The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood has much to offer new and veteran players alike, with customisable companions being the highlight, giving players more goals to achieve and good reasons to revisit old zone content.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood story chapter released in June 2021 and contains over 30 hours of new story content, a revamped tutorial system allowing players to choose which lands and content they want to start their ESO journey, daily and weekly endeavors, oblivion gates, a new trial dungeon, and the biggest addition this year was in the form of two customisable companions. You can read my first impression of ESO Blackwood here. The companions system was my most anticipated feature and I was very pleased with the outcome, though it did take a while to figure out the best way to improve their rapport and gear. Exploring new lands is always an exciting thing for my wife and I when we revisit ESO, and the new Blackwood zone was a pleasure to explore, particularly as the landscape changed as you progressed from the Imperial west to the swampy east. My wife and I really enjoyed getting through the main story and plenty of side quests, delves and public dungeons.
The aesthetic, mood and music that changes when you delve into the dark and evil dreadlands, and through the new world events, oblivion gates, is fantastic and set the tone very well. It was very foreboding and we looked forward to each new loot type we came across, whether it was new weapons or armour sets for our collections. Many we either discarded or broke down for crafting materials, but it still unlocks their visual template within the collections UI. Obtaining items for our companions, however, became one of our primary goals each play session, and let me tell you, it’s been a grind trying to gear Merri and Bastion! I took on Merri, who I specced as an archer DPS with some backup heals, and my wife Heather took Bastion, making him a tank with some extra damage skills. You unlock skills as you level the companions through combat, and gear dropped very infrequently through our travels. Before doing any real research on how to get companion gear, I had much higher hit rates when unlocking treasure chests found in the open world zones. I learned afterwards that Merri has a perk where chests in the overworld and from treasure maps have 30% chance to have extra loot in them. Bastion’s perk on the other hand involves potions looted from chests and monsters having a 30% chance to be improved by Bastian’s Insight. Both characters can have their visuals customised in the dye station as well as equipping any unique armour sets that you’ve unlocked for your character. Their mounts can also be changed to ones that you’ve unlocked.
Earning rapport with them though, far out do they make you work for it! The companions can be overly talkative, even on normal frequency which can be altered in the gameplay settings from infrequent, normal and frequent, but they will certainly let you know when you do something they don’t like. We’ve been playing for several weeks now, adhoc once our girls are settled into bed. However both of us are still at cordial rapport. I ended up downloading a UI mod to show the exact rapport level for them and to my dismay, I’ve only earned 940/5500 rapport with Mirri. It did take me some trial and error to work out what things she likes and disliked. You can lose rapport with her by catching torchbugs and other flying insects, entering combat with neutral NPCs and using the blade of woe from the Dark Brotherhood skill line. As such, you will struggle to use Mirri if you are a thief-type character. In fact, Bastion is even more harsh for Dark Brotherhood characters, so it would be best not to summon them when you’re up to mischief. If your companions disapprove of you too much, they can de-summon themselves. I did find gaining rapport for Mirri was done by killing snakes and goblins, crafting alcohol, reading books and bookshelves, looting psijic portals, excavating antiquities and completing daily fighter’s guild quests, though there are time limits like 5 and 10 minutes between gains that I found out later on. Bastion will gain rapport by bandits and worm cultists, scrying, visiting crafting stations, helping random encounters and looting psijic portals.
One thing I liked about this with Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, which has been a common theme with the unique gameplay elements added with each previous ESO chapter content, they provide you reasons to visit old zone content. The antiquities system added with Greymoor had me travelling to zones I had not completed yet, and likewise, having Mirri or Bastion along got me back into the Summerset content to learn the psijic skill line on my current character to loot the psijic portals. Completing oblivion portals occasionally in Blackwood sometimes netted me a companion item or two as well. Though I did have polarising experiences going into these new world events added with Blackwood. I had a portal open up right next to me, and after killing the guardians, I zoned in thinking this will be great to see a fully spawned fresh oblivion gate. The ones I had entered previously were almost a breeze as they had been partially completed already. However once I had zoned in, literally everything had been killed already, right up to the final boss room. I just ran through the few areas it takes to get to the final boss, not able to kill a single monster, and then once at the boss room, we had to wait about 5 minutes for the boss to respawn. It really took the wind out of my enjoyment of this new type of world event. Though the next one I entered, I pretty much fought my way through solo and that was a decent fight, and thankfully I had others arrive to help take down the final boss as I never would have done it otherwise. So i guess your experience with oblivion gates will be determined by how long they’ve been open for.
The new endeavors system, which is a method of completing daily and weekly tasks to earn seals of endeavors to redeem for any currently available crown items, initially had me excited as it gave us another reason to logon each day. However when I saw how many seals you can earn daily and weekly, and then browsed the available rewards, I was disappointed at just how long I would have to play just to get the real basic rewards, let alone the awesome epic mounts worth 16,000 seals that you can strive for. This was in part due to the particular weekly tasks that were on offer that didn’t appeal to my wife and I, as we don’t do any PvP in ESO. Two of the weekly endeavors required dealing 400,000 damage with siege weapons and completing seven quests for Cropsford in Cyrodiil, so given we don’t PvP, that excluded us from completing those. That’s not the game’s fault at all, we’re just PvE players in ESO. The next week had us completing 5 battlegrounds, 7 dungeons and 2 arenas. That was more our style, and I guess then the PvP players may be the ones upset that week. You can’t please everyone and if you really want something from the endeavor store, you’ve just got to settle in and complete as many tasks as you can. I’m glad this kind of system is available in addition to the regular daily login rewards. Anything to get you to keep coming back into the game.
My wife and I are now have a few good reasons to login to ESO each week, but our primary goals at this point are to keep gaining rapport with our companions and gearing them as well as we can. There are always plenty of players who are looking to sell purple companion items in zone chat, and I’ve seen some pretty cool items, they’re just way more than we can afford at the moment. We’re still learning how we want to build our companions, whether we’re soloing or duo, and trying to get them to max level and unlock all of their potential skills. We’ve very much enjoying our time in The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, but we have this underlying feeling that once we’ve achieved what we want to with our companions, we are likely to park the game and wait until the third and fourth content updates from the year long Gates of Oblivion. Given this has been the cadence of the past couple of years for ESO, Zenimax may need to think about changing the formula as the game heads into it’s 8th year next year, and getting closer to that big 10-year anniversary. No doubt they are already planning that far ahead and have some big surprises set for us. Time will tell.
Overall, The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood has much to offer new and veteran players alike, with customisable companions being the highlight, giving players more goals to achieve and good reasons to revisit old zone content. It’s full credit to Zenimax for being able to deliver this chapter update during the pandemic and working from home.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis