The Dark Heart of Skyrim season in the Elder Scrolls Online has hit its second phase and of course that means a new chapter. Greymoor wastes no time letting the adventurers know that they will be diving back into the region of Skyrim by showing a cut scene that almost parallels that of the introduction in the hit game of the same name.
Storyline is the biggest highlight to me in this chapter and I am happy to say that it is one of the most enjoyable that I have come across in my thousands of hours in Tamriel. Thematically it is gothic inspired and revolves around a lot more of the supernatural such as witches, vampires and a sprinkling of werewolves. Of course, they aren’t just sitting around relaxing, they are threatening all of the citizens that inhabit the new questing zone of Western Skyrim.
The story begins a lot less focused with the main antagonist not even making themselves known for the first few hours. This has been somewhat of a topic of contention between fans but I firmly believe that it is purposely done in order to build up a feeling of suspense and intrigue. As you lead your allies, such as series favorite Lyris Titanborn and one of my new personal favorites Fennorian, through the exploration of the land and plot you feel as though you are actually uncovering layers to the events rather than having them just spread out before you.
The world design is once again fantastic with Western Skyrim being beautifully recreated to reflect a version that is at the same time familiar to players of the previous single player game while also possessing expected differences for taking place 1000 years earlier. You will run into locations like Solitude that are laid out exactly as remembered and then others like Morthal that are a fraction of the iteration they will become. There is a nice touch of verticality in the northern mountains, thin veils of trees in the forested lowlands and surprisingly nice frozen lakes to the east despite their graphical simplicity.
While exploring, players will come across the same cookie cutter batch of activities that anyone who has already spent time in game will be familiar with. There are a new slew of skyshards, delves, points of interest and a trial to experience. Giant camps are a new activity that revolves around infiltrating them and feasting on Mammoth Cheese in order to complete. Standing in your way will be several giants and mammoths and can be approached in a couple different ways. It is completely possible to stealth in and grab the cheese without being detected or just run in swords swinging and take everyone out.
Harrowstorms are the new public events that have been added and are probably my least favorite in the games history. Lore-wise they are manufactured storms that harvest life energy while also turning those unfortunate enough to get trapped within into Harrowfiends. In practice they are just chaotic fights against waves of enemies that culminate in a boss fight. I mostly just got frustrated by all the instant deaths that came from the Harrow swarm attack that I rarely ever saw coming. Compared to dark anchors they just feel like they go on forever and lack the majesty or strategy of fighting a dragon. Also, I have yet to complete one where it seemed that the loot was even worth the effort.
All of these activities are not simply confined to Western Skyrim as almost half of the playable area in this new chapter is in the underground region of Blackreach. This just might be my favorite locale in the entirety of Tamriel. While cavernous it feels absolutely sprawling and upon entering presented me with the biggest sense of awe that I have felt since The Lord of the Rings Online’s Mines of Moria expansion. It plays the same as any other zone but really goes to show how much visual fidelity can be lent to even a cave system.
One of the biggest changes that have come with the base patch was the overhaul of the vampire skill line. Personally I have been running my main as a vampire for about the last two years and my reaction to the changes can be summed up very simply, I am now a werewolf.
Since this expansion contains no new classes the last thing that should be discussed is the new Antiquities system which consists of two mini-games. You can find leads to an item from almost anywhere which opens up the ability to scry for its location. This first mini game requires you to connect certain dots by connecting them through a channel of tiles that share the same symbol. The more you are able to connect within your limited number of turns, the more narrowed down the location of the artifact will be.
It is then a matter of traversing to that location, which can take you to any of the past zones as well, to find the excavation site. Here you will open the second mini game where you try to uncover the chest containing the artifact through layers of soil using brushes and shovels. If you find it quickly enough you will have a chance to look for a bonus item. There are different furnishings, equipment and a mount that can be found but primarily it will be treasure that will help to build up some gold. It’s a decent pass time but will need to be expanded on to have legs for the long haul.
Overall, I absolutely loved the content found in Greymoor and can easily recommend it to players who love picking up what ESOs puts down. That being said however, there is absolutely nothing in this chapter that will convert a player who has been put off by the same old, same old. Also, if paying full price, this chapter is also a bit thin on the amount of content one would expect from a typical MMO expansion.
In regards to the quality of the content that is there: