When The Elder Scrolls Online first released, the MMORPG was met with a very lukewarm reception. The vanilla game seemingly took forever before the story kicked off, and even then, it struggled with pacing issues. Since then, numerous expansions have been released, effectively building a wildly enjoyable Elder Scrolls experience. That trend of engaging content continues in Oblivion with the Blackwood expansion, set 800 years before the events of its single-player counterpart.
As a massive RPG lover, one feature I enjoy is romance. The introduction of this type of feature in an RPG setting adds yet another layer of immersion to the story, especially for those like myself that thrive on building entire character sheets for their journeys. While The Elder Scrolls Online experience doesn’t have that quite yet, Blackwood does introduce companions. Even better? Creative Director Rich Lambert confirmed to me earlier this year that the addition of companions is to lay the groundwork for possible romance ahead. “Down the line, romance is definitely somewhere we want to get to,” he told Game Informer. “We just want to make sure when we add it that we do it right.”
Knowing that, I was eager to learn more about the companions within Blackwood and I couldn’t wait to get started on this new expansion. Returning to Tamriel for this new chapter, Blackwood has around 30 hours of new narrative content to explore. It also offers new dungeons, side quests, bosses, and other miscellaneous additions to the newly added zone. In true expansion format, the next step for The Elder Scrolls Online will release in waves, including new chapters, PvE instances, and more. For our hands-on preview, I was able to take on the new story and the new world events as well. These world events operate similarly to the Abyssal Geysers from the Summerset DLC and all previous additions throughout each expansion’s release. They are pretty straightforward, acting as additional challenges to gain XP and earn loot. For Blackwood, these special events come in the form of Oblivion portals, which is fitting with the Deadlands being a major focus.
The new area that Blackwood opens into is the Leyawiin, an Imperial City. It wasn’t really anything special, nothing like Summerset where the zone looked completely unlike anything else. However, it wasn’t unenjoyable. The city’s setup is pretty standard from what you’d expect from an Elder Scrolls game, but what did make it stand out was the NPCs. God, some of them were so annoying. Many of the NPCs encountered were haughty and frigid, meant to make you feel like you were beneath them. I’m not going to lie; there were times where I wanted to punch those types of characters in the face, but they weren’t all bad. More than that, each character was voiced to perfection. Whether annoying or not, every NPC was fully realized, which made falling into this story feel more organic, and it drove me to want to talk to everyone that I could and scoop up every questline that I could spot.
So what about the companion system? Look, if you don’t have an annoying follower that doesn’t bug you incessantly, did you really play an Elder Scrolls game? Having a companion in this game is a major game-changer and one that I can’t wait to see evolve. For now, there are two companions we get to meet with Blackwood: Bastian and Mirri. “Bastian is kind of this chivalrous Knight kind of personality,” Lambert told me earlier this year. “And he was the son of a noble; there was a little bit of strife with his history that you’ll learn more about while adventuring with him. He became a servant to another noble family and is essentially being the protector of this rich sniveling idiot. The questline that you go through to unlock him as a companion covers one of those adventures. And then once you unlock him, you find out a little bit more about who he is and what his personal tragedy is.”
On the other hand, Mirri is a Dunmer thief who Lambert describes as having a “stab you in the back” kind of personality. Lambert mentioned that she has an interesting twist in her storyline, but wasn’t willing to tell me more no matter how much I was intrigued to hear everything.
What’s even better is that these aren’t just pretty faces; they are fully upgradable. Additionally, their inclusion is a massive boon for those that like to play solo. With the new dungeons and PvE instances, running this game solo can be done, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. Companions can be specced out to the fighting style of your choice, which makes running solo a little easier to manage and more enjoyable to do.
To get these companions, you’ve got to complete their questlines for them to be classified as “allies.” Mirri was hands down my favorite. There are parts in her writing that almost reminded me of Isabella from Dragon Age 2 with her sassy humor and take-no-s**t demeanor. When playing through what Blackwood has to offer, I genuinely found myself captivated by what both of these characters would have to bring to the RPG aspect of this MMORPG, though I definitely gravitated to her the most because of her strong personality and wit.
But there is more to this expansion than just the NPCs and new companions. Upon leaving the city, the true beauty of the new zone shines. The area surrounding the inner city is beyond stunning, filled with greenery and playful wildlife that was genuinely fun to explore. There were many times when I would be making my way to a new quest area, only to stop and just mindlessly explore a little bit. Plus, you’ve gotta climb those mountains incorrectly; this IS an Elder Scrolls game, after all.
As beautiful as the surrounding area is, and as excited as I am to learn about how Mehrunes Dagon rose to power with his cult followers, there was one thought that followed me around during my entire progression: I’ve been here before. I loved the Elsywer, Greymoor, and Summerset expansions because each one felt vastly unique from one another. Every time I dove into a new DLC, it felt like I was both returning to an enjoyable game and enjoying a new one at the same time. The city of Leyawiin felt too similar to the base game to feel new, which – unfortunately – colored how I saw all of the interactions. With Greymoor, we had Vampire Bae Fennorian. With Morrowind, we had the Warden class and familiar areas from Skyrim. With Summerset, we had the Psijic order to learn from and explore. With Blackwood, I didn’t feel that same impact. It felt like a much smaller update, and that’s not something you want to feel when diving into a new storyline.
I’m interested in seeing where this new journey goes, especially with the promise that more companions will be coming later. Each step of this ongoing Elder Scrolls journey has shed a new perspective on the games we love, especially Skyrim and Morrowind. I’m eager to see Oblivion through a new lens as well, and Blackwood is poised to be that fresh perspective. My only concern is that the setting itself may not be enough on its own to separate itself from previous iterations. However, the companion addition does change the game feel in a positive way. Between that and future updates that will come in true expansion style for The Elder Scrolls Online, including new chapters and narrative branches, I feel like Blackwood could truly evolve into something special as more content rolls out.
For those interested in checking out the origins of Mehrunes Dagon and the history of Oblivion, Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood arrives on June 1 for PC and Stadia players, with a June 8 release on Xbox and PlayStation. For those with a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X, June 8 is also slated for a free upgrade for next-gen systems.