This year, The Elder Scrolls Online: Legacy of the Bretons is taking players to an area that's never been seen or explored in the series' history. The centerpiece of 2022's year of new content, the High Isle chapter, fully realizes a world that even the most studied Elder Scrolls historians have only ever know as a dot on a map, and as such there's a whole new locale and culture to absorb. Along with a load of new features, creative director Rich Lambert teases a more politically minded, "classic Elder Scrolls" experience with shades of Game of Thrones.
The esteemed loremasters at Bethesda Game Studios were something of a real-life Elder Council for the ZeniMax Online team during the development of High Isle, which was a blessing to Lambert and co. It's been largely the same group of folks making mainline Elder Scrolls games since 2002's The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, and it's hard to imagine a better team of consultants to help The Elder Scrolls Online return to its roots for its ninth year.
Lambert says the team at ZeniMax Online worked "super closely" with Bethesda Game Studios to put together an expansion that, while barely rooted in any existing lore, calls back tonally to the Elder Scrolls' earliest days. He specifically references a city we haven't seen since 1996's The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall.
"The tone is definitely more grounded," Lambert tells GamesRadar. "There's no external beings from another universe coming in to dominate and enslave the human race, so to speak. This is much more focused on the politics of the Bretons. Much the same as, say, something like Orsinium from way back in the day, it's a little bit more along those lines."
The Elder Scrolls Online recently crossed 20 million players, and to mark the occasion ZeniMax Online is flexing its creative muscles by making something all new, using nothing but "a map from [The Elder Scrolls Adventures:] Redguard" as the point of origin.
"It's always fun as a creative to make something new from whole cloth," explains Lambert. "So that is definitely something that the team is always itching to do – going and adding to the lore. You know, advancing and building upon things that are already known is a ton of fun, but there's just something next level different about doing something from a whole cloth. And so we are definitely very, very excited about this year and what it means for Elder Scrolls in general."
A Thronesian saga
Two years ago, The Elder Scrolls Online embarked on a nostalgia trip to Western Skyrim, and 2021 was the year of Oblivion. And yet despite the obvious ties to classic Elder Scrolls games, each year-long story has its own unique ZeniMax-Online-inflected vibe; Parts of The Dark Heart of Skyrim felt like a classic horror movie, while Gates of Oblivion shined in its dramatically expanded vision of the Deadlands. Lambert says The Elder Scrolls Online: Legacy of the Bretons, with the High Isle chapter headlining the year of updates in June, is infused with a poison vial's worth of Game of Thrones-style intrigue, conspiracy, and espionage.
"You know, [game director] Matt Firor and I always do a word. And this year, we had a number of words, because it was so different. But I think that the best way to describe this kind of overall is 'subterfuge'. Or if you wanted something that was a little bit more evocative, it's kind of like Game of Thrones, right? Like, it's more politically oriented in that all of the stories that we tell – or at least the main story that we tell – is focused more on how those noble houses interact with each other."
As you might've surmised by now, The Elder Scrolls Online's next big story arc is all about the Bretons, and forgive me for having Game of Thrones on the mind, but it sounds like High Isle is to the Bretons what King's Landing is to the Lannisters. Lambert describes the setting and titular city of the High Isle chapter as the centerpiece of The Systres archipelago and the epitome of Breton architecture, full of pomp and pageantry, castles, tournament grounds, and everything you imagine when you think of a wealthy medieval city. "This is where nobles and the rich go to vacation," he says. So… more like Dorne then?
As with previous years, The Elder Scrolls Online is following a quarterly cadence of updates with smaller DLC packs bookending 2022's big chapter expansion. There will also be whole new gameplay features, one of which is a new, and decidedly bloodless take on PvP called Tales of Tribute, a resource-building collectible card game with its own leveling system, lore, and rewards. Lambert says it's something he's always wanted to add to Elder Scrolls Online, and it'll finally become a reality when the High Isle chapter launches.
"I love the concept of tavern games. It's not more questing, it's not more killing. We've got lots of that and it's good, but you know, what are other activities that we can give players to make them feel like the world is more alive?"
The specifics of Tales of Tribute have yet to be revealed, but it sounds pretty robust already. Collecting and/or buying new cards will add new mechanics to play around with when building out a deck, but ultimately your deck will be shuffled together with your opponent's at the start of each round, so you're playing from the same shared pool of cards. Once you unlock Tales of Tribute by completing a quest in High Isle, you can challenge other players and NPCs at any time to progress through ranks and the storyline. It's an interesting take on the card battler genre and PvP generally that's designed to give all players an equal footing, which at the very least isn't something a whole lot of MMOs are trying to do.
With Legacy of the Bretons and High Isle, The Elder Scrolls Online could be posing its most convincing argument yet that, as ZeniMax Online has stressed in the past, this is an Elder Scrolls game first and an MMO second. More to the point, most MMOs aren't adding whole new systems to enrich the single-player experience as The Elder Scrolls Online has with its Companions, and they definitely aren't pulling deep cuts from old maps and building them out front and center. Come to think of it, who needs The Elder Scrolls 6? (Kidding.)
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle launches on June 6 for PC and on June 21 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.