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The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road Hands-On Impressions

The Elder Scrolls Online celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, and while I have not played the game constantly all that time, I always love returning multiple times throughout each year. ESO has had its ups and downs over the years, starting its roots as a subscription-based game with zone levels, difficult grouping and a veteran system that was dated. However, the release of One Tamriel, the game shifting to free-to-play, and being available on consoles, has seen the game go from strength to strength. Now boasting over 24 million players, this 10-year milestone coincides with a hands-on preview I have played of the game’s latest chapter, Gold Road, that promises a fresh wave of content to keep players enthralled as we move into the next decade of The Elder Scrolls Online.

Gold Road’s narrative weaves a captivating tale centred around wood elves who have splintered off and are working with a group called ‘Recollection’. This group is desperately looking for Ithelia, a Daedric Prince that has escaped with no memory, wandering aimlessly but is drawn to artifacts in the world. Picking up after the cliffhanger finish to last year’s Necrom chapter, her sudden return to Tamriel disrupts the tranquillity of West Weald, a region bordering Valenwood, Cyrodiil and the Gold Coast. The once-familiar city of Skingrad, encountered in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, now stands as a crucial line of defence against the impending Daedric threat. In the hands-on preview I spent several hours progressing the main story and side quests, providing an intriguing glimpse into Ithelia’s motivations and explored the repercussions of her long-forgotten influence.

West Weald contains the usual split of three styles of biomes across the large zone with an Autumn/Fall feel to the colour scheme. The main section of Gold Road is connected to Valenwood Annexation that has lush forests teeming with vibrant flora that give way to crumbling Imperial ruins. The third piece of the landscape puzzle is the Colovian Highlands that creates a visually stunning and diverse area to explore for hidden treasures. Whether you’re a die-hard lore scholar or simply appreciate a beautiful environment, West Weald promises to be a captivating zone that will quench your thirst for adventure with heaps of delves, a new 12-player trial called Lucent Citadel in the NE corner of the zone, and Mirrormoor Incursion world events.

Absent from this chapter release, but arriving with the Q4 update, are two new companions, but that’s all the information we have been provided so far. The Lucent Citadel trial is similar in scale to Sanity’s Edge that came with the Necrom chapter. This time we will face the enigmatic Reanimating Crux and test your mettle against nightmarish foes. As I was playing alone, I didn’t explore the trial, nor did I get to experience the new world events of Mirrormoor Incursions. I discovered a couple in my travels but again as I was playing solo, I didn’t hang around for them to trigger. It’s great to be able to play in these hands-on previews but I do like to leave some things for me to discover at the full release.

The true innovation with the Gold Road chapter lies within the new Scribing system, and it is what I was most excited to test. This unique mechanic empowers players to craft glyphs that enhance their existing skill abilities in groundbreaking ways. During the preview, there is a long quest line that was highly engaging and took me over all parts of Tamriel to complete several tasks that unlock grimoires and scripts, and these form the essences of new skills. The UI is like that of enchanting and you’ll require a grimoire, which is the core of an ability, and then you add three types of scripts – focus, signature, and affix, to customise the new skill. The focus script defines the scripted skill and sets the main function. The signature script adds a unique effect to the script to make it your own. Finally, the affix script adds a final benefit of your choosing.

Creative Director Rich Lambert explained there are over 4000 different combinations on offer right now and showed us two examples of new skills that could be created with Gold Road. This does mean that Scribing is locked behind the purchase of Gold Road, but it is well worth pursuing in my opinion. The first example was Shield Throw, and this had a focus script of ‘multi-target’, a signature script of ‘damage over time’, and an affix of ‘off balance’. The second example was soul burst that had enhanced ‘heal power’, ‘heal over time’, and ‘courage’ scripts. Creating the skill costs luminous ink and then the skill is added to your skill list for you to add to your toolbar. Luminous inks are handed to you as quest rewards, and you can find more by trading them in the guild marketplace. However, the inks cannot be crafted.

I spent a couple of hours unlocking new grimoires and scripts by completing tasks for magical beings called the Luminaries within the Scholarium, a place beneath the island of Eyevea that was once located in the Shivering Isles. I loved the lore behind this, with mentions of the exchange of Eyevea between Arch-mage Shalidor and the Daedric Prince Sheogorath and everything in between, and I was enthralled with these storylines and moving from zone to zone to complete their tasks. I am very much looking forward to doing more of these when the chapter releases in June.

Grimoires and scripts that you experiment with allow you to unleash a torrent of fire damage on weapon strikes, amplify the potency of healing spells, imbue our dodge roll with a teleportation effect and even change the colour of existing spells that we’ve been using for 10 years. Not all scripts are compatible with each other or grimoires, with incompatible options shown in red. However, the sheer number of combinations seems limitless, offering a level of customisation that ESO has never seen before. This system has the potential to redefine character builds and combat strategies, making it an exciting addition for players of all playstyles.

Ten years of ESO is an amazing achievement, and I asked Creative Director Rich Lambert what his favourite memory over the last 10 years was. Lambert was quick to remind us that though the game is 10 years young, the team started development even further back in 2007. He highlighted that One Tamriel would be at the top of his list, remembering the strife amongst the team about the decision to implement it. However, when developers and players experienced the wonder that was Tamriel Unlimited with the Orsinium update, where level scaling was introduced and it allowed all of my friends to group together, regardless of level, it was the way forward for the entire game. He also mentioned it being a highlight to work with Bethesda to add to the Elder Scrolls world with their blessing.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road is shaping up to be a substantial and exciting chapter that marks the beginning of ESO’s second decade. With a compelling story that introduces a mysterious Daedric Prince, a visually stunning new zone brimming with secrets, and the innovative Scribing system that promises to revolutionise character customisation and skill builds, Gold Road offers something fresh and exciting for both new and veteran players. Congratulations to the team at Zenimax for ten years of unforgettable adventures in Tamriel, and we hope for many more to come!

These hands-on preview impressions are thanks to Bethesda ANZ. The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road arrives for PC/Mac on June 3, 2024, and for Xbox and PlayStation consoles on June 18, 2024. The Gold Road prologue quest is now available for free for all ESO players. To kick off this year’s adventure, grab the new quest starter titled “Prisoner of Fate” from the in-game Crown Store. For more information, head over to the official website.


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