The latest chapter to be released in Bethesda’s and ZeniMax Online Studios’ popular MMORPG is The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle, which brings players to the ancestral homeland of The Elder Scrolls‘ Breton race for the first time ever. Based on Western Europe and Medieval England, High Isle serves as a vacation destination for Tamriel’s wealthy and powerful and is set to be the site of peace talks between the various Alliances in an attempt to end the Three Banners War. While there, players will investigate a secret order of knights called the Ascendant Order that is attempting to sabotage the peace talks and keep Tamriel in conflict. In addition, players will explore the mysterious Amenos, a prison island with a lush jungle that processed prisoners are unable to leave.
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle includes all the familiar trappings of other ESO expansions, like a brand new setting; over 30 hours of questing; a new, core gameplay feature; new delves, dungeons, world events, and world bosses; new items and sets to discover and craft; and new companions to recruit. Like with previous ESO expansions, even players completely new to the MMO can begin with High Isle and have the same fulfilling experience as a veteran player. Of all the previous expansions, High Isle might be the most immersive, including little setting details like Ornaugs diving out of the water like dolphins, bards singing aboard the smaller, gondola-style boats in Gonfalon Bay, and ships coming in and out on the horizon. Small details like these help the setting feel even more lived-in and immersive than that of previous expansions and give High Isle its distinctly alive atmosphere.
Unlike Blackwood last year, which focused on the Daedric Prince Mherunes Dagon and an apocalyptic questline, The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle takes a smaller-scale approach that feels more manageable and contained. Many of the elements of this expansion, including the core gameplay feature Tales of Tribute, the new companions, Ember and Isobel, and the public events like delves and dungeons, work incredibly well and are great fun besides. Though not everything about High Isle works, the expansion is overall well conceived and one of the best Elder Scrolls Online expansions offered in the last few years, continuing the trend of ESO improving with every major update.
Each Elder Scrolls Online chapter comes with a new, core mechanic, and High Isle’s new feature is the tavern game Tales of Tribute. Similar to Gwent in The Witcher 3, this deckbuilding card game is a simple but addictive way to pass time in Tamriel. Players will use cards worth gold to purchase new cards from the center pile, the Tavern, and must earn enough Power to convert to Prestige and beat their opponent. Alternatively, players can choose to make sacrifices to the four Patrons along the right side of the screen and, if favored by all four, win by default no matter the final Prestige score. Players begin with four standard card decks, based on the initial four Patrons. They can unlock four more Tales of Tribute decks by participating in delves and dungeons throughout the world, earning achievements, or increasing their Tales of Tribute rank.
High Isle has a full game hall where players may compete against NPCs, and players can challenge each other to PvP matches. Other hub cities around Tamriel have a Tales of Tribute club presence, and players can complete daily quests by playing matches against some of the NPCs in hub areas. This feature does feel like it alters the world in a significant way, carrying over to other chapters and areas from the base game. It is a shame that Tales of Tribute is only available via the DLC, as it feels like it would be a welcome base game feature. Despite how well the game works and how addictive it is, it does not itself feel big enough to serve as the main addition to a paid DLC chapter.
The main story of The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle is a sort of return to form for the series, trading a world-ending Daedric plot like that of Blackwood for a more contained story of political intrigue. Despite this, the story is by far the weakest part of the new chapter. Players follow Lady Arabelle Davaux, the writer of the Investigator Vale novels, as she attempts to keep the peace talks on track and later investigate the Ascendant Order. There’s some sneaking around as well as plenty of combat all across the Systres Archipelago. The story itself feels incredibly short and fetch-quest-heavy, forcing players to retrace their steps incredibly frequently and making it imperative that they find every Wayshrine in High Isle as quickly as possible for easier travel. Though there are rewards for completing stages of the main story quest, these often feel underwhelming compared to what players can earn by participating in delves, world events, and dungeons.
To its credit, the story tries to carry weight for the area, even going so far as to somewhat change the landscape of High Isle. Unfortunately, like many quests across The Elder Scrolls Online, the story just lacks the gravitas it wants to have and winds up feeling fairly inconsequential despite its impressive levels of lore. The Ascendant Lord, as advertised in some of the trailers and promotional materials, is not actually identified in this chapter; instead, his second-in-command, the Ascendant Magus, serves as the main antagonist. There is some indication the Ascendant Lord could appear as the big bad in a later chapter or DLC, but this could put off some players who were expecting a major reveal at the end of High Isle and does ultimately make the story feel less fulfilling.
Outside of the main story, however, High Isle introduces new dungeons, delves, and world events that are a lot of fun to experience. In one delve, players enter the Firepot, an area that appears normal at first but turns into the heart of an underground volcano the deeper the party ventures. In another, players will face a jailer on Amenos who allows patrons to hunt prisoners for sport. Enemies in delves challenging but possible to take on as a solo player or with a companion, and the rewards for defeating them are often worthwhile. The new Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle world event, Volcanic Vents, is also bombastic and well-designed. This event pits groups of players against hordes of fire-based creatures like Atronachs and Vulk’esh as they help the Stonelore druids attempt to seal the vents.
Finally, the dungeons offer a mixed bag of experiences, including pirate-themed events like Dreadsail Reef and Ghost Haven Bay, and Breton ruins like Spire of the Crimson Coin. The pirate theme fits perfectly with the rest of High Isle’s infrastructure, and these cooperative experiences are, like most of the public events in Elder Scrolls Online, highlights of the new chapter.
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle does introduce two new companions to the year-old companion system: Ember, a Khajit Sorcerer with a somewhat grey morality, and Isobel Veloise, a Breton Templar Knight Aspirant who follows a more knightly moral code. These two characters are a highlight of the expansion, adding several interesting side quests to the main story and offering solo players more freedom to participate in difficult quests like delves and world events. Both companions have three separate personal quests players unlock with time after they have built up their rapport. Like Bastian and Mirri in The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, players are free to build Ember and Isobel to fit the kind of character (tank, DPS, or healer) they need in their party. Both Ember and Isobel feel significantly more fleshed-out than their Blackwood counterparts, and their stories are immersive and fulfilling to complete.
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle may not be a total home run, but it is another solid installment to the MMORPG despite its weak story. High Isle itself is a gorgeously realized location that feels more alive than other settings have thanks to the incredible attention to detail by the art team, and the gameplay is a lot of fun where it matters most. The inclusion of Tales of Tribute works wonderfully, and the game itself was clearly well-designed and executed. However, it could have been even stronger as a base game feature that all players could enjoy. This might have added to the social aspects of Elder Scrolls Online by giving players more to do while in-game besides group combat encounters. Players have likely not seen the last of the Ascendant Order and its leader in Elder Scrolls Online expansions, and time will tell whether dragging out the reveal of the Ascendant Lord’s identity was a worthwhile move. In the meantime, fans are likely to find many things to like about The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle that add some welcome variety and lore in Tamriel, and it is well worth checking out.
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle is available now for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Screen Rant was provided a Steam code for the purpose of this review.
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