Picture this: after creating a character, we awaken in a strange world guided by a disembodied spirit voice, who walks us through the nightmare that lies around us, teaching us how to equip items, attack, and use abilities. Everything is bathed in purple and there are monstrous creatures after us, and there's even a mysterious glowing orb called a pearl that seems to hold some kind of power in this space.
Snap back to reality and we wake up with a member of the Psijic Order standing over us, this being an ancient organisation based on the island of Artaeum, an island that disappears and reappears from space and time as the order sees fit. Now though the order is back to investigate some mysterious goings on, with our entrapment in a nightmare being just one of many happening in the Summerset Isles.
You see the Summerset Isles are the home of the High Elves, but since they've opened their borders things haven't been running that smoothly. Officials in high places are arousing suspicion, there are rumours of Daedric practices within the realm, new immigrants arriving in the land are being carted off to unknown places, and worst of all the High Elves really don't like the other races flooding the streets.
It's at this point that we were thrown into the upcoming chapter for The Elder Scrolls Online, fittingly named Summerset, during a recent preview event held by Bethesda in London. After escaping the nightmare and conversing with our new Psijic friend, we were left free to roam around the new land coming to the MMO, and experience what new content it had to offer, all of which was from a relative newbie's perspective.
You see, just like Morrowind this 'Chapter' (Bethesda clarified it's different from an expansion in its scope and structure) is all about the newcomers as well as the veterans, so if you haven't bought the game yet you can easily do so, create a new character, and jump into the action just as we did for this preview session. This isn't end-game content then, but you'll have known this if you explored Vvardenfell last year.
This approach was very much appreciated as well. We're big Elder Scrolls fans here at GR, but many players won't know all the lore - especially the story of Summerset's last video game appearance in The Elder Scrolls: Arena in 1994 - so to be gently guided into this new world by a few kind faces made the whole experience a little less overwhelming. Even fan-favourite ESO character Razum-dar returns as an adviser to the queen, except of course he'll need assistance from you to get information and find out what's afoot.
In the hour or so we played we got thoroughly embroiled in the events on the island, both concerning its governing parties and the everyday people, and while we won't spoil any of the events here, there is a lot of intrigue - kind of like a murder mystery - with disappearances, corruption, and the occult to investigate alongside your newfound friends. Of course we didn't get too far, but this opening section not only had our curiosity, but it also had our full attention by the end.
Structurally there's more of the same, in that there's a healthy mix of talking to guys who need help, going off to help them, and defeating a load of enemies along the way, including brand new enemies like Griffins (who reminded us more of Harry Potter than Elder Scrolls, we have to admit). We didn't get to do much advanced combat as a low-level newbie, and instead the emphasis was on the world and its inhabitants.
You can tell from talking to all the people in power that there's a real division regarding the opening of the borders, with the proud and "haughty" (Bethesda's words) people disliking having to mingle with the other races. As such everyone you meet in positions of power talks down to you with derision, meaning you'll have to pry the truth out of them through espionage and infiltration. One time, for instance, we had to use elaborate robes to disguise ourselves and enter a secret meeting, learning about all the big players in Summerset.
There's a ton of stuff we didn't get to delve deep into here, but there is more coming. The new jewellery crafting system, for example, promises to add another layer of depth for dedicated crafters, adding new attributes as well, but there are also things like the Psijic Order skill line, a fresh new Cloudrest Trial, the Abyssal Geysers group challenge, and a lot more, including 30 hours of content (more if you really want to explore and dive into everything).
What we've seen so far indicates that these 30 hours can be just as enjoyable as not only the base game but also 2017's Chapter Morrowind, which brought a new map and tons of new content along with it. Here we have a very different world, built with elegance and grace, packed with the haughty High Elves and the lofty towers of high fantasy, but underneath it all is something much darker, and that's what really drew us into Summerset's story, which is coming our way with a full launch in June.