ESO Summerset preview: An ESO newbie in Queen Ayrenn’s court

Credit: Bethesda
Credit: Bethesda /

The pristine island of Summerset has opened to the world at last in ESO’s latest expansion, and despite the High Elf attitudes, it’s extremely welcoming to newcomers.

I don’t love elves, but I love elf aesthetic, and elves in lore of any kind tend to have a monopoly on pretty things of all types. With The Elder Scrolls Online’s upcoming expansion, Summerset, the High Elves are finally sharing by opening up the titular island to the general public. Refugees looking to make a better life for themselves, tourists, or wayward adventurers tossed there with magic mind tricks: all are welcome to the formerly-cloistered paradise.

Well, maybe “welcome” is pushing it a bit. At least from a lore perspective.

The Elder Scrolls Online’s Summerset expansion is larger than any previous one, including Morrowind. In my last week or so of previewing the expansion in its closed beta, I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. Some of that can be attributed to its sheer size, but it doesn’t help that I’m completely new to ESO despite being a general fan of MMORPGs.

Summerset is truly welcoming to new players, including a brief tutorial right in the zone itself that drops you instantly into the expansion with all the veterans sporting ridiculous armor and mounts from whatever they were doing on the mainland. Oh, Kyne … wait, I’m going to be doing content with these guys?

I am! Bethesda has mercifully figured out the whole level-scaling thing. We can all do the same quest content together without worrying about levels. Heck, we can party up with others at max level and share an enjoyable experience. It’s a great feature to have in any MMO, but for a new expansion, it’s especially powerful in allowing new players to join the fun without making them feel there are years of content to get through to play the “real” game.

So we’re all here on Summerset together at once, basking in the spring blossoms and crumbling pillars that I assume are old elf-ruins of some sort. Summerset, like the little I’ve played of the main ESO campaign, abandons the clustered together quest structure of other MMOs that take you blithely from town to town whether you follow the story or not.

Everything is, for the most part, open all at once. You can trot down the road and pick up a quest from a drunken elf at a crossing, wander into town and do something like a million crafting quests (including the new jewelcrafting skill), or wander off and find some big scary things to kill in the creepy ocean portal down by the beach. There’s a story, and you can get to it precisely when you mean to. There are few breadcrumbs, fewer “one-off” quests, and almost no rules as to how you tackle the content. I love it.

eso summerset
Credit: Bethesda /

What I didn’t love quite as much, even if I expected it, was how much of a dunking I got into a lore tank. Even the character creation screen was steeped in politics and history and motivations, and I just wanted to be a cool, spell-slinging lizard person. I don’t know anything about elves or human races or cats or lizard people except the minimal amount I’ve retained from Skyrim: Daedra are bad, and you can steal from basically anyone if you’re sneaky enough.

You may want to brush up on the race relations in Tamriel before you zone in because they play a major role in almost every Summerset storyline. The comparisons to current events are apt, whether deliberate or not, so a little lore background goes a long way to appreciating some unsubtle political commentary.

Though my mind was on the lore, I enjoyed the act of actually playing in Summerset for the most part, even if the combat was, to my newbie mind, just “better Skyrim.” There aren’t any dramatic mechanical changes of note beyond the new Warden class with its hefty bear pet and a new skill tree for the Psijic Order that anyone can learn. Those will make differences at a meta-level somewhere, and they spiced up the options available, but existing classes aren’t seeing dramatic retoolings. They don’t need them.

eso summerset
Credit: Bethesda /

My one complaint thus far as I’ve trekked across Summerset is the samey-ness of much of it. Though the expansion is obviously being marketed as all elves, all the time, so much High Elf stuff all at once gets boring fairly quickly, especially at the somewhat slower pacing of travel and questlines.

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That sameness is mirrored in the creatures I fought as I leveled. Three dungeons full of salamanders and crabs in a row, and I was desperate for a meaningful battle. I did find interesting encounters scattered across the map: World Boss-like foes obviously intended for large groups, but they didn’t sate my hunger for a more interesting Delve or solo dungeon. Still, I expect things will improve as I level.

As a starting point for new players in The Elder Scrolls Online, Summerset is one of the better introductions to an MMO I’ve had. It’s freeing without feeling overwhelming, and despite the density of the lore, the storylines are compelling enough to keep me questing all the way up without constantly wondering when endgame will hit.

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There’s still much of the island I have yet to see, but I’m looking forward to learning more about the High Elves and their troubles when Summerset launches on June 15, 2018.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purposes of this preview.