This is the first of three articles detailing our experiences with an early version of the High Isle Chapter. We would like to thank Lady Nerevar for passing the Imperial Library‘s spare invite onto UESP, and Gina Bruno of Zenimax Online Studios for agreeing to this.
This article is a general introduction to the Chapter and a discussion of new Quality of Life features which will be part of Update 34. We will publish a further article detailing the new Companions later tonight, and an article about the new card game, Tales of Tribute, on Monday.
There will be minimal story spoilers in this article, so don’t worry!
There are two major islands in the Chapter: High Isle and Amenos. They are volcanic islands in the Systres Archipelago. During his introduction to the Chapter, Rich Lambert, ESO‘s Creative Director told us, “Don’t be fooled by the size of the islands on the map – it is as big as previous chapters”. There are no existing lorebooks about this area, so Zenimax Online Studios were able to create it “from whole cloth”. ZoS therefore worked closely with Bethesda Game Studios on the Chapter.
High Isle was founded as the staging point for the All Flags Navy during the war with the Sload, which began around 1E 2260. By 2E582, it has become “the ideal of Breton architecture” – a place where the Breton nobility goes on vacation. “Think of Las Vegas or the ancient resort city of Baiae from Roman times.”
Amenos is a prison island – the home to political prisoners, criminals, and dissidents. It is a lush jungle rainforest – the main “prison” is in a caldera. There is a small group of non-prisoners outside the prison who handle food, transfer of prisoners etc.
The Steadfast are organising secret peace talks to try to end the Three Banners War. They are a humanitarian organisation that aids those affected by the war, a bit like the Red Cross in the real world. They were founded by a wealthy philanthropist – Bacaro Volorus.
However, there is also the Ascendant Order, a powerful secret group of organised separatists. Their goal is to abolish the Alliances, smash the nobility, and make Tamriel free. Their leaders are the Ascendant Magus and Ascendant Lord, whose real identities are not known.
The Chapter story is very much grounded in real world politics. There is no Daedric Prince coming to High Isle.
Rich Lambert explained that ZoS wanted a change of pace and wanted to get away from “the world is going to end” storylines, instead returning to their storytelling roots about individuals and cultures. The Orsinium DLC is still one of Rich’s favourites and that was focused on the Orcs and their culture. He reminded us of a quote from Todd Howard – “If magic disappeared from Tamriel, the average person wouldn’t know.”
New players entering High Isle from the Balfiera tutorial arrive at Druid’s Gate, just northeast of the main city. This is one of several druidic stone monuments that can be found around the island, with a literal stone circle rather than a circle of stones.
The main city is Gonfalon Bay, which is rather well-designed for player use. The writ crafting boards are immediately outside the front doors to the huge crafting room, and the turn-in boxes are outside the back doors – you simply have to leave the building and jump down to them. There is also an Outfit Station in the crafting room.
As a player who’s never moved on from crafting in Vvardenfell, I have to say that this almost tempts me to move. Though the huge crafting room is actually a bit too large for my tastes – I feel like it takes too long to run around. Still, players who wish to do their writs in the same zone that they’re questing in will be happy.
The six primary Guild Traders are all together in a semi-circle with two entrances to the area, meaning that none of them are “more important” than any other. The bank is also nearby, though nothing can be quite as convenient as the outdoor bank in Vivec City.
Upon leaving the main city, what struck me was how utterly beautiful High Isle is. It’s just gorgeous. I always think of Glenumbra as Generic North European Fantasy Land, with all of its birch trees and rain. High Isle is clearly a warmer climate. It’s rather mountainous, as would be expected from its volcanic origins, with lush green landscapes everywhere there aren’t active volcanic fissures. The beaches are lovely too – there aren’t a lot of places on Tamriel where you can enjoy a beach without being attacked by crocodiles or snakes.
Gonfalon Bay is a modern (for 2E582) city built of stone bricks. There is also at least one castle, several ruins, and a small fishing village. Other settlements are druidic in nature, consisting of the rough stone circular huts with woven roofs familiar from the Wyrd.
Not only is Gonfalon Bay well-designed, but the wayshrines around High Isle seem to be well-placed. Honestly, it was fun simply to wander and explore the island. I haven’t felt that need to explore since – well, honestly? Since Vvardenfell. Summerset’s colours hurt my eyes, Northern Elsweyr was an absolute pain to explore with the huge rock fissure through the centre of the zone, Western Skyrim was grey and unsurprising so soon after ES V: Skyrim, and while I really enjoy Blackwood’s content, the actual zone doesn’t excite me much. But High Isle got me genuinely stoked.
We weren’t able to visit Amenos during our preview, though we did find what I’m certain is the boat which takes us there later in the main questline.
Fighting and Questing
Tall humanoids with horns on their head. They attack with their horns and have a powerful knockback attack. We saw Brute, Thorncaster, and Trickster variants.
