The Elder Scrolls Online's year-long Skyrim saga is almost over, but it's not going out quietly. Creative director Rich lambert says the action is "boiling" from the moment you start the prologue quest, available now for free ahead of the Markarth DLC's launch on November 2 for PC, Mac, and Stadia, and November 10 for PS4 and Xbox One.
The year-long Dark Heart of Skyrim event is wrapping up with a fresh DLC pack introducing The Reach as a new zone, a new solo arena, and an action-packed narrative finale. "The story kicks off immediately with action. So straight from the prologue quest, we're bringing back a character you came to know and love from the base game. He's got a secret that he's not very proud of, and it kind of turns your world upside down," Lambert teases.
"The main story of this DLC is the culmination of the Dark Heart of Skyrim storyline," Lambert tells me. "Outside of that, a lot of the side story in this DLC focuses on the Reach and the people … Up until this point, we've really only portrayed the people of The Reach as villains. So now you get to see the other side of them, get to learn about their culture, learn a bit about what they do and their beliefs."
As you might've guessed by now, the new zone being introduced in Markarth is The Reach, one of the nine holds of Skyrim whose capital is the titular city of Markarth. Naturally, you'll recognize the foundation and structure of Markarth from The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, but Lambert says the creative team has "doubled down on the dark, gothic vibe" that set the tone for the Stonethorn DLC. As such, expect the same horror vibes to color the ESO version of The Reach, as well as the Markarth DLC more broadly. Lambert, struggling to recall the exact name of one of the new monsters in Markarth, relented and dubbed it proudly, "a giant rhino bug," which sounds just awful.
"The Reachmen in and of themselves are a very wild people, so when you walk into Markarth, the first time you see it you're going to be like 'hey, this is very, very different from what I saw in Skyrim.' The main structures don't change because it's this giant stone fortress built into the side of a mountain. But The Reach have decorated it - I'll say 'decorated' in quotes - to their tastes. And so there's fetishes everywhere. It's this very wild-looking place now. And that theme has carried over through the entirety of the DLC," Lambert says.
The new solo arena is called Vateshran Hollows, whose multiple boss fights, unlockable paths, and "powerful, hidden secrets" are designed to test players to their limits. After some thought, Lambert tells me Vateshran Hollows is taking over as his "favorite piece of content we've done." And as if that isn't enough hype enough in itself, he describes the final wing of the arena as having "this really cool, epic, crazy boss fight."
Lambert also took the time to preview a new in-game event coming to ESO on September 23. Lost Treasures of Skyrim centers around the Antiquities system, which was added to the game in Greymoor and tasks players with excavating treasure, and rewards players with a new house as the grand prize. I don't know about you, but my ESO house is smaller than the closet in my old college dorm, so you can bet I'll be present for the upcoming event. Later in October, we'll see the in-season Witches Festival, followed by the Undaunted Celebration in November, and finally, the New Life Festival to carry us into the new year.
Expect about 10-15 hours of new story content in Markarth, plus the new arena and world bosses. Of course, there's also a laundry list of the usual bug fixes and quality of life improvements, foremost of which is a new system that lets you deconstruct and reconstruct non-crafted item sets to your liking.
As for what's next for The Elder Scrolls Online following The Dark Heart of Skyrim, I haven't the slightest clue. Lambert would only tell me the studio is "already working on next year's chapter." Until then, expect one last adventure of the snowy, gothic, vampiric variety.