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The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle review — An intriguing change of pace

The latest expansion for this long-running MMORPG dials back the stakes to great effect.

The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle water and monster
(Image: © Windows Central)

Our Verdict

With The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle, ZeniMax Online Studios proves it can deliver a solid story without invoking massive, world-altering threats. The coastal regions and Feudal Breton society of the Systres Archipelago are compelling to explore, even if this chapter doesn't go as far in on some of the details as I'd have liked.

For

  • Great adventure for veterans and newcomers alike
  • Political focus unlike most ESO content so far
  • Vibrant jungle and coastal environments
  • Tales of Tribute is a solid new activity

Against

  • Lack of world-altering threats means lower stakes than previous content
  • Doesn't go as far into political intrigue as it could have

Even as numerous games are delayed and pushed, the team at ZeniMax Online Studios is continuing to deliver new content on a yearly basis to its MMORPG, The Elder Scrolls Online. 

The latest paid content chapter, High Isle, is part of 2022's Legacy of the Bretons adventure. Compared to most of the prior expansions, which have seen the addition of Daedric threats, dragons, and vampires, High Isle is relatively low-key. The plot revolves around attempted peace talks for the Three Banners War and the mysterious Ascendant Order working to prevent peace from transpiring. 

This new story and setting feel fresh, exploring distinctly high fantasy Breton feudal society, which was a refreshing change of pace compared to everything else in The Elder Scrolls Online so far and indeed, The Elder Scrolls franchise as a whole. While the initial setup is intriguing, it's worth noting that the central plot doesn't dive into the political situation between factions as much as I'd have liked.

Still, for anybody already enjoying other parts of The Elder Scrolls Online who's looking for more to do, High Isle is a must-play. If you're a prospective newcomer, it also makes an equally-solid entry point. 

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Bethesda Softworks. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle — What I liked

(Image credit: Windows Central)

High Isle is set in the Systres Archipelago, an Elder Scrolls location that hasn't been explored until now. As opposed to most of what players have seen — across The Elder Scrolls Online and mainline entries in the series alike — the Systres Archipelago is distinctly high fantasy with a vibrant coastal setting. 

The area has a mix between rural Druid gatherings and upscale castles. Breton lords and ladies use the titular island of High Isle as a kind of vacation paradise while the northern island of Amenos is used as an open-air prison for common criminals and political prisoners.

The plot kicks off when the player character becomes embroiled in trying to help in peace talks for the Three Banners War, which are being opposed by the mysteriously well-equipped Ascendant Order.

Earlier this year, I mentioned in my preview that this kind of grounded story, mired in political intrigue, felt like a much-needed break from various world-dooming threats, and that largely holds true. The stakes are lower by comparison, but this DLC still manages to feel tense and important as you uncover secret correspondence and piece together who might be behind the Ascendant Order. Playing attention to the scraps of evidence you gather will pay off, and you may even be able to solve the mystery.

While the structure of many missions can fall into familiar territory (this is an MMORPG after all), the tone and characters provide fun set dressing. Wandering a party trying to find a way to get everyone distracted is nothing new in gaming, but when the ever-charming playboy Jakarn offers to help, the results are amusing and memorable.

CategoryThe Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle
DeveloperZeniMax Online Studios
PublisherBethesda Softworks
GenreRole-playing
Xbox versionXbox Series X
Game size100GB
Play time20+ hours
PlayersSingle-player, multiplayer (2-12)
Xbox Game PassNo
Launch Price$40 (upgrade), $60 (collection)

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Outside of the main plot, High Isle provides two excellent additions in the form of new companions with Isobel and Ember, a knight in training and a mage apprentice, respectively. Both have great introductory quests, and gaining the allegiance of both was a highlight during my time throughout High Isle. Without diving into spoilers, Isobel's quest involves aiding her in becoming a knight and freeing a childhood friend from arranged marriage. Meanwhile, Ember has a spell that got a bit out of hand, so she needs some help turning people back into animals. 

I mainly chose to travel with Ember and benefit from her magic skills since I was playing as my Templar character who shared a skillset with Isobel. However, both are great fun to have around as they comment on your quests, and I'm happy to see the developers continue to double down and expand the companion roster.

I also have to reiterate that the new card game activity Tales of Tribute is a lot of fun. While it's a bit complicated — there are numerous decks to collect that include cards with varying effects — once you get the hang of it, it's easy to lose time playing and formulating different strategies. There's even a dedicated questline specifically for going through a tournament and becoming a better Tales of Tribute player.

The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle — What I disliked

(Image credit: Windows Central)

While I enjoyed the setting and story, for the most part, it is disappointing that the political angle isn't as explored or fleshed out as it could have been. I understand that MMORPG stories tend to require things to be far more straightforward than would be possible in a single-player adventure, but it still feels like there was room for more. 

It would've been nice to get perspectives on the Three Banners War from more characters, as well as the reasons highborn nobles would have for keeping the conflict going or choosing to support peace. Instead, this is largely skipped over in most conversations except for one small story section that hints at some of the complicated relationships different families have. If you could aide houses in exchange for information or choose who to trust, it could help make the plot feel more complex instead of so on the rails.

To be completely fair here, this isn't the full story. The High Isle chapter is merely a fairly large portion of the adventure, with two more DLC packs slated to launch later in the year. It's entirely possible we'll see other aspects of the political machinations explored in these two packs. 

Still, I really enjoyed the change of pace that knights, lords, and the rivalries of feudal society provided, so I'm a bit disappointed it wasn't explored even further, especially since what is here is really good. 

The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle — Should you play?

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Despite my disappointment at how shallow portions of the main story turned out, The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle is ultimately a good time. There's plenty to do, lots of great side quests, the new companions are compelling, and Tales of Tribute is a fantastic addition that's sure to prove popular among players.

Over the last few years, The Elder Scrolls Online has steadily grown into one of the best Xbox games for MMORPG fans to play, and that hasn't changed here. Due to the structure of how The Elder Scrolls Online works, with story content not being gated off to any players based on level requirements, I highly recommend any new players consider starting with The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle. If you're not a new player, you should play it anyways. It's the change of pace you may not realize you wanted.

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The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle

The newest expansion for ZeniMax Online Studios' role-playing experience provides a great experience unlike anything in the game so far. There's plenty to do and enjoy, even if it doesn't explore certain political aspects as heavily as it could have.

Buy from: Xbox (opens in new tab) (upgrade) | Xbox (opens in new tab) (Collection)

Samuel Tolbert
Samuel Tolbert

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.