After two years of Skyrim and Oblivion nostalgia, the team behind The Elder Scrolls Online is finally venturing back into uncharted waters: The 2022 Annual Adventure deals with the legacy of the Bretons and takes you to the previously unknown Systren Archipelago. On the two islands of High Island and Amenos, you will become involved in the intrigues of the Order of the Ascended.
Its masked leaders try to free Tamriel from the rule of the three alliances so that the continent can finally find peace again. However, the choice of the order’s means is quite radical: the current leadership of the Daggerfall Alliance, Ebonheart Pact, and Aldmeri Dominion is to be eradicated and replaced by members of the order. Of course, you’re trying to prevent that! Until then, plenty of work and a real surprise is waiting for you.
Chic area with a Mediterranean flair
Good main and side stories
New dungeons, volcanic vents, world bosses, and dungeons
Lots of Breton culture and background
Two new NPC companions
World boss bugs
Away from quest locations, somewhat empty game areas
Ability delay bug still present
That’s stuck in High Isle.
In addition to the self-contained area story, which is also the first part of the annual adventure, new world events await you in High Isle with the volcanic vents: where you help druids close active vents from which all kinds of fire beasts are flushed into the game world. These work similarly to Daedra Anchors or Harrowstorms, as you eventually defeat a final boss after several waves of enemies. However, the difficulty level drops enormously the more player characters are present since the enemy crowd does not scale, as usual.
It gets more challenging when you face a total of six world bosses who will fire you up with challenging skills. The faun Glemyos Wildhorn, for example, confronts you with a deadly Indrik series that knocks you out of your hero’s shoes when you come into contact with the deer creatures!
The two atmospherically designed open dungeons are also worth a visit and take you to a ghost-infested harbor and the gloomy stronghold of a blood mage. For 12-person groups, Dreadsail Reef is a new challenging trial where you can earn high-quality set gear.
If you prefer to travel alone, you explore six different vaults and get to know the country and its people through the varied side quests. To do this, you recruit two NPC companions during your adventures, the chaotic-sympathetic Khajiit magician Funke and the honorable, adventurous Breton knight Isobel Valois.
These companions make the fights, which are not demanding anyway, easier. The most significant innovation of the Chapter was added with the Glory Story deck. More on that later. If you own the Greymoor Chapter, you will also dig up Breton-style antiques and fragments for new mystical equipment on High Island and Amenos.
Progress in small portions
Suppose you like the high elf region of Sommersend. In that case, you will also find many familiar things on Hochinsel: bright rocks, a bright blue sky, and Mediterranean-maritime flair mixed with castles with many towers reminiscent of a trip to the Loire Valley. The druidic heritage of the knightly Bretons is reflected in various dolmens nestled in the fertile landscape and dwellings hewn into the rock.
In the port city of Gonfalon, laid out on several levels, you have access to guild traders and craft stations, winding streets alternate with towered mansions, over which the castle towers majestically. Despite the levels and alleys, the city’s layout is pleasingly intuitive, as if the development team had tried to combine the best of Markath and Leyawiin – and successfully.
Zenimax Online Studios seems to have regained momentum after the relatively weak conclusion of last year’s adventure since minor improvements in previously criticized problems can be discovered in various places.
The main story, for example, remains pleasingly down-to-earth. Instead of facing supernatural opponents like dragons or otherworldly Daedra attackers, she confronts you with the intrigues of halfway ordinary people – if you can call murderous political schemers normal! High Isle also resumes the fundamental conflict of the game world and thus links the content of a DLC with the main story for the first time. In this way, the level of High Isle does not remain isolated and, at the same time, introduces an entirely new and previously unknown area instead of rehashing the well-known.
Knights, crooks, and chaos
In the main story, you find yourself in the middle of an attempt to end the war for the throne of Cyrodiil through diplomacy. The Breton noble prince Bacaro Volorus acts as the organizer of a peace conference at the highest level and otherwise dedicates himself entirely to the goal of helping the war invalids through the League of the Steadfast and their hospitals, which he founded.
However, when the ships of the conference participants get caught in an unnaturally strong storm and disappear, you take up the investigation alongside the Breton princess Arabelle Devaux and the charming villain Jakarta. You get a refreshingly varied story whose boss fights finally break the pattern known from previous DLCs.
