The Elder Scrolls Online gets a big new content drop later this month.
As soon as she joined the fray in The Elder Scrolls Online’s second DLC pack, Orsinium, Eveli Sharp-Arrow was a crowd favourite. She was energetic, adventurous and compassionate, a budding young wood elf adventurer whose path almost mirrors your own.
When you battled the Winterborn and saved the Orcs, she stayed back to make sure you were ok. She told you about how conflicted she was killing guards in self-defense, shared her conflict over helping (and hindering) Bazrog. She’s a complex character, and a fantastic example of what people love about The Elder Scrolls Online — great voice-acting, even better writing and narratives and characters that linger long after they’re finished.
And with Flames of Ambition, dropping 8 March for PC and Mac and 16 March for Xbox and PlayStation, she’s back — a bit older and a bit wiser, but possessing all the qualities you remember her for. And she wants you to help her steal a book.
Flames of Ambition features two new dungeons for seasoned adventurers: The Cauldron and Black Drake Villa.
The Cauldron sees a bunch of Mehrunes Dagon Cultists enslaving Dark Elves and excavating a long forgotten temple. You might remember Mehrunes Dagon from a little game called The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion — these cats worship that same crazy Daedric Prince. With Flames of Ambition serving as the lead-in DLC to a year of content titled The Gates of Oblivion, you get a hint of what’s at stake there.
The other dungeon is the Black Drake Villa, where Eveli Sharp-Arrow is trying to recover a book thought long forgotten — when you arrive, however, the place is on fire and everything is burning. Somebody remembered this place, and they want it destroyed.
It’s here that I got the opportunity to join Mike Finnigan, Lead Encounter Designer, Jeremy Sera, Lead Content Designer and Shane Slama, Senior Content Designer for a dungeon run and a breakdown of what makes Flames of Ambition so special.
The Black Drake Villa is the summer home of the Longhouse Emperors, named as it is after Durcorach the Black Drake, and Eveli will happily tell you all about how the now abandoned manor is filled with riches waiting to be plucked. Actually, one of the interesting things about Eveli is that if you’ve met her before — by playing the Orsinium DLC, for example — she’ll recognise you and address you accordingly.
Playing with a brand new (max level) character on the Public Test Server means she doesn’t recognise me at all, and treats me like anyone might if they were suspicious of someone but also too nice in a general sense. That means she’s initially wary, but before long she’s excited to go adventuring with someone else — and so we head into the Black Drake Villa. Like so many abandoned places in Cyrodil, BDV is overrun with vermin, but only one is worth making note of.
The Flame Salamanders are hardly a unique MMO mob — they’re support monsters, who buff and shield the other enemies in the pack — but because I’m clearly the weakest player in the party, it’s my job to take care of them. I’m playing a hodge-podge Dark Elf Dragonknight character, something I whipped up a bit on the fly, but it’s easy enough to kill the crazy lizards while the rest of our group takes care of everything else.
The layout within the top layer of this dungeon is gorgeous, although whoever built it was more obsessed with columns than a Sega Mega Drive tetris clone. Prior to the first boss — Kinras Ironeye, a minotaur — we take a bit of time to explore out surroundings and the team hints at how secrets are hidden about the dungeon. I believe there are some secret bosses in BDV, fleshing out the total number of bosses for those keen on hunting them down — without looking, there are only three bosses in BDV.
Kinras Ironeye summons flame salamanders, which is fantastic because by this point I’ve mastered the art of fiery lizard murder. He’s a pretty simple boss, or he is if you spend all your time looking for aflame geckos. Before long he’s dead, and our journey through the dungeon can continue.
On top of the two new dungeons, Flames of Ambition is bringing with it a huge overhaul of the Champions system. For those unfamiliar, when you reach level 50 in TESO levels are replaced by Champion Points, and those points make up the bulk of how players measure progression in the End Game. Champion Points are spent in Constellations (ala The Elder Scrolls system) to to sure up all manner of flaws in your game — you can get more stamina, more magicka regen, damage mitigation… the list goes on.
The issue that arose was one of power — because the game continued to grow, and the Champion Points continued along with it, content was created for the most powerful, and it created a gating effect for those below them. To thwart this gating, players found themselves stuck on the grind, always trying to push their damage mitigation up the 5-10% they needed to live through an encounter.
