The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle Review: A Big, Beautiful, and Battle-Scarred World
Not too long ago, I was able to sit down and dig into a preview build of The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle—a major piece of DLC falling under the larger Legacy of the Bretons umbrella. You can read it if you’d like, but that’s really not necessary at this point because I’ll just tell you right now that I liked it. Unfortunately, there was kind of a setback during that time; the fact that I was, you know, previewing a TES game. I mean, “short time limits” and “The Elder Scrolls” mix together about as well as oil and water, so, while I was able to do a decent bit of exploring, there was still plenty that I knew that I had missed out on (also there was the fact that preview builds usually don’t include everything that final builds do). Fortunately, I was given another chance to dive into High Isle—this time, for real—and, let me tell you, ESO‘s latest major piece of DLC is a real gem!
There are plenty of stories unfolding in High Isle, but one of them just so happens to be more important than all of the rest. Like, a lot more important. So, you know that whole Banner War thing that’s been going on? It’s literally, like, the central overarching storyline in The Elder Scrolls Online, so I’m assuming that, if you play ESO, then you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, people are kind of getting sick of it and are looking for a way to end things. Fortunately, the leaders of each of the factions all seem to be on board with this—both metaphorically and literally—and each set sail for High Rock in order to begin talking things out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like everyone wants to see this war to be put to an end. Just as the VIPs are about to land, they all find themselves hit by a massive—and extremely conveniently timed—storm, knocking them overboard and washing them ashore… where a strange group of, *ahem*, “knights” called the Ascendant Order were waiting to take them captive. The good news? Their plan to capture the faction leaders failed. The bad news? Nobody knows where in Oblivion they are—and it’s up to you to help track them down! …You know, if you’re not too busy.
The Elder Scrolls has generally had a knack for doing well when it comes to world-building and storytelling, and High Isle’s main questline isn’t any exception. Ironically, however, the reason why it stands out isn’t because it’s grandiose in any way, but because it’s surprisingly grounded. While I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t any magic at work going on (because there definitely is), High Isle‘s story is less about mortals struggling against otherworldly creatures and more, so mortals struggling against the ugliness that we each have the capacity to carry within ourselves. Political intrigue and greed run rampant within this questline, and, even if following politics isn’t normally your thing, you’ll probably still find yourself getting swept up by all of the exciting things going on.
Politics might be at the center of High Isle‘s main questline, but it certainly doesn’t encompass everything that’s going on. In fact, my personal favorite parts of the new ESO DLC weren’t related to the main story at all, but instead to the long-forgotten Druidic culture that still seems to be very much alive and well. Druids aren’t particularly common anywhere else in Tamriel, and it was neat to be able to learn so much more about Breton lore and culture. It’s a little sad knowing that they’re basically relegated to a single-piece island at this point, but I suppose that worse things could have happened.
The Call of the Wild
Visiting port towns to talk about missing faction leaders and chatting it up with the local druids is fun, but I—like I’m sure everyone else who plays this game—crave adventure. And that’s good, because High Isle has plenty of it. Despite how mundane and peaceful things might look when you first step foot on the island, things quickly get more hectic the further out you go. Within the first 15 minutes, I found myself face-to-face with an apprentice mage named Ember, who apparently had a spell or two go wrong—and was rewarded with a brand-new follower for helping her sort things out! Not too long after, I stumbled across a place of healing where the sick—and even the main healer herself—were mysteriously going missing. So, I checked that out, too. And, really, the entire time I spent wandering around High Isle was like that. From extremely stupid shepherds to haywire nature spirits to horny ship captain ghosts, I never knew what I was going to run into—and was never left wanting for excitement.
Of course, The same can be said for the land itself. High Rock is a beautiful-yet-dangerous place that, thanks to some recent tampering, has seen some very strange cases of nature acting in ways that it shouldn’t be (primarily the fact that small volcanoes seem to be appearing everywhere) and the local creatures roaming about were none too happy about it, either (and were more than happy to take their aggression out on anyone passing by).
When it comes to dangerous parts of High Isle, however, nothing has Amenos beat. An island teeming with such immense danger that people have seen fit to use it as a prison, Amenos is home to some of the most dangerously aggressive creatures that you’ll see on the island. If you’re not being chased down by something, you’re watching an NPC being slaughtered by monsters three times their size (seriously, there are a lot of weirdly violent scripted events scattered throughout that place). Naturally, it’s also teeming with plenty of resources to collect and treasures to sniff out. Just be careful, though, or you might end up looking like you’re part of a scripted event, yourself!
Playing the Hand You’re Dealt
High Isle includes a lot of things for players. You’ve got political intrigue, druidic lore, new quests and companions, and jungles that are basically one giant deathtrap. But, there’s also one other thing that this place has going on—TCG action, baby! That’s right, dear reader, if you’ve ever wanted to play a trading card game within an Elder Scrolls game, then you’d best be picking up this piece of DLC because you’ll be getting exactly that. And, best of all, it’s fun!
Titled “Tales of Tribute,” High Isle‘s game-within-a-game is a relatively fast-paced deckbuilder that pits two players against each other as they struggle to meet one of two victory conditions—1.) accumulate 40 Prestige, or 2.) obtain the favor of all patrons on the board. ToT works a little bit differently than you might expect it to, though, mainly due to how the decks work. While both players are responsible for constructing their own decks, both decks are actually mashed together at the beginning of the game, essentially creating one “mega deck” that both players play from. In most TCGs, this wouldn’t fly for obvious reasons, but, fortunately, ToT is set up in such a way that cards generally work well with and play off of one another fairly well, meaning that you’re not going to instantly fail just because someone else’s deck is intermingling with yours (although it can hurt your chances sometimes). Admittedly, ToT does feel a little bit wonky at first and might take some getting used to, but it’s honestly a lot of fun once you get the hang of it!
A Legacy Worth Living
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle is truly a sight to behold. It’s great that we’ve finally gotten to venture to High Isle after all this time, and everything awaiting us there—both the wonderful and the terrifying—was all a joy to experience. The Legacy of the Bretons may not be entirely over just yet, but I think that ESO will be hard-pressed to release anything that would end up topping what this brand-new piece of Tamriel has given us.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Plug In Digital; Developer: Game Forge; Players: 1 ; Released: June 21, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99 (Standalone DLC), $59.99 (ESO Collection)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle given to Hey Poor Player.