The Elder Scrolls Online’s year-long Dark Heart of Skyrim storyline starts in earnest with the game’s latest chapter expansion, Greymoor. For the first time in the long-running MMO, the snowy, swampy expanses of Western Skyrim are open for exploration, though this isn’t exactly the same game world fans will remember from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
The MMO takes place 1000 years before The Elder Scrolls V, which means some of Skyrim’s recognizable locales, like the riverside village of Morthal and the crowded city streets of Solitude, look familiar but are also slightly altered this time around. Players will also find a very different status quo in Tamriel’s northernmost kingdom. Greymoor introduces a kingdom-wide crisis involving werewolves, a growing vampiric threat, an elusive coven of witches, and mysterious harrowstorms that ravage Skyrim and drive its denizens mad.
I haven’t played Skyrim for years, so running around the MMO’s version of the kingdom didn’t initially give me the rush of nostalgia I was expecting. Walking up to the towering stone walls of Solitude and hopping around its bustling docks definitely brought me back, but I wasn’t exactly overtaken by a warm, fuzzy feeling.
But as I continued to explore, the warm-and-fuzzies started to creep in, not just because of the recognizable locations and monuments, but because of the general topography of the land and the manner in which I arrived at these locations. For example, at one point I was semi-aimlessly exploring a snow-blanketed mountain, killing vampiric sabrecats for XP. Then, as I was descending a windy path, I suddenly realized exactly where I was and, lo and behold, happened upon the cozy cluster of houses that is Morthal. This exciting blast from the past reminded me of the sense of adventure and discovery that pulled me into Skyrim all those years ago.
Greymoor’s central narrative revolves around your hero helping to get Skyrim’s two rival kingdoms (and their bullheaded rulers ) to address a roiling, underground threat lead by the Icereach Coven, who are quietly plotting to tear Skyrim apart from the inside out. Aiding you in your mission are the virtuous Lyris Titanborn from the main questline and Fennorian, a friendly vampire who doesn’t exactly elicit warm responses from passers-by. Lyris is one of the best, most memorable characters in The Elder Scrolls, so it was nice to have her along for the ride during the largely bleak campaign.
The new quests and content included in Greymoor are largely standard ESO fare. You’re tasked with venturing into dangerous caves and enemy encampments, retrieving or destroying various items of interest for loot, gold, and XP. But the strength of Greymoor as a whole is that the wretched, gothic atmosphere and imagery that defines the Chapter permeates everything, from the stories driving main and side quests, to the enemies plaguing the landscape, to the look of Tamriel itself.
Harrowstorms—blood-red tornadoes that transform people into either mindless zombies or ravenous bloodfiends—are an ever-present threat and inform many of the quests, like helping people find their missing companions and discovering whether or not they’ve been turned. Harrowstorms don’t change gameplay in a huge way by any means, but the way they perpetually loom over the people of Skyrim and cause panic is a compelling narrative and world-building element.
Release Date: May 26, 2020
Platforms: PC (reviewed), XBO, PS4, Stadia
Developer: Zenimax Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
The new Antiquity system opens up a new way to play the game and explore Tamriel. Through the Antiquarian Guild, you follow leads to hunt down artifacts scattered about the map. After playing a short Scrying mini-game, you’re shown dig sites on your map to excavate (a grid-based puzzle game) and hopefully unearth artifacts and reap handsome rewards like equipment, gold, and even a mount—the badass Ebon Dwarven Wolf.
I got lost in the Antiquity loop for a few hours, and while it was decent fun, I can’t say it triggered the compulsive part of my brain the way so many other aspects of ESO do. Its greatest contribution is simply the fact that it allows you to play and explore in a new, more leisurely way and offers a welcome break from the traditional quest grind.
Another way Greymoor offers a bit of variety is by expanding the cavernous underground sprawl of Blackreach, which was explorable to only a limited extent in Skyrim. There is a ton to do down in the depths of the kingdom, from questing to mining to finding loot in hidden pockets of rock. Speaking of rocks, Blackreach looks much more appealing this time around, with a staggering variety of rock formations and color palette deviations, which perfectly complement the spiny, gothic vampire castles that populate this corner of Tamriel.
The vampire skill line has been revamped, and enjoyably so. The new abilities make vampire play far more engaging, with combat predicated on evasion, deception, and health bar manipulation. The ability Blood Frenzy increases your spell and weapon damage but costs you health, while Mesmerize stuns a group of enemies in front of you. The new Ultimate, Blood Scion, heals you completely and gives you boosts in Max Health, Stamina, and Magicka for 20 seconds. Plus, it lets you see through walls, which is delightfully empowering.
On an island north of Solitude, there’s Kyne’s Aegis, a 12-player trial that challenges you to fell three bosses: Yandir the Butcher, Captain Vrol, and the infamous vampire Lord Falgravn. I wasn’t able to play the trial extensively for this review, but what I did play was a blast. Fighting through the hordes of enemies to get to the bosses was surprisingly fun and didn’t feel as repetitive and empty as typical horde modes.
The nuts and bolts of Greymoor and its new gameplay offerings are decent, but what makes it a worthwhile expansion is the world-building and the Gothic atmosphere that makes Western Skyrim feel both new and familiar.