The side quests also offer the usual high level and bring the world of the Bretons to life: You redeem the spirits of cursed sailors, prevent the theft of a valuable artifact, save the country from corruption with druids or stand by a young knight in various tests. Especially old acquaintances like the chaotic north ambassador Rigurt, who got his fellow diplomats into trouble, and the troubled servant Stibbons and his mistress Princess Clarisse Laurent provide for a few laughs, which are only topped by an incredible table dance performance.
Consequences of war with icing
Chivalrous honesty and light-hearted villainy determine the basic theme of many missions and thus convey the attitude towards life of the Bretons between tradition and conformity, paired with a bit of Druidic magic. The island of Amenos, which serves as a prison for political prisoners and other criminals, is also interestingly staged.
The only drawback is how the war is dealt with: the conflict between the three alliances is described as devastating and, according to statements by various participants, strikes the ordinary people. Aside from Prince Bacaro’s commitment to the victims of war, there is not much to note about a raging, long-standing conflict in the game world.
Most citizens only take care of their own small and large problems and only comment on this topic marginally. There are no field hospitals outside the league quarters, and one looks in vain for refugee camps. There would be more immersion in a city as big as Gonfalon through begging or homeless soldiers with amputated body parts, which were a frequent consequence of the war in the vast majority of conflicts in natural history. Hochinsel remains just a beautiful setting with a cheerful mood, but Zenimax gives away many opportunities for a more profound gaming experience.
A heart for gamblers
While the developers have done much of the usual content for High Isle, they pack a punch with the Chapter’s new addition, the Story of Glory card game. Introduced as a game that the citizens of Tamriel play against each other in taverns and clubs founded for this purpose, both tactical aspects and pure luck are combined. Each game’s goal is to gain forty reputation points by discarding and combining point value cards or assisting all four bullets to win.
Icon tokens represent bullets on the game table. They will assist you once you meet their requirements – for example, by sacrificing resources or forcing your opponents to remove helpful cards from the game table. You will receive essential strategic advice in the detailed tutorial, after which you will measure yourself against other beginners in the Gonfalon gaming club. While you determine part of the card pool shared with your opponents by choosing two sets of themed cards, each associated with a patron, without a bit of luck, even the best strategy fails.
Tactics plus luck equals fun.
Additional action cards add plenty of chance to every game. For example, if you have a strong card in your deck but can’t play it at the right moment, this and your opponent’s actions will force you to adjust your strategy.
This makes Stories of Glory a dynamic, challenging experience, where even defeats give you a small reward in the form of gold and resources. For daily tasks, you not only compete against NPC opponents but also against fellow players; the tales of glory have been given their new category in the group finder.
You get more variety with increasing gaming experience: Each large settlement has its history of fame and local club with possible opponents. You get new card sets and thus cartridges by climbing up the ranking system of the Gonfalon Glory Club or by completing game activities. In addition, you can improve some cards.
Even if you don’t usually know much about card games, it’s worth looking at the glory stories. At the latest, when you have understood the basic strategies, an exciting experience awaits you, which is fun even with little time for the game and develops a great pull.
Holidays far away are impossible this year – High Isle has to fulfill the longing for a southern island. Coupled with many Breton culture and funny stories, the Chapter put me in a good mood, and the two companions also hit my nerve. Especially Funke’s cheeky sayings and tendency to the creative transfer of ownership make her the ideal companion for my thieves’ tours through inns and capitals. I was pleasantly surprised that I had to laugh out loud at times. Especially Jakarta, Rigurt, and the chaos duo Stibbons and Princess Clarisse are just a lot of fun.
Zenimax does not reinvent the ESO wheel with High Isle, and old problems are not out of the world either. However, this Chapter offers a chic layer of varnish thanks to the well-designed area and enough glitter in the form of diverse experiences to keep me entertained. The character behind the chapter opponent, the Ascended Magus, was a bit predictable, but given the many twists and turns in the main story and side quests, I’m happy to forgive that. The fame story card game was the biggest surprise: I’m a confessed card game hater and have only ever tortured myself with Gwent, Hearthstone, and similar derivatives. The stories of fame hit a nerve with their mixture of chance and tactics and lured me to the card table repeatedly.