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Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood Hands-On Preview: Companions, Endeavors And More

Kevin Chick Posted:
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Last week we had the chance to attend the Elder Scroll Online: Blackwood Preview Press Event and followed it up by interviewing the Creative Director, Rich Lambert. Rich provided more details on several new features launching with the Blackwood chapter. Read on to find out about Companions, Seals of Endeavor, and more.  

The press event opened with the same Lyranth cinematic seen during previous announcements/events this year for the Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood chapter. Afterward, Rich Lambert, Creative Director, wasted no time and dived right into providing details on what players can expect to get their hands on in June. Rich also made clear that any new chapter released is for all players, and when purchased by a new player, includes the base game.

Blackwood Story ESO

The chapter’s story will revolve around the Longhouse Emperors and what the Daedric Prince of Destruction, Mehrunes Dagon, is up to in the area. Returning to help us uncover what is happening are two fan-favorite characters, the Dremora Lyranth from the base game’s main story and the wood elf Eveli Sharp-Arrow from Orsinium. Rich also confirmed that players should expect to see other familiar characters, such as Alchemy, Stibbons, and Lady Laurant.

On to the companions and features! Rich explained that the new companion system is designed to help supplement missing group members in a pinch and/or complete other content that may be too difficult for a single player. If you and your friend want to duo a dungeon with two companions, you will be able to but will have to teleport directly to the location rather than queue up in the group finder.

At launch, there will be two companions for players to unlock: The Imperial Bastian, and Mirri, a Dark Elf. After acquiring a companion, they will appear as collectibles under the new Ally section of a player’s UI. Companions will have a personal storyline, and as a player increases their rapport with a given companion, more story quests and conversations will unlock. Each one will also have individual likes and dislikes that influence how you gain rapport. For example, if you have Bastian out and decide to go pickpocketing, you will lose rapport with him.

Blackwood Elder Scrolls Online Leyawiin

When you have one summoned, companions receive a separate amount of experience while sharing in your adventures throughout Tamriel, up to their max level of 20. Companions also have their own gear that only drops when they are adventuring with you. If you want that new heavy armor for Mirri, she needs to take part in your adventures. Unfortunately, companions do not have their own inventory space other than for the gear they are wearing, and players will have to find space in their inventory or bank for any extra companion gear they might want to keep. Companions also only wield one set of weapons at a time and have no armor sets… yet.

Companion skills for the tank, healer, and DPS roles are based on an ESO class but are not carbon copies of player class skills. Various companion skills will unlock when using different weapons and as they gain experience. You can then assign skills in the companion menu, where they will be prioritized according to what order you place them in on the action bar and which ones are not on cooldown at a given time. For example, if you want a companion to fill the role of a tank, then you will need to slot tank skills, equip them in heavy companion armor, and place a taunt to the left side of the action bar so that it's used more often when off cooldown.

Concerning groups, companions will take up a slot in a dungeon or raid group when summoned but do not count towards the group’s reward bonus or experience bonus. They will also perform basic combat maneuvers such as CC break and dodge rolls. However, the companion AI cannot help you pull a level or stand on a platform for that you will need actual players.

When I asked Rich if we can expect to see one more additional companions before the end of the year he replied that while they don’t really talk about what is coming in the future players can assume that if a feature is successful and well-liked, then the team tries to add and expand on it. The antiquities system is a good example, where the team tries to add to the system with almost every update. Rich indicated that he was particularly excited about companions because it offers a new way to deliver content and new stories, but also gives players a little bit more ability to customize characters. For some players who are not quite at the top in terms of combat, it gives them access to even more types of content.   

One important question that was asked is if companions will have an impact or cause any form of server lag? Rich explained that is something the team has been very conscious of and has done a ton of internal testing around. The team, at this point, is pretty confident that companions will not cause any issues, but so far, they have only done internal testing. So they are cautiously optimistic while continuing to tune and tweak things as the system gets ready to go live.

Along with the Blackwood chapter will also come a new 12 player trial, Rockgrove. It will have three unique bosses, each with a hard mode to challenge veteran players. New gear, titles, and cosmetics rewards will all be present as well. For the achievement completionist raiders out there, there will also be a new mount.

The enhanced console edition will release at the same time as the Blackwood Chapter. Beyond the improvements already known Rich specifically mentioned the edition halving load times on next-gen hardware. For those curious, Rich confirmed the following targeted framerates/resolutions:

  • Xbox Series X/PlayStation 5: Performance Mode - 60FPS at 1440p/Fidelity Mode - 30FPS at 4k
  • Xbox Series S: Performance Mode - 60FPS at 1080p/Fidelity Mode - 30 FPS at 1440p.

I also asked if PC players would see any benefits along with the enhanced console edition release. Rich confirmed that most, if not all of the benefits, are already present on the PC. He did however mention that there is new tech for PC currently being worked on, but they are not ready to talk about it yet.

A new feature announcement that I was unprepared for was Endeavors. Players will be able to find Endeavors under the Group and Activity Finder, and they will be personal to the account, so no need to do them on multiple characters. Endeavors will provide players with various daily and weekly goals to complete. Upon completion of an endeavor, the rewards include experience, gold, and Seals of Endeavor. Players can use the seals to purchase items from crown crates. Rich did confirm that players will be able to purchase anything from a crown crate using a new tab at the top right of the crown store on PC. When I asked about the approximate time to purchase an item of X rarity from a crate he stated that the team is still tweaking that and will be right up to release. On the plus side if you really wanted a specific cosmetic or mount, now you can save up seals for it just by playing the game.

