ESO Live 2020-04-21: Preview of Western Skyrim and Blackreach with Zone Lead, Ed Stark!

Today’s ESO Live was brought to us from the homes of Gina Bruno (Community Manager), Jessica Folsom (Senior Community Manager) and Ed Stark (Greymoor Zone Lead).
They began by asking Ed some questions about his experience working on Elder Scrolls Online. Ed said he’s been working at Zenimax for 8 years. He was brought in by former Lead Designer Zeb Cook, who he knew from working on Dungeons and Dragons at TSR, and who is now working on a different ZOS project. He uses the lessons he learned from tabletop game design – and other than the technology, the principles are mostly the same. You want to make a game that people can enjoy, that can tell a good story, and he likes working on Elder Scrolls because it has so much lore.

Ed said that his first work on ESO was before launch working in Shadowfen: he did the Stillrise Village and Forsaken Hamlet while he was a designer. He also ended up doing a lot of work on the Aldmeri Dominion, Khenarthi’s Roost and the Silvenar story. His first work as a Zone Lead was in Murkmire. He has always liked the unusual stuff, the beast races – Khajiit and Argonians – and greatly enjoyed telling the unusual personal story in Murkmire. Greymoor is a much more immediate story but with great repercussions.
The exploration of Greymoor began with Solitude docks. This is where existing players will enter the zone. Ed said that there are secrets under the bridge! Creating Greymoor was a balancing act – they realise that almost everyone has played ES V: Skyrim, so they wanted it to be familiar, while remembering it is 1000 years in the past. Solitude is the big city in Western Skyrim, where High King Svargrim lives. Any differences in the Solitude map are because the Imperials came in between the 2nd Era and 4th Eras, and the Imperials rebuilt part of the city – this also explains differences in architecture.

Solitude is separated from the rest of Western Skyrim by a door, to help with “server crush”. Ed said that there is one obvious feature in Solitude which wasn’t present in Skyrim – The Tower of the Wolf, High King Svargrim’s pride and joy. It is relevant to the Main Quest. The marketplace underneath is where the Guild Traders are. Ed said that ZOS have intentionally kept all of the “essential services” together in Solitude. They tried to keep them out of the way in Orsinium to help with player population, but it was unpopular with players. There are two buyable houses in Solitude – the inn room, and Proudspire Manor which is a “lore location”, also appearing in Skyrim!

Ed really likes to namecheck the other devs who worked with him. The worldbuilding Team Leads were Charlie Shenton (overland) and Mike Gold (Blackreach). The Lead Writers were Bill Slavicsek and Randy Beagle. The empty circle at the top right of the Greymoor zone map will be filled in with a Blackreach logo, which you can click to go to the Blackreach map.

All safe roads above ground in Western Skyrim are paved, and marked with mile markers. You know you won’t be attacked if you’re on one of these roads. However, some overland roads do not have mile markers, and there are no safe roads in Blackreach. Riding out of Solitude you pass Kilkreath Temple, the Temple of Meridia in Skyrim, which is a ruin filled with vampires here. This was designed by Rory Fitzgerald along with Kimberley Mallas. You also go through the town of Dragon Bridge, designed by Charlie Shenton along with Mike Kern and Patrick Coursey. Dragon Bridge is the garrison, the last line of defence before The Reach.

By this point in the stream, there was a very large posse of players following Gina’s character, since they were playing on the PTS! It made it hard to get screenshots without people in the way.

This is one of the Dwemer lifts down to Blackreach! You don’t have to do anything special to get into Blackreach since it’s 40% of the zone, though some locations will require being on a quest.

While waiting for the stream due to a known crash on the PTS, Ed was asked if there will be Falmer in Greymoor. He replied, “What would Blackreach be without some Falmer? We wanted to do some interesting stuff with them and we think you’re going to enjoy it.”

Ed also gave some stats on the zone. Greymoor is one of the largest zones they’ve done due to the above ground/Blackreach split. It has:
A new Tutorial.
7 Zone Story quests.
10 Objectives plus Solitude.
6 Delves, 6 World Bosses, 2 Public Dungeons.
1 Trial.
New museum quest.
New Antiquities system.
And the revised Vampire skill line.

