Review – The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a decade since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released. While its enduring presence has been assisted by a stream of ports, its legacy as the game that made RPG’s mainstream is what’s kept it alive. Which is why I’m surprised it’s taken The Elder Scrolls Online this long to give Skyrim it’s due. As proven with the beautiful nostalgia fest that was The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind, it’s an absolute delight to explore the history of iconic Elder Scrolls locations. And while Elsweyr and Summerset have been exciting for sure, I think most agree it’s long past time we got to properly visit Skyrim again. There’s no place like home after all, and for many this was where it all began. The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor isn’t perfect, but it delivers an experience that was worth the wait.
Set against the backdrop of the ongoing Three Banners War, The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor sees Skyrim facing a new threat. The Icereach Coven, a band of witches and barbarians long a thorn in Skyrim’s side, have resumed their war with the Nords. Using magical rituals called Harrowstorms, and aided by a mysterious vampiric benefactor, the witches have begun a campaign of terror intended to break Skyrim once and for all. Their invasion begins in Western Skyrim, which has long been politically sundered from it’s eastern half. Acting alongside returning companion Lyris Titanborn as an envoy for the High King of Eastern Skyrim, your mission is to assess and confront the Coven. Which won’t be easy as in addition to unraveling the mysteries of the witches’ plan, you have to convince High King Svargrim of Western Skyrim that the threat is real and not a Pact plot for his throne.
Your adventures in Greymoor don’t just stretch across the frozen wastes of Eastern Skyrim, but also beneath it. Above ground you’ll be exploring the three holds ruled by Solitude, Morthal, and Karthwatch. While it was fantastic seeing Solitude and Morthal again, Karthwatch was the interesting one. In TESV all that remains of this once great hold is a ruined fortress, and now you will experience why. What lies beneath is the real treat however. During your investigations, you’ll discover the reason behind the seemingly infinite reach of the Coven and it’s allies. Blackreach. Stretching out beneath the entire province, like a dark mirror of the world above, Blackreach allows the Coven unrestricted travel and access to anywhere in Skyrim. As cool as it was seeing Skyrim again, seeing Blackreach fully realized was my favorite part of the expansion.
In addition to questing that is more in line with standard Elder Scrolls games then your usual MMO fare, there’s a variety of other activities available. There’s six new Delves, which are smaller scaled dungeons intended to be completed solo or in a small group. Then there are the two larger Public Dungeons, which are geared more for groups. Finally at the top is the new Trial, the equivalent of a Raid in other MMO’s. I found the new Delves to be fun, but the Public Dungeons were some of the best in a long while. Nchuthnkarst is especially awesome, I always love some Dwemer love. For overland content there’s six new World Bosses of varying difficulty, as well as the new world events. Periodically across the map, the Coven will summon a Harrowstorm that players have to extinguish. I’ve always loved how ESO does events, and Greymoor’s are no different.
Closing out Greymoor is it’s two most intriguing additions. One is the brand new Antiquarian system, and the other the revamp of the vampire skill line. The Antiquarian system was something I thought would be a fun distraction at best, but while playing discovered was so much more. The premise was “Indiana Jones, but in Tamriel” and that’s basically how it plays. You travel across the entirety of the game world, DLC zones included, and search for a variety of ancient artifacts. This is done through two new activities: scrying and excavation. Scrying uses a new tool called the Antiquarian’s Eye to search a zone for possible locations of a chosen artifact. Once a location has been scryed, you then travel to the location and perform an excavation to uncover the item. Both activities are the right mix of challenge and fun, and have their own skill lines to advance. Items you uncover are more then just vendor trash too. Mounts, cosmetic gear, housing ornaments, there’s so much to find. And the artifacts that are intended to be sold, go for a lot more then a random sword. All in all it’s a system that takes advantage of everything ESO has to offer in a way the game desperately needed.
The vampire skill line revamp is much less impactful then the Antiquarian system, but still a lot of fun for those interested. Previously, vampires functioned like any other skill line. Once you were bitten either by another player or a special NPC, it was just another skill tree. Abilities were fun, but it didn’t really feel like you were a vampire. That is no longer the case. Now your abilities and powers as a vampire are linked to a feeding meter. The more you feed, the stronger your powers get at the cost of decreased health regeneration and a vulnerability to fire. Your meter also decreases over time, making your vampire life a balancing act. You need to keep your feeding level up while also avoiding authorities, as acts of vampirism are now a crime if witnessed.
The drawback to this is that competitively, playing as a vampire is now a chore to do. However, for those who simply want to live out their Elder Scrolls vampire fantasy in an MMO world, this is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. Not to mention that when a game chooses the immersive experience over the min-max one, it’s a victory for all of us. Except for the min-maxers, they all re-rolled.
The best part (or possibly worst depending on your view) is that The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor isn’t the end. It’s the main part of this year’s narrative, The Dark Heart of Skyrim, that connects the four content releases of the year. Two of them are dungeon DLC which add to the story, but are not necessary. The final DLC however will be the finale of this tale, and the end of Greymoor is direct set-up for it. That’s not to say that Greymoor is incomplete, as there is so much to do and it does tell a story, but the overarching plot is not resolved.
For those not familiar with MMOs, it might be a legitimate issue that there’s really no way around. However, in my opinion ESO has one of the best release styles in the genre and each entry more then pulls it’s own weight. Last year’s finale Dragonhold was a fantastic cap to it’s story and I expect no less of this year’s.
Dark fantasy suits Elder Scrolls well it turns out. There’s been plenty of times the franchise has dabbled, but almost always in DLC. This is really the first time they went all in and I really liked how it turned out. Blackreach is also one of the best zones in the game, it’s so more than just a big cave. The new Antiquarian system is so much fun as well, and really allows you to explore the world the way One Tamriel intended. All in all, The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor is not without it’s flaws, but it succeeds at what it sets out to do. Whether a returning player, or a newcomer lured by nostalgia, there’s something here for everyone. Plus also included is the base game Tamriel Unlimited and the Morrowind, Summerset, and Elsweyr expansions so it’s an absolute steal. You’ll have plenty to do while waiting for this fall’s release of The Dark Heart of Skyrim’s finale. If Greymoor is anything to go off of, it’ll be worth the wait.
From Solitude to Blackreach, Skyrim has never looked this good. Sadly, performance issues mar an otherwise beautiful landscape. The new vampire animations are awesomely visceral.
Combat remains fun, if a bit floaty. The vampire skill revamp makes for a much more immersive experience, and Harrowstorms are fun if not as impactful as previous expansion events.
Voice-acting is as professional as ever and the soundtrack successfully channels the dark Gothic themes of the story being told.
Fun Factor: 8.0
It’s good to be back in Skyrim, and while the story is a slow burn it’s done well. The antiquities system is also a lot of fun and one of the few features to take proper advantage of One Tamriel.
Final Verdict: 8.0
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor is available now on PC and June 9th for Xbox One and PS4.
A copy of The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor was provided by the publisher.