Today, Zenimax unveiled the newest Chapter of THE ELDER SCROLLS: ONLINE: SUMMERSET.

On twitch, Zenimax began with a teaser trailer, along with some in-game footage of a new zone: The Summerset Isles. They wasted no time diving into the details, explaining the lore, visuals, and culture of the land.

According to the livestream, players will be able to join the Psijiic Order: the oldest magical organization in Tamriel.  Players who join will gain access to new magical abilities, allowing them to control the fabric of the universe, and even manipulate time. In all, Zenimax promises 30+ hours of quest content, a new trial, jewelry crafting, and more explorable space than any update so far.

Worth The Price?

If it’s anything like its predecessor, the DLC will likely cost $39.99 at launch. According to the livestream, a physical collector’s addition is available for $89.99.

Even before the official release, fans were concerned about the cost of this chapter. The previous DLC, MORROWIND,  was critically praised, but many questioned if the content was worth the price of admission. The new features are welcome additions, but are they enough to justify the cost?

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Personally, I play MMOs for the world as much as the gameplay, so I’m a bit biased here. I’m willing to pay a premium to explore a dense, detailed, fully realized open world. That being said, I can more than understand people’s concerns. What’s the point of an interesting world if there’s not much to do? Still, 30 hours of content is enough to keep me satisfied.

About Summerset

For those that don’t know, the Summerset Isle is the homeland of the Altmer: arguably the oldest and most magically advanced race in Tamriel. I’m a huge fan of the lore and atmosphere of The Elder Scrolls, especially when it comes to the elves. As you can imagine, I was looking forward to seeing this place for the first time.

We haven’t seen the isle since the first game in the series, ARENA. Even so, this was long before the lore and backstory of THE ELDER SCROLLS took shape. Since then, it’s been described as a beautiful, alien place. There are ruins made of coral, skyscrappers made of colored-glass, and advanced, magical technology like sunbirds.

Or at least there were.

ESO SUMMERSET
ZOS interprets “hypnotic, swirling ramparts made of glass or giant insect wings” as “medieval stone castles”.

Past Missteps

In ESO, we caught a glimpse of the Altmer’s homeland with Auridon: an island off the coast of the mainland. Unfortunately, it was nothing like previous descriptions, with grey, washed out cities and generic fauna. According to the developers, previous descriptions of Altmer culture were simply exaggerations. This led to the now infamous quote, “Architects can’t make buildings out of poetry!“.

ESO Summerset
Auridon: The most generic elven land I’ve ever seen in a video game.

Thankfully, the game’s art style has improved since its release, with each new zone breathing life into the strange land of Tamriel.

But based on what we’ve seen of Summerset so far, I can’t say I’m optimistic. Unlike the Morrowind expansion, which was based on a pre-existing game, Zenimax will have to do the leg work bringing this place to life. This isn’t a tiny border region, or a smaller island off the coast. This is The Summerset Isle: a place even Bethesda has been reluctant to describe in recent years. The mystery of Summerset has been growing since 1998, when most of the current lore began. Where’s the magic? The wonder? Where’s the supposedly advanced culture the Altmer are always bragging about?

Can Zenimax Live Up To The Lore?

If you’re wondering why I’m drawing so many conclusions from a single livestream, it’s because Zenimax doesn’t have the best track record with the way they treat the lore. So far, they seem entirely disinterested in embracing the strangeness of The Elder Scrolls unless they absolutely have to, especially when it comes to the Altmer. They’re supposed to be the “pure” elven race, yet they have more in common with humans than their more interesting cousins.

Look, I know there’s a lot of fans that don’t care about this sort of thing, and that’s fine. If you play ESO solely for the gameplay, then you’re probably wondering why I’m focusing so heavily on the useless “fluff”.

But as someone who grew up hearing tales of this place, reading descriptions by artists and former developers, what I’ve seen so far is nothing short of a let down.

Except this. This is actually kind of pretty.

Granted, it’s not all bland forests and boring cathedrals. Artaeum, the isle of the Psijiic Monks (shown above), is absolutely beautiful. Honestly, it’s everything I hoped for. The clips shown in the livestream showcase bizarre architecture, advanced magic, and interesting set-pieces.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of Summerset feels completely generic and uninspired. The Altmer don’t live in vaguely medieval castles, or generic stone huts. Their cities aren’t gray and and austere. An Altmer would laugh at this portrayal of the sacred isles.

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This is their final chance to show us Summerset, before its portrayal becomes an official part of the ELDER SCROLLS canon. Zenimax has a choice: to embrace the creative strangeness of THE ELDER SCROLLS, or pull another Auridon. So far, this is looking like Auridon 2.0.

SUMMERSET releases on June 5th on all platforms, with an early access for PC on May 21st.

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