A Friend in Need – A Preview of The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood

For the past week, we have had the pleasure of logging in to Zenimax Online’s test servers and giving it a try Blackwood, the next major chapter in The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda’s successful online role-playing game is now seven years old (congratulations!) And while the signs of age are beginning to appear on the connected Tamriel, Zenimax Online has surprised me every chapter with beautiful and well-crafted environments that stand out from the original’s three alliance areas. Blackwood lives up to those expectations even though it is still evolving. Music and voice acting are top notch and overall appeared Blackwood as a natural extension of an already huge and high-quality online role-playing game. It also strikes several chords on the nostalgia strings in that it takes place in the same area as the fifteen-year-old The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

While I can plead miles of text about how terribly good The Elder Scrolls Online are you probably wondering just what Blackwood has to offer. As an ESO veteran and later a periodical, I have focused on the single biggest news in Blackwood: Companions! But for the sake of politeness, I draw a quick summary:

The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood is the latest chapter in the online role-playing game and opens up a large landmass of the same name in which adventurers will be able to explore, undertake missions and collect treasures and equipment. An epic campaign is included that puts players on track for a demonic cult with evil plans. The hunt, which is also part of the overall annual story Gates of Oblivion, takes players to a dimension of hell called Deadlands from which a threat must be averted to save the world. IN Blackwood you will also find the usual additions of world bosses, caves, skyshards, weapons and armor as well as other secrets and collectibles. And a new Trial that promises something cool.

With that out of the way, we jump to the friends we will be able to take with us into death!

Oblivion Deadlands Blackood.
I’m not in hell with you, you’re in hell with me!

Companions – your new plus one

Because I no longer play The Elder Scrolls Online daily it has become so that once I get a relapse, I play it on my own – and let me point out that The Elder Scrolls Online already 2014 was a good single player game. Therefore, I have always loved the missions and adventures in which other characters, such as Naryu, Darien and Rigurt, accompanied alongside. So when Zenimax announced the new feature Companions for Blackwood I was about to fall out of the chair. It was then difficult to put a lid on my expectations and I forced myself to approach the Companions with a modest skepticism.

After playing with the two characters we will be able to call our companions, I can happily report that Zenimax has succeeded.

To begin with, both characters, a black elf named Mirri and a Breton named Bastion, are well crafted with unique background stories, personalities and missions. To recruit them, you need to do their introductory assignments and if you then agree well on your travels, you unlock follow-up assignments that give you a deeper insight into their lives. They can comment on different events and situations in Tamriel and if you get bored you can always start a conversation – unfortunately the conversations in the preview were very limited and monotonous. We can only hope that real dialogues will be implemented.

As a patriotic dunmer, of course, I fell for Mirri’s boldness and opportunism, but the noble and loyal Bastion seems to be superb husbando material. It is unclear at this time whether romantic alternatives will exist at present, but Zenimax has created something good here and it would be a bit sad not to pursue Companion’s potential.

Blackwood companion.
Your partner has your back.

You have my sword, and bow, and ax, and staff, and…

Purely game mechanically, Companions is robust, and adaptable to match your playing style or needs. You can equip them with all types of weapons and armor, but not the same equipment that players can use (potential problem for us with packed stores). Companions have their own unique objects. However, you can dress them in different costumes you unlocked. Just like for you, the partners can use five skills in combat and one ultimate, these are based on the player classes but have custom variables and effects. Mirri and Bastion can both act as tank, healer and damage dealer depending on what skills and equipment you give them. With effort it is possible to run dungeons with them, although then it is required that you have good equipment and knowledge.

They are very adaptable and it is easy to mix and match skills and equipment. I loved to try myself out and see how my partner assisted me with specified attacks. Weapon skills were unlocked from the beginning and do not need to be increased with experience. However, it was not possible to give the companions commands, but they act on their own initiative, therefore you can not sit back and let them carry you through difficult battles. Whether such a function will be added in the future is unclear. If they clash, you can revive them in the same way as another player.

Your partners have two meters to consider, their experience meter, which at level up increases their combat capability, and a relationship meter that determines how well you and your partner agree. The relationship meter is affected by choices during assignments and actions against innocent people, such as theft and murder. When the relationship has reached a specific level, you get access to assignments from the partner. The relationship does not seem to affect combat capability. During my test round, I had the opportunity to easily maximize the relationship, therefore it is difficult to know how much “work” you will need to put into increasing it, as well as exactly what affects the meter.

Good company with great potential

I absolutely love the companions and what they mean to The Elder Scrolls Online. They are a fantastic addition to an already magnificent world and give players, alone as well as social, an extra helper in the daily gate and questing. Companions are probably not fully developed, but the system has a robust foundation that can be further developed and expanded with longer personal assignments and stories, relationships, dialogues and combat abilities. During my test period, I noticed that they were a bit obsessive and slightly bugged. For example, they could not keep up with me when I ran away. And even though they had riding animals, they refused to use them. This is likely to be addressed by release, but we should lower our expectations – some action and balancing will probably be necessary.

What the Companions potentially mean for the future of the game is breathtaking. I expect that Zenimax will implement more partners long enough after the system is stable and developed. Maybe they choose to sell partners in the game’s digital store in the same way they sell banking and trading services. If Companions is successful, I coldly expect that they will expand the stories of Mirri, Bastion and future companions so that they become as alive as the world they live in.

Companions are coming The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood on June 1 on PC, Mac and Stadia and for consoles on June 8.

Read more about Blackwood in our summary or on it official website.