Despite first being released all the way back in 2014, Elder Scrolls Online is a game that has continued to grow, expand and even improve. Having recently sat down with the upcoming expansion Summerset Isles for a couple of hours we were impressed by how much more we enjoyed the game than the first time we played many years ago and didn’t quite click with it.
Though Elder Scrolls Online has a massive fan base that will return no matter what, Summerset Isles is a new entry point as well as an expansion to the game and for that reason we’re detailing a bit more about what’s new to the game for those who have never played or those, like us, who have dropped off the map to return to their thousandth hour of Skyrim.
As always the most exciting things about a new Elder Scrolls title is the promise of exploring new locations and new chapters within the Elder Scrolls Online offer this too. Since the base game, Bethesda has added new Cyrodiil locations through DLC and Morrowind through an entirely new chapter.
This time, players get the chance to visit the Summerset Isles for the first time since 1994 when the location appeared in Elder Scrolls Arena. The reason for this? Queen Ayrenn has decided to open the borders, allowing all of the races of Tamriel to flood in.
Because this location hasn’t been explorable in a long time, the game world is remarkably refreshing to see. Skyrim’s cold and rugged darkness, Morrowind’s stunning but alien murkiness and the aged fantasy of Cyrodiil won’t be found here. Instead you get a high fantasy world with a very real sense of history and the presence of magic. We were told by the game’s director that the history of the Summerset Isles can be explored in its architecture and as players dig down into the world, they’ll see the ruins of previous ages which have been built on top of.
Summerset Isles presents players with three islands to explore: there’s the main Isle of Summerset, Auridon and the hidden island of Artaeum, which only appears every hundred or so years when the newly introduced Psijic Order which inhabits it senses it is needed. We had the chance to see both the main isle and a small part of Artaeum and they make a striking impression (particularly Artaeum which convincingly feels like a world which sits on the line between the world of Tamriel and somewhere beyond).
There is, of course, that typical Elder Scrolls trademark where every NPC has the emotional range of a plank of wood (not helped by the fact that voice acting had not yet been inserted into this earlier version of the game) but the towering elven architecture and wide open plains were truly graphically stunning. It’s kind of like visiting a Harry Potter set populated by mannequins.
Speaking of Artaeum and the Psijic Order – they’re new too. Well, kind of. The Psijic Order is an ancient organisation in Tamriel which pre-dates the Mages guild and calls the island of Artaeum its home. You’ll be familiar with them if you’ve played Skyrim but in Summerset Isle you can now join their ranks.
Joining the order will offer a brand new skill tree and new abilities and given the Order believes that itself to be the originator of mysticism and manipulator of time, we’re pretty sure these are bound to be interesting. We’ve heard tell of both active and passive abilities such as Time Stop and Meditation for healing. Those interested in following the main quest will be glad to know that it leads you directly to the Psijic Order so there are no diverging threads here.
We’ve been told that the Summerset Isles expansion will add more than 30 hours of questing to your Elder Scrolls Online experience. From what we can tell, the writing of these quests has actually somewhat improved since the base Elder Scrolls Online game was released.
We chose to follow what we believe to be the main quest for Summerset Isles and stuck staunchly to our path, despite coming across several opportunities to begin other quests along the way. There’s certainly not a lack of things to do in Elder Scrolls Online and we enjoyed the quest we embarked upon, which followed discontent and plotting following the queen’s decision to open up the Summerset Isle borders and her Proxy queen’s resistance. It’s a storyline that has surprisingly modern and relevant undertones which made it easy to engage in and care about.
We found ourselves gathering intel, donning disguises, sneaking through monasteries, battling otherworldly creatures and visiting other lands all in the space of a couple of hours for just a single quest line. This was very different to our first Elder Scrolls Online experience where we simply couldn’t find a story that could grab us long enough to continue playing or cope without others also playing.
Though there will be 30 additional hours of story to play through, anyone who’s played an Elder Scrolls game before will know there’s plenty of hours of extras to get lost in along the way.
Crafting is a much deeper experience in the Elder Scrolls Online than it is in a mainline Elder Scrolls title. A new addition to Summerset Isles is the ability to craft your own jewellery. The intricate and ornate nature of this kind of crafting suits the Summerset Isles and the elves which call it home.
Jewellery has actually been a popular request for a while now and though it doesn’t have any particular effect on your character’s appearance, it will be able to be used to enhance and alter your attributes and abilities. We weren’t able to find out too much about this in detail but this non-cosmetic application of jewellery sounds far more interesting. We’re imagining it’ll involve imbuing gemstones with magic and turning them into augments for weapons or ability enhancing pendants and rings that you can already find in the Elder Scrolls game world.
As you’d expect, visiting a new part of Tamriel means new enemies and challenges to face. You’ll find brand new enemies like the Wlkynar and their Gryphon companions as well as a new 12-player Trial which will have you face up against them.
Of course, while there are new faces, there are old and familiar hands to shake again. One of the first characters you’ll meet when you start the game is Khajit spy Razum-Dar, a big fan favorite. In a strange land, it’s always a pleasure to see him.
Overall, Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset Isle makes an excellent first impression. It manages to introduce an entirely new region and quest line for veteran players while welcoming newcomers without being overwhelming. Between its Morrowind expansion and now Summerset Isles it seems that Elder Scrolls Online has improved since its initial release.