The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood chapter brings great new raids, gear, and story, but its length and companions leave something to be desired.
The entire 2021 year for new content in Elder Scrolls Online focuses on the Gates of Oblivion story from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood expansion takes players to some familiar locations from Oblivion as they investigate a scheme by Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon. Players are joined and guided during their quest by a few familiar faces, including the enthusiastic Wood Elf Eveli Sharp-Arrow and Lyranth the Foolkiller.
Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood launched in June with over 30 hours of new content, including a new Trial called Rockgrove, upgraded options for powerful gear, and an exciting companion system. Players can explore the visually stunning towns of Leyawiin and Gideon, as well as the Niben Forest in the northern part of the region, the Blackwood Bogs and Black Marsh to the east, and Gloomire in the southern region. They will also have several chances to enter the Deadlands before that zone becomes the main focus later this year.
Similar to the previous chapter, Greymoor, which explored Skyrim before the events of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim single-player game, Blackwood leans heavily on the sense of nostalgia players may have for Oblivion. This is not necessarily a bad thing; there are many new gameplay elements that work well, but there are also quite a few that become repetitive or feel like they could have been further fleshed out. Ultimately, Blackwood is something of a mixed bag. The best parts of the expansion shine, which causes the less developed parts to stand out.
The two best parts of the expansion are the story and the Rockgrove 12-person trial. The plot of Blackwood starts strong almost immediately, as the player rushes to find members of the Council before they are murdered by what appears to be the Dark Brotherhood. This helps get players engaged right away. The main campaign and the side quests are decently paced and compelling, but somewhat short. Players can easily rush through it without realizing it, which can be disappointing in a full-priced expansion.
Rockgrove, despite its simplistic, square environment design, is anything but straightforward. The bosses are intense and pose a significant challenge, even when playing the normal difficulty setting. Fans of raiding will find a lot to enjoy about Rockgrove, from the new bosses with their powerful abilities and combinations to the great new gear sets players can unlock for finishing the trial.
One of the drawbacks of Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is its repetition. Some of the quests in the main story, especially the earlier quests, can begin to feel grindy and like fetch-quests rather than meaningful experiences, sending players back and forth to pick up notes, find papers, and report back to officials. Much of the environment in the Blackwood region, while beautiful to look at has a very similar, sparse design between points of interest. The Oblivion Portal World Events are breathtaking the first few times players enter one, but after a while, it becomes clear the experience lacks variety. It is possible Bethesda and ZeniMax Online Studios will do more with the Oblivion Portals and Deadlands later this year, but that will only address one part of the repetition problem.
Many fans were excited about the companion system, and while it delivers on some promises, it could use more development. Companions are excellent for solo play, new players, low-level alts, or to fill out a party for challenges like Oblivion Portals and the two new public dungeons built for groups. The companions are also well-balanced, never quite rising to the level of intellect or power another player might have but still helping in combat.
Unfortunately, the companions are not quite as fleshed out as they could be. Bastian’s and Mirri’s recruitment quests are decent, but beyond that, they begin to demonstrate repetitive dialogue and archetypal personalities. Players can improve their rapport with companions to unlock more personal quests, but both Bastian and Mirri could use more than simple likes and dislikes to affect rapport and round them out as characters.
Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is a solid expansion to ZeniMax’s popular MMORPG, explaining the rise of Mehrunes Dagon and introducing new mechanics that can be expanded upon in future chapters. Fans of Elder Scrolls Online are likely to find something they really enjoy about the Blackwood zone and story despite some of the drawbacks, and new and solo players can have a much better experience diving in and facing challenges if they start with Blackwood, thanks to the new features.
Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Google Stadia, Mac OS, and PC.
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