The Elder Scrolls Online Elsweyr Preview: Here be dragons

2

And cats.

In just a few short months, Zenimax Online Studios will launch the newest chapter for The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr. Zenimax is promising big changes for the game including a massive new area for questing, a deep dive into the mysterious Khajiit race, Dragons flying around the place for the first time in the game and the addition of the Necromancer class for the first time in ANY Elder Scrolls game. Stevivor was flown all the way to freezing cold London town to speak with the developers and get some hands-on time with an almost finished build of the new chapter, including time with the new Necromancer class.

During our hands on with Elsweyr, which went for just short of 2 hours, we were first taken through the opening tutorial which closely resembles that of the original base game, highlighting a key point that Zenimax kept reiterating to us that morning. Elsweyr can be enjoyed by any player, of any skill, any experience and any level. It’s a welcome feature considering they started us with new, level 1 characters.

The tutorial included a very brief encounter with a dragon which, for the most part, kept its claws firmly on the ground. Guided by an NPC we swung our swords at the dragon’s feet and wings until it lifted up into the air and flew away before we had the opportunity to slay the beast. This initial encounter was somewhat underwhelming, but remembering this was only a component of the tutorial I was keen to track this winged lizard down and reintroduce it to my blade.

What was explained to us though was that fighting dragons is designed to be a big event that all players in a server will experience. They’re called world events, similar to the public events in Destiny. That is to say, if there’s a dragon about, it will be seen flying around the map by all players (in the server) at the same time. And as far as we can see, all players can engage at the same time. From what we’ve been told of fighting with dragons, you’ll want people to help.

As far as scale goes (pun intended), when compared to the player, the single dragon we encountered was roughly the size of a large semi-truck. They’re big and intimidating. While it’s technically possible to take one down on your own, you probably wouldn’t want to (though kudos to whichever skilled Twitch streamer does it first). After the tutorial was done we were set free in Elsweyr to do as we pleased. Though a clear quest line presented itself as the best approach to tracking down the dragon which was of course why I was there in the first place.

With Elsweyr being the home of the Khajiit cat people, the majority of our quest-givers were natives to the land. As is the norm throughout ESO, characters direct you here and there collecting things, or killing enemies with a clever back story justifying the reason behind your actions. To play it all seems like typical ESO fare. While the story presented seemed enthralling in text, sadly the build we played didn’t have the recorded dialogue included so instead, computerised text to speech audio was used in its place making it quite a challenge to follow let alone enjoy. Imagine having a narrative delivered to you by a second hand GPS device from 8 years ago.

When I eventually came across Sir Cadwell, the Soul Shriven who many will remember from the early stages of the base game, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed to find John Cleese’s reprisal of the role hadn’t yet been applied to the build I was playing. But rest assured, Cleese will be playing Cadwell; we’re told his character will play a large part in this new chapter.

As we were only given opportunity to scratch the surface of the Elsweyr narrative I’ll reserve my view on it for now. What I can tell you though is that Zenimax is not exaggerating when it says it’s exploring the Khajiit lore in detail and building on it significantly. While Khajiit presence in ESO has been a constant from the beginning, any real lore about them has been extremely limited; fans of the little details in Elder Scrolls lore are guaranteed to enjoy devouring all the new information that will flow in from this new chapter.

After our two hours in Elsweyr our necromancer had unlocked only a few special abilities. The first being a ranged magic attack which launches a soul at your target doing significant damage from a distance. Another applies a layer of frost to your’s and your allies arms strengthening their defence against magic attacks. Though our game time wasn’t nearly enough to get the full necromancer experience this long awaited character class, these new abilities alone certainly indicate that fans of the series will have lots of fun experimenting with it. Though those opting to spend time as a necromancer will face new challenges as practising necromancy in certain situations will result in bounties as the practice has been outlawed. Fans have been begging Zenimax Online for this class for a long time now. Even in our short time with Elsweyr we can confirm the wait will be worth it.

And playing as a necromancer is as equally as exciting as fighting one. During our play through we explored underground dungeons littered with zombies, risen from the dead by necromancy. While taking out the zombies themselves was great for farming XP, putting down the necromancer in control of them caused their minions to stop dead in their tracks and fall in a heap allowing faster progression through the mission. So there’s certainly strategy to consider here.

Elsweyr itself is a massive and glorious world to explore. Though technically a desert, it reminded me of the canyons and rock formations of America’s mid-west. The Khajiit architecture is beautifully designed with many Asian inspirations which are nothing like anybody has seen in ESO before. Elsweyr isn’t just a new map. It’s an entirely new biome. Sadly our play time ran out seemingly just minutes before we caught up to the dragon we first rumbled with in the tutorial. But we were able to see it flying around and there’s no doubt battling with one of these winged beasts will be an event in and of itself.

Elsweyr will be released on 20 May for PC players and 4 June on PS4 and Xbox One. Players can try a bit of the new content out for themselves a little early as part of 25th birthday celebrations for The Elder Scrolls franchise.

Jay Ball travelled to the UK as a guest of Bethesda to preview The Elder Scrolls Online. Flights and accommodation were paid for by Bethesda.