In March, Bethesda released the Flames of Ambition DLC, and opened the gates for a new all-year story in The Elder Scrolls Online. The latest adventure Gates of Oblivion consists of four parts and is set 800 years before the events of The Elder Scrolls IV, focusing on the Daedra god of destruction, Mehrunes Dagon. In June, the second chapter is going to lead us to the area of Blackwood, including Leyawiin, which is the furthest city from the Imperial City, and the swamps of Shadowfen. To stop the infernal Daedra, we'll also return to the intimidating lands of the dead, which we have last seen in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Thanks to an early preview version, we have been able to spend one week with Blackwood, check out the new rapport system, and uncover some nasty plans by the Daedra.
In fact, you will encounter a lot of plans, no matter if you are an ambitioned rookie or a naïve bypasser. Pretty much every character seems to be involved in one conspiracy or another. The story is centred around the Longhouse Emperors who have a pact with Mehrunes Dagon, which jeopardises entire Tamriel. Well, a story filled with dark secrets requires a good detective, right? It does, and that is why the witty Bosmer Eveli Sharp-Arrows accompanies us through the whole main-story. While Daedra Lyranth hates humans, she is interested in the secrets of the region, and supports us with insights into the world of the Daedra. Our task requires us to expose traitors and protect the mysterious four ambitions from the claws of the Daedra. However, the Daedra never act alone, and their supporters can be found in all social stratums.
Before we started playing, creative director Rich Lambert introduced us to some of the Blackwood basics. The new chapter stays true to the known structure, which means that you can expect a main-story with a playtime of over 30 hours. Portals work as a new, regional version of world events, the 12-player trial Rockgrove sends Argonian Daedra worshippers your way, and a regional tutorial allows new players to have a smooth introduction. Daily and weekly endeavors have been added as a new feature and can - for instance - require the killing of 50 skeletons or solving a particular quest. For each completed endeavor, you will receive "seals of endeavors" - a new currency which can be traded against items in the crown shop. Usually, the items in question can only be found in crown-crates. Last but not least, the new companion system is meant to help you fighting the Daedra.
Hiring and equipping characters is an essential element for many players of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. For years, The Brotherhood of The Elder Scrolls Online expressed their interest in a comparable system, and now the time has finally come. By introducing the companion system, Bethesda and ZeniMax present you with two selectable companions: the Dunmer Mirri Elendis, who is a nightblade, and a Bastian Hallix, who causes a lot of damage as a dragon rider. Since the preview version contained a pretty early version of the system, I was only able to tackle the introduction-quests of both companions. Yet, I looked at the list of companion achievements, which indicates a surprising depth that players can expect from their relation to Mirri Elendis and Bastian Hallix. To improve your relationship, you will need to absolve companion quests, which allow a deeper look into the back-story and personality of your mates. You think your friendship with Mirri requires improvement? Then you should invite her for a drink. Bastian, on the other hand, appreciates a good book so you know what to do. If you are about to get the amulet of Mara out at this point, you need a little more patience. As creative director Rich Lambert stated, the developers are working on romantic elements at the moment.
Choosing between just two characters sounds a little disappointing at first, but thanks to the option of manually configuring skill-sets, your companions can be adjusted in a way that suits your style of playing. Lambert revealed that - independent from their classes - both characters can act as a healer, DPS or tank. Additionally, they can be equipped with armour and weapons, wear costumes, and be assigned to a mount.
Just like the player, both characters are vulnerable and able to die. You can resurrect companions by using a soul gem or you can wait until they automatically return to life when a fight is over. Mirri and Bastian can even accompany you into public dungeons, which is a really good option if you keep the aforementioned customisation options in mind. Yet, it goes without saying that none of them can replace a human player. Also, it is not possible to activate your NPC-friends in the PvP mode. One interesting question that remains is whether further companions will join the game. While I did ask Rich Lambert about this, the creative director stayed tight-lipped. In any case, I strongly hope that Mirri and Bastian will get comrades-in-arms at some point.
My first impression makes me guess that Blackwood's main-story will not be among my favorites, but this is an entirely personal preference. Yet, there is more to find than Mehrunes Dagon and political cabal. If you are a fan of the Dark Brotherhood, the Argonians or want to know more about Daedra celebrities like Nocturne, you should be pleased. Eveli's ambition of being seen as a Sherlock Holmes of Tamriel could be a bit more subtle, Lyranth, on the other hand, has some pretty cool Daedra anecdotes to offer. Aside from Elsweyr's dragons, the portals belong to the really interesting world events, serving as small dungeons where you can find a good challenge, and satisfying loot.
Throughout the years, ZeniMax has built a rich catalogue of neat characters that I would love to have on my side when I travel through Tamriel. Even though I was only able to see a bit of the new companion system in action, and while some questions remain unanswered, this element has been the big highlight of my time with this preview version.
On June 1, The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood will be released on PC. Expect it on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on June 8. A release date for PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S has not been announced yet but will hopefully follow in the near future. If you are interested in checking out Blackwood, you can try the prologue-quest for free.
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