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The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr review - a warm welcome to Tamriel

ESO's latest expansion brings dragons and dead men to the fantasy MMO, but shines brightest on its interpretation of the Khajiit

Elder Scrolls Online

Our Verdict

Struggles to do justice to what should be its show-stopper moments, but breathes much-needed life into the Khajiit and their homeland.

With dragons circling the sky and hordes of undead running amok through their homeland, things aren’t looking great for the Khajiit. Throw in a usurper queen, a civil war, and the soulless husk of a powerful and callous warrior, and while your feline friends might not be having the best time, The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr makes an immediate statement. That’s just as well, as it is partly intended to entice new players to Bethesa’s MMO.

While the past five years of The Elder Scrolls Online has given us a sprawling ‘Greatest Hits of Tamriel’ to play through, Elsweyr offers the opportunity to start over, with a brief tutorial getting new players up to speed with combat. But despite an intention to draw new players in with this expansion, areas such as lockpicking and spellcasting have been passed over. There’s far more to ESO than just swordplay, and I didn’t feel as though I was fully-equipped for a world as sprawling as Tamriel.

Much like in Skyrim, it doesn’t take long before dragons descend from the sky, and you’re thrown headlong into a three-way conflict to determine the fate of the Khajiit. The Elder Scrolls V put you in control of the legendary Dragonborn, but in The Elder Scrolls Online you’re far less well-equipped to fight the oversized lizards. For me, that meant it was time to get to grips with my otherworldly abilities as Elsweyr’s new Necromancer class.

Running into combat with an explosive skeleton by my side and an ethereal scythe in my hands made for some of Elsweyr’s most visually arresting and tactically engaging moments. Even at low levels, I had plenty of meaningful decisions to make with the new class: do I lob flaming skulls at enemies from afar, or wade into close-quarters, relying on the healing from my Death Scythe and Render Flesh abilities to keep me in the fight?

Even as my skills progressed, however, it was difficult to get more than one or two allies to rise from their graves at the same time. I would have liked to feel more like I was in charge of a real undead army. And while abilities could be effectively woven together, I found some a little underwhelming. My ultimate, for example, brings forth a hulking colossus to fight by my side, but what seemed like it should have been a fight-winning moment was more often just a means to gain the upper hand at the beginning of a battle.

Fus-ro-dah: Skyrim’s dragons were a cinch compared to The Elder Scrolls Online’s scaly scourge

Sadly, the Necromancer felt least effective when the time actually came to fight a dragon. Out in the world, these are imposing beasts, and I really felt vulnerable compared to my prior life as the godlike Dragonborn. However, that meant that such battles – in which both me and my scaly foe were limited to small arenas – were more a test of my resilience than my mastery of the undead. Most of my fights involved clumsily circling the beast in an attempt to avoid its most dangerous body parts while hacking at the more vulnerable ones – a frustrating call-back to some of Skyrim’s more irritating battles.

For the most part, however, dragons take a backseat in Elsweyr’s main narrative, preferring to operate from the shadows rather than confront you directly. Instead, you’re faced with an intriguingly twisty tale, lent a surprising intimacy by its focus on its characters. I don’t think I met a single Khajiit whose company I didn’t enjoy, and the return of Sir Cadwell sees John Cleese at his whimsical best. Even Abnur Tharn, who initially struck me as little more than a bureaucrat whose interest in me depended on my usefulness to him, revealed a surprising humanity in the end as he came to terms with his waning power. The real winner, however, is Kamira, whose arc is masterfully woven alongside your own, her mystical highs offset by heart-wrenching lows.

Elsweyr also offers the series’s greatest realisation of the Khajiit to date. The race has often lived on the fringes of Tamriel society, but ESO’s new expansion puts them centre-stage, exploring everything from religious shrines hidden deep in the jungle to the grandiose architecture that dominates the bustling towns of Rimmen and Riverhold. While a little barren in places, the transition from colourful steppes in the north to lush rainforest of the south means the Khajiit’s homeland is a pleasure to explore.

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The Elder Scrolls Online’s latest expansion is a decent jumping-off point for new and returning players, with a vibrant world and a narrative that’ll guide you through your early hours with the game, but there’s plenty for veterans too. Characters not seen for years make welcome returns, and the continuous threat of the dragons makes for a world in which even high level players will be constantly uncovering new challenges. Most impressive, however, is the expansion’s ability to bring to life a part of its world not seen for two decades with an attention to detail that makes it seem as though the Khajiit have always been central to the story of Tamriel.