Also On: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: ZeniMax Online Studios
The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is good. It is an interesting new chapter in the growing list of expansions for The Elder Scrolls Online. For me though, “good” is eventually going to need to become “great” to keep me invested. Blackwood stands strong on the back of the Oblivion setting and inherent nostalgia. I think there are more quips and throwbacks (throwforwards?) to Oblivion within Blackwood than anyone aside from the writers realizes. It is funny, but ultimately feels like there was not much original to add, so it comes off as a constant stream of “hey look, remember this funny thing in the old game you liked? Here it is again”. These are small complaints but contribute to the overall feeling of safety and mediocrity that I was left with after my time in Blackwood.
None of that is to say that Blackwood is bad. Like I said at the start, Blackwood is good, but that is where it stops. The story is a step above the previous expansions, in my opinion, but the rest of the chapter feels like a copy and paste job. New world bosses, new skyshards, new Trial, new world events (Oblivion gates), it all feels like more of the same, with very few changes to shake up the formula. If you have been playing ESO consistently through all of the new chapters, I feel like maybe just a re-skin of the same content you have been doing won’t be enough. Ultimately the new coat of paint can only carry the chapter so far, and with probably the shortest new chapter to date, I was left feeling mildly let down.
With some of my overall issues aside, I want to dig into exactly what makes Blackwood worth playing. The main questline is probably the best one that ESO has had so far, complete with rich characters and a meaningful story to accompany them. Mehrunes Dagon is a fan favorite antagonist, so was a great choice to anchor this story. The strong characters coupled with a diverse and unique setting in the Deadlands serves to further elevate the story over some of the more mundane chapters that have come before.
The one new mechanic that really separates Blackwood from previous chapters is the Companion system. Companions make questing solo much easier than it has ever been. They act like other players would in your party, without the hassle of finding someone to party up with. You can use them to fill whatever role your current character does not. They can be used as a tank, a DPS character, or a healer. This makes doing Delves and world bosses so much easier, and further bolsters the ability to play ESO entirely solo, helping separate it from other MMOs for players that don’t necessarily like that aspect of the games.
For now, there are only two companions that you can choose from, but I anticipate that they will soon be treated like mounts or non-combat pets, with new variations being introduced in future chapters and in the crown store. Each of the two companions available now have different temperaments, so choosing the right one for your playstyle is important, as your actions have consequences with your companions through the new Rapport system.
With such a large number of popular MMORPGs on the market today, one of the biggest issues I had was finding consistent players to do dungeons and ultimately, the Trial with. I have been playing Blackwood almost daily since launch and was only just recently able to get a team to actually gather and stick around for the new Trial this past week (right around a month after launch). World of Warcraft still holds sway, and Final Fantasy XIV seems to be the flavor of the year right now, so it is understandable that many players do not have the time to invest in multiple options at once. This is one of the biggest reasons I think ESO will need to evolve further with future chapters to continue to engage the player base and keep their attention on ESO. This is also another reason that I believe the companion system is a great start for allowing players to complete high-level content without having to search for a group to play with.
Fundamentally, one of my favorite things about ESO is how much it feels like a genuine Elder Scrolls game. I know that my wording there might not be the best, as it IS an Elder Scrolls game, but almost every other franchise that makes an MMO version of their game, something is lost in translation. ESO held on to the core look and feel of what draws millions upon millions of players to their games, and expanded it to allow for a multiplayer-focused experience in that same world. Combat looks and feels the same, the movement and NPC interactions are all the same, the graphics and environments are instantly recognizable. All of the things that differentiate Elder Scrolls from other RPGs also serve to help differentiate ESO from other MMORPGs.
Blackwood hosts the newest Trial, the Rockgrove trial. After finally completing it, I think Rockgrove might be my favorite trial as well. Everything in this trial feels purposeful and serves the greater story. Even the trash mobs here make more sense than some of the previous trials, and each of the bosses in Rockgrove are stand-out favorites for me. It remains difficult, but not outrageous for a large and coordinated group. “Tough but fair” was the general consensus in my group once we finished, and I think that is an apt description.
While Blackwood might not shake up the game, or make any huge changes to the core of what Elder Scrolls Online has become, it stands as another solid chapter to an already incredibly expansive game. ESO is my favorite MMORPG, and I come from a place of genuine love for the game when I say that I hope for something *more* in future chapters. I want ESO to continue to grow and draw in new players while retaining veterans, for another decade to come.
Note: Bethesda Softworks provided us with an Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood PC code for review purposes
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