Recent annual expansions to The Elder Scrolls Online have featured previously explored areas in a reimagined environment. Morrowind, Elsweyr, Markarth have all been featured before in previous Elder Scrolls titles. High Isle is different however – a brand-new area for The Elder Scrolls as a whole. It has been featured on maps as part of the Systres Archipelago previously, but this makes it the first time as a playable area. It is time to see if The Elder Scrolls Online can excel away from nostalgic infused expansions.
This sixth chapter in the ongoing Elder Scrolls Online is another lengthy addition. It features all the usual hallmarks of a major expansion: new zone and accompanying story, new dungeons and trial, companions and world events alongside a ton of new items for all playstyles. There is also a brand-new card game to partake in, but more on that later.
High Isle is a far cry from the northern areas of Tamriel. Looking more like a Mediterranean island than anything else, the rolling fields juxtapose the medieval stonework architecture quite brilliantly. I would also comment on the much milder weather, but honestly, almost every play session I have enjoyed on this island has come with a rain shower.
Your arrival on High Isle is quickly jumped upon by Lady Arabelle Davaux. She informs you of some missing cargo that was on three missing ships that never docked. What that cargo was and how the ships disappeared forms the foundations for the rest of the story. But expect to be running here, there and everywhere on the island talking to residents and slashing your way through hundreds of enemies in true MMORPG styles.
After the more fantasy-based chapters of previous major Elder Scrolls Online expansions, High Isle is a welcome return to a more political story. Gone are the supernatural entities causing you grief, High Isle is a welcome reminder of the depravity of humanity. Turns out a group known as The Ascendent Order are behind the missing ships. What’s worse is the cargo on board the ships was actually some high level delegates for a conference who have since been taken prisoner.
Away from the main narrative, High Isle is full of side quests that are full of intriguing subplots. They may be boiled down to simple fetch quests and running between markers – what MMORPG isn’t guilty of this? – but the tales they weave will keep you going. This time around you will be expected to complete the deliveries of several deceased couriers, discover what illness is befalling veterans at a retirement home, help someone feeling the aftereffects of a heavy night repay their bar tab and help a man whose mistress has been possessed by an ancient sea captain. His words not ours.
As usual, the excellence in the writing for The Elder Scrolls Online is shown off in High Isle. The main narrative does an excellent job of keeping you invested and eking out just enough info to indulge you. And the side quests are funny, dramatic, wholesome and every other emotion. Not to mention worthwhile; High Isle has a ton of new gear and sets that will take a lot of time to complete.
High Isle’s world events take the form of Volcanic Vents this time. These are functionally similar to Dark Fissures in that they can be soloed. Though some extra help never did anyone any harm.
For those wanting to maximise the MMO experience, High Isle comes with a new Trial called Dreadsail Reef. Home to some nasty pirate types, this twelve-person endgame experience isn’t the most demanding trial out there but you should still thoroughly prepare beforehand.
Not only content with giving players a never-before-seen location in Tamriel, Zenimax have also created a new in-game card game called Tales of Tribute. And it would appear the residents have warmed to it as gaming halls have suddenly popped up all over the place. But to learn the ropes head to Gonfalon Bay within High Isle itself.
In Gonfalon Bay you will find the Gaming Hall and several NPCs willing to show you how to play Tales of Tribute. As with all the best card games it is very easy to pick up the basics but only through playing repeatedly can you really begin to understand it. Elder Scrolls Online understands this and doesn’t have you reading through pages of text to understand it. A simple tutorial game introduces you to the basics, and then you are pretty much off on your own. Completing this tutorial will give you your starter decks – more can be found as you progress this quest line – but you can’t go around freely challenging people. Unlike Tetra Master in Final Fantasy IX and Gwent in The Witcher 3, Tales of Tribute can only be played in specific locations. You can however queue it up in the Activity Finder to play PvP matches.
In Tales of Tribute, it is all about building your deck up. You start off with ten basic cards where each one has either a coin value or a power value. In the middle is the ‘Tavern’ where you can buy new cards to add to your deck using the coins. Power is used to either defeat opponent cards or build your prestige. The first to 40 prestige is declared the winner.
Another way to win is by having the four Patrons on the right-hand side loyal to you. That is, by paying for their services so that their loyalty arrow is pointing to you. In the early encounters, your AI opponents will barely acknowledge the Patrons, so you can earn a quick victory this way. But you may limit your exposure to how the cards work together by doing this tactic.
Tales of Tribute is a brilliant distraction and was very nearly the sole subject of this review such is the time already invested in it. Even when not playing a game or two, deck fragments can be found in and around High Isle and the public dungeons to increase your card stash. Already I am saying this could easily be a full game release on its own.
These major chapters for The Elder Scrolls Online rarely disappoint, and High Isle is one of the better ones – if only for introducing Tales of Tribute alone. Then you have the engaging new narrative and a beautiful brand-new area of Tamriel to discover. For those willing to once again put some serious hours into The Elder Scrolls Online, High Isle is another excellent expansion. It wouldn’t be the best place for a newcomer to start, but there are literally hundreds of hours of other content where they can find a more suitable place to start.