The new system changes things. There are just three Constellations now (down from 9) — Craft, Warfare and Fitness — and within these three you’ll be able to find the same amount of power you once had. But you’ll find that power in different ways. Where you once increased it a percentage point (or fraction of a percentage point) at a time, now the increases come in stages. 50 points might earn you one stage of Eldritch Insight, giving you 260 more Max Magicka. You can repeat this four more times for a total of 1300 extra Max Magicka — if you have the Champion Points.
Another change is the Champion Bar. Some of these passive skills are cheaper, but they need to be equipped to the Champion Bar to actually have any impact. Each constellation has four slots, and you can mix and match what you equip (from what you have unlocked) as the occasion calls for it. That means if you need to buff your stamina to help your healers out a bit, you can do it. If you’re in a fight where you’ll spend all your time your enemy, you can swap in Backstabber for a bit of extra Crit damage in the Fitness branch. And if you’re going fishing, you might want to get rid of your Sneak bonuses in favour of Angler’s Instincts in the Craft tree.
Like all change, I think this one will require an adjustment period. I worry about how players are going to quickly and easily switch out Champion Bar Skills when they’re doing different activities. PC players will have it easy — if there isn’t an add-on to do it for you, there will be soon. But the beauty of the Public Test Server is that you can’t play with add-ons — and console players don’t have that luxury either. I can see ‘switching out Champion Skills for raiding’ becoming a bit of a sticking point on Xbox and PlayStation. I’m sure things will shake out over time. It seems like an almost necessary evil — a little bit of pain now to make things much better in the long run.
Back in the Black Drake Villa, it’s just non-stop pain. A group of mercenaries, the True-Sworn, are setting fire to the library, and as a collective we hate people who burn books. So they have to die. As you make your way through the library, you get the feeling that maybe these True-Sworn aren’t the bad guys. Well, I did. I mean, they’re burning books, which is flat-out evil — but I don’t come from a world where a book might open a portal to another plane of existence where all life is torment (or at least I hope I don’t) so maybe I lack perspective.
Still, there’s no reasoning with the True-Sworn, and before long you’re taking on Captain Geminus. She’s pretty easy to take down (especially when you’re playing alongside the people who crafted the encounter), but she has some tricks up her sleeve. Good spacing is critical, as she will leap onto people with a devastating AOE and standing too close together can be overwhelming for a healer.
With her dispatched, you wind up outside again, with gorgeous views of the Gold Coast and a real sense of majesty setup around this villa. You get a good sense of just how rich these Longhouse Emperors were as you make your way through the gardens — before long, though, you’ve reached the end of the line, and Eveli announces that she’s convinced that the book must be near here, in the Emperor’s Arboretum. Naturally, there’s someone standing between you and your search.
Pyroturge Encratis, the “final” boss of this dungeon, is a fantastic fight. You take him on in two phases, and both are hectic. The first involves careful attention as you manage your distance from him — at times you need to be on top of him, at others you run away frantically. The second phase follows the same trend at the first, but the complexity is ramped up as the action gets split across two levels and the fighting area narrows to only a few square metres. It’s not an epic, world-ending boss fight against some mammoth foe, but because of clever use of the architecture it feels as imposing as one. It’s a fight in an elevator, and it absolutely works.
Once dispatched, Eveli reveals that she’s found the book! She says it just as the Pyroturge bites it, which makes me think she wasn’t helping in the fight all that much, but it’s mission accomplished all the same. It’s not filled with words, just weird symbols, which I’m sure won’t go terribly for whoever reads from it — and everyone else living on the same plane as them. She’ll remember your helping her from this event, as I mentioned, as will Lyranth if you aid her in The Cauldron dungeon. It’s a nice touch, and one that makes teaming up with others worth the effort if you’re keen to play the DLC as the Gates of Oblivion open across The Elder Scrolls Online.
The Elder Scrolls Online is currently available on Windows PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox Series S & X, PS4 and PS5. Flames of Ambition is available from 8 March. Make sure you read our interview with the development team here too, if you want more details, and let us know what you think below — is the Champion Point system change a good thing? Is it too early to tell?
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