Is this a dream? Am I hallucinating? It feels... ‘real’. But it can’t be. There’s a voice in my head telling me I’m caught in a mind trap. I must free myself to arrive at my destination – the beautiful city of Shimmerene in Summerset.
One of the things I love the most about Elder Scrolls Online, and that most MMOs fail to provide, are its quests, which serve well as solo experiences. With the Morrowind expansion hitting last year, I got to revisit my favourite part of Tamriel. While the otherworldly setting did not give me as big a rush of curiosity as 2002’s Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the nostalgia factor was palpable and fighting enemies old and new in high-definition kept me entertained for months. While Summerset is a solid expansion pack delivering a vast landscape, a variety of generally fun and engaging quests, and interesting new skills and abilities, I soon found myself wanting to revisit Morrowind and camp there for a while. For all Zenimax’s talk about the new setting, it felt very much like running around Cyrodiil in 2006’s Oblivion, only with much improved graphics.
Like Morrowind, Summerset starts you off with a new tutorial, should you choose to play through it. I recommend doing so, because you keep the loot you get in there and, at least on the new character I started for the purposes of getting a feel for the experience of lower level characters arriving on Summerset’s shores, the gear was pretty good. Upon your arrival in Shimmerene, you are trapped in a mind trap. By following the instructions of a voice in your head, you’re soon lead back into the real world where you meet Oriandra of the Psijic Order, who explains to you that you had the gear you found all along, the mind trap simply made you forget you did. That’s why you still had it when you woke up. Clever bit of writing, that.
Well-written and timely storyline
You’re soon introduced/reunited with Razum-Dar, the Queen’s eye and token quest giver in the ESO universe. As stated above, the quests are generally good, regardless of whether you’re playing solo or trekking with a friend, and ESO’s ‘One Tamriel’ system works wonders here. I cannot praise their ingenuity enough for that system. It scales the difficulty of the areas and challenges to the player, allowing lower and higher level characters to band together and experience a fair yet challenging game and reaping satisfying rewards for their efforts. It also means that you can go wherever you want and explore as much as you want, never venturing into an area where every moving thing can kill you with one blow. This allows those of us who may not have as much free time on our hands to devote to MMOs as our friends to play with them regardless, without having to create specific characters we only play when together.
Queen Ayrenn of the High Elves has opened up Summerset’s borders to outsiders for the first time in the Altmer homeland’s history. Some embrace the new decree, while others are intent on making life as difficult as possible for the newcomers so that they will give up and go home. One of these individuals is the Queen’s Kinlady, Avinisse, who rules in her stead while she’s off commanding her troops in the Alliance War. The Kinlady has taken to imprisoning newcomers who seek to settle in Summerset to have their knowledge of customs and history tested in order to determine their eligibility of ‘fitting in’ with the natives. Those found wanting will be deemed unwelcome and sent home. At least, that’s her plan. While playing though this quest, I couldn’t help thinking about the state of modern immigration politics and the rise of populism in Europe and North America. I see what you did here, Zenimax, and I approve.
New Psijic skills to unlock
As the game progresses you’ll be able to do the Psijic quest line which unlocks passive skills and abilities related to time manipulation, the penultimate of which is ‘Undo’ which sets your health, magicka, and stamina back to what they were 4 seconds previously, in addition to teleporting you to the spot you were standing at the time. Everything else remains unchanged, so it’s the perfect way to quickly cancel out a devastating blow, instantly recharge your magica after giving a powerful buff, or get back your stamina so you can make like a tree and get out of there! Going through the paces of unlocking this skill tree is quite a hassle, however, as you’ll have to travel all over to close breaches, but the end result is totally worth it. The quests are well written and entertaining, so if you’re not adverse to a bit of on-foot exploring, I can well imagine doing it for multiple characters in the future.
Another addition in Summerset is jewellery crafting and, as a fan of crafting in general, I love being able to personalise my stats directly this way. ESO has the most accessible approach to crafting I’ve seen in an MMO, with every character able to gather the basic ingredients of every discipline – no locking of materials based on chosen profession nonsense – and I look forward to delving deeper into that in the future.
The Summerset expansion pack brings a lot of quests, an enormous map to explore, and some pretty nifty skills and abilities to the table and I recommend anyone playing ESO pick it up post-haste. Morrowind is still my go-to home in ESO, however, and the one I’ll keep recommending to new players, simply because there’s something about the setting that makes it unlike any other fantasy-inspired RPG out there. Morrowind is unique. Sommerset’s setting, unfortunately, is not. Luckily, the quality of the writing, the quests, the ‘One Tamriel’ system, the new enemies and the brilliant villains you’ll meet in Summerset more than make up for any lack of originality in art direction. It’s beautiful to look at, don’t get me wrong, but with a setting that hasn’t been seen since 1994’s Arena, I would have wished for more... creativity.
Great writing, entertaining quests, nifty new skill tree, jewellery crafting lets you personalize stats.
Setting feels like so many other fantasy RPGs, unable to choose starting point and which tutorial to experience after upgrading, wanted to take my awesome Psijic skills and go back to Morrowind.