The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle Review – A return to form

The newest expansion for the Elder Scrolls Online, High Isle, has just launched and is a massive breath of fresh air for the game.
High Isle Promo Image
Image: Zenimax Online

The Elder Scrolls Online has a bit of a problem with its story-telling. The game, now six major expansions in, each continuing from the game’s original quest line, has given players the opportunity to prevent a major catastrophe. After the third or fourth world-ending threat has been personally defeated at my hand, things begin to get a little stale; The stories presented in each expansion, while well written, tend to feel a little samey. When the stakes are always so high, the end of the world starts to feel mundane. I’ve prevented it four times already, so what’s stopping me from doing it again?

High Isle changes things. The Edler Scrolls Online: High Isle is the newest expansion for the game, giving us a brand new area never before seen in another Elder Scrolls game and a whole new set of problems to face. Stepping away from the world-ending Avengers level threat from the other expansions, the problems on the Systres Archipelago are relatively simple.

The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle follows the tail end of the Three Banners War that has been waging for the entirety of the game’s plot. Seeking peace talks on the Systres Archipelago, a mysterious group of knights known as The Ascendant Order intends to stop the peace talks and keep the war going for unknown reasons.

The complex main storyline of politics, honor, and intrigue makes a return to the sort of classic storytelling of the Elder Scrolls series. Things are complicated, with depth that begins to show as you dig deeper into the story and the motivations of the characters involved. High Isle is truly a breath of fresh air when it comes to storytelling, stepping away from a lot of ESO’s overused tropes and story beats that are starting to feel worn. As someone who’s been playing the game since the start, the change of pace is very welcome and reminds me of when I first played the Wrothgar and Dark Brotherhood DLC packs, both areas with similarly low-stake and engaging stories.

High Isle Quest Image
Image: Zenimax Online

Speaking of a change of pace, included in the High Isle DLC is a brand new game mode to help pass the time between questing, dungeon diving, and digging for antiquities. Tales of Tribute is a brand new in-game tabletop card game that can be played at any tavern in the ESO world.

Not only does Tales of Tribute offer players a new minigame to engage in, but it gives players something new to collect, as well as a new source of rewards. Players can collect new cards for their Tales of Tribute deck by traveling the world and playing the game itself, and in doing so also earn gold, crafting materials, and other rewards. Being able to win gold from playing a card game tavern-to-tavern really fills a specific gameplay fantasy that I haven’t seen done since the Witcher III: Wild Hunt and it’s Gwent system.

Players can also face off against each other in the Roister’s Club, competing for a place on an ever-changing ranked ladder. This gives the game a whole new form of PVP that doesn’t require so many soul gems or food buffs to engage in. Fewer fireballs and more card games, that’s my solution to the Three-Banners War.

You’ll start out with a few starter decks, but the best decks will be made by traversing the world map and challenging NPCs to card duels. Much more than just another activity, Tales of Tribute feels like a full extension to the world of ESO itself. It makes you travel about, interacting with the world in ways that feel genuine and immersive. I didn’t think I’d like Tale of Tribute when it was announced, but after playing a few hands I can definitely say its a welcome addition to the game, that gives me more reason to stop in each tavern I pass by.

Tales Of Tribute 1 Image
Image: Zenimax Online

In addition to Tales of Tribute, High Isle also adds two brand new companions to the game to give fans of the system some new variety. Companions were added with the last expansion, Blackwood, and they make it so solo players aren’t playing the game completely alone. Each Companion has their own personality, abilities, and perks to spice up your adventure through Tamriel, and the two new ones are no different.

Ember and Isobel are two polar opposites you can adventure with through High Isle. Ember, a low-born thief, will give you extra treasure when picking the pockets of the snooty Breton nobles vacationing in High Isle (or anyone else you pickpocket, really.)

Isobel, in stark contrast, is a noble Breton knight, who will help you by finding a fallen knight’s pack after defeating world bosses. Together, these companions add extra rewards for two very different kinds of gameplay, allowing you to pick the one that fits your style the most.

Isobel, voiced by the wonderful Laura Bailey, is a fantastic addition to the game that will make you fit right at home with the Breton world of High Isle. That being said, Ember is by far my favorite companion in the game, as I have a soft spot for sneaky Khajiit with cute names. I only wish she had more fire-based abilities, though I suppose her lightning leaves plenty of embers in its wake.

The Final Word

I was starting to drift away from the Elder Scrolls Online, but High Isle brought me back. The wealth of new content is enough to keep any current player interested, but the story itself really makes this expansion stand out from the rest. Returning to its roots, this Elder Scrolls adventure deserves to be remembered alongside the greats, and I hope they take notes from this expansion for future content in both ESO and the Elder Scrolls 6.

10

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  1. Gnarlix

    Ember is a welcome change and my favorite hands down.