Last night Bethesda and Zenimax Online Studios unveiled the next destination coming to The Elder Scrolls Online, and it's none other than Skyrim - at least the western side of it - the location of the fifth mainline entry in the series (but you didn't need us to tell you that). During the event, creative director Rich Lambert was on hand to spill the beans in front of an expectant community, but we also had the chance to talk with the man from Zenimax in the run-up to the big reveal, and we started out by asking how players have responded to the Season of the Dragon.
"Season of the Dragon was an overwhelming success for us last year. Players especially loved the year-long story and how each of the four major updates all tied together into a cohesive narrative," Lambert explained.
Next up in ESO, we're going to "explore the dark heart of Skyrim", but what does that mean exactly? We put it to Lambert, who told us that, "Dark Heart of Skyrim has many meanings; it really is the perfect way to summarise the entire year. Not only does it hint at where we are going to go and explore - Western Skyrim and the huge cavern system under it called Blackreach - but it also helps establish the dark and gritty vibe of the year-long story we are going to be telling."
As Lambert mentioned before, the year-long format seems to have resonated with the community, so the studio is looking to revisit it once again, this time in a fan-favourite location. Once again, we'll walk in the homeland of the Nords, this time as part of an interconnected adventure that starts with a prologue quest that's going to be available to one and all. What's more, we're promised one the darkest stories in the series to date, along with new world events (so-called Harrowstorms), a tough new 12-player trial called Kyne's Aegis, and fresh gameplay features (including a new Antiquities system that'll see players hunting down ancient relics that hint at Tamriel's past).
However interesting long-lost relics may be, the main event is undoubtedly the new year-long adventure that players will undertake. With events herein taking place 900-years before those of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the studio has had plenty of creative license to explore new narrative strands. To that end, Greymoor will plunge players into a battle against an ancient vampiric lord with an army of vampires, witches, werewolves at his command. Western Skyrim, our new playground, is described as "gigantic" and, according to the developers, it'll host a 30-hour main questline, as well as "tons of new side quests and exploration."
Over the course of The Elder Scrolls Online, and most recently with Elsweyr and the Season of the Dragon, we've been taken to various regions and explored different themes, but why Skyrim and why now?
"Choosing where to go next for each Chapter is quite a process," Lambert told Gamereactor. "We start by looking at what areas we've already visited and the kinds of stories we've told. From there, we start to conceptualise the feeling we want players to have when exploring - we try to make each new area feel very different and have very different types of terrain/biomes from the next. When you compare Western Skyrim to Elsweyr, they are very different - the people there (Nord vs. Khajiit) are stark in their differences and the biomes themselves are almost complete opposites [snow/ice vs. desert]. This makes Skyrim a very good choice for the next area to explore. It also helps quite a bit that Skyrim is one of the most beloved and requested locations to visit by our players."
With Skyrim following Morrowind to ESO, Lambert explained more how they're going about revisiting favoured locations. "One of our core goals with going to Western Skyrim was to tell a unique and interesting story. We didn't want to retell The Elder Scrolls V, so this year's chapter and storyline isn't a 100% recreation of the Skyrim you know from ES5, like Morrowind was. There are many familiar locations (Solitude, Morthal, Dragon Bridge... etc) but as we are almost 1000 years in the past, things are a bit different in our time period. In addition to the places you are familiar with, we decided to explore a lot more of Blackreach, taking you to never before seen locations there."
"We are slowly working towards that," Lambert told us later when we asked whether the long-term plan was to map out the entire world. "When you look at the map of Tamriel, it is amazing to see just how much we have filled out since launch. Keep in mind that we still have plenty of areas to explore and we also have the infinite realms of Oblivion to explore as well... so there's no worry about running out of stories or places to go once we get closer to filling out the map."
Finally, we asked about the health of ESO as we move into a new decade, and this is what Greymoor's creative director had to say about the fantasy MMORPG and its future:
"ESO is in a really good place right now - our community has never been stronger and continues to grow, which is remarkable for a game that has been live for almost six years now. We don't plan on slowing down anytime soon and have lots of great things planned for the future."
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor will land on PC and Mac on May 18, and will follow on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on June 2.