When most people think of the Elder Scrolls, they think of Skyrim. Sure, Morrowind and Oblivion undoubtedly had their moments, and various parts of Tamriel we’ve seen in Elder Scrolls Online have been memorable, but few things come close to the origins of the ‘arrow to the knee’ meme. So it is with great delight, that the newest Elder Scrolls Online expansion Greymoor, heads once more into Skyrim – Western Skyrim to be precise – giving you the chance to experience the frosty climes in an all-new, online-multiplayer way.
After a fan-baiting opening sat in the back of a horse-drawn cart, you’re soon swept up in a plot that threatens the balance of power in Skyrim, and perhaps the whole of Tamriel – isn’t that always the way? You find yourself in the company of everyone’s favourite half-giant Lyris Titanborn, and her quest becomes yours as you sweep down upon some upstart Reachmen, who are soon followed by a parade of vampires, werewolves and witches to dispatch on your way to uncovering the encircling mysteries surrounding Skyrim.
You begin in Solitude, the seat of power in Western Skyrim ruled over by the High-King Svargrim. You’ll soon discover that he is the most obstinate man in all of Tamriel. You might give him the slightest bit of lee-way to begin with – you, or rather Lyris, have been sent by his mortal enemy after all – but where the escalating events would sway most normal people, Svargrim refuses to budge.
You soon drop into the Elder Scrolls Online’s familiar rhythm of major quest-lines, interspersed with the less significant stuff, and the balance of progress and wandering off to do your own thing remains as strong here as it has ever been. Greymoor manages to pace things fairly well, and just when you might be ready to logout for the night you find you’re involved in something that just has to be seen through, or you’ll discover a new location that begs to be explored.
Western Skyrim looks pretty much as you’d expect; high, rocky peaks, play host to waterfalls, rivers and evergreens. It’s a perfectly functional, if slightly underwhelming rendition of this well-known landscape, though it’s cool to visit locations that you know from Skyrim. Still, you’d have expected a few more differences on occasion given ESO’s position in Tamriel’s chronology.
The real star of the Greymoor expansion is Blackreach – the underground kingdom lurking beneath Western Skyrim. This cavernous landscape holds some truly breath-taking sights, including the fantastic Dusktown and Greymoor Keep nestling amongst the carved-out stone walls. It’s here that the expansion comes to life, and I loved exploring the cavernous interiors, both during the central story missions and the myriad of side quests.
Whether you’re following the main narrative or not, the characterisation, writing and voice acting in Greymoor is largely very good, barring the odd spot of faux-Germanic waffling. Certainly the main characters you spend time with – Jennifer Hale’s Lyris, and vampire-scholar Fennorian – are interesting and well-rounded enough to spend a chunk of time with.
I was continually impressed by each and every NPC’s conversation, and it remains one of ESO’s strongest draws that this feels like a living, breathing, speaking world. You can’t help but be drawn into even the most banal of quests when there’s someone actually telling you why you should care. Greymoor’s strength in fact, is that the side quests are excellent, often eclipsing the main questline you’re supposed to be following.
Alongside the seven story quests, there’s a large body of content in the Antiquities and Instrumental Triumph quest lines. While Instrumental Triumph has you seeking out lost instruments to return to their place in the Bards College, the Antiquarian Circle tasks you with hunting down hidden relics across the entirety of Tamriel, turning you into an Elder Scrolls-flavoured Lara Croft.
To do so you’ll first need to scry for its location before then excavating it, both of which require some puzzling via two distinct mini-games. Scrying helps to eliminate potential dig sites, hopefully narrowing your search down to one area, but you still have to search once you’re there, looking for the tell-tale sparkle before beginning your dig. If you’re successful you’ll be granted a nice bit of insight into the artefact.
It adds a completely new facet to ESO, and I found myself getting wrapped up in the search for new items to exhume from the earth, though that might be at least in part due to my younger self’s desire to be an archaeologist. Whether you fancy yourself as the next Indiana Jones or not, it’s a great addition to the formula.
There is at least one annoyance that the Greymoor expansion has brought with it, and those are the Harrowstorms. Included as part of the daily challenges, these immense storms require you to join up with a bunch of other players as huge enemies spawn in that you’ll have to work together to take down.
There are Harrowstorm positions across the map, but they spin up randomly, leaving players to wait at the edge of each area, hoping that they’re going to come. Ultimately, they leave a lot to be desired, given that you can spend a great deal more time waiting for them than actually taking part, and they aren’t much different from what we’ve seen in ESO before, barring their randomisation.
This is still the Elder Scrolls Online though, and if you’ve enjoyed it in the past, Greymoor is a fun experience that adds a worthwhile chunk of content to it. The well-written quests, the fun combat, and the often-impressive landscapes are unchanged here, and I can see Greymoor drawing in more Skyrim fans to the online world, even if it feels a little like a cover band version of the iconic title.