Elder Scrolls Online's big 10th anniversary update is an autumnal trip home for Oblivion fans and a worthy step forward for the MMO

Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road
(Image credit: Bethesda)

The Elder Scrolls Online is celebrating its 10th birthday with the Gold Road chapter, and it's as much a return home for legacy Elder Scrolls fans as it is a step forward for players in search of a little variety in ZeniMax Online's MMORPG.

I spent some time with the new chapter ahead of its June launch and, frankly, came away slightly overwhelmed. Every direction I faced, whether in the expansive new West Weald zone that brimmed with autumnal colors and mysterious new accents, or in navigating the menus, I wanted to see and learn more.

Gold Road is ESO's biggest update of the year, cramming in 30 hours of new story content exploring the goings on of a new Daedric Prince named Ithelia, a character never before seen in the entire Elder Scrolls franchise. Ithelia's schemes seemingly manifest early in the chapter with the arrival of a mysterious magic anomaly that has pretty much everyone in West Weald properly spooked.

I didn't have nearly enough time with the chapter to feel as though I was even lightly scratching the story's surface, but what I did play was as intriguing as you should expect from ZeniMax Online. Fundamentally, things are kicking off in a similar fashion to previous chapters, in the sense that something weird and mysterious is happening and you're being asked to investigate, inevitably by way of talking to chatty locals, exploring new landscapes brimming with previously I encountered life, and clearing dungeons.

That said, I'm consistently impressed by the writing and, considering we only get one big update a year and Elder Scrolls 6 is nowhere in sight, I'm more than happy to be absorbed into yet another unraveling tale of conspiracy and triumph over evil. More than anything, for me personally, it's rich history, story-crafting, and world-building that ranks ESO among the best MMOs going, and my early impressions of Gold Road's story is that it isn't breaking from that tradition.

The scribing's on the wall

Elder Scrolls Online

(Image credit: Bethesda)

In terms of gameplay, Gold Road brings new delves, public dungeons, stand-alone quests, Mirrormoor Incursion world events, world bosses, new unique collectibles and antiquities, and a new deck for the card battler Tales of Tribute from 2022's High Isle. However, the biggest actual change to gameplay is undoubtedly the new Scribing system, which creative director Rich Lambert described as the chapter's "back of the box feature" and a potential prelude to full-on spell-crafting. The thing is, it's already a lot like spell-crafting; just more rudimentary in its introductory form.

This Gold Road-exclusive addition adds Grimoires, a new type of skill you can pick up through the chapter's questline to use alongside your existing skills. The difference is Grimoires can be tailored to perform several additional abilities beyond their basic functions. For example, Soul Touch is a Grimoire whose unique function lets you zap soul magic from "the core of your being" and throw it towards enemies and allies. However, you can tinker with Soul Touch and add Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary scripts so that, beyond its base power, it can also create a damage shield for an ally, pull enemies up to you, or even consume a soul gem to gain an Ultimate – all depending on what you choose to affix to it.

The version of Scribing I played around with today was very basic, but there are plans to make it more robust before launch. Even so, it's easy to see how it would become a role-player's dream as well as a lifesaver for a player who might want to switch up various parts of their build without having to respec. It's genuinely a massive change to the ESO meta, and one I'm expecting to be tweaked continuously for a long while before it's balanced just right. For now, it seems like it could be an easy system to abuse and build OP characters with, but I also have little doubt in the dev team's ability to maintain until it feels fair.

In service of the same philosophy of giving players more agency in their builds, Gold Road is also adding a new type of collectible called Skill Styles – essentially transmog for your skills – so you can color-code certain abilities according to various weapon, guild, and world skill lines. During a presentation, Lambert showed off a "badass" purple variation of the Wall of Elements skill and, well, what can I say, it was pretty badass.

A Gold road indeed

Elder Scrolls Online

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Visually, Gold Road is one of the most distinctive looking chapters to date, and again, I ran into the issue of feeling desperate to simply explore against a ticking clock reminding me to return to the critical path to see more of the story before I was yanked away from the build. The theme is autumn – by far my favorite season and the perfect backdrop for, hopefully, a Halloween-themed update later this year. With or without, the visual designers at ZeniMax knocked it out of the park.

As ever, within the new zone are four new, aesthetically distinct areas. There's the temperate, grassy hills of Gold Road, home to a familiar capital city you'll remember from Oblivion, Skingrad; then there's Dawnwood, a dense jungle bordering nearby Valenwood; and then Wildburn is a hostile, desecrated environment fallen victim to the malevolent magical phenomenon encroaching Gold Road; and finally the Colovian Highlands, a mountainous region marked by Imperial settlements and ruins.

The new map additions offer a diverse and welcome change of scenery that seems to stretch the limits of what ESO's somewhat dated engine is capable of. And yet, despite me playing an unfinished build of the game, there were no noticeable dips in framerate in the time I explored them, although it should be noted I was using rigs provided by Bethesda.

Old roads

Elder Scrolls Online

(Image credit: Bethesda)

From what little I've played, Gold Road seems primed to become yet another excellent choice for new and returning players to see what ESO's all about in its latest iteration. That said, I'd also point those same players to 2020's Greymoor if they're bigger fans of Skyrim than Oblivion, or to 2022's High Isle if they're feeling some Game of Thrones-style political intrigue, or even to the excellent Morrowind chapter from 2017.

More than that, I applaud the team at ZeniMax Online for not feeling content to simply rest their laurels on the monumental achievement that is 10 years of live service, and instead continue to push into new and exciting territories for their dedicated fans. Some of these roads may feel familiar in design to previous chapters, but if you look beyond them, you'll see exciting new things blossoming in an MMO now a decade on from launch.

The official Elder Scrolls Online "survival guide" is packed with Skyrim lore and useful real-life tips like "how to not drown" and "do not drink (excessively)."

Jordan Gerblick

After scoring a degree in English from ASU, I worked as a copy editor while freelancing for places like SFX Magazine, Screen Rant, Game Revolution, and MMORPG on the side. Now, as GamesRadar's west coast Staff Writer, I'm responsible for managing the site's western regional executive branch, AKA my apartment, and writing about whatever horror game I'm too afraid to finish.