As a part of 2006’s The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
, whilst adventuring through the Imperial-heavy Cyrodiil, fiery portals to the Deadlands could be found throughout its lush forest regions. Doubly so the further you got in the game’s Patrick Stewart-led story about fate, cults, and a certain Daedric Prince. Although you could avoid many of these perilous gateways, to stop the underlying Daedric threat you basically had to walk through fire – and right into the most volcanic and demonic of Daedric realms. To close what many fans now simply refer to as ‘Oblivion Gates’.
With The Elder Scrolls Online
on the cusp of releasing its latest major story Chapter and content expansion with Blackwood, you can be sure that being the centrepiece for the current Gates of Oblivion
yearlong narrative there’ll be some fiery portal action -- and we got to see these Oblivion Portals first-hand. Large-scale World Events that act as very cool micro dungeons set against an impressive Daedric backdrop.
They’re also full of discovery, surprise, and demonic nasties to take out.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood
launches soon, and ahead of its debut we got the chance to go on a virtual tour of the region. With ESO Lead Content Designer, Jeremy Sera, and Zone Lead, Jason Barnes, on hand as tour-guides. It was the sort of fast and furious look at Cyrodiil that makes you want to reach for your phone to book a longer stay. June 1, 2021 to be exact.
But First, A History Lesson
With the story presented in Blackwood set 800 years before The Elder Scrolls IV, Blackwood has you visiting familiar locations – albeit presented in a way that is every bit ESO. As a major ‘Chapter’ the team at Zenimax sees Blackwood (and major expansion releases in general) as a clear point for returning players to jump back in or new players to kick off their adventure. That is, those fresh to the franchise and old-school Elder Scrolls fans looking to get a 2021 look (visually speaking) of the Deadlands and the south-eastern region of Cyrodiil.
With the story presented in Blackwood set 800 years before The Elder Scrolls IV, Blackwood has you visiting familiar locations – albeit presented in a way that is every bit ESO.
With Blackwood featuring plenty of swamps and thick forested regions, with Black Marsh to the east and the Khajiit homeland of Elsweyr to the west, there’s also the city of Leyawiin – the coastal town as seen in TES IV. It’s depiction here has a functioning port and acts as a key hub of nautical activities like trade and big boats coming in and out. The flooding seen in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (which closed off a big chink of the city) has yet to occur, and in a way, this has freed the team at Zenimax to establish and present a part of Tamriel during its heyday.
And with other locations not seen since 1994’s The Elder Scrolls: Arena
- which featured the entire continent of Tamriel to explore, albeit, in pixel-form – there was also the opportunity to bring locations like Gideon to life in a way that feels new and fresh.
The Elder Scrolls Online is no stranger to revisiting and reimagining iconic locations, from Morrowind
to Skyrim, and it’s the care and attention to detail both in terms of lore and the series’ digital history that continues to impress. In Leyawiin, not only are the Fighters Guild and Mages Guild housed in the same locations they were in 2006’s Oblivion, but the overall layout and structure of buildings, artifacts, and ruins remain mostly the same.
The same goes for locations like Undertow Cavern, which has been de-flooded here. In Blackwood, this memorable underwater dungeon from Oblivion is a great example of the approach taken.
“We exist hundreds of years before the events of Oblivion, so what are the things we could do that are different?” Jason Barnes explains. “In Oblivion, Undertow Cavern exists, and you can go inside but it’s completely flooded. We took that blueprint, that layout, how the cave looked, and drained the water. And decided to tell a story about the beginning of that flooding.”
In The Elder Scrolls Online, Undertow Cavern exists as a Delve – that is a cave or a mini-dungeon that houses its own little history and self-contained Quest. Here the flooding plays a major role in the tale being told, and at certain locations you can even see the water beginning to creep in.
Of Oblivion Portals
In recent years, The Elder Scrolls Online has hit somewhat of a groove, meaning each major Chapter follows a somewhat similar template. There’s your new and expansive location to explore, a cinematic main quest featuring characters both new and old, and activities like Delves, World Events, and large Group Dungeons. Although the template results in a somewhat predictable list of things to see and do, it’s the exploration of Elder Scrolls lore and Tamriel that always brings something new.
In recent years, The Elder Scrolls Online has hit somewhat of a groove, meaning each major Chapter follows a somewhat similar template.
Case in point, the Oblivion Portals – which are Blackwood’s World Events. Here you’re transported to the Deadlands where you begin on an island and need to fight your way through to reach the Daedric threat. Compared to the large-scale dragon battle World Events from Elsweyr, the template is a jumping off point to present something new and in line with both the Chapter and yearlong theme. That being a quest to stop Mehrunes Dagon.
“Oblivion Portals are different from anything we’ve done before,” Jason Barnes tells me. “We wanted to make them feel like an adventure on the go, like a dungeon run. They’re not marked on the map; you find them out in the wilderness and get transported to the Deadlands.”
Similar in size to Public Dungeons there’s a random element to where you spawn in, various islands with different enemies, a formidable mini-boss, and of course a big bad to dispatch. The Portals themselves act as doors that open and re-open to the Deadlands, with those who enter trying to make it to the centre where groups will form naturally as the action heats up.
With the release of The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood the game is set to receive a major new feature with the arrival of Companions, which are those battle-ready followers we’ve seen (and grown to love) across many RPGs. Many of which have come from the Bethesda pool of epic single-player games. In Blackwood these are predefined characters with likes, dislikes, and traits – so much so that your actions can change how they feel about you.
With the release of The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood the game is set to receive a major new feature with the arrival of Companions, which are those battle-ready followers we’ve seen (and grown to love) across many RPGs.
So then, can you upset them enough that they leave? “Yes, you can,” Jeremy Sera says. “If you do stuff that’s bad enough, they will leave you. No forever though, because it wouldn't be fun. It’s never actually punitive, but they will walk off in a huff.”
With so much of The Elder Scrolls Online focused on story, the introduction of Companions goes beyond being a helping hand for solo players taking their time with character-driven quests. You can, alongside a friend, take your Companions into Dungeons and tackle them as a four-person squad. They can be equipped with different Companion-specific equipment (they feature the same number of gear-slots as players) and customised to take on MMO-like roles such as Tank or Healer.
With much of the development of The Elder Scrolls Online is driven by what players are doing, and with the game being more popular now than ever the team sees the addition of Companions as something that will become a mainstay. That is, in how it designs and develops new content moving forward -- via taking into account Companions, their roles, and their stories.
By having (optional) characters that can join you on quests, have something to say, and develop digital relationships with that sits alongside the real-world connections that serve as the core of any multiplayer role-playing experience -- The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is shaping up to strike a balance between something familiar and something new.
The Elder Scrolls: Blackwood is out June 1 for PC and June 8 for PlayStation and Xbox.