Elder Scrolls Online is a lonely game. Rather, it’s lonely in contrast to other MMORPGs like Final Fantasy 14 and World of Warcraft. Those games, which take place in sprawling virtual worlds much like the one you explore in Elder Scrolls Online, basically force you to interact with other players in order to move forward.
In ESO, much of the world is completely open by default, and a hefty chunk of ESO‘s content is designed around ease and simplicity. Because of this, it’s incredibly easy to run around and pursue your own quests, utterly missing out on interactions with other players altogether. That is unless you specifically seek them out. Even then, the places in which you do end up playing with others are usually in PvP Battlegrounds, Public Events, or World Bosses, none of which stack up to good old questing.
That being said, there’s a wealth of story content in Elder Scrolls Online, and most of it is soloable. Each story casts your character as the protagonist, making it inconvenient to share your journey with others (unless you specifically seek out ESO‘s multiplayer-focused content). Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood does its best to fill the gaps in social interaction with NPC characters that follow you around and level up with you.
These newly-introduced NPCs, called Companions, do a great job of making you feel connected to the world, and they often have their own commentary on what’s going on.
During a press preview event for ESO: Blackwood last week, I spent about three hours alongside the mercenary companion Bastian. Once I helped him infiltrate a cave of vampires, he was mine to summon any time I wanted his assistance.
But as I explored the bog surrounding Leyawiin, an iconic city best remembered from the southeastern portion of the Oblivion world map, I quickly learned that Bastian had his own insights to share when I approached him for conversation. And, as I entered battles and completed quests, Bastian commented on those events as well.
It wasn’t the most on-point commentary, and he did repeat himself a handful of times, but it did serve to fill in a layer of depth that I feel has been missing in the game. Not to mention, it made the world of Elder Scrolls Online more lived-in and alive.
For those who are curious how well the companions perform in PvE against bosses and challenging groups of enemies, I found that Bastian added to the flow of combat quite well. I also found my choices for his development affected the abilities I chose for myself. See, companions have their own skills that you can invest in and equip, based on what kind of playstyle you want to go with.
For example, I could choose to make Bastian a healer if I wanted to play as a tank, or I could customize him as a melee battlemage if I were building a ranged DPS character.
There’s more to companion customization beyond skills. I found out that I could even equip different weapons and equipment to Bastian, decking him out even further. Granted, I was disappointed to find that the only items I could equip to Bastian were designated “Companion’s” pieces, and I’m unsure how difficult it is to find or craft those. But still, it’s a neat idea that I’m excited to explore further.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I could further customize Bastian’s look by equipping him with my own outfits and mounts that I’d saved in the Crown Store or earned through questing. The preview character that I was provided only had a couple of those unlocked, so I wasn’t able to see Bastian riding around on my beloved Dragonscale Solar Horse mount from my primary account, but it’s something I’m excited to play around with when the final version of Blackwood releases in June.
Companion bits aside, my impression of the new Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood expansion is leaning positive. The world itself didn’t feel quite as fleshed out as I’d have expected, often revealing large, ugly patches of ground that hadn’t been treated with flora and other features. And, if you’re getting sick of the general gameplay of Elder Scrolls Online, there isn’t nearly enough here that will change your mind.
Of course, these things are all subject to change as the release date looms closer.
But it’s shaping up to be a decently-sized expansion pack that further thickens the massive suite of stuff to do in ESO‘s world. Companions are clearly the highlight this year, and I’m curious to see how far Bethesda takes the system going forward.