Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle breathes new life into its world – Review

High adventure awaits.

Image via Bethesda

The Elder Scrolls games play some cards really well, and world-building is arguably their strongest suit. When I think about Oblivion, I don’t actually think about the Oblivion Crisis main story — I think about the Thieves’ Guild or Dark Brotherhood stories instead. When I remember my time with Skyrim, I don’t reminisce about being the Dragonborn; I instead fondly remember the Skyrim Civil War between the Stormcloaks and the Thalmor. 

To me, political intrigue and personal storylines will always be more memorable than stopping the end of the world or thwarting the plans of some Daedric prince. Thankfully, the High Isle expansion brings plenty of intrigues, and a lot less of the Daedric plots Elder Scrolls Online players are used to.

Bridging the gap

Screenshot by Gamepur

There is no “world at stake” story arc in High Isle. If you’re not familiar with Elder Scrolls lore, Elder Scrolls Online takes place earlier in history, when something known as the Three Banners War is ongoing. This war has the various areas of Tamriel divided into three major forces — the Aldmeri Dominion, Daggerfell Covenant, and Ebonheart Pact. The war has been raging from ESO’s launch until now, but the war has to end eventually. After all, immediately following the Three Banners’ War is the story following the rise of Talos from mortal to Emperor of Tamriel, so we gotta get there somehow.

The three leaders of the factions began to initiate peace talks to bring an end to the war, but a mysterious organization known as the Ascendant Order is working behind the scenes to ensure that doesn’t happen. The three leaders were brought to High Isle to undergo these peace talks, which is why you, as an adventurer, are there. You’ll still be delving into dungeons and fighting against magical beings — it wouldn’t be an Elder Scrolls game without that — but the stakes are much more personal and impactful because of it.

High Isle is arguably the most beautifully crafted zone outside of Summerset, with fields of sunflowers that blend easily into mountains and valleys. The jungles of Amenos are compact and prison-like — which makes sense, as it is the prison-island of High Isle. Throughout your quests in these islands that collectively make up the Systres Archipelagos, you will discover more about the Bretons, including their class system of haves and have-nots, political machinations that keep the oppressed under the heel of the powerful, and druidic issues with the land being corrupted — but this is all on a local scale, and it feels good.

Shuffle or boogie

Image via Zenimax

High Isle also introduced a new minigame for players to get lost in called Tales of Tribute. I’ve written about Tales before, and after reaching the highest competitive rank — a feat that took several days of playing nothing but Tales of Tribute — I can safely say that this is still my favorite iteration of card games. Players strategically gather and spend resources to reach 40 Prestige (or more) or control all four Patrons before the opponent does. There are also collectible card upgrades and a unique storyline attached to it, so even if you’re not a fan of PvP, you can still get plenty of value out of it.

The only thing I haven’t attempted in the new expansion is the trial, Dreadsail Reef, and while I have heard good things about it, I can’t really comment on it. Even without raiding, High Isle has plenty to do and experience, and it’s well worth it for newcomers and veteran players alike. New world bosses, “Dark Anchor” events in the form of Volcanic Vents, and plenty of good farming spots in the Public Dungeons (Crimson Coin is very cool, stylistically) provide hours of exploration for players. Hell, even the new items are a breath of fresh air — the Oakensoul Ring is my favorite, as I am lazy and hate weapon swapping to optimize my DPS.

I won’t pretend there aren’t negatives, however. Its launch was plagued with all sorts of connection issues and delays, and while this has been corrected, being a live-service MMO means that connection issues can and will occur again. Some quests are bugged, requiring players to drop the quest entirely and restart it to continue or reload their UI to progress. Some enemy mobs get stuck in environments, making them untargetable. One World Boss, in particular, would phase out entirely, making the fight impossible to complete, though this has since been fixed. These bugs and issues come with the territory of being an MMO, of course — most other MMOs also have these issues on launch, and the development team has addressed them in public posts.

The verdict

Image via Bethesda

I’ll be honest: you’re either an MMO fan, or you’re not. While Elder Scrolls Online makes joining as a new player possibly the easiest in any MMO ever — as a level 1 player can experience High Isle alongside level 50, CP 1,600 players — it still is, at its core, an MMO. You can treat Elder Scrolls Online just like any other Elder Scrolls game, but you are still connected to a world with other players, and there are some things you cannot do by yourself. If that’s your bag, High Isle is the best Elder Scrolls Online has ever been.

The new features, zones, and story in High Isle are all exemplary examples of what is possible in the Elder Scrolls universe, and this beginning to the Legacy of the Bretons story arc is one of the strongest starts to an Elder Scrolls story ever. Tales of Tribute is incredibly fun, competitive, and engaging, and the new items allow for new builds to be created for almost every role and specialization imaginable. If you like MMOs, I cannot recommend High Isle enough. If you’re on the fence and enjoy fantasy games in general, I’d still say give High Isle a shot.

Final Score:

9 / 10

+Localized, smaller-scale story feels personal and high-stakes all the same
+Environments are gorgeous, truly the most beautiful zone outside of Summerset
+Tales of Tribute is fantastic fun, with plenty of content to keep players busy
+New items added allows for new builds and playstyles to be competitive
Standard MMO issues plagued the launch, with buggy quests and enemies
Disclosure: Gamepur was provided a game code for review purposes.