If you gave me only two words to describe the latest content for the Elder Scrolls Online franchise, “Summerset Isle,” it would be a hard choice. My top choices are “Visually Striking” or “Masterful Storytelling”. “Summerset Isle” is the newest expansion to Bethesda’s popular Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG); Elder Scrolls Online certainly shows that the developer Zenimax has upped their game considerably since the initial release of the game in April 2014.
History Of A Classic
For those that aren’t acquainted with the Elder Scrolls franchise, this is a decades old game series that began in 1994, with the hugely ambitious Elder Scrolls Arena. Unfortunately, much like pancakes, the first one didn’t turn out so well. The confusing world design, lack of any real tutorial or instruction, and general bugginess caused the reception to be mixed. Overtime, gamers hungry for dungeon runs and a world they could explore freely fell in love with the game and turned it into a cult classic.
Since then four major Elder Scrolls games have been published; Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. The franchise made its mark with the Morrowind title. Each title offered fans a chance to explore different areas of Tamriel while expanding on the lore. With each new title, the franchise popularity grew. In 2013, Elder Scrolls was voted the Greatest Game series of the Decade by Gamespot. But they were already planning bigger things.
Birth of a Giant
By the time that The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) was announced, this franchise was already known for engaging storylines, huge open worlds, and intricately detailed lore. Their foray into the MMO world would be no different but it would be their most ambitious. The Elder Scrolls Online brought together many of the locations and much of the lore from the previous games and invite fans to play together.
As if to imitate the evolution of the franchise the initial version of The Elder Scrolls Online received mixed reviews and the path to success would be rocky. True to form, each content offering added to world and the lore. Each chapter improved on the one before it as the company learned what it’s players wanted. Just after its first anniversary, The Elder Scrolls Online adjusted its model away from the forced monthly subscription model, rebranded the game as The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, and released console versions for the PlayStation4 and Xbox One. Critics and players alike praised the changes.
Summerset Isle Expansion
The announcement in March of 2018 that “Summerset Isle” would be the newest expansion was met with much excitement. I certainly was thrilled. “Summerset Isle” is a setting that was not be playable in any Elder Scrolls game since the 1994 arena. Until now. On May 21st, 2018, “Summerset Isle” was released for PC. The console release is planned for June 5th, 2018. There was some concern that the “Summerset Isle” expansion might not contain much new story after the anemic story offerings of Morrowind. Fortunately, I can guarantee that concern is unfounded.
The main story in Summerset pulls together so many seemingly little pieces from earlier content and weave them in to an intriguing and emotional tale filled with familiar characters as well as new faces. I spent my time leading up to the release of “Summerset Isle,” getting familiar with the upcoming content. I chose to follow the main storyline for “Summerset Isle” first. I wasn’t expecting much because I had been disappointed with the shortness of the Morrowind main storyline. I was pleased to see there’s not a lack of story in this expansion. “Summerset Isle” offers so much.
“Summerset Isle” weaves an intriguing and engaging story while pulling in several characters from previous quest lines. The way this expansion ties together pieces of the previous content in a masterful and powerful story will guarantee you need a box of tissues, and/or (as Raz points out before leaving) a strong drink.
If you haven’t already, I recommend that you do the main quest lines in Orinsinum, Dark Brotherhood, Aldemari Dominion, Cold Harbour, and Morrowind before doing the Summerset main line. I would also recommend Clockwork City as well.
This means that I don’t recommend making a fresh character if you already have one. Can you play and understand Summerset without having done any of the above-mentioned quests … yes, absolutely and you will probably still need tissues but there are so many more details and little tie-ins that you will catch if you have done the other quest first. It’s this attention to detail that is a part of what makes this story telling so powerful. There is a real mastery in that fact that the “Summerset Isle” storyline makes perfect sense to the brand new player while offering something special to those who’ve been playing since the start.
Also, I recommend that you plan to play through “Summerset Isle” at least twice, once as a High Elf and once as any other race. The conversations are quite different, some more so than others, but enough to make it worth the extra time.
Summerset Isle is stunning, and the visuals are simply breath taking. Whereas Morrowind had a darker, more swamp like feel; Summerset Isle is lush, green, and looks as perfect as its inhabitants think themselves to be. It’s also larger than Vvardenfell, or it seems to be. There’s a lot to explore – though you might want to be careful not to fall. Apparently, High elves like to build things… high.
Artaeum, the mysterious isle on which the Psijic Order resides, is not just beautiful but it truly feels magical. Atraeum exists somewhere between the world of Tamriel and beyond, hidden by the Psijic mages to ensure peaceful research freed of the interference of outsiders but due to the machinations of certain Daedric Princes – it’s about to be a very busy place.
While traveling between these two locations you will visit some incredible environments, such as K’Torra’s Mindscape and The Spiral Skein.
There’s at least 30 hours of completely new quests in “Summerset Isle,” including a new starting quest line that drops you right into the Summerset Isle main story. With the way that quests scale, both new players and max levels can enjoy all of the quests that “Summerset Isle” offers.
Aside from an exquisitely intricate main questline, there is no lack of side quests. I was constantly meeting characters that pleaded for my help. Being an adventurer makes you quite popular, so long as you don’t take an arrow to the knee. On a serious note, don’t ignore the side quests. As tempting as it is to rush through the main story line because of the storytelling, take your time. The side quests really add a lot to the overall experience. As any ESO player will tell you there is a lot more to discover than what is right in your face. Read all the books. Talk to anyone who will talk to you….sometimes twice.
I had a lot of fun with several of the side quests. One particular quest had me roaring with laughter. This poor naive but very ambitious Nord was determined to get an audience with a particularly snooty High elf character. High Elves it seems are all about the favors. The Nord was such fun, that I had to help him just to see her reaction to his… gifts.
New / Old Friends
If you’re a veteran player you’ll recognize your old Khajiit friend the moment you lay eyes on him. As hinted at in the trailer, Razum’dar is back. But he’s not the only character from previous chapters to turn up. Several people that you may have or will meet in other places, turn up in Summerset. One of them, will really catch you by surprise. Another you might miss if you don’t tend to read scrolls and books.
Daedric Princes are always up to something and Summerset Isle is no different. Sure, there are new and bizarre looking monsters to fight and New Dungeons to run. It wouldn’t be an Elder Scrolls Game without these.
“Summerset Isle” is an expansion that will keep your brain firing on all cylinders even when you aren’t playing it. There are more Easter eggs in this expansion than an MCU movie. Okay, not that many. As in most Elder Scrolls content, you will meet characters in Summerset that you will hate, character that you will love, and some that inspire both emotions. The story is excellent, the visuals are gorgeous, and the characters will make you laugh out loud, get angry, talk back to the screen, and there is a good chance you will get misty-eyed more than once. No matter what, it will be fun. Not “riding a Guar naked through an Argonian temple fun” but… no, wait… actually, it might just be that much fun.