The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr preview – here be dragons!

Our US chums tried out The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr, and found its necromancers more enticing than the dragons...

Dragons have invaded Elder Scrolls Online this year, in ‘The Season Of The Dragon’, a year-long, four-update story event that includes the Elsweyr chapter, which launches this summer. This dragon invasion may seem improbable to some fans, due to the fact that ESO takes place during Tamriel’s second era, which until now was believed to be a dragon-free time period in the universe’s lore.

Over the course of 2019, the mystery behind the dragons’ unexpected presence in the Khajiit’s desert homeland will be revealed, though canonical exposition will likely be the farthest thing from players’ minds when they come face to face with the fire-breathing beasts. Elsweyr’s dragons are the greatest threat you’ll encounter in this game, and you definitely don’t want to take them on alone – this isn’t Skyrim, after all.

“You’re not the Dovahkiin,” ESO creative director Rich Lambert says of the primary difference between Skyrim and Elsweyr’s dragon battles. “In Skyrim, you had this toolset where you could absorb dragons’ souls, learn shouts… you could one-on-one a dragon. In our version, you don’t have that toolkit, so you have to rely on friends – either NPCs or other players – to help you deal with the dragons. A lot of the dragon encounters that we’re doing, we’re tuning to eight players. Now, I’m sure people will try to solo it, and that’s fine. But it’s going to be difficult.”

Den Of Geek US had a chance to play about an hour of Elsweyr during the Game Developers Conference last month, and we did encounter a dragon during that time, though the experience wasn’t exactly what you might have envisioned. After a short mission that involved blowing a horn at the top of a tower to down a dragon, a team of allies swarmed the creature, swinging swords and casting spells in a flurry.

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Unfortunately, if ESO’s dragons are meant to be epic, terror-inducing enemies, that certainly wasn’t what this initial encounter conveyed. The dragon appeared to be a little dinky, with herky-jerky animations that sucked all the spectacle out of the experience. It didn’t necessarily look bad, presentation-wise, but it’s hard not to compare the encounter to those epic memories of fighting dragons in Skyrim.

That being said, this battle was a scripted portion of the tutorial and likely isn’t indicative of what most of the game’s dragon encounters will feel like (it’s also worth noting that the version of the game at GDC was clearly unfinished, plagued with wonky textures, lighting and sound, and the final game’s presentation will likely be greatly improved). In the larger game, there will be dragon world events that occur randomly across the game map, in which groups of players can team up to slay these beasts and collect rare loot. Again, dragons are meant to be the most formidable enemies to be found, so we’ll see whether they live up to that hype in the final game.

Aside from dragons, the other major feature in Elsweyr is the addition of the Necromancer class, which allows players to conjure undead minions and reanimate dead humanoid enemies to aid in battle. Playing as a Necromancer was a lot of fun, as there is a sort of sadistic glee to be had when a brigade of undead folk are doing your bidding.

“It feels like you’re the master of the undead,” Lambert says of the new character class. “You summon minions, and then you’re done with them. You don’t have this happy interaction with a permanent pet. You don’t love them and feed them. It’s very different than the other classes.”

Another defining characteristic of the Necromancer class is that, in exchange for being able to summon armies of the dead, mobility is significantly slower than with other classes, though the trade-off feels more than fair. 

After you get the hang of the Necromancer’s abilities, which include conjuring undead archers and converting corpses into gruesome land mines, you’re able to manipulate the battlefield in creative ways, which is an absolute blast. One enjoyable ability here is creating an electric tether between your necromancer and one of your undead grunts, which damages any enemy that comes into contact with it.

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One ultimate ability you can deploy summons a hulking ice monster to smash your enemies to pieces, which is devilishly delightful. Another cool aspect of playing as a Necromancer is that, in the story, they’re scorned by the public, which means that if you use your dark magic in public spaces, guards will chase you down and attempt to kill you. Unlike that underwhelming dragon face off, which left us unsure about the big beastie battles, this new class is clearly something to be excited about from the new expansion.

And anyone is welcome to jump into Elsweyr, regardless of experience. The expansion comes with the base game, and new players won’t have to worry about being underpowered or ill-equipped next to their higher-levelled friends.

“Our game doesn’t have arbitrary level gates,” Lambert explains. “You can feel free to explore our content in any way you want to. [A new player and a veteran player] can play together and still get meaningful progression… Essentially, the game is always at max level. New players get a buff that approximates the power of a max level player. They’re not going to be as powerful as a max level player because max level players have abilities and gear and passes and all of these other things. But the game will get [new players] close enough so that they can participate in events.”

The new game map is mostly comprised of arid expanses, though there is a forested section that wasn’t available to explore during the demo. The Khajiit are one of the most ancient races in Tamriel (they predate the Elves), so there’s a lot of Southeast Asian-inspired architecture scattered about their desert landscapes, which gives the new region a unique feel and aesthetic.

Based on this early experience of Elsweyr, the new expansion looks to be a good jumping-on point for new players, whilst also offering an exciting new character class for die-hards to play around with. And, of course, there are dragons, though we need to see them in a larger context before we can really pass judgement on those scaley foes.

Elsweyr will launch on 4 June for PC, Xbox One and PS4.

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