. It doesn’t mean we won’t ever do a new class moving forward, but Antiquities is freaking cool.”
As far as the Vampires, this new story seemed centered around them, based on the trailer and some of the story beats Rich and the team talked about on stage yesterday. A Vampire Lord appearing at the end of the Greymoor trailer usually means there are a lot of Vampires afoot.
Players since day one could become a Vampire as well, but as of now there really hasn't been a lot of utility to them other than a passive. There was no real need to feed- in fact, not feeding made you a stronger Vampire, which I always felt was counter intuitive.
The ESO team has…revamped the Vampire skill like and the mechanics, changing how they play moving forward.
“We did things like rearrange some abilities, [and] change the number of abilities. Really, Vampires on Live right now are just there for the Undeath passive. So, when you really think about it, maybe there is some utility here and there and in PvP, but for the most part it’s just really Undeath Passive. Why is that?
“So, we looked at that overall experience, we were like: “What is a Vampire? How does it work?” And we went through the entire experience. So, feedings changed, where we changed the mechanic as well. So, on Live, in order to get to Stage Four Vampire you just do nothing. We flipped that around where must feed in order to gain power. So, it’s more active and it feels like you’re being a Vampire.”
As a result, the team wanted players to have to think about the mechanics and maintain their vampirism instead of it being a lazy affair. And in a way it’s a nice change from the sounds of it – as of now I don’t think I’ve fed as a Vampire in ESO in likely two years. Yet I reap the benefits of a powerful Vampire while not fulfilling one of the basic needs to maintain my vampirism. This change sounds like it could suit RPers as well, having to consciously think about the needs of their Vampire and go hunting.
All in all, Greymoor looks interesting. The political intrigue of the Western High King at odds with the rest of Skyrim – and the Ebonheart Pact as a whole – sounds like a great backdrop for some stellar storytelling. Lyris is one of my favorite NPC characters in any MMO right now, so the idea I could quest with her for the entire Chapter – Rich said on stage that Greymoor has up around 30 hours of content coming, though whether that is all main story he’s counting or the side quests and activities as a whole remains to be seen. Either way, exploring the rest of Skyrim and getting my hands on the new Antiquities system is something I’m definitely looking forward to doing. Rich also mentioned that contracting Vampirism might align more with the old Elder Scrolls titles now, as any monster who is a Vampire has a small – a really small – chance of infecting you with the disease. It’s not going to be a super common thing – we’re not going to see the denizens of the undead all over the place now as a result, but it’s a nice throwback to the previous titles.
The first part of the upcoming Dark Heart of Skyrim, the first update will be hitting the PTS next week on PC for players to break, so I’ll definitely be checking that out – however the official launch on the Live servers won’t be till mid-March.
Now hopefully for new characters entering Western Skyrim for the first time in Greymoor will get some flashbacks of riding into town shackled on the back of a cart with a Nord rousing you from your daze….