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The Elder Scrolls Online’s next expansion gives Bretons an overdue close-up

This June’s High Isle expansion sets the table for hearty meal of political intrigue

Two knights in plate mail on horseback with a castle in the distance Image: Zenimax Online Studios/Bethesda Softworks
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Bretons, the “Man-Mer” race of The Elder Scrolls lore, have long been a favorite choice among role players looking for a capable magic-user who isn’t an’t elf. But, of the standard races in Bethesda Softworks’ fantasy universe, the Bretons’ homeland of High Rock has been overdue for a closeup. It gets one with The Elder Scrolls Online’s next major expansion, High Isle, launching June 6.

“This is probably the most accessible piece of content that we have added to The Elder Scrolls Online in terms of people that are familiar with the franchise,” said Rich Lambert, the MMO’s creative director for Zenimax Online Studios. “Morrowind [which got a huge expansion in 2017] is very alien and, you know, it has these weird mushrooms, and things like that. When you look at Blackwood [last June’s big expansion] like, this is a big, giant demon that’s coming in, and if you don’t know who Mehrunes Dagon is, you don’t necessarily know or care.

“But with this, this is kind of your traditional medieval fantasy storytelling,” Lambert added. “It’s focused on the noble houses and the politics that intermingle with all of that, and knights. So it’s super accessible and super easy for anybody to get into.”

High Rock (the name of the province; High Isle is a location there) has been a playable space in The Elder Scrolls Online since the MMO debuted in 2014, but it hasn’t been given the full chapter treatment until now. In TESO, the Daggerfall Covenant faction, comprising Orcs, Bretons, and Redguards, controls High Rock, and so missions there advance the lore of that alliance as a whole, rather than the Bretons specifically.

High Isle, Lambert said, pivots on the Three Banners War, which is the factional conflict underpinning TESO; in the expansion, a peace summit at High Isle brings the noble Society of the Steadfast and the chaotic Ascendant Order to the table, and players must uncover the true motives of both sides as they wind through the expansion’s main story arc.

Lambert acknowledged that the Arthurian legends, and their aesthetic as traditionally presented, informs a lot of the set design and activities in High Isle. Bretons, after all, are taken as an analogue for Britons even though they are half-elf. (In Elder Scrolls lore, “Breton” comes from a dead language and means “half.”)

“We wanted [the setting] to feel more like a resort than anything else,” Lambert said. “To the team, when I was going through [the backstory] I said, ‘This is where nobility goes, this is where money goes, this is Las Vegas meets the Roman times.’ How can we make this as pristine and as beautiful as possible? And the team just jumped in on that and started digging into it.”

Asked for his favorite, can’t-miss location that Elder Scrolls fans should be sure to visit in High Isle, Lambert mentioned one of the expansion’s two new NPC followers, Ember, a Khajit street-survivor with a talent for magic. “She is such a cool character, and the story, and her objective to unlock her, they’re just so well done,” Lambert said. “I think players are going to enjoy the heck out of her and that objective.”

The other unlockable companion is Isobel Velois, a Breton knight. She’s not a straight lift of Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, but if that’s how players relate to her role within High Isle, Lambert sounded fine with it. “She could be one such take,” Lambert said. “She and her family are knights. And her objective is focused on what she sees as right and wrong and how she wants to do right by everybody. She’s not, kind of, your stuffy, pompous, ‘I’m a knight, therefore, you know, worship the ground I walk on.’ She’s got her own traits and flaws and whatnot.”

In terms of gameplay, a notable new feature is Tales of Tribute, a tavern game that evolves as a deck-building diversion to play against NPCs and human players. With Tales of Tribute, players will be able to unlock cards, decks, and other pieces, with leaderboards to chart advancement.

Closeup of a card on a gambling table in a deck-building game
Tales of Tribute is a deck-building game mode where The Elder Scrolls Online players can take on NPCs or other players.
Image: Zenimax Online Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Considering that High Rock and High Isle are so much undiscovered country for an Elder Scrolls video game — other than Online, its last appearance as an explorable video game world was 1996’s The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall — Lambert agreed that this expansion effectively put him in charge of a huge chunk of canon for the series, which turned 28 on March 25.

“But one of the things that we have established over the years is this sense of trust; [Bethesda Game Studios] trusts us with the IP — we’ve been working on this game since, you know, for me it’s been 2007, but it’s been live since 2014,” Lambert said. “And we treat the IP with respect. We work with them very closely, anytime we do something. And they’ve given us carte blanche to do whatever we want with High Isle. It’s great.”

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