El­der Scrolls On­line

Mor­rowind comes to the MMO.

PC GAMER (UK) - - Contents - By Matt Gil­man

The MMO genre is a hard one to re­view. A game launches, then we have to score it even as it shifts in shape and qual­ity be­fore our eyes.

The El­der Scrolls On­line had an es­pe­cially tough start, as servers melted, quests bugged out and those ini­tial weeks dragged into a mer­ci­less grind. And yet in the time since its arrival on my PC, a new justice sys­tem, vast story DLC packs and the abo­li­tion of level re­stric­tions on ex­plo­ration have changed ESO more than any other MMO I can re­call. The next step will take us even deeper into gold-plated nos­tal­gia ter­ri­tory.

I know it’s go­ing to work the first time I set eyes on ESO’s spank­ing new Seyda Neen. The open­ing sec­tion of the now 15-year-old El­der

Scrolls III re­turns as a start­ing zone for the size­able new land­mass of Vvar­den­fell. The team at Zen­i­max took the height map of the 2001 orig­i­nal and placed it di­rectly in the ex­ist­ing mass of ESO’s Tam­riel. Gor­geously de­tailed, it’s also heart­en­ingly fa­mil­iar, com­plete with NPC an­ces­tors of mem­o­rable char­ac­ters to chat with.

Rather than a straight re­hash, this Vvar­den­fell is set 700 years prior to the events of TESIII, so while there are homages by the dozen, there’s also a ton of new things to dis­cover. Vivec City has only three can­tons, the rest still un­der con­struc­tion and ex­plorable in their vary­ing dredged­out states. The vol­cano at the cen­tre of the is­land isn’t nearly as cat­a­stroph­i­cally en­com­pass­ing of its sur­round­ings. Get close and there’s ash galore, but also lush mush­room-be­decked forests and coastal re­gions as yet un­mo­lested by the chok­ing air. Zen­i­Max has worked closely with par­ent pub­lisher Bethesda in its bid to tickle our nos­tal­gia glands.

“This is Bethesda’s baby, right?” cre­ative di­rec­tor Rich Lam­bert tells me. “TESIII is the thing that put them on the map. So we’ve had to work re­ally closely with them to

make sure that the things we’re do­ing and the sto­ries we’re telling do

TESIII justice, and work with what Bethesda orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned.”

Lam­bert is quick to em­pha­sise that this is not an ‘ex­pan­sion’ in the tra­di­tional sense. Zen­i­Max sees ESO:

Mor­rowind as a fresh stand­alone en­try point into its world, true to its One Tam­riel phi­los­o­phy that all con­tent should be avail­able to all play­ers at all times.

Equally, Lam­bert doesn’t want new play­ers who climbed aboard the

El­der Scrolls ship via Skyrim or Obliv­ion to feel left out. “The story we’ve writ­ten and the con­tent we’ve got stands on its own,” he says. “It’s not just nos­tal­gia. It’s a re­ally strong story and the writ­ers have gone to painstak­ing de­tail. Even if you don’t know any of the his­tory you’re gonna get a bit of a les­son.” Per­haps this is where the true al­lure of a re­turn to Mor­rowind lies. It’s hard, in the sharp con­tem­po­rary gam­ing land­scape of 2017, to make those who weren’t there un­der­stand just how for­ma­tive TESIII was. The past 15 years have not been kind to it. While a full-blown of­fi­cial re­make is al­most cer­tainly off the cards, ESO seems like the per­fect place for new play­ers to dis­cover Vvar­den­fell with­out stab­bing them­selves in the reti­nas with the jagged edges of the an­cient Bethesda game en­gine.

i get the sense zen­i­max fi­nally knows what its take on the MMO is

Whether you’re new or not, there’s a whole lot of game tucked away in­side the Mor­rowind ‘chap­ter’. On top of the new map, which is the big­gest sin­gle land­mass Zen­i­Max has ever built, 30 per­cent big­ger than Orsinium, there’s a new class, a new 12-per­son Trial, two new dun­geons, and an all-new set of PvP modes and maps: Bat­tle­grounds.

