Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood – On the Road to Oblivion
Here I am, once again writing about my journies through ESO. Don’t you roll your eyes at me, this is important stuff. Well ok, maybe not important, but worth talking about ok. ESO continues to go from strength to strength and it is my duty as both a gaming journo and an ESO tragic to bring this information to you. It is a compulsion I have and I have no inclination to deny it.
Now that is out of the way let’s move onto the latest expansion for ESO, Blackwood, which is a part of this year’s big story, based around Deadric cults and their desire to open the realm of Oblivion to Tamriel. I have talked about this expansion previously when I went hands-on with a test version, so I will try not to repeat myself here and only talk about the things that have become clear to me after extended time with the game.
The big addition to the game for this year’s event is without doubt AI companions. There are currently two companions that can join your adventuring, a sassy elf and a stout knight. Each of them has their own distinct personality, their own likes, their own dislikes and their own skill sets that you can put to good use as you explore Tamriel. In one canny move, Bethesda has opened up a world of new content to the horde of solo players in ESO. Suddenly there are a host of dungeons, challenges and quests that are accessible to those who just want to explore the world on their own. While there is no substitute for a real-life human being, these companions were surprisingly effective in combat and can be tailored to suit your own character by simply equipping the skills that complement your own.
I cannot stress how much this changes things for those of us that tend to go it alone. All of a sudden I felt brave enough to take on challenges I wouldn’t even dream of attempting in the pre-companion days. What’s more, is I feel this is the last piece of the puzzle in Bethesda’s quest to make ESO the MMO for everyone. The game now caters to just about every type of player imaginable. With larger group world events, smaller group dungeon runs, solo adventuring and much more, I can put my hand on my heart and say there is something here for anyone who has ever enjoyed an RPG, not just MMOs. ESO is almost a genre on it is own, an online adventuring simulator that allows players to tackle the world in their own way, be that as a guild member or on their lonesome. Each path is just as rewarding and valid as the other.
Now that the grand scale things have been spoken of, let me move onto the quite intimate story of Blackwood. It involves your new companions quite closely and is the perfect way to get to know them. The story is a good old occult murder mystery with someone bumping off local dignitaries. Evidence points to the Assassin’s guild but that is all just a bit too obvious. From there it dives into grand fantasy nonsense that is thoroughly enjoyable. Occult ceremonies, human sacrifice, strange portents, you know the drill. You even get to take a trip or two into Oblivion its self, an appropriately hellish landscape chock full of demons, imps and devils that all need to be dispatched.
What I like about these yearly events that ESO seems to favour is they support smaller stories in an overarching narrative held together by a common theme. A bit like a series of Doctor Who, each episode can stand on its own, but ties into one big finale at the end. This is certainly in evidence here with the story reaching a satisfying conclusion but leaving plenty left for the remaining parts to answer. It is a great approach and once again keeps those who like to jump in and out of the game happy with new story missions to chase every time they get tempted back into the world.
If there is one problem that ESO has is that it is so hard to keep track of everything that is going on. There is just so much to do, buy, build and craft that keeping track is a monumental task made harder by a UI that struggles to keep up. There are menus within menus, maps within maps and it is super easy to get lost or overwhelmed with everything on offer. I hope that in the near future that the team looks at the UI and thinks of ways that things can be sorted and accessed in a more efficient manner than is currently available. If they could sort that out, then that is the last potential design roadblock for new players coming on board.
The long and short of it is that Blackwood is another great chapter in the ESO universe. The companion system is an MMO gamechanger and the story itself is a fun tale full of fantasy tropes that have been treated with care. I know it is a no brainer for people who already play the game, but let me once again state that this is the MMO for everyone, it is welcoming, it levels with you and you are free to play it how you want, when you want. This is something that no other game in the genre offers, making ESO the perfect choice for the MMO curious.