There is something magical about ESO in its big moments that I feel a connection to the single-player games. Stuck in the middle of plotting Daedric Princes, living gods and more, the essence of what makes the games set in Nirn and beyond so much fun to be a part of thrives. While I will openly admit that I feel playing an MMO in Tamriel is second place to a new single-player game in the series, it is a pretty good second place.
Summerset is a long, slow burn, winding your way through mysteries, unravelling a plot and learning about the isolationist land of the high elves. It is a beautiful place soaked in magic, old family genealogies, rhetoric, ritual and racism. The isolationist high elves see themselves are superior to all other races and these haughty people have a whole host of problems that you need to solve for them.
It all starts (even if you start a new character in Summerset or just go visit the place) with a massive pearl radiating magic. The pearl draws monsters from the ocean depths and people coming to visit Summerset, which has just declared its borders open after decades, are going missing. There is a major plot underway and it is up to you to stop it, and if you want, learn the ways of the enigmatic Psijic order.
It is a beautiful place soaked in magic, old family genealogies, rhetoric, ritual and racism.
Unlike the Morrowind expansion to ESO, where the Warden was a full new class to play, the Psijic Order is a skill line that you can add to any character, just like joining a guild. It starts off rather fantastically: You have to find the fabled tower they reside in, which has been hidden off of Nirn, before you can even begin your training as an acolyte. Your first task? Find a rather funny to listen to talking crystal skull and go seal several temporal rifts. Once you seal nine of them in Summerset you get…. enough skill to get a passive skill in the Psijic line. This means you can’t get any more experience in the skill line unless you do more quests. This would be fine, except for the next quest involving you going to another part of the world and finding and sealing more temporal seals. As far as unlocking the mysteries of the Psijic order goes, this is probably the most boring way possible to do it. I get not wanting players to become master Psijics in the first week of play, but mechanically these quests are slow, boring and do nothing except pad out how long it takes before you can see if the skill line is one that you are interested in using. The issue is that the skills are really handy, like the Undo skill that resets you back to the position, HP/MP and stamina you had three seconds ago. This is great for big fights or after taking a hard hit from a boss monster. As a result, you will probably want to get the Psijic skill line on one character and while the story will help you as you explore or re-explore the older areas, I can’t see anyone wanting to do it more than once.
A place worth questing in
Summerset itself is a lot less boring than following a treasure map to close little holes in the world, thankfully. You will get to see all sorts of things about the high elves that you never knew, like how they have spent generations perfecting an absolutely rubbish bureaucracy, ignored a magical wood that misdirects those who enter it because it is just a prank. A completely overwrought and complicated judicial system, a hatred of anything new or different so strong that merely quoting outcast writings can cause youth to be ostracised and exiled and much more. Actually, besides the world looking beautiful and the houses and clothes being majestic, the high elves are some of the most racist, arrogantly superior useless fools you have ever met. No wonder the game has you deal with outsiders most of the time instead of those native to Summerset because the sapiarchs and the cronies of the court are such a pain I am not sure why I am saving them at all. Let the Court of Bedlam take this place. Thankfully there are some heart-warming tales and interesting quests to make up for so many of the locals being haughty. While there are fewer quests than Morrowind I felt that there were more meaningful and meaty quests to undertake. From unearthing conspiracies, reuniting estranged siblings, a vampire created by alchemical means and a serial killer investigation, there were several quests that felt like they could have been part of the main story or the critical path instead of side quests.
There were several quests that felt like they could have been part of the main story or the critical path instead of side quests.
But we are the heroes and we save the world, even if it is a bunch of racists who sit around all day doing nothing. Because the threat extends beyond Summerset and someone has to stop it. Getting there, however, takes a fair while before the story really kicks it up and once it does, it feels like everything is over so quickly.
Instead of Dolmens, the anchor points that try to pull this plane towards Coldharbour, being scattered over Summerset, there are abyssal geysers. These points require a few players to safely complete and work just like the dolmens: waves of enemies spawn from until a boss appears, at which point you get some loot. They make for a nice way to grab a few magic items, but it feels too much like a reskinned mechanic that many players still form dolmen groups in chat rather than geyser groups, which speaks volumes. While many players enjoy being able to form groups and run around killing strong monsters for loot, it is odd that this is just a reskinned version of something that ESO players have been doing right from the start.
Summerset has a strong enough story that many times you will feel you are playing a single-player game instead of an MMO. If this is the quality of ESO’s chapters going forward, then I will be playing them all. For new players though, expect to spend a bit of time reading up on what is what, because, like any other MMO, acronyms and terms get thrown around with close to little help from the game, leaving you to ask questions or read the help guide. Sadly the help guide doesn’t include anything about commonly used acronyms and shorthand so that you need to suss out on your own. This isn’t something unique to ESO, but worth keeping in mind if you have only played the TES games and are considering diving in.