The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood Review In-Progress

My wife and I still have a lot to do in The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, but what we’ve played has already been worth the wait. It’s full credit to the team at Zenimax for being able to develop this chapter update during the pandemic and working from home.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood story chapter has arrived, releasing on PC June 1st, PS4 and Xbox One June 8th and is coming soon for next-gen consoles. It’s a typically large expansion with over 30 hours of new story content, so my wife and I are taking our time with it. I was given the opportunity to be part of a hands-on preview in April. In that article, you can read about the new tutorial system that has been added to give all players an option as to which lands and content you want to start your new ESO journey, whether you go straight into Blackwood or to previous chapter’s content.

I explained a bit about the new endeavors system which is a method of completing daily and weekly tasks to earn seals of endeavors, which we’ll be able to redeem for any currently available crown items. This includes any of the crate’s consumables (such as potions or XP scrolls), pets, cosmetics, or even its extremely rare Radiant Apex mounts. However the endeavours system has been delayed until mid-June when the next Crown Crate season starts. You can read more about the endeavors system here.

I also mentioned briefly about the lands and scenery of Blackwood, as well as information about the new companions, which I will delve into more now that we’re out of spoiler territory. I love logging into a new MMORPG and the latest expansion, as there are always so many keen and excited players around, and despite there being no vacinity voice chat, it still feels like loading in for the first time has a tremendous buzz about it. Even though I saw it in the hands-on preview, the City of Leyawiin hits the nostalgic feels as a throwback to playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in the Xbox 360 days. There’s also the city of Gideon which features ruins and overgrowth as centrepieces, last seen in The Elder Scrolls II: Arena.

The Blackwood zone is found to the South East of Tamriel, between Northern Elsweyr and Cyrodiil to the North and West, and the Argonian lands of Mirkmire to the South East. As you travel across Blackwood, leaving Leyawiin and heading east along the main paths, the hills and lakes slowly lose their Imperial influence and morph into low-lying swamplands, as you meet many Argonians who have plenty of quests to offer you. As I play more in the swampy marshlands with the Argonians, it’s reminding me that I still haven’t finished all there is to do in the Murkmire content, and so they’ve done well to remind you that there is other lands and worlds out there worth exploring and revisiting. You’ll also come across the newly added world events, Oblivion Gates.

I didn’t see any of these in my hands-on preview, so I was super excited when I saw the bright orange glow of one of the Oblivion Gates over a lake. The guardians had already been defeated so I was able to run straight in. I saw a few people run into the portal, but when I got through the other side into the Deadlands, I didn’t see any other players. I carried on anyway, making short work of the initial monsters in the first room. I noticed the map had small little islands connected by inner portals. After killing a large mini boss, I got to the final room which had a huge towering beast and heaps of players fighting it. I joined in and the fight was over quickly, then got to looting and then portalled out back to where I originated. Although it was over quickly with that volume of players, I looked forward to doing more in my travels.

I’m only about halfway through the zone and main story content. As it typical with each zone in ESO, there’s just so much to do. And it’s not just all of the new content, such as finding the new Ayleid Wells which are another Oblivion throwback and give you 10-minute stat buffs. It’s all of the previous content that’s available too. We can find new scrying clues and dig up antiquities. There’s crafting new item sets and completing the two new dungeons added in the Flames of Ambition DLC if you haven’t already done them. Then there’s the new 12-player trial called Rockgrove for veteran players, located down in the South East corner.

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To aid you in your travels, you’ll come across two new companions which is the hallmark addition for Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood. Imperial male Bastian Hallix and Dark Elf female Mirri Elendis are a great help in solo and duo content with my wife. They give you more of a reason to complete delves, public dungeons and other content as all experience earned advances their progress. They have a set of starting skills and you can unlock guild skills by completing a daily quest for each of the three guilds – mages, fighters and undaunted. My wife chose Bastion and I chose Mirri. They have their own starting horse which they will summon when you summon yours and their pathfinding is generally good.

The only gripes we have with the companions are the sometimes out of place comments, and occasionally the frequency of the comments. One draw card for ESO for my wife and I is the quiet solitude in solo or duo levelling, so it’s new noise we’re getting used to with the companion comments. The other gripe is we have to talk to the companion every time we want to go into the companion menu to check a skill or their items. It would be great to have a shortcut key to get to the menu, but I do understand this helps you to check in with their conversation options for possible rapport gains.

The only limitations to their use are that you cannot use them in PvP content nor in solo PvE areas like the Maelstrom Arena. There are only two companions at launch and you can raise or lower your rapport with them which will affect how they converse with you. Bastian and Mirri can be obtained by finding them in the Blackwood zone and once you have finished the starter quests (about 30 minutes each), you unlock them in the collections interface, under new heading ‘Allies’, and can then summon them anywhere in Tamriel. Once you have unlocked a companion on one character, it unlocks them on all characters in your account. At present, you also cannot craft armour and weapons for your companions. Hopefully one day this will be a thing, as that would help give you 100% customisation over their look and ability.

The biggest attraction for me with companions is when I play ESO with my wife where we can take on stronger content together. Our companions are too weak still to be able to duo world bosses, but we can see potential to do so once they are levelled up and geared/skilled appropriately. Though they will never replace the skills of a human player who’s geared and specced for specific content. We tried to queue up a 4-person dungeon with the two of us and our two companions, but the group finder just put us with a regular 4-person human team. We haven’t yet tried running to a dungeon entrance and taking one on as a duo, so we will be doing more tests this week.

My wife and I still have a lot to do in The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, but what we’ve played has already been worth the wait. It’s full credit to the team at Zenimax for being able to develop this chapter update during the pandemic and working from home. It was heart warming to hear Creative Director Rich Lambert describe what it’s been like working on Blackwood from home, and their eagerness to get back together in the office. I feel that once Zenimax do get back in the office together, they’ll hit the ground running on even bigger and better things for ESO. The year is still not done and we’re looking forward to what’s yet to come in the year-long Gates of Oblivion content with two more DLC expected this year. Our full review of Blackwood will be ready next week as we build our companions and complete the story and side quests.

This review in-progress utilised a Steam key provided by PowerUp PR. The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is available now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and is coming soon to next-gen consoles.


Written by: @ChrisJInglis

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