As we faced off against a giant Necromancer at the bowels of the Unhallowed Grave, one of the new dungeons in the Harrowstorm DLC for The Elder Scrolls Online, I found myself entranced by the giant beast our foe summoned at the far end of the cavern. Actually, I had a flashback to one of the enemies in the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time - the giant humanoid version of Krang, shooting lasers out of his eyes. This wasn't a bad thing, mind you, and I quickly found myself furiously trying to burn down the necromancer in the center of the action.
Unhallowed Grave provided many memorable moments, and with good reason. The team at ZeniMax are offerring more ways to experience the content by simply adding more ways to interact with the world around you. The dungeon itself is found within Bangkorai and is home to an ancient order of the Pyre Watch tasked with protecting something that was buried there. Well, the Pyre Watch wasn't very effective and the tomb has become overrun by a host of Nord Mercenaries known as the Draugrkin. You are tasked with cleaning up the mess left behind by the inept Pyre Watch while also discovering what is hidden deep within the Unhallowed Grave.
The real beauty of this dungeon is the fact that not every single area is set inside a claustrophobic cavern, but rather you'll find yourself out in the open Bangkorai air, taking in some breathtaking scenery around you. The Unhallowed Grave also makes use of the grappling hook introduced back during the Dragohold DLC, and as a result traversing the dungeon is quite a lot of fun. It's not just used in travel either, as puzzles and some boss fights, includnig a rather intense set piece battle about halfway through the dungeon requires you to use the grappling hook to great effect.
Additionally, the dungeon itself includes new puzzles in the form of floor runes which require your party to solve before you can move forward in some instances. It's a nice touch and it makes it feel less like a linear rush and more methodical than other dungeons. The Elder Scrolls Online has really evolved over the years, with each sucessive release feeling more and more elaborate than the last. My impressions of the Unhallowed Grave confirmed this. Having to think on my feet and react accordingly is nothing new in an MMO - yet ESO added a new layer with the grappling hook: verticality. I not only had to dodge attacks but think about where I might escape to to avoid a deadly AOE that could take out our whole team during the fight against Undagore the Mad.
This fight might have been one of the most technically challenging, with the dev team telling me after we downed the Lich that this was the first time they fought the boss without a single person dying (*insert smug face here*). the fight is intense, grappling to large platforms overlooking a middle arena to take out adds as they crop up. Undagore also releases a poisonous AOE that if you aren't hiding behind the ruined columns that litter the middle platform in the room just right you can very quickly die.
While fighting Hakgrym the Howler, the dungeon's first boss, having to coordinate attacks to burn down two large flesh abominations that, if not taken out quickly, can bring to bear a massive AOE that threatens the life of any party. These fights become intense and it reminded me of why I love MMOs: the coordination and teamwork required, even on lesser bosses, is unrivaled in other game genres - and The Elder Scrolls Online uses this to great effect. Hakgrym is close to death when he transforms into a giant werewolf, gaining back a large chunk of his health as a result. This was a nice first course to what we would encounter throughout the whole expereince.
One thing that became immediately aware to me was how well ESO was running during my play session. With the Harrowstorm DLC, the team at ZeniMax have rolled out extensive performance enhancements - so much so that it will require a full re-download of the game through the client when patching. However, the benefit was immediately clear. Even with my powerful PC (i5-9600K, 16GB DDR4 RAM @ 3200MHZ, Gigabyte Aorus RTX 2080 AIO) The Elder Scrolls Online would constantly suffer from frame rate issues and stuttering, especially in cities and large dungeons. I noticed zero issues when traveling through cities like Vivec City in Morrowind, Daggerfall, or even during the craziest parts of our battles in the Unhallowed Grave.
The final boss, Kjalnar Tombskald (which is an awesome name) is a necromancer the likes of which I don't think we've seen in ESO to date. He's powerful and during the fight he uses his necromantic abilities to his advantage. Raising skeletons that, if not dealt with, can find themselves powered up rather quickly - and once the battle reaches its boiling point, Tombskald summons one of the largest Bone Collossuses I've ever see in ESO (hence my TMNT flashbacks). It's so massive it's occupies the entire back area of the room behind where the battle is taking place, visible only from the waist up. It makes for an riveting set-piece fight to end the dungeon, with Tombskald using the Bone Colussus to distract us from dealing with him directly.
The full dungeon is full of awesome moments, but the visual during this last battle is stunning. The Elder Scrolls Online has become masters of using every bit of space the screen gives us to their advantage. This last fight had me thinking back to the ultimate battle during the Elsweyr expansion last year. It was a wide open area, yet I felt as though there was no wasted space - the arena was being fully utilized to stimulate the senses and make me entranced in the action. This fight, with the hectic battle going on around you and a giant colossus wreaking havoc should you not be careful, took it a step further.
Harrowstorm introduces officially the Dark Heart of Skyrim storyline, which will continue with the next major chapter release, Greymoor, in May. Unhallowed Grave is but one of two dungeons introduced in Harrowstorm, the other being the ancient Icereach, home to the Icereach Coven. You can check out Harrowstorm today on PC, while Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players will be able to jump in on March 10th.