Morrowind, the last expansion for Elder Scrolls Online was quite clearly a play to the large audience and fan base that the epic RPG series has built up over the years. For many fans, this region would have been their first foray into Tamriel, especially as it was a first taste for console players via the original Xbox, and this hefty dose of nostalgia could easily draw players in to explore. By contrast, Summerset can’t lean on fan service in quite the same way.
The Isle of Summerset is home to the High Elves, serving as the setting for the very first game in the series, The Elder Scrolls: Arena. It is in a lot of ways exactly what you’d expect from that description, with an impressive and imposingly opulent city at its heart, pretty surrounding environments, and snooty High Elves that look down on other races. It might initially appear to be a stereotypical depiction of fantasy High Elves, and there’s certainly a lot of common ground with other takes on the High Elf race, but there’s a darkness beneath the surface both figuratively and literally.
You have the surrounding nature that’s filled with creatures more than happy to attack you, while the dank waterworks beneath the city are filled with angry crabs and marauders, but there’s also other dangers for outsiders to be wary of. It’s only recently that Queen Ayrenn has decreed that the island’s borders be opened up to foreigners, giving the realm a wash of xenophobia to go along with the stereotypical isolationism. One of the first quests you can take on revolves around how outsiders have been “sequestered” – AKA detained – and then conveniently disappeared, and you’re tasked with digging into the underbelly of this city and discover what’s really going on.
That’s not the first grand mystery and threat to this realm that you encounter, as you initially wake to yourself in the mind trap, a surreal blend of solid looking stone ruins and etherial pink, blue and purple stuff. You’ve been shoved into this illusion by a being known as K’Tora, looking to turn your memories and foes against you. In truth, it’s easy to overcome them, as this acts as a tutorial area for you to learn the game’s basics before dropping you into the more open world.
You were rescued from this place, or at least pushed in the right direction, by Oriandra of the Psijic Order, a faction of powerful mages that keep a watchful eye over Tamriel. For the first time in the series’ history, you’ll be able to learn more about them and visit their city of Artaeum, as well as learn the magics that they’re able to wield that control time.
Equally intriguing for me is how far Bethesda have twisted their MMO to feel like a single player game and massaged its form to make it as friendly for newcomers as possible. Admittedly, these changes came quite some time ago with the One Tamriel update, meaning that the game would match its difficulty level to you on a player-by-player basis, but it’s still fascinating to see how far Bethesda have worked to broaden the game’s appeal. As I took on the early quests, I could see other players from the event running around and I could invite them to join up with me, but I never really felt the need to at this point.
Infiltrating the Serene Monastery to uncover the truth behind the disappearing visitors to these shores actually felt more than natural playing solo, especially as NPC characters joined me. Admittedly, there is a little logical break when you come out of the Mind Trap and get told you’re the first person able to break free… while standing in a crowd of other players talking to Oriandra, and similarly when sneaking around the Serene Monastery grabbing the clues you need and see other players doing the same, but that’s something that MMOs have never really reconciled. You’re both the one and only possible saviour and the realm and at the heart of the story, and one of hundreds of other individuals sharing this space.
Of course, other players are there for a reason, and if you stick around in this world long enough, you’ll want to take on the group content in the game. There’s new Delves and Bosses to try to take on together, as well as a new 12-player Trial and more. It is an MMO after all.
Drawing once more upon the sprawling history of The Elder Scrolls, Summerset is an intriguing expansion and Bethesda have had an almost completely blank canvas on which to imagine what this high fantasy part of the world might look like 24 years on from the original game. Its setting is bound to be new and fresh for players, whether they’ve played the first game in the series or not, and it marks another great time for newcomers to jump in.