The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood Review

If you go down to the woods today...
Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood Header

The Elder Scrolls Online has undergone radical transformations throughout the years. From its origins as a straightforward World of Warcraft clone to revamping its offering as a free to play title to a premium subscription, ESO has become a mainstay in the MMORPG scene that appeals to single-player enthusiasts.

Its newest expansion, Blackwood, continues adding rich lore in its nod to 2006s Elder Scrolls VI: Oblivion. As part of the ‘Gates of Oblivion’ year-long event, Blackwood sets the Dremora invasion and multi-level public events dubbed Oblivion Portals. Randomly spawning throughout Blackwood, portals are pretty accessible to all level types.

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Close Shut The Jaws Of Oblivion

During these events, players will slowly uncover the schemes of Mehrunes Dagon by battling through the deadlands. For Oblivion veterans, it’s worth noting that these events take place 800 years before Patrick Stewart stole our hearts. These dungeon raids consist of nine Islands. Completing two of them leads to entering Havocrel’s Tower to fight the Dungeon Boss, and an optional secret boss should players light all the necessary beacons. Players will meet and meme seven different bosses throughout their time in the deadlands under various conditions.

Much like Abysmal Geysers in Summerset, players will plough through Oblivion Portal challenges whilst picking up some good rewards. Mythic item leads such as the ‘Warm Asymmetrical Ruby’ part for the Mythic’ Death Dealers Fete’ can be found in the final oblivion portal chest, for example. The Oblivion portal experience overall is worthwhile, picking up some great loot in the process. The process becomes repetitive over time, but this is merely the beginning of a much deeper story arc. More to the point, there’s so much more to do in ESO, given that the game has four zones with multiple sub-zones therein.

It’s worth noting that Blackwood marks the first time players can pick their starting zone and story. Previously this was locked to which faction and race players chose during character creation.

I’m Not Your Buddy, Guy

Another significant feature of Blackwood is its companions. Currently, players can team up with either Mirri Elendis and Bastian Hallix by completing their quests. Mirri dwells at the north of Doomvault Vulpinaz in the north of Blackwood. Bastian is in the southern area of Blackwood, south of Deepscorn Hollow. Once completing their relevant quests, players can build up their associated friendship meter, making these companions more effective in battle and unlocking bonus quests. While it can be a grind getting those relationship-building conversations in, it is worth it for the stat boosts, especially for the single-player enthusiasts of ESO.

The only downside to companions is that they’re not a substitute for a real player, nor are they meant to be. They come in handy for looting sessions and provide a new area of customisation for players to focus on, but they can only be summoned during normal gameplay, so dungeons, PVP and solo areas are ruled out. Once players have completed their quests, they need to navigate to the allies tab to enlist Mirri or Bastian’s services all over again. Overall, it’s a well-executed addition and makes for a good mechanic with plenty of room for growth throughout the Gates of Oblivion event.

Killing Is Better With Friends

There are multiple trials to grind in Blackwood, with the focus of the expansion being Rockgrove. The daedric cult of Mehrunes Dagon has taken over the area, linking in nicely with the overall theme of Blackwood. This dish is served solo, with friends or via ESO’s party matchmaking system. Like most experiences in MMO’s, Rockgrove plays best with other people alongside. As much as ESO caters for single players, it is still a multiplayer experience and it’s better when you embrace that.

The three-boss trial requires patience and teamwork; it’s always wise to go into these trials knowing a character build and playing to its advantages. Whilst it’s a good challenge, it’s not impossible, providing players work together and learn antagonist attack patterns for an added benefit. The loot drops are worth the trouble, but players shouldn’t expect complete armour sets. Possible armour piece drops are from the Saxhleel Champion, Bahsei’s Mania, Sul-Xan’s Torment and Stone-Talker’s Oath sets.

The Elder Performance Scrolls

Visually, it stacks up against previous expansions and feels uniform. Blackwood features a high fantasy art style that contrasts with the death land hellscapes. Whilst the areas design doesn’t stand out against areas like Morrowind’s trippy mushroom-scapes, it’s lore friendly with lovely textures and a good layout overall. As you would expect, the frame rate was nice and consistent when running with all settings maxed at 1080p on a PC with a Ryzen 7 5000 CPU and Nvidia GTX 3060 GPU.

The original soundtrack provides the tone of Blackwood’s dire situation without overpowering the zone’s overall ambience. The voice acting is solid, although the British enthusiasm of some characters may prove a bit too Xenoblade for some.

The companion’s system illustrates ESO’s reliance on replayability perfectly. Going back to previous areas to chip off some leftover quests is a good, almost nostalgic feeling. Blackwood is a significant expansion that’s used as a vessel to launch a larger narrative. It’s worth getting for its quality of life improvements alone, but its added public events and trails will likely leave fans of the game wanting more.

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Summary
Blackwood is a brilliant throwback to Oblivion, but it feels like a starting point for a grander tale. Players going into Blackwood expecting a full-fat expansion experience will feel slightly letdown. Its dedication to 2006s Cyrodill shines through with the spaced out content making the overall zone feel a little empty. Still, the content itself is a job well done, ticking all the boxes to keep players entertained, but new features like Blackwood's companions work best when revisiting older zones.
Good
  • An accessible introduction for new players
  • Achievable public events and trials
  • Companions add a new level of gameplay for all
Bad
  • Mirroring Oblivions empty feeling landscapes
  • Overexcited NPCs
7