They visited Morthal, the seat of the Jarl of Hjaalmarch. Morthal is a fishing village, and has snow! There are in fact three different biomes: Mountains, Farmlands, and Swamp. The mountain area is more snowy, whereas the farmlands are more temperate.

Don’t forget that the High King is himself a Jarl, and the other Jarls swear fealty to him. Off to the west is the hold Karthald, which will be totally new to players. It’s an important part of the Main Quest.

Ed was asked how often ZOS sync up with Bethesda. He said “They’re pretty involved – they used to be a lot more involved.” ZOS speak to Bethesda if there is a lore issue, but Bethesda now trusts ZOS to get on with it – “we know what we’re doing after roughly ten years of this”. For example, one of the new public dungeons in Western Skyrim is Labyrinthian. ZOS didn’t want to simply rehash what was already in ES V: Skyrim. However, on talking to Bethesda, they realised that in fact players only visited a small part of Labyrinthian during ES V, so there were plenty of new areas to visit. “They’re more of a resource than a partner.”

They took the wayshrine down to Dusktown in Blackreach. Dusktown is where you’re likely to enter Blackreach if you follow the Main Quest. It is a very vertical zone – we start off high and climb down. The story was written by Michelle Graves and Patrick Coursey, explaning why there is a population – a mining community – and why it’s not there 1000 years later. The red thing off in the distance is a Harrowstorm.

Harrowstorms are world events like Dark Anchors. It’s a dark ritual, part of the main quest. They are turning people into Harrow Fiends, mindless, ravenous undead. A veteran player who is very well-equipped might be able to solo them, but they are designed for groups of at least 3-4. Brandon van Haren has been working on these. During a Harrowstorm event, witches will plant witch pikes which grow into big harrow roots, which you need to destroy. While you’re destroying them, enemies will show up, and eventually the Harrowstorm boss will appear. The fight didn’t take very long given that there were about 40 players following the devs!

As the devs explored Blackreach, they ran into some Dwemer architecture. The Dusktown area has a large number of gemstones. They also encountered a lot of wooden bridges and ramps.

There are multiple caverns in Blackreach. Greymoor Dusk Caverns is to the south, Dark Moon Grotto to the west, The Lightless Hollow to the east, and Greymoor Keep to the north. Each of the caverns has a distinct look. Ed thanked the world builders Kim Mallus, Michael Audije, and Dan Eibling. When I contacted him to check on the spellings, he also added Steve Pawlik.

The other public dungeon is in Blackreach, Nchuthnkarst. As is typical for ZOS with Dwemer names, they refer to it internally as “Nachokarst”. (I remember Nacholeft in Vvardenfell!). This is completely new and is Dwemer-themed. Large Dwemer doors are used to separate different regions of Blackreach. This is partly to minimise lag on the server, but also because it fits lore-wise. Blackreach was built by the dwarves who turned it into a giant city, who wanted to separate the areas used for different purposes.

Ed finished the tour at Greymoor Keep, designed with a lot of discussion with CJ Grebb, the Art Director. He pointed out that the central tower, cloaked in shadow, is a giant stalactite/stalagmite combination going right into the ceiling. Did the inhabitants build the keep going up, or going down? The colours of this cavern are different to Dusktown – instead of blues and mushrooms, it’s reds and lava. This will help players distinguish where they are. Nearby is a player house called Bastion Sanguinarius, built in the same style.

At the end of the stream, Ed answered a few questions. He said that they have tried not to gate off content, so you can explore. They don’t want people running into doors saying “You can’t enter at this time.” Crafting writs are available in Solitude, as well as quest givers to join the Mages Guild, Fighters Guild, and Antiquities. Apparently the name “Greymoor” has lore significance, but Ed couldn’t explain the name without spoiling the main quest.
Today’s livetweeting was done by baratron with screenshots by my long-suffering husband Mr baratron. Thank him if you enjoyed the pictures. He’s very grumpy at being roped in because he doesn’t know anything about Elder Scrolls!

baratron has been using and occasionally editing the UESP wiki since early 2012. Having played Skyrim and Oblivion, she became addicted to Elder Scrolls Online in 2014. She is the Guildmaster of the UESP Guild on the PC-NA server and also plays over at PC-EU occasionally. She is also an admin on the official UESP Discord server and a regular on the UESP Podcast.

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