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June 1, 2021
ZeniMax Online Studios
Welcome back to the Gates of Oblivion, The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood faces players with the Daedric threat. With over 18 million players, The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) is one of the largest and most successful western MMOs to date. With each annual chapter DLC comes a slew of new story, characters, mechanics, and changes to the core game. In comparison to the last few years though, Blackwood doesn’t have the flames of ambition that it should.
Set 800 years before the events of The Elder Scrolls IV, the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon plans another attack on the people of Tamriel and the southern region of Cyrodil. The Longhouse Emperors, a short-lived group of rulers, make a deal with the Prince of Destruction and the scheme slowly unfolds with deceit and murder.
From within the walls of the imperial city of Leyawiin to the murky bogs of Shadowfen, the region of Blackwood showcases a familiar environment to fans of the series. Magical and flourishing forests with castles set between them. Damp and murky swamplands full of feral monsters. While the setting is impressive visually, it’s almost too similar to what we’ve seen before. The Germanic architecture of towns and the woody zones are too reminiscent of other areas such as Malabal Tor or any other basic kingdom in The Elder Scrolls series.
“While the setting is impressive visually, it’s almost too similar to what we’ve seen before.”
The Oblivion gates and the Deadlands are fascinating to see once again. A major visual overhaul since The Elder Scrolls IV, with more detail and flora across the Daedric zone. The massive four-armed creatures here serve as some of the most unique, challenging and ferocious foes. With all the fun the Deadlands provide, it’s disappointing it isn’t the main scenery of the Blackwood chapter. Most of the content instead fits that all too typical Elder Scrolls setting.
The main storyline of The Longhouse Emperors begins with a murder mystery that is way too predictable. Elevi Sharp-Arrow is a bubbly Wood Elf who joins you along this part of the adventure, yet that’s really where most of the flair ends with this quest. Despite the notable characters met along the way, the narrative itself is dreadfully obvious and stale. It is retelling events with an already set outcome: the Daedric Prince will once again be defeated so he can return centuries later. While the lore between it will be intriguing to Elder Scrolls fans, this story will be a chore for the casual MMO player.
What truly shines in this chapter is the addition of Companions. While they won’t single-handedly help defeat the toughest trials or dungeons, the two companions Blackwood offers are great party members for solo players. They are available across all regions of the Elder Scrolls Online, except for solo arenas and player vs player content. Mirri and Bastian are personable and charming characters in their own right, and they’ll be able to fill a role to compliment the party. For example, a Nightblade Dark Elf focusing on damage dealing can skill a companion as a healer. They also have their own unique loot to help gear them up for battles.
Mirri and Bastian have significantly different personalities, and how the player acts in-game will affect your rapport. This system ensures these companions aren’t simply cannon-fodder and adds an extra dimension to them, along with their individual goals and quests. By disappointing a companion and hurting your rapport, they may refuse to help you and become unavailable for some time.
“What truly shines in this chapter is the addition of Companions… Mirri and Bastian are personable and charming characters in their own right, and they’ll be able to fill a role to compliment the party.”
Companions are surely great, but they do have issues. They aren’t terrific in combat, especially without the right skills or gear. Mirri and Bastian will die a lot, and they’ll be useless until resurrected or after combat. Merchant and Banking Assistants fall under the same category as Companions, meaning only one can be active at a time which may frustrate players. The obvious factor is, those who are within an active guild will not find any use for two AI-controlled NPCs in their party when actual people will provide good combat and company. While not perfect, having two friends to help along the way is a redeeming feature for Blackwood.
The developers at Zenimax are listening and unquestionably are providing an arduous new trial. Rockgrove allows 12 players to fight an onslaught of foes and three unique bosses, helping the Argonians against another Daedric attack. The trial is for high-level, properly geared players only. Without the right skills, playing experience, and party to take on this monstrous battle, adventurers will not make it very far.
Bahsei’s Mania, Stone Talker’s Oath, Sul-Xan’s Torment, and Saxhleel Champion are four new armour sets found within the Rockgrove trial. They have specific benefits such as spell damage and critical bonuses or magic recovery, rewarding those who obtain them. The trial may also drop new titles, cosmetics, and a unique mount known as the Sul-Xan Fleshripper. Yep, that’s a must-have for everyone.
Of course, there is plenty of loot to unlock outside the difficult trial. A vast selection of Oblivion themed pets, armour, weapons, dyes, and more are scattered throughout the Blackwood chapter’s content. There are Dark Collectibles and achievements to keep things interesting, too. Like the expansions before it, Blackwood is packed to the brim with content. Surprisingly, it lacks any new player versus player content which will easily upset many, but the main campaign, side-quests, and Oblivion gate events will surely keep people busy.
Seals of Endeavour create a passive way to purchase crown crate items. This new currency lets players buy otherwise pay-only gear by doing daily tasks that can be completed during normal questing and raiding. This is the first time any in-game money doesn’t require microtransactions to purchase otherwise exclusive cosmetics. However, the value they provide is very little. It takes a large number of Seals of Endeavour to buy even the cheapest armour or pets on the marketplace. Everything is just out of reach and it all feels like corporate slime.
This raises the new privacy agreement terms that Zenimax Online introduces with this DLC. It has come to the attention of players the latest update states the company will sell users’ information to undisclosed third parties. Including legal name, age, gender, email, billing address, and other confidential information. It may not affect the gameplay or content of ESO: Blackwood, yet it is an egregious practice and should be on the radar for anyone on the fence about playing ESO at all.
ESO: Blackwood is familiar territory for fans of the universe. While it provides heaps of armour sets to collect, enemies to defeat, and captivating characters to meet, it won’t be anyone’s favourite. This chapter of the MMO lacks an unseen and astounding setting, like Elsywere and Summerset had before it. The chapter relies on nostalgia, where that hole was filled with the previous Greymoor chapter. Lacking player versus player content, a memorable main story, and environments, Blackwood just isn’t up to scratch. However, as a complete package, The Elder Scrolls Online continues to be one of the best quality MMO experiences.