The Elder Scrolls Online: Shadow over Morrowind is the next big yearly adventure for ZeniMax Online Studios. Central to this 2023 outing is The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom, which is the next summer expansion for the long-running MMORPG.
This expansion is taking players back to Morrowind, specifically, to the Telvanni Peninsula, with a story that focuses on the powerful Dunmer mages living there. Players will also be exploring the dark Realm of the Daedric Prince Hermaeus Mora, last seen as a powerful figure in the Dragonborn expansion for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in 2012.
There are a lot of big changes on the way here, with this expansion introducing the third new class since launch. ZeniMax Online Studios is also shaking up exactly how it rolls out its yearly content, at least in the second half of the year. To get a better idea of where the team is at and what players can expect, I spoke with Rich Lambert, creative director of The Elder Scrolls Online.
When I asked Lambert why the team decided to visit this section of Morrowind right now, he explained that it came about due to internal discussions reviewing the previous year's content, which the team always does in order to help guide future content. The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle was focused on grounded politics, and the team wanted something fresh.
"We liked the idea of doing something with Hermaeus Mora, because Hermaeus Mora is just this really, really cool Daedric Prince and we haven't really done a lot of that content in ESO," Lambert says. "When we started looking at what this was and where this could be, we landed on the Telvanni Peninsula, because it's the home of the Telvanni, who are some of the most powerful mages in all of Tamriel. That lent itself to this perfect blend of cosmic horror meets Elder Scrolls."
Lambert added that the team doesn't want the Daedric Prince to feel too different from what players have already encountered. Instead, players can expect to learn a lot more about Hermaeus Mora as the story progresses. There's also a surprise new biome that wasn't shown in the global reveal, but players can discover it once the expansion launches.
In my review of The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle, I found that the change of pace for the main story worked well in a great new setting, though the political machinations weren't quite as fleshed out as I'd hoped. Lambert notes that the team took a lot of the feedback to High Isle to heart, noting player reception to quests and chapter structure.
"That's definitely one of the things I think we try to pride ourselves on, lessons learned. We're always learning, every time we build something new we're learning, and we definitely got a bunch of good lessons in terms of how to tell stories," Lambert says.
"We took a really good hard look at feedback from not only High Isle but Blackwood as well, and some of the feedback there was players started to say we're a little bit too formulaic. So we tried to really address that in this year's content, the stories we tell over the course of the year, and how we tell those stories."
Looking to the horizon, I asked Lambert if there was any update on the community's request for some sort of romance, with the director explaining that there is not at this time, though there is a lot he's excited for in general that he just can't talk about right now.
While The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom will bring another 30-hour story, two new companions, and a new region to the game, for many players the biggest addition is the new class, the Arcanist. To date, only two classes have been added to The Elder Scrolls Online since it first launched, for a total of six so far.
Lambert says the team has been throwing around ideas ever since the addition of the Necromancer in 2019, with the studio trying to make any new class seem very special, while also keeping an eye on possible new technical challenges like memory optimization. As a result, they've been "a little more on the rare side," with development on the Arcanist "kicking off in earnest" mid-2021.
The Arcanist wields powerful eldritch Apocrypha magic which draws on the realm of Hermaeus Mora, making it fit thematically with the new expansion. One of the many abilities used by the Arcanist is called Apocryphal Gate, allowing the user to set portals and instantly move to another nearby location.
This was a bit of a challenge, with Lambert admitting that "movement-based abilities are always something that can be persnickety," with the team having to try and guess what players can use it for, then build on it from there.
ZeniMax Online Studios has shipped four content packs a year, every quarter, for the last several years. This has stayed consistent in the past no matter what needed to be done, with the studio reducing the scope of some things to preserve work-life balance while also adjusting to remote and hybrid work. While the first half of 2023 will see Shadow over Morrowind unfold in a similar fashion to previous year-long adventures, the second half will have some major (but needed) changes.
Lambert explains that for the third quarter update, the team is focused primarily on quality-of-life improvements and additional polish. He notes that the need for bug fixes and additional polish has been one of the "loudest" pieces of feedback from the community for some time, necessitating the need to adjust the content pipeline in order to directly improve the overall experience.
As for the fourth quarter, the team is working on a dungeon runner of sorts, something Lambert laughingly notes he let slip during the reveal event. While it's something the studio is really excited about launching, it needs some more work, which means picking and choosing what content to launch for the end of the year.
With the recent layoffs at Microsoft, one of the teams reportedly affected was ZeniMax Online Studios. I asked if this had any impact on the team's content planning, with PR quick to note they wouldn't be talking about that.
Overall, while there's a large shift of pace coming in the second half of the year, Shadow over Morrowind seems promising. The team at ZeniMax Online Studios is taking an interesting stab at new topics and a new class for this year, while also dedicating some time to hopefully fix issues the community has raised for quite some time.
We'll have to wait and see how it all plays out but for now, I'm eager to see what's in store. For anyone that continues to enjoy MMORPGs at their own pace or in guilds, this may be one of the best Xbox games of the year to play.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom is launching on June 5, 2023 for Windows PC and Mac players. It's also coming to Xbox and PlayStation consoles on June 20, 2023.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom
Shadow over Morrowind continues the tradition of year-long adventures in The Elder Scrolls Online, with this year's paid expansion, titled Necrom, taking players into a dark corner of Morrowind and dealing with the eldritch Daedric Prince, Hermaeus Mora.
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