My relationship with Elder Scrolls Online started relatively late – 2021, in fact, with the Blackwood expansion. A good friend of mine had been playing for many years – I resisted his cajoling to give it a go as I had been heavily invested into Star Trek: Online. However, after some ill-feeling on my part with Star Trek: Online (relating to changes with the in-game store ships which depreciated the value of items I had spent a long time acquiring via the in-game Exchange) I suddenly had the time to explore another MMO.

“But why,” I hear you ask, “Did you, Veni, resist playing ESO when you’ve been so clearly into the Elder Scrolls universe?”

Elder Scrolls Online High Isle screenshot
Credit: Bethesda

Elder Scrolls Online adds to The Elder Scrolls universe

It is both easy and difficult to answer that question. I do adore the Elder Scrolls universe. But I was also aware that MMO’s have a very different ‘feel’ to standalone games – and as much as I was invested in STO, I did resist ESO because I was worried it might spoil something – some mythical feeling I have towards the Elder Scrolls universe as a whole. All that said, 2021 was the year I decided to take the plunge.

I bought Blackwood, alongside some deal to open all the main expansions. I found myself sucked in completely – and while I wasn’t so keen on the MMO ‘feel’ I described earlier – the quests involving less choice than their standalone counterparts, the enemies being ‘floatier’ and spawning in all the time, fellow players leaping about the place and reminding me I was in a game – I found myself enjoying the experience.

I played first person, and overall, I played alone. I tried to approach the game as I would a single player Elder Scrolls game. Very much as a ‘quester’, as they seem to be known in the game – rather than a PVP/PVE grinder. I was there for the lore and the content. And sure, at times I was baffled by things, irked by changes to established lore and frustrated by what I thought to be unnecessary additions.

Something pulled me away from the game in early 2022: my purchase and subsequent (re)playing of Skyrim, via the Anniversary Addition. I did wonder about jumping back in to ESO (after all, I was at CP 200 or so level wise, and had gear to collect) but I never did. I’d find myself staring at the icon, but nothing gave me the push to leap back in until I had the opportunity to review High Isle.

Elder Scrolls Online High Isle screenshot
Credit: Bethesda

The Elder Scrolls Online High Isle

I’ve never been happier to be dragged back into an MMO. High Isle is a fantastic experience – an opportunity to delve into the land of the Bretons, High Rock – and featuring a main quest that dances through a narrative of political intrigue, backstabbing and general plotting and treachery. Some old faces return to catch up with our nameless (well, our own) protagonist on the way, as well as a slew of new characters who will no doubt be further explored throughout this Breton themed year in ESO.

The plot revolves around some missing Alliance leaders whom we are tasked with finding. On the way you will encounter the Ascendant Order, a new gang of Knights with their own (peculiar) political agenda. You’ll bounce around the archipelago, noticing right away the strong nautical themes (shipwrecks, pirates, sea captains and that sort of thing). The main quest is certainly enjoyable – though I would continue to criticise the lack of choice for our characters when it comes to the plot. Not much that we do affects anything, and really, you are simply following a narrative along rather than having any say in what’s happening. Still, the story itself is interesting so that’s something.

Obviously, the expansion comes with far more than just the main quest – there’s about 30 hours (at least) of content here, from new public dungeons to the 12-player Dreadsail Reef that will absolutely destroy you if you try to wade in alone. You can try, of course. That’s before mentioning the side quests, the locations to discover and the inclusion of a brand-new card game that we will discuss a little later. For the new players: ESO tries to ensure that the content is accessible to you, so don’t feel alarmed or afraid to dive into the experience – you will absolutely be able to play alongside far more established players most of the time, and solo play will (overall) be fine. Only the trials will be truly impossible for you, and possibly some world bosses.

ESO tries to be accessible – not only in terms of difficulty, but also with playstyles. Are you like me, and only really wanting to hook up with other players for Trials now and again? Fine, play solo most of the time! Do you want to hook up with others? You won’t have an issue. Handily, ESO comes packaged with various NPC companions to tag along with, and High Isle adds another two to the game – Isabelle and Ember. I haven’t explored those companions in any depth yet, but it’s good to know they’re there (I felt too attached to my current companion to let her go).

The Elder Scrolls Online Screenshot
Credit: Bethesda

In terms of looks, I was once again impressed with this expansion. I have always felt ESO to be a rather visually pleasing game, and this continues. There’s some variety in the islands you traverse – from fairly ‘British/New Zealand in summer’ to humid jungles and heat-haze obscured volcanic hellholes. The architecture of the towns and cities also continues to impress – some of the settlements are big, which is something that improved throughout the lifespan of ESO – some of the earlier towns seemed too small to be plausible (a throwover from the standalone games, where cities would be about the size of a couple of streets in a real-world town).

If anything, ESO has always had a visual feel closer to that of ‘Lord of the Rings’ than, say, World of Warcraft. This is to my taste, at least, as I was always a fan of Tolkien’s work: a more grounded (comparatively) world has always served to draw me in. And the style is reminiscent of the other games in the Elder Scrolls series – something Zenimax should be praised for. In terms of visual continuity and feeling like it inhabits the same world, High Isle continues a pleasing tradition of quality and plausibility.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed that I’m being careful to avoid too many details with this review when it comes to plot – I despise spoilers, and I feel that (while some of the main quest, at least, can come across as obvious when playing) it would be very easy to spoil here with even the slightest reference. All I can say is that both the main quest and side quests continue to – as in previous ESO content – weave together pleasingly, allowing you to experience some sense of fluid character growth as you navigate the world at your own pace and (within limits) your own direction. While there isn’t choice within the quests, the course you take to complete them can be peppered with enjoyable diversions.

You’ll also encounter the Druids, a group that I didn’t know much of anything at all about prior to High Isle. They are related (belief wise) to the Wyrd, a people any Elder Scrolls fan will be familiar with. The Druids hit the spot when it comes to the more ‘mystical’ side of things since the main plot revolves very heavily around the political world. Which can, at the best of times, be a bit dry. So, the variety is welcome.

Then there’s Tales of Tribute, the card game I was referring to earlier on. I didn’t delve too much into this (I’m not a big card game fan) but it seems to be based in the idea of ‘resource building’ rather than other more famous standalone videogame card games. I doubt the inclusion (or exclusion) of this game would be a deal breaker for those wanting to buy the expansion, but it’s worth pointing out what is – from what I can tell – a little diversion that adds a little flavour to the world. It is reminiscent of Caravan from Fallout: New Vegas, to me, but I certainly wouldn’t call myself an expert in that side-game either.

So, is High Isle worth it? Yes, absolutely. And how good is it? Well, I would say High Isle is one of the more polished and enjoyable of the ESO expansions to date. It has a tightly written main quest, shed loads of side content, new gear and collectibles to find, heaps of lore to explore and a stunning new world space to look at – among many, many other things that I will leave you to discover.

Gamerhub review score

At the end of the day, it’s about ‘feeling’ rather than trying to quantify every single fact about the expansion. How can I convince you that it’s worth your money? Well, let me tell you what happened to me when I played it. As I was working my way through it, I started to get the ‘feel’ for ESO again – for my character, for the world, and just generally feeling invested again. This continued to grow throughout the experience to the point where I renewed my ESO Plus subscription so I could continue my gear hunting in areas that were locked to me (non-main expansions).

I enjoyed it so much that I re-subbed to the game. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.