DPSed in class

The War­den fills out a slot much sought-af­ter in ESO’s pre­ex­ist­ing range of classes, of­fer­ing a druidic ar­ray of skill sets. You can opt to plough points into three new skill paths as you progress. Choose Green Bal­ance skills and you’ll earn a bunch of heal­ing abil­i­ties, from ac­tively aimed frontal cone bursts of healover-time buffs to a full area-of-ef­fect ul­ti­mate skill that causes ethe­real blue flora to burst from the ground around you and your al­lies. Over in the Win­ter’s Em­brace skill tree are the class’s tankier moves, let­ting you sum­mon icy ar­mour and control the bat­tle­field with snares that whip en­e­mies around. The show­stop­per is the An­i­mal Com­pan­ion skill set. Here you’ll find abil­i­ties that sum­mon an ar­ray of spirit-form pets to deal out DPS. Most, like the in­fa­mous Cliff Rac­ers, themed around Mor­rowind it­self. Your ul­ti­mate abil­ity on this path sum­mons a per­ma­nent bear to tank dam­age for you. In the de­vel­op­ment build I was shown there were no pet control com­mands, but I’m told these are be­ing worked on for the fi­nal game.

For some­one returning to the game af­ter that ini­tial rocky launch pe­riod, the War­den is a prime ex­am­ple of how many small changes have been im­ple­mented, how many small de­sign de­ci­sions have been reached, over the last two years. The mantra that any class can wear any ar­mour, for ex­am­ple, ini­tially made player avatars hard to read at a glance. Is that a knight bar­relling to­wards me over the hillocks of Cy­rodiil, or is it a sor­cerer with delu­sions of grandeur? Too many other games man­age to avoid this read­abil­ity prob­lem for me not to whinge about it here.

The War­den is so very clear to read. Each of its abil­i­ties leaves a glow­ing blue aura around the char­ac­ter model. Whether it’s huge but­ter­fly wings, icy steam emerg­ing from his dual dag­gers, or spiny ten­drils pok­ing out of his back, so many lit­tle touches have been added to the skills’ an­i­ma­tions and colour schemes in or­der to make this dream of all weapons/all ar­mour/all classes ac­tu­ally work and still be clear amid even the most chaotic of player masses.

I’m also shown the new PvE dun­geon Trial. Its Clock­work City set­ting will be fa­mil­iar as a con­cept to TESIII veter­ans, be­ing the glob­u­lar mini-Nirn re­built by one of Vvar­den­fell’s Tri­bunals in­side a tiny orb. The new Trial takes us in­side this tiny city, com­plete with alien half-metal half-flesh

close com­bat

Those afore­men­tioned PvP Bat­tle­grounds com­plete the pack­age, with ad­di­tional plans for three new maps upon which to bat­tle with buds. These smaller scale are­nas of­fer the kind of elf-on-orc ac­tion that’s cur­rently miss­ing in the all-out war­fare of

ESO’s Cy­rodiil PvP area. Here com­bat is lim­ited to a more man­age­able 4 vs 4 vs 4 af­fair. Team Death­matches and Cap­ture The Flag (or Cap­ture The Scroll) are two modes I’ve seen in ac­tion. Rather than fea­ture­less bowls for teams to duel it out across, each arena feels like it has been built to en­able each class to thrive tac­ti­cally. Daedric ru­ins fea­ture plenty of line-of-sight block­ers to help sneakier types get the drop on their foes, while a ver­dant Dwe­mer fort map has tow­ers with bet­ter views of its sur­round­ings for those with long-range skills to fight over.

For those with fond mem­o­ries of the orig­i­nal, the al­lure of ESO’s Mor­rowind lies in that PvE ex­pe­ri­ence. Since launch this MMO has rein­vig­o­rated its base game with the sense of dis­cov­ery and ex­plo­ration that the se­ries’ sin­gle­player ef­forts have thrived on. In ESO: Mor­rowind, I get the sense that Zen­i­Max fi­nally knows what its take on the MMO genre is, and that it has found the per­fect set­ting with which to demon­strate that to those who bounced off the game the first time around. mon­sters, an un­nerv­ing cog-filled sky­box and a lush in­ter­lock­ing ver­ti­cal­ity that brings Dark Souls’ wo­ven level de­sign to mind.

RIGHT: Mor­rowind won’t be avail­able in the in-game Crown Store, though it will be pur­chasable in both dig­i­tal and boxed form. RIGHT: You can buy ESO:Mor­rowind as a stand­alone, or up­grade your copy of

Tam­rielUn­lim­ited at a dis­counted price.

ABOVE: The height map from TESIII was just the kick­ing off point; Zen­i­Max reck­ons the fi­nal land­mass it’s built is about 20-30% larger than the orig­i­nal.

BE­LOW: Naryu Virian re­turns from the base game with her own sub-plot to fol­low.

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