PIRATES, card games, magic and mystery. There isn’t much more I could ask for in the latest installment of Bethesda’s sprawling MMO The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). After getting hands-on with the upcoming High Isle expansion, I can safely say that it’s shaping up to be a wonderful, brand new adventure through Tamriel.
Before we jump in, it’s worth mentioning that I play ESO like I would any other Elder Scrolls title; alone, constantly chasing side quests and eager to follow the storyline of every new area I stumble across. I also very recently made my way through Blackwood, the most recent ESO expansion, so my memories of the experience are fresh in my mind. With that out of the way – let’s begin!
The first thing that struck me about the High Isle, is just how lovely it is. After rampaging around gloomy woods and fiery hellish pits, the Systres Archipelago where the expansion is set feels genuinely refreshing. The gentle blues, soft greens and sandy shores feel more akin to the much beloved Summerset zone and give such a wonderful contrast to our last offering.
Some of the stand out scenes for me include the scattered tableau’s of easels with near complete paintings throughout the area and the intrigue of the Shipwreck Shoals Delve, a bright and stunning area littered with debris and broken ships that I just found utterly enchanting. In contrast, the second main area of the expansion, Amenos, offers a rich, dense jungle playground which feels so totally different from High Isle, yet still connected in a wonderfully striking way.
Another exciting aspect of the Systres Archipelago is that this expansion is the first time the area has been seen in the Elder Scrolls franchise. The never-before-seen setting offered up the chance to dig deeper into the culture and history of the Breton peoples. Their magical ancestry and druidic customs are truly at the forefront across the map, showcasing earthy huts and nature-loving folk which provide a much greater context for who the Breton are as a society and how they have developed over time.
As for the storyline, I played through a fairly large chunk of the High Isle campaign and found myself just wanting to keep pursuing it. Without spoiling anything, I found all of the characters at the forefront of this story to be quite charming. They all have a cheekiness and a clear focus in pushing the quest forward and I just wanted to be around them as much as I possibly could.
In our pre-preview presentation with Rich Lambert, Creative Director of The Elder Scrolls Online, he made a point of saying that the High Isle story moves away from the cataclysmic style events we’ve seen in recent updates. Instead, the team wanted to tell a politically charged story that centres on the mystery of uncovering who a mysterious group known as The Ascendant Order are and why they are interfering with your new friends plans. The clear focus on creating a compelling mystery to unravel was felt throughout every quest I played during my time with the preview and I can’t wait to experience the story in full with my own characters on release.
For players curious about the two new companions you can find in High Isle, you are in for a treat. Isobel and Ember are both sweeter than sweetrolls that feel like the perfect complement to the bright and lovely nature of the part of Tamriel they inhabit. Both have spunky personalities and kind hearts, with voice acting that really bring the two companions to life.
One of the biggest additions to ESO in High Isle is the all new card game Tales of Tribute; the Tamriel take on tavern/pub games which will be available to play throughout every area of the game. As described by Lambert, Tales of Tribute is a two-sided, resource deck building game that will offer a PvE storyline as well as a ranked PvP mode.
Tales of Tribute is completely optional for players who would rather focus on other content, but for those like myself who enjoy a strategic reprieve from the combat grind, Tales matches will offer a vast array of rewards including gold, crafting materials, cosmetics, furnishings, emotes, recipes and much more.
Given the early access nature of the preview, I only had the opportunity to play through a handful of novice level Tales of Tribute matches after finding the quest and completing the tutorial. I liked what I played but I’m very curious as to what types of strategies and card combinations emerge at higher tier gameplay to keep you invested.
I’d also like to mention here that I thought the tutorial onboarding for Tales of Tribute was really nicely done. The language used by the NPC’s was incredibly encouraging and welcoming to highlight that learning through losses is the best way to grow your skills. I greatly appreciated how the language carefully gave everything a positive spin to make me excited for my (many) inevitable failures.
As I mentioned, I mostly play ESO for the story, so when it comes to some of the more hardcore content, I’m not the greatest judge. However, High Isle will introduce another new 12 player Trial titled Dreadsail Reef which is very much designed for veteran players. In this trial, you are being sent into the reef to deal with pirates who have been causing trouble for the local nobles. Despite getting my butt very much kicked on attempting Dreadsail Reef, I find the idea of fending off pirates far too appealing to not want to try and succeed with my own characters once High Isle launches.
As with any update, there are a range of quality of life improvements coming alongside the major gameplay elements including Mundus Stones being made available in your inventory, an updated quick-select wheel for PC players, super resolution and performance improvements.
So far, it feels like High Isle is shaping up to be one of The Elder Scrolls Online’s strongest expansions yet. If I had to sum up my hands-on time with High Isle in a word, I’d say it’s been delightful. From the companions to the world itself, I couldn’t help but smile at how simply lovely everything felt. I laughed out loud, made new friends, admired the views and I got to play cards, that all sounds like the start of a wonderful adventure to me.