Blackwood brings along with it plenty of content to chew through, some of it is comfortingly familiar and some of it exciting and new. There’s plenty of things to do, places to see and characters to meet, and the main quest line is a great story. None of it makes a major departure from the ESO formula, barring the addition of companions, but that’s not a bad thing. Bottom line, if you like ESO (or if you’re sick of pining after The Elder Scrolls VI), you’ll like Blackwood.
The Elder Scrolls VI may still be but a glint in Tod Howard’s eye, but if you’re feeling starved for some new Elder Scrolls content then look no further than The Elder Scrolls Online’s latest expansion, Blackwood. Blackwood takes players back to the familiar fields and plains of Cyrodiil, stacked against the humid Argonian homeland of Blackmarsh, and is chock-full of new content for both role-playing game players and MMO veterans to enjoy.
For anyone who isn’t in the loop with this kind of thing, Zenimax keeps its players happily coming back to The Elder Scrolls Online (hereafter called ESO) with a handful of content updates throughout the year, the most exciting of which is the new expansions. These add in new dungeons, new items, new story content, and often new maps to explore. Last year players faced off against a vampiric threat against the frosty plains of Skyrim in Greymoor, and now they’re ready to take on a Daedric conspiracy in Blackwood.
Blackwood brings back memories
Right, there’s a lot to go through here so let’s start with our favourite part of this expansion, the main questline. As you enter the new region and its capital city, Leyawiin, you’ll come across Captain Rian Lore, who somehow enlists your help in finding a Leyawiin counsellor who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. From there you become involved in a plot filled with secret deals, cults, an assassin’s guild, powerful Daedric weapons, and the impending threat of the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon arriving to bring chaos to all Tamriel.
It’s a lofty story, and for the most part, it’s told well. Some of the voice acting is a little dry or a little twee, but the characters you meet along the way are rounded and interesting enough to keep track of and even care about. Eveli, the spritely Wood Elf who joins you for much of your conspiracy uncovering, is particularly fun to be around. There are a few more forgettable faces, but that’s kind of how it goes with vast RPGs.
If you’ve played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Blackwood’s setting and plot will surely bring you some warm nostalgia. The story itself is set 800 years before the events of Oblivion and serves as a loose prequel to its story. Personally, I haven’t played it (yet), but the cities of Leyawiin and Gideon, and all the marshland between the two are stunning enough to make up for the nostalgia factor. At least for me, they are. But you’ll need a powerful machine to really get the most out of the scenery. Fortunately, the expansion comes alongside a few performance enhancements on consoles.
So what else is new?
Other than the main questline, Blackwood is pretty much the same as the rest of ESO. Which isn’t a bad thing, because ESO is a great game. The latest chapter brings with it a host of new side quests, some more memorable than others, new Skyshards to be found, new gear, a handful of fun dungeons, and a new trial, Rockgrove. Trials are effectively like raids, a standard feature for MMOs. All of this, barring Rockgrove, is soloable. Rockgrove is a welcome challenge, and you’ll need a full group of twelve to meet its difficulty mark.
Blackwood does bring two entirely new features with it: Oblivion Portals and companions. The former is a new form of world event. Oblivion Portals are similar to base ESO’s Dolmen events. They’re fiery portals that appear around Blackwood and teleport you into the Deadlands, Mehrunes Dagon’s realm of Oblivion. After entering you’ll face off against swarms of Daedric beasties and mini-bosses, running from one end of a zone to the portal at the other in order to get to the next one. After you’ve clawed your way through several zones you’ll be able to take on a major boss fight at the end and score some great rewards if you win. They’re best done in a group, but you don’t always have to coordinate a squad to go in. You’ll often run into players as you enter the first portal. Just try to keep up if you run into some pros making a mad dash through the whole area.
Companions are a staple in most Bethesda games and MMO RPGs alike, but have been sorely lacking for most of ESO’s existence. Blackwood introduces two companions for you to recruit and take adventuring with you: Bastion the Breton and Mirri the Dark Elf. As you wander along, they’ll fight with you and level up alongside you, and you can customise their builds to a certain degree to fit your playstyle. For example, you can set Bastion up as a support mage or a DPS machine. You’ll also pick up companion gear for them, as they can’t equip standard gear. They’re great, and as you play with them you’ll become closer or further apart as companions through a rapport system that reflects their personalities. For example, good-natured Bastion won’t think very highly of you if he watches you pickpocket an old lady in the Leyawiin market square. And rightly so, you naughty little scamp. For shame. They have their limitations too. For example, you can’t share inventory space with them, but I understand that that feature doesn’t fit into ESO’s framework particularly well, so I’ll let it slide.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood – Verdict
It’s quite simple, really. Blackwood brings along with it plenty of content to chew through, some of it is comfortingly familiar and some of it exciting and new. There’s plenty of things to do, places to see and characters to meet, and the main quest line is a great story. None of it makes a major departure from the ESO formula, barring the addition of companions, but that’s not a bad thing. Bottom line, if you like ESO (or if you’re sick of pining after The Elder Scrolls VI), you’ll like Blackwood.