The Elder Scrolls Online has been online now since 2014 and has undergone massive changes, extensive patches, fixes and updates and perhaps most importantly, received many content expansions. In its four years it has received a lot of care and attention by the developers who have worked to create an immersive, captivating online Elder Scrolls playground. Last year, the first of two major content additions was released, Morrowind. Now, Summerset has taken the stage and looks to provide more places to explore, more story to dive into and more activities to play.
What I feel was one of the best features added to the game since its release was the world-levelling system. It means nobody gets left behind and all players from new to veteran can experience content together regardless of level. When each chapter has come around there is no worry about having to level up to meet a requirement. From day one you can jump into the latest chapter with your friends and others. This no restriction feel does well in enticing players back whilst also telling the newbies, don’t worry you are not going to be missing out.
If it wasn’t obvious, you travel to the isle of Summerset for your next adventures in the Elder Scrolls universe. Shimmerene is a city situated in the new area and is host to a dark conspiracy of sorts that requires your intervention, and is very much the starting point into the new content. You are introduced to new locations and more recurring characters that you will see many times throughout this chapter.
With an MMO there isn’t just one story to look into, but many. In particular with Summerset, these stories span the entire island and some even intertwine and add more context to the main quest in a thoughtful and clever way. The diverse theme that I’d encounter is refreshing, whilst the structure of these quests often were repeated at times, go to someone, now go to another, then to someone else and so on until the end, others would be kill quests and then more would be save someone and bring them back. These designs repeated but because of how each story was told it didn’t feel like the same thing over and over, side quests have a history of becoming tedious and annoying but I found myself interested and wilful in experiencing each bit of information and mission that was on offer.
Whilst the main narrative is the headliner it was in fact one of the side adventures that I fell in love with. It was filled with love, loss, betrayal and mystery all in one, I don’t want to spoil anything so all I would say is it would be to your credit to go and search for these stories. The execution of this same mission had me stop and think about the game design, I was pursuing a killer through some corridors and as I was reaching the end of a hallway there was an open room with a huge chunk of the floor missing, on the otherside was an AI spider almost taunting us from the opposite side of the room in a doorway. Like a real movie moment almost, but don’t worry I found my way around the room and gave it, its just desserts. You see more moments like these throughout that put you into the action.
There are a plethora of memorable characters to encounter, one of which is a very minor one sure, but one that stuck with me anyway, Babblebrook. He just rhymes, that is it, when you speak to him he cuts a catchy line that produces a smile on my face. Then there is the slick Razum-Dar who comes across as a lone wolf, too cool for school type that is everywhere and is very much a long standing character in the main story. I feel in terms of introducing new NPCs that are interesting enough to be thought about after meeting them and leaving them, this has been a great example, because in most MMO’s NPCs are widely regarded as after-thoughts, not in this.
If you want a break from quests, there are six new Delves, two Public dungeons and more World Bosses to challenge. What it does right is giving you something fun to do wherever you go, be it alone or with others, from not so challenging to the complete opposite. A brand new trial called “Cloudrest” awaits and is designed for groups of 12, meaning teamwork is key to overcome the mechanics set before you. It features numerous bosses that are meant to test you and I feel they force you to strategize. Giving something for all types of players.
Jewelry Crafting is in and to me I can do without it, but not because of bad execution or anything like that, it’s actually been implemented really well and is useful, but it just isn’t a skill for me, I like cooking, blacksmithing, you know, the classics. It allows you to source trait materials by either purchasing them or taking part in specific activities. These materials are then used to customise items to give them special perks. So, useful but not for me.
My favourite game changing addition is The Psijic Order skill line, getting access to new abilities and the best thing is, it doesn’t matter what class you are, true emphasis on restriction lifting. I find myself thinking more about strategy when using this skill line, time stop allows me to slow enemies within a certain point and then continue chipping away at another AI’s health. Undo can be intensely clutch, being able to reset my health, magicka and stamina bars to what they were at a few seconds ago. I have used this to deal some extra last minute damage to a more difficult foe, leading to victory many times.
Once again, jumping back into ESO I was completely blown away by the outstanding visual fidelity and world design. It combines together for a stunning experience that just needs to be seen to be believed. Now for complete transparency I am playing on a PC, in 4K, and what I am seeing is nothing sort of stunning, from effects to fine detail and from colours to shading, perhaps coming in the top five of the best-looking games I have ever played.
The world is fleshed out with awe-inspiring vistas, everywhere you look there is something to catch your eye and draw you in. Aside from this Summerset feels alive and lived in, one perfect example being the city of Shimmerene in which you get a sense of the hustle and bustle city life. Walking along you hear people interacting with each other, sometimes before you see them. One such instance I was climbing some steps and heard laughter from above, I ascended to a mid-platform, turned a corner to see three or four NPC’s playing a game using dice and having fun. Another I was walking through the streets and heard a woman singing, by instinct I run up and begin to stand there watching her perform with NPC’s all around, there was no mission basis for this, just pure world-building, beautiful.
The background soundtrack sets the tone for this fantasy filled journey, ranging from soft melodies to more hard-hitting battle inspired themes. It surrounds you in an atmosphere and accurately depicts using sound what is going on around you. Voice acting just further solidifies why Elder Scrolls is so enthralling, it isn’t just delivering story through text, you get to hear what these various new and fresh faces are going through. You get a feel for their emotions as they talk, something that just can’t quite be replicated without voice.
Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset is a much welcomed addition to an already content and feature filled package. It brings in more diverse locations, characters, backstories and things to do in a nice thought-out way as opposed to a “just because we need something” approach. It’s the perfect opportunity to jump back into the ESO universe and lose yourself in thanks to fascinating stories, gorgeous visuals and immersive sound design.
OVERALL: 9/10 – EXCELLENCE
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)