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The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle Hands-On Preview

The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle is this year’s major chapter update to the eight-year running MMORPG. Boasting more than 20 million players now and edging closer to 21 million as the year goes on, it is full credit to the developers at Zenimax who have been working from home for going on two years. Rich Lambert, Creative Director, explained that the team is as strong and committed as ever to releasing quarterly updates and a huge chapter each year. While it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, the transparent communication is certainly encouraging as we journey into the Legacy of the Bretons year-long content.

Those that have played the Ascending Tide DLC which released last month with two new dungeons – The Coral Aerie and Shipwright’s Regret – will have got a taste of the overarching theme and aesthetic that players can expect when they jump into The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle in June. High Isle is the sixth major chapter update to ESO and it’s built for all players, not just veterans of the game. In other MMORPG’s that have their sixth major expansion released, many players must scramble for months to catch up to their mates’ progress before they can start the new content. With ESO, any player of any level of experience can jump in and start playing High Isle content straight away.

Last year’s Blackwood chapter saw a revamp of the new player tutorial where upon completion at the Keywright’s Gallery, players can choose a portal to go through that will take them to content of their choice. I was pleased to see that a new portal had been opened at the end of the tutorial taking us straight into the action of High Isle, home of the Bretons in the Systres Archipelago found in West Tamriel. Standing at the portal to enter High Isle, you’re hit with a sample of the amazing music that you’ll hear as you explore Gonfalon and all the different places in High Isle.

There are two main islands for players to explore. First is the main island of High Isle that features wide open plains with vast coastal areas strewn with shipwrecks and flotsam, druidic statues and shrines which give short HP bonuses, grassy plains filled with sunflowers, rocky mountains with peaks reaching into the sky, and crystalline monsters crawling the shores. The second island is Amenos which is a prison island featuring lush jungle rainforest and the main prison is in a caldera. The public dungeons were really cool to explore and had some great challenging bosses.

The story of this year’s chapter focuses on political intrigue, and High Isle is the perfect getaway destination for alliance delegates to take on peace talks that would put an end to the Three Banners War. While the summit is hosted by the noble Society of the Steadfast, players should beware of The Ascendant Order and their chaotic motives. Players will experience the chivalric culture of the Breton people firsthand as you traverse deeper into the island and its mysteries, see its spectacular locations such as the two public dungeons and take on challenging quests.

Companions were first introduced with Blackwood last year, and two new companions can be recruited to your collection. Now with The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle comes Ember, a Khajiit sorcerer who is found NNE of Gonfalon, and Isobel Velois, a Breton knight who is found a fair way WNW of Gonfalon, near Castle Navire. They both can be customised with equipment and skills as you level them up, just like the original companions Bastian and Mirri. Ember grew up on the streets and has a knack for magic, and Isobel is an aspiring knight who feels called to do right by players. I found I liked having Ember in my party with her magic abilities over Isobel, but it will really come down to which one suits your character build. Aside from completing their starter missions, I kept them levelling up with me in the High Isle zones and am really looking forward to learning more about their back stories.

As with most chapters, there will be a new Trial dungeon as well as new world events. The new 12-person trial is called Dreadsail Reef which is similar in size and scope to Rockgrove. Pirates have grown bold over the years and the noble houses of the Systres Archipelago have finally decided to do something about it. There are three unique bosses with their own hard modes, heaps of new achievements, cosmetics, and a new mount to earn. The new world events in these zones are Volcanic Vents which are very similar to Abyssal Geysers from ESO: Summerset. I only played the media preview solo, so I am yet to complete one of these, but they look like a good challenge to complete.

The final gameplay aspect to talk about, and what I think is the coolest addition to The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle chapter, is a collectible deck building game called Tales of Tribute. This is a tavern card game that allows you to compete against NPCs and fellow players. It’s a fast-paced, deck-building game that provides a new way for Tamriel’s adventurers to relax and play with great rewards. I really loved the card game in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes back in 2007 as it was a good distraction from the questing and adventuring, so I was super keen to see how Tales of Tribute played in ESO.

There are eight unique patron decks to collect. Each deck consists of 20 or so cards, and each card has their own mechanics like adding gold or power to your side of the board, or stealing them from your opponent. You start the quest line by reading a note found on a bridge in Gonfalon or by talking to an npc called Bragas who is standing outside the Gonfalon Gaming Hall. He takes you through a simple yet well explained tutorial and shows you how to play a quick game. You gain four decks when you complete the tutorial, and the other four decks are gained through your adventures in all zones of ESO, not just limited to High Isle.

The game board is split with you at the bottom and your opponent at the top. You choose two patron decks and your opponent chooses two, then all decks are shuffled together. You and your opponent are assigned ten cards each at random. Action cards are used to add gold and power to the board and are discarded at the end of your turn. Agent cards are unique where they have HP and remain on the board until your opponent deals with them. They can help you build card combos quicker, prevent your opponent from generating prestige, and other roles. The final special type of card is a contract card which are one-shot cards and can be played straight away.

There are two ways you can win a game of Tales of Tribute – a contested victory or a patron victory. A contested victory means you are the first person to reach 40 prestige points. Any leftover power gained during your turn will be converted to prestige points when you end your turn. A patron victory is where you have all four patrons (icons on the right side of the game board) favouring you at the same time and you gain favour by playing certain cards that build up certain gold, power and other pre-requisites. Once you gain favour with all four patrons on the board, you win the game regardless of the current score, even if you’re behind. Rewards for winning games come in many forms such as gold, consumables, crafting materials and boosters, furniture crafting materials, cosmetics, recipes, motifs, emotes, transmute crystals and furnishings. On the PvP side of the Tales of Tribute, there are seasonal rewards to earn but I didn’t get a chance to attempt playing against another player.

Overall, I was really impressed with what I got to play through in this hands-on preview of The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle. I stuck to the main quest for about 8 hours, not doing any other side quests other than some that took me into delves or the two public dungeons, and I only uncovered about a third of the High Isle map’s icons. We were told there’s about 30 hours of content available in High Isle and I’m very much looking forward to playing the full release with my wife in June.

A big thanks to Bethesda ANZ for access to this press hands-on preview and The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle will release on June 6, 2022 for PC and MAC, then later on Xbox and PlayStation on June 21, 2022.


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