Heading into its ninth year, the Elder Scrolls Online will be taking a turn for the forbidden and cosmic in 2023. In a storyline called Shadow over Morrowind, we’ll be visiting a new area of the Dark Elf home province and lending a hand – or tentacle, perhaps – to the Daedric Prince Hermaeus Mora. You may remember him from Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC as the giant eyeball guy who lives in a fortress made of banned books. And he might be letting us borrow a bit of his weird magic, too, in the form of the Arcanist: ESO’s first new class since 2019.
The setting for these ethereal intrigues will be Hermaeus Mora’s plane of Apocrypha, which will include both smaller story areas, a larger free-roaming one, and a part of Eastern Morrowind called the Telvanni Peninsula. If you’re up to snuff on your Elder Scrolls lore, you may remember that House Telvanni is the Dunmer Great House most associated with magic. In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, their mushroom towers notably lacked stairs and could only be accessed by casting a levitation spell on yourself, which is a pretty clever way to keep non-magical folk out of your business if you think about it.
Talking to ESO’s creative director Rich Lambert about what we might expect to run into on their home turf, he didn’t want to spoil any specifics, but assured me that there will be “a lot of weird magic” to interact with.
The centerpiece of this region is Necrom, the Dunmer City of the Dead, where the people of the province conduct elaborate and holy funeral rights for their deceased loved ones. A striking metropolis built onto a cliffside, it has some recognizable architectural flourishes in common with places like Vivec, but also a solemn and funerary splendor that is quite unique. It’s not like a creepy skeleton town or a foreboding gothic sepulcher, but rather an imposing place of thoughtful repose. Through exploring it and the surrounding peninsula, Lambert said, we will have the chance to absorb a lot of new lore about Dunmer culture and the Telvanni specifically.
The central story in Shadow Over Morrowind revolves around a secret Hermaeus Mora has been hiding from the world that has the potential to threaten not just Tamriel, but our entire reality. And he’s going to need the players’ help dealing with it. While he’s not exactly the most trustworthy or benevolent Daedra you’ll ever meet, Lambert explained that he sits outside the traditional good versus evil struggle, and is just as motivated to see this problem resolved as we are.
“I’m not going to go in [the story] too much because it does lead into spoilers,” Lambert said.
“But as you go through the storyline and you learn a little more about [Hermaeus Mora’s] secret and what’s really going on, it starts to slowly come together. I really can’t wait for the big, huge moment to happen because it’s something that’s never been done before in Elder Scrolls.”
We’ll have the chance to tackle this enigma as the new Arcanist class, a versatile spellcaster harnessing the forbidden magic Hermaeus Mora is so fond of. And, appropriately enough, the Arcanist also breaks a lot of the established rules about what an ESO class can do. This will be the first class to use a combo point system, for instance. They can also tear open holes in reality to teleport, heal allies, and attack with shadowy tentacles.
The road ahead
It’s hard for me to believe ESO will have been around for a decade as of next year. I still remember writing my first cover feature for a print magazine about it, and that practically seems like yesterday. Lambert feels it’s never been in a better place, despite having “a bit of a bumpy road in terms of polish” over the last year or so. A significant focus now and in the near future for the team is “cleaning up some self-inflicted wounds in terms of stability and performance.”
There has been a shift, in the last couple of years especially, away from an MMO being a second job or even Second Life, and towards a fantasy you can pick up and put down fairly freely. Final Fantasy XIV’s Naoki Yoshida famously encouraged his players to step away and play other games if they’re feeling burned out. Lambert not only agrees with this philosophy, but sees his team as “pioneers” in that strategy.
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“Our game is super easy to pick up and put down,” he said. “As a brand new player, I could play with someone who has been playing for seven years and we could both make meaningful progress on our characters without having to grind through seven years of content.
“It’s part of our DNA and it has been for a very, very long time. We see that in our player population cycles. We have quarterly cadences where we see a big spike, and then people go play something else, then we release something and you have this huge spike again. That’s the model we’ve adopted and embraced, and it’s been very successful for us.”
Shadow Over Morrowind will begin with Scribes of Fate in March, which adds four new four-player dungeons leading into the main event. Then we’ll dive into the meat of the adventure with Necrom, releasing June 5, which unlocks the Arcanist class and around 30 hours of new story content set in Eastern Morrowind. Zenimax Online Studios is also planning to make all previous expansions free for a limited time.
Shadows Over Morrowind was first revealed during Xbox’s Developer_Direct. You can see everything else announced during Microsoft’s showcase, including the new game by Tango Gameworks, Hi-Fi Rush, here.
Leana Hafer is a freelance writer at IGN.