It has been tempting in the past to think of The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) as some kind of consolation while we wait (ever more patiently) for Bethesda’s successor to 2011’s all-conquering action-RPG Skyrim. But that would do a massive disservice to the franchise’s massively multiplayer online (MMO) incarnation which, in the nearly eight years it has been operational, has evolved into a heavy-hitter in its own right.
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And ESO is poised to become even better, if Rich Lambert, its creative director, is to be believed. Zenimax Online Studios, ESO’s developer, has revealed details of Legacy of the Bretons, the latest major slab of downloadable content due to hit ESO over the course of 2022, and Lambert talked us through it.
The joy of an MMO is that you can add new areas to its map, essentially introducing new gameplay roughly equivalent to that of a standalone game, and the two most recent such expansions for ESO, 2020’s Greymoor and last year’s Blackwood, were well received by ESO devotees. Lambert, however, says that tonally at least, this year’s offering will differ from those. “The story we’re telling this year is The Legacy of the Bretons. It’s focused on the Bretons, their culture, and learning more about them,” says Lambert. “They’ve never really had their time to shine in any Elder Scrolls game, even when we did bits and pieces of their culture at launch.”
“It has a much more grounded storyline. The last few years have seen these cosmic threats: Daedric princes coming in to take over the world, enslave mankind, so and so forth. This year is more focused on politics and treachery. Because the storyline is more focused on politics, the threats and enemies are a lot more grounded in reality. There is a secret society, which I won’t get into too much, because I don’t want to spoil the story, but its members are essentially the main villains, and then it’s your job to go in, investigate, figure out what’s going on, and put a stop to that.”
Introducing High Isle
Lambert reveals that the new map area which Legacy of the Bretons will bring to ESO – as rumoured on fan-sites – will be High Isle: “High Isle is a place where Breton nobility basically go on vacation, so it’s kind of like the epitome of Breton architecture and culture. There is lots of pomp and fanfare – castles, tournament grounds – it really is this kind of gold standard, I guess, for what Breton culture could be. And it shows off their feudal nature, which is really, really cool.”
Lambert says that the main chapter of Legacy of the Bretons, entitled High Isle, will go live on June 6 this year, but it will be just one of four DLC drops: “We’re following the same frequency we have in previous years, so we’ll do four major quarterly updates over the year. The very first one is a dungeon DLC that kicks off in March, and then we do our chapter, which is the kind of meaty, if you want to say, expansion – we say chapter, because it’s for everybody and not just veteran players. We’ll do another dungeon DLC in the third quarter. Then we’ll finish the year off with a story DLC, which is a little bit smaller than High Isle, in the fourth quarter.”
The dungeon DLC Lambert mentioned will be called Ascending Tide, and is scheduled to launch on March 14 for PC and March 29 on the consoles. Bethesda says it will feature: “Two challenging new PvE dungeons: The Coral Aerie and Shipwright’s Regret. In these exciting new four-player PvE activities, you’re tasked with investigating the remnants of the once-proud All Flags Navy and assaulting a costal hideout of the mysterious Ascendant Order.”
Tales of Tribute and Dreadsail Reef: ESO gets a trading card game and a new trial
We managed to extract a bit more detail from Lambert regarding High Isle: “There’s about 30 hours of story content there. But in addition to that, we have a new endgame trial, for our veteran players to go and dig into. There are lots of different things to collect – we have some new companions, so that brings new story content, and then we have a big new system coming in that’s called Tales of Tribute, which is a collectible trading card game that will keep the players busy for a very, very long time.”
While keen to assert that Legacy of the Bretons has been designed to be accessible to newcomers to ESO as well as veteran players, he’s happy to provide more detail about the expansion’s new 12-player endgame trial: “It is called Dreadsail Reef. There’s a little bit more of a pirate theme to it, and it’s focused on the Maormer, a race of elves that have traditionally been bad, if you will. What the team has done is taken a lot of the lessons learned from their previous trials — especially from the one in Blackwood, Rockgrove — and the feedback they’ve gotten from players there, and incorporated a lot of that into Dreadsail Reef.”
An emphasis on story-telling
Lambert is keen to emphasise the story-based nature of Legacy of the Bretons and in particular High Isle: “This year, we go back to some of our original storytelling roots. One of our most successful story updates ever was one we did just after launch called Orsinium, which was centred around the Orcs and their culture, and it was a little bit more of a political story. So, we want to get back to that, telling different types of stories, rather than just these big, epic “Daedric princes are coming to destroy the world” ones.”
ESO’s place in the MMO world
Last year, ESO acquired some new competition in the MMO world, in the form of Amazon’s first major game, New World, to go with the hardy perennial World of Warcraft and the MMO juggernaut that is Final Fantasy 14. But, Lambert reveals, it seems to be holding its own: “Game Director Matt Firor is going to announce that we cracked the 20 million player mark. We’re still growing every year, which is amazing. I think having more competition is only a good thing. It’s just good for the games industry and the player-base out there. You get to see new, innovative things, and that sparks new innovation across various different creative teams.
“As to where ESO fits in to the MMO world, I think the place that we fit in is for the players that really love story, and really love having a breadth of activities. ESO is more of a virtual world than it is anything else. There are tons of different activities to play. There’s not really much pressure to rush through the game to get to the endgame. ESO is more your personal journey through the world, and we see those types of players get in, play the game, and fall in love with it forever.”
And, as is always the way with a well-designed MMO that fosters a sense of community, fall in love with each other: “I get so many messages from people who tell me how much ESO has changed their lives, how it helped them get through a particular tough time. Or that they met their now significant other through playing ESO. One story that really sticks in my mind is a lady who said that she is able to play ESO with her son who is in the military and overseas, and that’s how they spend quality time together, which is really, really cool.”
Sadly but unsurprisingly, Lambert won’t be drawn into revealing any information about the next standalone instalment of The Elder Scrolls, but he does admit to co-operation with the team that is making it: “I work extremely closely with their team, but mostly on the lore. Obviously, they are the IP holders, and they know it inside and out. Most of their team has been together since Morrowind, so it’s great having them in our corner, and being able to ask questions if we’re not certain about something, or to make sure we’re on the right path. But that’s about as far as it goes.”
You’ll also have to pay for Legacy of the Bretons or its various instalments: unlike most MMOs, ESO doesn’t exact a monthly subscription, but players do have to pay for extra content. The cost will vary depending on what type of player you are: new players, for example, can save considerably by opting for an edition of ESO which includes all previous DLC plus Legacy of the Bretons. But if, say, you just want to add High Isle to your existing Xbox-based ESO setup, that particular upgrade will cost £32.99.
With 20million people having already played ESO, and way more than 30 hours’ extra gameplay aimed at all of them due to arrive over the course of 2022 in the form of Legacy of the Bretons, there’s an awful lot still to be done in The Elder Scrolls’ game-world of Tamriel, even before Skyrim’s long-awaited successor is finally released.