The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Review — Moored In Nostalgia
"Hey you, you're finally awake!"
These are the first words you hear as the carriage driver harkens your arrival into the frozen wastelands of Western Skyrim.
Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor begins with a callback to the classic opening line that marks the start of the titular Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, while the 2011 open-world RPG takes place in the same province, a fragment of which also serves as the setting of Greymoor, there's just a bit more to this new Elder Scrolls Online chapter than fan service alone.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Review — Moored In Nostalgia
It's easy to joke about how Todd Howard has gone and sold us Skyrim all over again, but Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor really isn't that. Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor centers its approximately 30 hours of content on a vastly fleshed-out version of the snowy wastes of Western Skyrim, which are meticulously designed, albeit graphically limited behind the old Hero engine tech.
However, this sprawling, snow-coated marshland faithfully depicts the iconic towns of Solitude and Morthal, both of which Skyrim fans will instantly recognize. Additionally, Blackreach is back and more realized than ever before, comprising four different biomes with their own look and personality. It's really great looking, which is why it sucks that it's one of the laggiest, most jittery zones I've seen in the entire game thus far, even though I'm rocking a 2080 Super and a Ryzen 3900x on 32GBs of 3600MHz RAM.
Other, more computer-friendly Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim locations are also faithfully recreated here, especially Solitude, the city built on top of a large rock that overlooks a harbor below. It looks gorgeous, and it holds up as one of the most interesting fantasy city designs I've seen in a game to date.
While the original Skyrim centered around dragons, Greymoor competently tells a brand new story about rogue Vampires, dangerous Harrowstorms, the evil Icereach Coven, and the mysterious new Gray Host brooding underneath the ominous Greymoor Keep.
It is fair to clarify again that Greymoor tells this story competently, giving you a fine enough reason to trek across the overland zones of Western Skyrim and a vastly overhauled version of the Blackreach Caverns.
The main story is packed with superfluous writing and generic or sometimes outright awkward acting, but a few of the side quests do prove to be interesting on their own merit — such as one quest that has you stealthily track a Vampire through a mine without getting caught by the ordinary miners who are just going about their day.
Aside from two massive zones and a brand new treasure-hunting system, the largest and most far-reaching addition in Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor, at least for me, is the overhauled Vampire skill line.
Having spent a year and a half playing as a Vampire in "vanilla" ESO before eventually getting the disease purged from my character's system via some priestly ritual, the changes between pre-Greymoor and post-Greymoor Vampires stand out as a major positive.
Previously, Vampires had only a small handful of useful skills and far too many debuffs to justify playing in most cases. To create a useful character as a Vampire, you practically needed to be a Magicka-wielder with a very specific character build. You also needed to deal with setbacks like a 75% weakness to fire damage, among others, if you really wanted to juice the most out of those limited special abilities.
This is no longer the case. The new Vampire skill line contains five very useful and unique active abilities, such as the super-handy Mist Form. This toggle-able skill allows you to turn into a cloud of red mist that negates all incoming damage for as long as you keep it toggled, and it feels awesome to use it in the heat of combat before an enemy unleashes a big spell or attack.
It's great that you can now choose when and how to become more monstrous as a Vampire by feeding on hapless NPCs, a move that can instantly kill with more style than any of those Dark Brotherhood goons. But it's still kind of a bummer that you can't easily make yourself less monstrous on command without seeking out special potions that do the trick for you. Even though you do lose Vampire "tiers" every few hours, this wait can be a hassle if you need to speak to an NPC merchant or banker who won't serve you because your overt Vampire-ness is a little too overwhelming for comfort.
It's great then that you have plenty of new options to pass the time with, given that the new Antiquities system adds new layers of depth to the already exploration-heavy gameplay style that Elder Scrolls Online does so well with.
As you move through the world, you can find "leads", which point you to special treasures buried all over. To turn these leads into actual treasure, you have to play the fun new Scrying and Excavation minigames. Scrying is like playing a heavily-modified game of Candy Crush, whereas Excavation is similar to Minesweeper.
These are satisfying little distractions that can point to some seriously interesting and unique loot, and both add new layers of depth to an already worthwhile exploration system.
Harrowstorms are a new public event that, while promising to shake things up with a bombastic visual that paints the entire sky red (Oblivion-style), they end up falling flat pretty quick.
They're significantly more challenging to beat than your run-of-the-mill Dolmens from the base game zones, but they don't offer all that much in the way of useful loot. Seeing as how it's still so easy to die while attempting one, even with what feels like an army of players fighting alongside you, Harrowstorms can feel arbitrarily punishing and are ultimately worth skipping entirely.
Finally, it's disappointing that Elder Scrolls Online continues to release expansion packs that don't fundamentally shake up the way zone structure works. Like its predecessors, Greymoor runs down the same checklist of delves, public dungeons, crafting stations, and so on. While it does introduce a new 12-person Trial, this is still functionally similar to other Trials in earlier expansion zones. This all leads to Greymoor having an unshakeable "cookie-cutter" feel to it.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Review — The Bottom Line
- Faithful recreation of Skyrim locales such as Solitude and Blackreach
- Cool new Antiquities system
- Useful Vampire skill overhaul
- Harrowstorms light up the sky and look really cool
- The Hero engine is seriously starting to feel old
- Inconsistent and often boring or awkward storytelling
- Nothing fundamentally different in zone structure
- Harrowstorms promise to be more interesting and rewarding than they are in practice
Despite retreading an old and nostalgic part of the world, Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor does its best to steer clear of simply putting up a fan service-y rehash. As such, it offers up a new story, though not necessarily a more interesting one than what was given to us in the likes of Clockwork City or Summerset.
However, while it adds some great new improvements to gameplay in its overhauled Vampire skill line and new Antiquities system, it's still just another ESO expansion.
[Note: A copy of Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor was provided by ZeniMax Media Inc for the purpose of this review.]