A bit like reptilian dogs. Physical attacks include a swipe with front paw, kick with back paw, and a charge. The Collectors’ Edition includes an Amenos Ornaug mount, which is listed under the new category of Serpentes.
Lava creatures. They are found near small lava fissures on the ground. Regular Vulk’esh come in Young and Elder variants – there is also a boss version at Volcanic Vents (see below). The Vulk’esh Young die too quickly to see their moves, but the Elders have a swipe, a cone attack, and an explosive AoE.
Large animated suits of armour held together by magic. They attack with their weapons and with lightning magic. We saw Duelist (duel wield) and Sentinel (one hand and shield) variants.
Enemies which are familiar from previous zones include Bears, Hags, Haj Mota, Hoarvors, Imps, Nereids, Reef Vipers, Skeletons, Spriggans, Wolves and Wraiths. There are also coral variants of some of these.
The dolmen-like events are called Volcanic Vents. The enemies are all Fire-related, such as Flame Wyrms, Fire Imps, Magma Golem, Shalk, Vulk’esh, Flame Atronachs, Iron Atronachs, and Infernal Atronachs. The event appears to be in two halves. The first half is helping a Druid to close the lava fissures. She tells you to stop the atronachs from reaching the vents, which helps to prevent further enemies from appearing.
Then she loses control and the boss appears. Every time the boss pounds the ground, more enemies appear. Interrupting the boss keeps the number of adds to a minimum.
In our testing, these events seemed to need tuning, since the first part was relatively easy for me to solo with my usual CP setup accompanied by Level 20 Ember. The second part with the boss did take considerably longer, but was still soloable. While I’ve been playing since launch, bad hands mean that I rarely do more than about 25k DPS. This suggests that if the events are intended to be for groups, then they are too easy. Then again, knowing that relatively few players would be connected to the preview server simultaneously, the events may have been tuned down deliberately.
Other World Events
Exploring High Isle I found four Volcanic Vents, four World Bosses, four delves, and one Public Dungeon. I assume that the remaining ones are on Amenos – or on the central part of High Isle which was inaccessible during this early build.
As we know, the new 12-player Trial is Dreadsail Reef – we did not feel like attempting to do this with only two humans and a Companion each, but I’m definitely looking forward to it on the Public Test Server.
I did something like six or seven quests, including the first part of the Main Quest, and I have to say that the writing is superb. Several of the quests are genuinely funny enough that I was laughing out loud.
I was pleased to see that questions we had after playing the Ascending Tide DLC were answered. Jakarn, Captain Kaleen, and Za’ji all return as part of the Main Quest. (Presumably Caska as well, but I didn’t get that far.) It is generally considered bad form to spoil the Main Quest, but I can tell you that even more previous characters are expected to return.
Also, you don’t get far into Gonfalon Bay before bumping into our “favourite” bumbling Nord, and the victims of his latest, uh… diplomacy.
Do I think the 30 hours of new gameplay estimate is correct? Yes, easily. If you actually read the quest dialogues and explore the island… I played on the test server for 10 hours and I feel like I only scratched the surface.
Quality of Life Improvements
Mundus Stones will now be in the Armory! Apparently this will include two slots for Twice Born Star, and that set is “the bane of Rich’s existence!”
Quick Select Wheel
The Quickslot wheel has been split into segments. There are separate wheels for Items, Allies, Tools, Emotes and Mementos. Items are stocked from the Inventory like usual, while the other wheels are stocked from Collections.
To switch from one wheel to the next, you use the left and right mouse buttons – or the 7 and 9 keys – or the LT and RT if you’re on an XBox gamepad. (Sadly I don’t have a Playstation controller to test.)
It did appear to me from the preview that you can continue to use just one wheel if you like, but I’m not sure whether this is intentional behaviour.
ZoS have focused a lot of attention on making the Companions “less annoying”. They’re smarter and have more dialogue, with less repeated dialogue. Their power has not been changed since ZoS are happy with that side of their performance.
AMD FSR Support
AMD FidelityFX™ Super Resolution (FSR) uses upscaling technologies to help boost your framerates and resolution, without having to upgrade to a new graphics card. It is similar to the Nvidia DLSS and DLAA support which was added in Update 32, but it works on older cards.
There is a new option which allows you to select which music you want to hear while the game initially loads, with options of Base Game, or each of the Chapters. “Default” will pick the music of the most recent release.
There will be a new accessibility option in ESO. I don’t know what it does because it didn’t seem to be implemented into the version of the game that we were playing. I do know that it requires gamepad mode, and has both text-to-speech and speech-to-text options. (It will attempt to read out the messages in your chat box – good luck with some of the nonsense that gamers type!).
As a disabled person, and with long-term Elder Scrolls fans getting older, I very much support the idea of accessibility options in games. However I can’t say for certain whether this will be helpful or not.
Coming in June
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle arrives on PC/Mac and Stadia on June 6, and on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 on June 21.
Look out later today for our article about the new Companions, and on Monday for our article about the new card game included in the High Isle Chapter, Tales of Tribute.
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