The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor expansion releases this spring, and we've gotten to try it out. Here are our hands-on impressions.

Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Preview — Better in Red

The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor expansion releases this spring, and we've gotten to try it out. Here are our hands-on impressions.

Skyrim is back. Well, sort of. Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor is the fourth chapter in the series of expansions that have released for the Elder Scrolls Online since launch.

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Long story short: vampires are back in town, and they aren’t the friendliest bunch. You can go after them with a brand new 30 hours of story quests, but with a rehauled Vampire skill line of your own, and two beautiful new zones to get lost in, why rush?

I’ve spent over four hours playing with a preview build of the new Greymoor expansion, and I’ve checked out the new zones — Western Skyrim and Blackreach. I’ve also tried out other additions like the aforementioned new Vampire skill line, Antiquities, Harrowstorms, and more. Here are my hands-on impressions:

Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Preview — Better in Red

The first thing I did during my preview was create a fresh new High Elf Necromancer, super-boost them to CP810, and go hog wild with the new Vampire skill tree. As somebody who used to play with a Vampire character on the live server, I always thought that they were way too underpowered to be useful for anybody but the most specific Magicka builds. Greymoor completely changes that.

What struck me first was how much less punishing it was to be a Vampire in Elder Scrolls Online after the new update. Where previously you’d need to regularly feed on humanoids for fresh blood to keep your Vampire stage from increasing, Vampires post-Greymoor work in the opposite way, making the slow transformation into a generally weak character with very specific combat ability boosts a thing of the past.

You now need to feed on humanoids if you want to increase your stage. Vampires still have a slight debuff against fire attacks at stage one, but it’s nowhere near as much as it is in the current live version, where the debuff can leave you dead after one stray flame attack from a boss.

Likewise, the new Vampire abilities are far more versatile to use, with enough variety to fill up an entire hotbar if you want to go all-in. One such move lets you temporarily transform into a Blood Scion, which is basically the Vampire Lord from Skyrim but more attuned to vastly augmenting and increasing your base stats and making each skill on your hotbar far more powerful.

Another ability, a new variation on the existing Mist Form, lets you move through the battlefield engulfed in a red mist of blood as you suck the life energy out of every enemy you come across. It’s all very cool and Vampire-y in a way that felt completely unrealized before.

Though I didn’t get much time to play with it, the new Antiquities system looks like an interesting series of minigames to break up the regular loop of exploration, hack’n’slash, and dialogue that paves your way through Tamriel.

The Antiquities system consists of two minigames — one for digging up artifacts, and the other for scrying them down for useful items. In my short demo, I dug up a fresh dig site and tried my hand at the new scrying minigame, which played a bit like a turn-based version of Candy Crush, but with a strict goal of hitting certain nodes on the board before I ran out of turns. Overall, it seemed sort of rough, which is understandable given that it isn’t entirely finished yet.

ESO Creative Director Rich Lambert has mentioned that a new type of gear, called Mythic gear, will be available through the Antiquities system, among other new treasures. I didn’t actually get to see these in my preview, but I am a fan of any new layer of depth that ESO can muster, and this seems like it’ll make the exploration and treasure-hunting component of Elder Scrolls Online more nuanced and involved.

The zone of Western Skyrim itself is majestic and open, like much of the northwestern region of the original Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim world map. It took me about five minutes to travel from Solitude to Morthal by horseback at the maximum mount speed, and I found that there was plenty to do in-between.

I noticed that, while locations like Dragon Bridge, Karthwatch, Morthal, and others each offered their own quest hub, the wilderness was also packed with quest markers and unique encounters. At one point, I was intersected by a roving pack of skeletal wolves that I found out had been spawned to chase after me on the road, much like those random wolf encounters you might remember from Skyrim. While not completely unseen in Elder Scrolls Online, this made it seem far more dynamic and unpredictable to travel through Western Skyrim, clearly nodding to the single-player open-world immersive sim that inspired it.

Most returning Skyrim players will recognize the humble clifftop city of Solitude, and it really is back! The entire city, both interior and exterior locales, appear to be 1:1 replicas of the original, or at least they appear that way at first glance. Of course, some details are missing, such as the decorative pennant banners strung over Solitude’s town square in the original Skyrim, but that’s to be expected, even from such a faithful recreation as this.

Making their entrance in place of Molag Bal’s Dolmens from the base game, the new Harrowstorms are nothing to fool around with. As you approach them, the surrounding environment thickens with red fog, and you’re forced to face a horde of Vampires, zombies, and whatever else comes out of a Harrowstorm. I immediately noticed how far less solo-able these Harrowstorms are than their vanilla Dolmen counterparts, which can be taken down with a reasonable amount of force from a CP810 character. It’s worth noting that, while Harrowstorms are dangerous, they’re far more manageable for a small group than the dragon battles introduced in Elsweyr.

Blackreach is back as well, and it has also gotten a significant expansion from what fans might remember. The original zone of Blackreach from Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim still exists in one of four massive underground cavern structures, but that’s just the thing — it’s now one of four massive underground cavern structures, each constituting their own “zone within a zone” that shows off just how truly dedicated this dev team has been to fully fleshing out the entirety of Blackreach, not just one small part of it.

And when I say “zone within a zone,” I mean that you can find Harrowstorms, delves, public dungeons, and even entire towns nestled between each quadrant of Blackreach. And Blackreach itself is huge.

Each of the four main caves has its own style and aesthetic too, making it worth exploring every nook and cranny that this gorgeous underground cave system can offer. The Vampires that are centric to the story in Greymoor can be sourced back to Fort Greymoor, which really does exist underneath Skyrim inside of the passages of Blackreach. You can actually go there and visit it, and it’s a humbling sight to behold.

Finally, there’s a new 12-person trial called Kyne’s Aegis. I didn’t find enough people to try it out with, so I don’t have any first-hand impressions to share, but the fact that there’s a new trial at all is great news, as there are so few in Elder Scrolls Online to begin with. You can take a boat up there from the Solitude docks when you’re ready.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor is looking to be far more than a simple nostalgia trip through good old Skyrim. Bringing a potent cocktail of all-new quests, skill reworks, remastered locations, and game systems into the tried-and-true Elder Scrolls Online formula, Greymoor promises to be one of the most compelling chapters in recent years.

You can grab the PC/Mac version of Elder Scrolls Online on May 18. Console owners will have to wait a bit longer, though, as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of Elder Scrolls Online release shortly after that on June 2.

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