The Elder Scrolls Online has always been about that nostalgia hit, and things haven’t slowed down for a trip to Western Skyrim. The game even starts with a character waking up in a wagon. “Ah you are awake,” a Nord voice says before your cart gets waylaid by witches, vampires and werewolves, a firm nod to us arriving in Skyrim so many years ago, about to be executed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But being several centuries before the events of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, things are pretty different. This land isn’t under the control of Imperials yet, but something moves in the shadows of this land, bringing calamity.
Witches from the icy north are working with a vampire lord to bring about these terrible storms that seem to turn people feral or mindless. This is the new world event for groups to take on, replacing the dolmens and geysers of other places in the game and while at first I thought the idea was pretty cool, with the air turning red near a storm and the horrible wicker enemies mixed with werewolves and vampires made for quite the spectacle, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
There are 10 locations that a harrowstorm can form in Western Skyrim, most of which are a bit of a walk from the nearest fast-travel marker. The storms pick a spot to form seemingly at random and there is hardly any pre-amble to their activation. Players looking for the XP and loot that can be obtained from these events sit around, waiting for a storm to trigger, then almost immediately destroy the entire event. For some reason, the health and number of enemies seem fixed regardless of whether one or 100 people are nearby, and while a small group killing the three witch pikes and the final boss monster will take a while, the boss vaporises when a large enough group is there, meaning that if you weren’t sitting right at the storm’s location as it started, you miss your chance at loot or participating. The zone chat is full of people complaining about missing a harrowstorm, or mentioning how long they were waiting for one to start.
Hopefully, it gets patched to have some sort of indication where the next storm will be or some other change that makes it less likely to be over in less than a minute because it is too frustrating right now.
A stubborn king
With witches, vampires and werewolves making an appearance in Western Skyrim, you arrive to find the High King of these lands to be reluctant to listen to any outsiders, especially when Lyris Titanborn arrives as the envoy of the king of Eastern Skyrim. Paranoid about a plot from the East, the high king refuses your counsel, causing you to work with his family to try to save the three holds of Western Skyrim.
I loved my time looking at Solitude, revisiting Dragon Bridge to see it as an important garrison town, and visiting large Nord fishing and farming towns, offering to help undo curses or track down killer beasts that bother the townsfolk. It is a world designed to look beautiful, and full of small details to enjoy. Bears head to the river and fish, Elk sharpen their antlers on the trees, while squirrel and spriggans go about their day. A murder of crows feasts on a dead animal, while trolls lurk near a dead messenger. A lot of world-building has gone into making the region come to life, and the Blackreach looks more beautiful and foreboding than ever before.
Go fetch a thing
Sadly, the quest design fails to make full use of this beautiful space. Far too often quests are about fetching things or killing something. A few examples stand out, like a quest where you follow a dog because you can’t reach where the NPC went, going the very long way round in an area. The number of times I went to the Blue Palace to be sent far away just to return there is far too high considering how quickly this segment of the game is over. While I understand that this is only a section of the story for the year, it feels like the story is over just when it really gets started, leaving us with a lot of questions as to the motives of the big bad, who spends most of the expansion being mysterious and out of reach.
Greymoor promises a darker, more grisly tale, but somehow just delivers more of the same. Another expansion using the exact some mechanics for world bosses and group events, quest givers with the same face and voice, and players waiting around for up to an hour to participate in an event that lasts about a minute just for a chance of loot. The Elder Scrolls Online needs a change of pace and something new besides the Antiquities system, which is a fun way to go exploring, but also devolves into so much grinding to reach any treasures worth unearthing.
Add in the price tag and having bugs like invulnerable, untargetable mobs in delves, and you will find that unless you love Skyrim, Blackreach and Jennifer Hale, this expansion is a hard sell.