Rich also spoke about several other features that specific segments of the player base would find interesting. For veteran players, non-perfected gear sets and perfected gear sets will now work together. So, for a given set you will keep the non-perfected set bonuses until all pieces are perfected, at which point you will gain the perfected set bonus. For PvP players, the development team is continuing to focus on improving performance in Cyrodiil, so no new features at this time as it could risk derailing the optimization work already going on.

ZeniMax will be continuing to balance and add new gear for PvP to help keep players engaged though. For the crafters, Rich was happy to report a quality-of-life change for master writs. The master writs will now breadcrumb players to the appropriate crafting stations, making it easier to quickly find a specific station in a clutter guild house or other locations. Another feature for the music lovers out there is that you will now be able to toggle your title music, so if you prefer the Morrowind chapter title music, you can toggle and listen at your leisure. Finally, class balancing is ongoing, but players will need to wait until the PTS update in about two weeks to see the full list of changes.

Oblivion Portal Elder Scrolls Online

I had the chance to jump on a preview server with a build that was about a month old to test out a number of the features and the companion gameplay after our session. The first thing I noticed was that Blackwood has changed up the new player tutorial experience. In this chapter, new characters will start on the Ilse of Balfiera. A High Elf named Norianwe gets you underway by, of course in true Elder Scrolls fashion, breaking you out of prison.

The tutorial is well done, straightforward, and does a great job of teaching new players the base game mechanics. The new island area has a great aesthetic to it, and you get an interesting short storyline where you fight constructs and Daedra. After only a short amount of time interacting with our new friend I already found myself hoping that we would get the chance to meet Norianwe again in future adventures or maybe as a potential companion.

Once the tutorial is completed, players can choose where they want to start their journey in Tamriel by picking from several portals. Each one links directly to a faction storyline from the base game or one of the released chapters. Norianwe gives a good description of each so that the player knows what the theme of the story is in a given region.

When setting up my preview server characters I noticed a few new stars in the champion point constellations that were slottable. The addition of new stars is apparently because the team has adjusted things to try and reduce the perceived “required” CP for Update 30 so players can hit the horizontal progression part sooner and have more of a choice for active stars. Rich indicated that they are also going to continue to tune and tweak the system now that they have the ability to add to it. 

For companion gameplay both Bastian and Mirri have interesting backstories, and, as always, the voice acting is top-notch. At first, I had no interest in Bastian as a character. Now, I am going to have a difficult time choosing between the two as my main companion. Well done on the part of the writers.

When slotting my companion abilities for the first time I noticed that Mirri’s ultimate “Taking Aim” exposes an enemy causing them to take 20% extra damage for X seconds. The effect looked similar to some player buffs and I had the chance to ask Rich if they stacked. His response was that they try, where possible, to make companion abilities work with player abilities. If the tooltip says it will give the player major heroism it is part of that system. Generally, when the tooltip says does or takes additional damage and doesn’t say that it puts a major fracture on the target then it would be in addition too.   

In combat, both companions performed well, and it was easy to swap them between roles just by changing a few abilities and gear while out of combat. After trying out different roles for each companion I eventually set both up as a support healer with one or two DPS abilities. You only have 5 slots on the action bar plus the ultimate to play with so it can make deciding on which abilities to use difficult.

Companions currently only have 3 abilities per role/weapon/guild line at the most and one per armor type so your choices are somewhat limited.  I also noticed that each companion only has one ultimate currently, both of which are DPS. Hopefully, this is just because it is an older build on the preview server, and once Update 30 is live on PTS we will see an ultimate ability for each role.

Outside of visual bugs and the companions being a bit slow to follow my experience using one so far has been decent. They do decent damage and once the AI is tweaked a bit I can see them being quite useful. The story for each is where they shine though, and I hope the development team decided to expand on that further over time.

I wanted to take a closer look at endeavors as well and while the weeklies were there, such as killing 50 skeletons for 17 seals, there were no dailies or crown store tab to buy the crown crate items. Rich let us know that there was a problem implementing the system on the preview build and that we would, unfortunately, have to wait until the PTS to see it fully in action.

Wrapping up my time with the preview and the interview I asked Rich what he would suggest or like players to pay particular attention to while playing through the Blackwood chapter. His response was, “Personally, Mehrunes Dagon is probably my favorite Prince so I have a particular soft spot for him and what he is all about. So, for me paying particular attention to the story and what makes it tick is what I am excited for players to see since we spent a lot more time on that, which is pretty cool. Also, just exploring the zone. The Elder Scrolls Online is all about the player’s journey throughout the world so just being able to jump in and go explore the world at your own pace hitting up what sounds or looks interesting.”

Between the new tutorial, companions, seals of endeavor, and several other features, I am really looking forward to this new chapter's release. If you are looking for something to do/prepare until then I would suggest the Orsinium expansion for an introduction to Eveli or the Dark Brotherhood expansion (for reasons) if you have already completed the base game storyline.


Xevrin

Kevin Chick

Kevin "Xevrin" is an avid gamer having started playing video games on an Apple III with the Wizardry Series and Questron before the age of 10. In junior high, he branched out into tabletop gaming with the release of D&D 2nd Edition. During his first year of university, Everquest was released combining both of his favorite activities.