The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood provides plenty of enjoyable content, but it may not be enough to breathe new life into the MMO.
Originally released in 2015 to a less-than-stellar reception, The Elder Scrolls Online has since grown into something vastly different. Now, ZeniMax Online Studios’ title has blossomed into one of the most popular multi-platform MMORPGs around, showcasing huge swaths of Tamriel for players to explore. ZeniMax has not only continued to provide content and quality of life upgrades to the game, but also come to develop yearly expansions for players to enjoy. Previous year’s expansions have taken players to new areas from the volcanic island of Vvardenfell in Morrowind to the dragon-riddled, arid savannas in Elsweyr.
Tapping into lands traversed before, The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood now takes players to the cusp of Imperial territory, sandwiched between the Khajiit homeland and swamps of the Black Marsh. Those that have played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion will recognize the region of Blackwood, albeit 800 years before the Hero of Kvatch walked those lands. Blackwood continues the year-long story focused on the possible return of Mehrunes Dagon in “Gates of Oblivion,” kicked off by the Flames of Ambition DLC earlier this year.
Much like the previous expansions for the games, the Blackwood chapter opens up a new zone for players to explore with dozens of hours’ worth of content. There is the Zone Storyline Quest to complete, new World Events, six World Bosses, a new Trial called Rockgrove, new delves, plenty of new Skyshards, and several other quests that can be found around the map. The new chapter offers even more gear options for players to earn or grind for, from the tanky Bog-Raiders set to the unique Stone-Talker’s Oath set from the new Trial. While these new gear sets have some interesting stats and effects, some of them will likely be ignored in favor of older sets.
The machinations of Mehrunes Dagon, Daedric Prince of Destruction, take the spotlight when it comes to Blackwood‘s story. Whichever way players start The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood chapter, they will be approached by a soldier and told to find Captain Rian Liore of the Ivory Brigade to help investigate the mysteries befalling the city of Leyawiin. The conspiracy between the Longhouse Emperors and the mysterious Order of the Waking Flame makes for a great entry point to a story all about the Daedric Prince of Destruction. The initial main quests are full of intrigue, as the player races around trying to prevent the assassinations of different Leyawiin council members. Players are even able to make relatively important choices within these quests, even if they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
Blackwood‘s story harkens back to Oblivion, and certain areas and plot points clearly tap into nostalgia. Preventing Mehrunes Dagon from crossing over to the mortal plane is entertaining, as is finding out the truth about the Daedric Prince’s Four Ambitions. The story wraps up a bit too soon, but that is understandable since The Elder Scrolls Online is restricted in what events it can cover. In any case, Blackwood does a great job of setting the stage for the creation of the Mythic Dawn cult and Mehrunes Dagon’s eventually return in Oblivion.
There are numerous unique characters to encounter throughout Blackwood – some are stiff, some are almost solely comic relief, and some are especially well-written. Seeing the return of one sarcastic Dunmer assassin from the Dark Brotherhood in the region was a special surprise. The wise Argonian governor for the city of Gideon, Keshu the Black Fin, was another stand-out character. Players will also see some amazing locations traveling around The Elder Scrolls Online, and the Blackwood zone adds even more. Even though Blackwood may not be as bright and colorful as some other zones in the MMO, it holds its own beauty and majesty. Seeing mist-covered castles across lakes or darkly lush marshes makes it clear that the designers wanted to present players with captivating visual points of interest.
Another especially astounding overworld piece happens to be a sprawling decrepit castle haunted by various ghostly beings in the middle of the zone. Even further, it is especially clear that all the various designers put in enormous effort to craft Blackwood. The level designs for different delves are interesting, and the Deadlands are quite the spectacle. Various Daedric buildings come with their own dark flair, and the amazing sound design within these will put players on edge. While some of the quests in Blackwood are standard fare, it is obvious that the quest designers had some fun with others. Some quests are especially engaging, such as one about a romance novelist who gets caught up in ghostly family drama.
An aspect that the designers stated they wanted to experiment with was new World Events, and in Blackwood these are Oblivion Portals. These portals are early ways for Mehrunes Dagon’s forces to tear open a pathway from Oblivion into Tamriel, helped by other Daedric cultists. After players enter these Oblivion Portals, they have to battle through enemies in the Deadlands before meeting up with a larger group to take on Havocrel, the Duke of Storms and Mehrunes Dagon’s general. While these are World Events, they actually have no set spawning location. They appear randomly in different areas of Blackwood, and long stretches of time can go by without finding one. Venturing into an Oblivion Portal to battle the Duke of Storms is exciting, but these World Events are a bit too unpredictable and repetitive to be enjoyed long-term.
Each expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online has introduced big updates that affect the game, whether they be new classes like Elsweyr‘s Necromancers or other gameplay elements like Greymoor‘s Antiquities. For Blackwood, that happens to be the new Companions System. This new system unlocks the ability for players to travel along with an NPC that can help them in battle. Two are available at launch, with more on the way. These Companions have their own personalities and personal quests, which factor in the rapport system that applies to all Companions. Players better stay on a Companion’s good side, or they run the risk of the Companion not appearing when summoned.
One available Companion is Bastian Hallix, an Imperial that players will find in the southern end of Blackwood at Deepscorn Hollow. Another available Companion is Mirri Elendis, a Dunmer that players can find towards the northern side of Blackwood at Doomvault Vulpinaz. Companions can be customized in several ways, from their outfits and mount to their combat skills and role. Damage dealers can configure their Companion to help heal them, while healers or tanks may want to configure their Companions to help dish out damage. Companions are definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but they can definitely be a worthwhile investment. It feels immersive and exciting to be adventuring around with an ally by one’s side.
Even though there are several fantastic aspects to The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, the expansion isn’t without its faults. While the new tutorial system for the game is great, ZeniMax Online Studios has a tendency to focus on bringing in new players to the game, sometimes at the expense of its veteran players. The game is also clearly showing its age, and the steady drip of content each year isn’t enough to keep the game from stagnating. While the year-long stories are a great concept for the game, it should really all be included in a single expansion. The Flames of Ambition DLC from earlier this year and the upcoming Deadlands and Waking Flame DLC are segmented from Blackwood, and this formula is becoming tiresome. As ZeniMax keeps developing its MMO, it should consider switching up its formulaic expansion model in some way.
In the end, The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood provides enough intrigue and content to whet one’s appetite for new experiences, but won’t be enough to fully satiate every player. Thwarting the Daedric machinations of Mehrunes Dagon and the Order of the Waking Flame is a fun experience, even if the current story didn’t have a satisfying conclusion. It is absolutely clear that the developers put immense effort into the creation of Blackwood, from its sound and level designs to some of its more haunting and hellish landscapes.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is available now for PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.