The world of The Elder Scrolls Online has expanded once more with Elsweyr, the focal point of the MMORPG's year-spanning dragon-themed story arc. The latest chapter takes place within the homeland of the feline race of the Khajiit, introduces dragons as a roaming threat, and allows players to take control of the undead with a new necromancer class. Dragons, cat people, and the undead - it all sounds all little convoluted, but it weaves together here for a compelling narrative and helps to propel the five-year-old title forward in exciting ways.
We soon found ourselves at the centre of the unfolding war after arriving at the dusty plains of Northern Elsweyr. The Khajiit have a hell of a fight on their hands as an alliance between the dragons and the dark magic-wielding necromancers threatens to reduce their home to all but a smouldering crater. Banding together with old allies Abnur Tharn and Sir Cadwell we set out to put a stop to these hulking sky beasts and learnt more about their origins and why they want to devastate Elsweyr. A few surprise revelations, the high stakes threat, and the odd buffoonish remark from Cadwell helped the narrative stand out for us, although we felt it stumbled in a few places (we'll get to that later).
We started with a new character, a Khajiit with necromancer abilities, and were able to enter Elsweyr without having made any previous progress. We thought it may be important to reiterate this for potential newcomers that all chapters in The Elder Scrolls Online can be jumped into regardless of whether you have played before. It's an open sandbox and it's accessible for all as the enemies you encounter and quests you undertake scale to your current level. The narrative is also standalone meaning that unlike something like Kingdom Hearts 3 you need no knowledge of prior events to work out what on earth is going on throughout.
Elsweyr has all the usual trimmings of an ESO chapter; it features a new zone, a new class, and its own story arc, but easily its most distinguished addition is the inclusion of dragons (they're on the box art after all, right?). These formidable beasts are present beyond the story as they can be seen circling above you in the open world and can be tracked by following their location marker on your map. Dragons provide a deviation from typical zone boss encounters and we loved watching the community pull together collectively to try and slowly whittle away at their health and rake in some pretty enticing loot. We'd certainly recommend that you approach dragons in groups as even one flap of their wings can be fatal and their sheer bulkiness means that your attacks alone will have the impact of a bee sting. Dragons make for formidable foes and in one particularly tricky boss fight, we had to avoid raging hurricanes and bolts of lightning on the battlefield whilst having to carefully coordinate our attacks.
While battling dragons is fun, perhaps the most underwhelming aspect of the chapter for us was Elsweyr itself. Vvardenfell had its volcanic pits and giant mushrooms, and Summerset stood out with its fairytale-like castles, mythical gryphons, and gorgeous green and purple stretches of terrain. About 60% of Elsweyr is just comprised of dust and sand and even outside of this the neighbouring farmland and jungles provided little to capture our eye from a visual perspective, and it's simply not that interesting when compared to some of the other zones we have previously explored. That being said, what it does do well is provide us an up-close look into the culture of the Khajiit, a race we're sure many players have marvelled at since their introduction to the series.
We found the new necromancer class offered us plenty of flexibility within our playstyle and we felt unstoppable and delightfully evil when raising the dead to explode into enemies and using a grim reaper's scythe to claw back our declining health. The class introduces three new skills lines - Grave Lord, Bone Tyrant, and Living Death - along with a new morality element as practising certain spells can land you in hot water if there are guards nearby. We found ourselves using a mix of abilities drawn from across these skill lines, which made for a nice balance of healing, tanking, and offensive abilities. We could fire skulls from a distance, use the scythe to heal ourselves, and we could transform into a huge skeletal beast for added defence.
Another criticism we have with Elsweyr is with its length. The main storyline is comprised of just eight quests and some of these we finished in less than an hour. Sure, this doesn't account for the added trials, explorable dungeons, and the many side quests it has to offer (these we can see taking around 25-30 hours to complete) but we certainly wished we had more central story content available as this was one of the highlights of the expansion. The story also ended in kind of an awkward place and we suspect that all the loose ends that it left will be wrapped up in future content updates as this is the so-called year of the dragon. If true though this means players will have to maintain their paid subscription to see how things pan out.
It may not receive the honour of being our favourite ESO expansion to date but Elsweyr still makes for a great time whether you're a beginner or a series veteran. We loved unleashing the power of the undead through the new necromancer class and enjoyed how dragons made for a formidable threat that allied the entire community. We did feel though that the story wrapped up a little too quickly and the zone of Elsweyr just didn't have the same visual appeal as other zones, however. With the previous Wrathstone DLC and now with Elsweyr ESO's year of the dragon has started promising and we can't wait to see what comes next.