We’re back for another year-long story in Elder Scrolls Online, this time taking us to the Gates of Oblivion and beyond. The main expansion Blackwood takes players to the very edge of the Imperial City in a new zone where you’ll uncover a Daedric plot between The Longhouse Emperors and the Prince of Destruction Mehrunes Dagon himself. With a new 12-player trial, two public dungeons, delves, and world bosses spread out across Blackwood and The Deadlands (Oblivion), the Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood expansion has plenty on offer, but perhaps the most important new feature is the companion system.
If you’ve been following the Gates of Oblivion storyline this year then chances are you don’t need to read this paragraph, but for those that jump in to ESO each year for the expansion, the Blackwood zone is located just east of last year’s Northern Elsweyr zone, and a wayshrine outside of its main city Leyawiin should be available to you once you’ve purchased the expansion. Leyawiin is a beautiful yet typical Imperial city, with smaller outpost Gideon to the east providing a great base to explore the rest of the zone. All in all, we were a little underwhelmed by the overworld zone of Blackwood. The zone is much smaller than Morrowind, Summerset and Western Skyrim, and definitely smaller than both the Elsweyr zones combined. It does not take long at all to travel from one side to the other, and once the fast-travel wayshrines are located it becomes even smaller.
The underworld Oblivion zone called The Deadlands is split up into lots of mini-maps like a dungeon. The enemies down here are a bit fiercer than what you normally expect in the outside world. There are also bosses scattered throughout The Deadlands, a lot of which require a larger group to take on. The Oblivion zone is still quite welcoming to all types of players, and there are always others around to help. Don’t expect to be able to solo everything in The Deadlands, although with the new companions system being implemented in this expansion, it could be possible in the future.
As mentioned, the companion system has finally arrived and players are already learning just how useful they are. Bastion and Miri are the first two companions which can be located in the far reaches of the Blackwood zone. Once you complete their starter quest, they become available to summon in the collectibles menu as a companion which will tank, heal or DPS alongside you however you see fit. Speaking to the companion opens its menu which allows you to equip any special companion weapons and armour you have acquired, as well as change how they look, and even give them one of your mounts. You can leave your companion in your home, and switch between them as you see fit.
Currently companions are already very useful in solo combat. They will level up through normal gameplay and unlock unique actions and skills as any normal character does. You can change which skills they use, and in which order they use them, but interestingly companions also have a friendship meter. If you perform actions that the companion likes, you’ll increase your friendship with them and they’ll be more useful but if you do things they don’t like then they could decide to not aid you and even refuse to be summoned. While there’s no current exhaustive list of what the two companions like and dislike, the companion achievements provide clues as to how to increase your bond with them.
The main story in Blackwood takes you to Oblivion and back more than once while you stop Mehrunes Dagon from getting up to his usual evil tricks again. It’s a pretty stock-standard story for an ESO expansion, and we found that some of the better story telling could be found in the dozens of side quests around the world. The companion quests were also compelling, which add even more diversity to the expansion. As usual, all quests are fully voice acted and whichever companion you choose quickly becomes a customary voice in the back of your head.
We found the launch of Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood to be quite successful, and didn’t experience any server crashes. The ping of connecting to a North American or European server was still a drag though, with ping reaching as high as 700-800 occasionally. Although the game now loads through Steam, it still loads the ESO launcher which then loads the client where your login is required. We found this to be a minor inconvenience, as it’s one extra step to get into the game. Comparing it to the Blizzard launcher which, once loaded, will boot up your WoW client straight to your character selection screen, perhaps ZoS needs to work on making the ESO launcher faster and easier to get into the game.
Update 30 released alongside Blackwood which as always is free for all players. This update includes ability bar timers, bankable outfit style pages, Monster Masks, Master Writ quest assistance, and adjustments to proc sets and the Champion system which means you’ll need to redo your champion points. The new champion points system now has special slottable stars which give you even better abilities, and it’s worth checking out the various guides online to see how best to spend your precious champion points. The full patch notes for Update 30 can be found here, while ZoS has also provided a plethora of community guides on all things Blackwood here.
Elder Scrolls Online hasn’t received any major graphics overhaul this year, but we did appreciate the attention to detail ZoS went to creating all the streams that flow into the larger waterways, and the environment certainly came together when comparing it to the early build that we explored two months ago. As mentioned, the voice acting was on-point again, although we do hope the companions learn to relax a bit and don’t provide a constant dialogue which reminded us of what everyone disliked in the recently released action RPG Biomutant.
This expansion offers about 15-20 hours of new content, but the companion system should keep most players busy for much longer. Leveling the companion to 20 and the farming for some epic companion loot seems to be what ZoS is hoping players will continue doing until the end of the Gates of Oblivion story and perhaps beyond. Having a companion always there for you gives access to a lot more of the game as a solo player, and we’re definitely excited to see where it goes next, particularly whether we get named characters from Elder Scrolls lore as companions.
Rocket Chainsaw reviewed The Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood on Windows PC with code provided by the publisher. The game is also now available on Xbox and PlayStation platforms. For more information, head to the official website.
- Companions - The prospect of future companions - Oblivion.
- The Blackwood overworld lacks diversity - World bosses are getting too easy - US/EU server limitations are lagging Aussies hard.