Yes, The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor lets players revisit Western Skyrim, a part of one of the most legendary game worlds ever made. And yes, the rush of nostalgia I felt jumping into my hands-on preview with this year’s new Elder Scrolls Online chapter was exhilarating and gave me a serious case of the warm-and-fuzzies.
The opportunity to revisit Skyrim is enticing in and of itself, but Greymoor is a decidedly Elder Scrolls Online experience, not a single-player RPG one. Which is to say, while the nostalgia is definitely there, Greymoor lets you explore Skyrim in a new way, with several layers of added content and features that make it feel like more of a step forward into the future of Elder Scrolls Online than a trip back in time.
My time with the preview build of the Chapter started in a dungeon cell, with my Redguard Nightblade joined in isolation by a mysterious vampire who helps me escape. Before stepping out into the great outdoors of Western Skyrim, however, my fanged friend and I witnessed a nefarious meeting involving the leader of the witch coven that kidnapped us in the first place, setting the tone for the expansion’s year-long narrative.
Last year’s DLC chapter, Elsewyr, focused on dragons, which added a welcome fantastical epic-ness to the game. This year, the Dark Heart of Skyrim storyline does indeed turn down the whimsy, with Greymoor focusing on an epic tale of vampires, werewolves, and witches that sees your protagonist defending the bustling city of Solitude. The story takes place 1000 years before Skyrim, and in the handful of quests I embarked on, the ominous, gothic vibe of the story came through loud and clear.
Shortly after setting out into Skyrim’s wild West, I was approached by a mortally wounded Bronhold the Nord, who hands me a journal just before he takes his last breath. The journal contains investigative entries about the coven that kidnapped me, and the quests branch off from there. The conspiracies surrounding the coven bleed into the conflict between Skyrim’s kingdoms and the menacing red harrowstorms ravaging the landscape, turning people into Harroweds (essentially zombies) and Bloodfiends (raging vampires).
I enjoyed what I experienced of the sinister storylines that look to define this year’s event. The permeating whispers of the coven around Solitude created an ominous vibe that was pleasantly hard to shake. Even the side quests, like one involving a man who was turned into a vase by a curse, have an air of dark magic that’s appealing. One of the shining lights piercing through the darkness of the story is Lyris Titanborn from Elder Scrolls Online’s main questline, who accompanies you for a time and feels like a breath of fresh air in a bubbling sea of morbidity.
Another respite from the doom and gloom is the new Antiquities feature, which adds an Indiana Jones-like sense of adventure to Elder Scrolls Online, as well as a brand new way to play the game. After joining the game’s Antiquarian Circle, a guild of historians dedicated to finding relics buried across Skyrim, you set off on an adventure to find these items. Throughout Elder Scrolls Online (not just Greymoor), you can collect “leads” through various means. The leads vary in rarity and are discovered by playing a match-3 puzzle game, using an “Antiquarian’s Eye” to find the precise location of an artifact. You have a limited number of turns to match symbols and work your way across the board, and depending on how well you do, you’ll be given a number of areas on the world map where the artifact may be buried. If you do well in the minigame, one area on the map will be highlighted, where you can head to start digging. If you do poorly in the minigame (or you just don’t like puzzles), several areas on the map will be highlighted, and you’ll be forced to explore each one to find the correct dig site.
Once at the correct site, you enter another minigame, in which you use a variety of tools to excavate the relic. It’s like a cross between minesweeper and battleship, with the relic revealing itself as you deduce where on the grid it’s buried. There are also other items buried in the dig site that you can take with you so long as you can excavate them in time.
While I wasn’t able to play around with it during my playthrough, the vampire skill tree has been expanded, and there’s a 12-player trial called Kyne’s Aegis. The powerful Mythic items that are uncoverable via the Antiquities minigames will likely be incredibly helpful in the trial, which sees players sail to a remote island and battle sea giants.
These new features, quests, and stories make Greymoor a truly new way to experience Skyrim and uncover its history. Another way Zenimax adds depth to Skyrim’s lore is through its webbed, cavernous underbelly, Blackreach, which makes up 40% of Greymoor. I wasn’t able to explore Blackreach firsthand but from the looks of it, the focus on the subterranean area was a smart move. This version of Blackreach has far more visual variety. The developers demonstrated this in a preview presentation by showing me the assortment of rock formations they used to make up the different underground areas, which were indeed vastly more diverse than the monotone caverns and Dwemer ruins in Skyrim.
Greymoor isn’t fueled by nostalgia, which is a great thing. The nostalgia is there, though, for those longing for Bethesda‘s earlier fantasy RPG adventure. Walking around the docks and alleys of Solitude feels delightfully familiar while helping save Dragon Bridge from attackers is a straight-up blast from the past. But there are plenty of new features and adventures here to make this new chapter in Elder Scrolls Online’s unfolding saga feel fresh and different. It also makes it easy for Skyrim fanatics who haven’t tried Elder Scrolls Online yet to jump in and feel right at home while having fun with the game’s growing community.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor is out on May 18 for PC and June 2 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.