ZeniMax Online Studios has shared fresh details of the people, places and lethal steampunk contraptions you'll encounter in The Elder Scrolls Online's new Morrowind expansion, due for release both as optional DLC and as an updated edition of the game on 6th June 2017.
Designed to last around 30 hours, the campaign takes players back to the island of Vvardenfell, setting for The Elder Scrolls 3 - a landmass 40 per cent larger than Orsinium, the ancient Orc stronghold that was added to the game in November. The hope is that it will serve as both a traditional expansion for existing players, and an entry point for newcomers - a bid to grow the MMO's audience that builds on the One Tamriel update from last year, which introduced challenge scaling so that adventurers could journey together regardless of character level. If you're picking up the new edition of TESO chiefly for the Morrowind content, you can complete it before moving onto the game's original main quest.
The Elder Scrolls Online's version of Vvardenfell is a decidedly lusher place than the arid fungal wasteland of The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind - no surprise, given that the MMO is set hundreds of years before the events of the numbered games, when Vvardenfell's central volcano, Red Mountain, was relatively dormant. The landscape is more familiar than not, however - ZeniMax Online built it by recreating the height map from the first Morrowind in TESO's engine, and you'll find many of its settlements in exactly the same place, though some are still under construction.
Players kick off the new chapter in Seyda Neen, the original game's starting location, where you'll be treated to a few series in-jokes about character creation. You'll also get to visit the riverside burg of Balmora, the volcanic Ashland area, and the mighty Vivec City, where Vvardenfell's poet-king Vivec holds sway. Vivec is central to the storyline: he's come down with a mysterious sickness, which amongst other things means that the gigantic meteor magically suspended above the capital is at risk of tumbling to earth. Your job in the main quest, naturally enough, is to heal him before everything goes to pot, aided by returning TESO character and apparent fan favourite Naryu Virian. As the story unfolds, the meteor will move closer to the city and even erupt in flames - a feature that calls to mind the descending moon of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.
Among the locations that are conspicuously different is the area around Red Mountain itself - at this point in the world's history, there's no demonic blight threatening to overrun the island, and thus no Ghostfence to keep the menace at bay. The Elder Scrolls 3's Dwemer ruins have seen little alteration, at least on the surface - the rise and fall of Tamriel's dwarf civilisation pre-dates even The Elder Scrolls Online - but Daedric ruins have been tinkered with, and coastal areas in general are more prosperous and verdant. As for wildlife, you can expect a mixture of new and old critters - the insectile Kwama, the towering, docile Silt Striders, predators such as the Hunger and the Guar, and Dwemer mechanisms such as Centurion Spiders and Centurion Spheres.
While it may be a little more appealing to the eye, Vvardenfell remains a hotbed of political strife. The island is contested by a trio of Dark Elf (aka "Dunmer") households - Telvanni, Dres and Redoran - plus a nomad faction of Ashlanders. There's also the Morag Tong, a group of state-licensed assassins who keep order by thinning each clan's ranks periodically to stop them growing too powerful. You may get to ally with a Dunmer faction in the course of the tale, though you'll never be able to join the Morag Tong, because they're dreadful snobs.
The expansion includes a new character class, the Warden - the game's first since launch. Billed as a mix of druid and ranger, it offers three new skill lines topped by Ultimate abilities. Winter's Embrace is all about self-buffing and tanking, with spells such as the Ice Fortress barrier and the Polar Wind, which damages enemies while healing allies. Green Balance is about healing - you can use Fungal Growth to patch up allies within a cone-shaped area of effect, send out Living Vines to heal a player directly, or plant a Healing Seed to create a circular aura. Animal Companion, finally, lets you summon Cliff Racers, bee swarms, burrowing predators and a fearsome wild bear to harass your enemies. If you're more interested in the Warden class than Vvardenfell itself, you can always just start a new character then head out into the existing game.
ZeniMax Online has created a new PvP mode, Battlegrounds, where three teams of four duke it out in Capture the Flag, team deathmatch and Domination (point capture) for bragging rights and a leaderboard ranking. It's designed to be a lightweight, more focused alternative to the main game's Alliance war mode in Cyrodiil - matches should last 15 minutes at most, and the three launch maps are pint-sized arenas that leave nowhere to hide. There's an open-plan Quarry map, a Dwemer ruin that with a multiple-storey central edifice, and a Daedric ruin where you'll use teleporters to get the drop on enemy teams. You can form a team regardless of each player's Alliance affiliation.
Among The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind's more perilous treats is a new Trial (aka, MMO raid), the Halls of Fabrication. This sees 12 players joining the sorcerer Divayth Fyr, another character from the Elder Scrolls 3, on a jaunt through an underground workshop belonging to Sotha Sil, one of Morrowind's three deities. Among the highlights is a trip to a miniaturised city sealed inside a ball of clockwork, where you'll face off with a Dwemer Colossus - the enemy from the end of the expansion's announcement trailer.
In terms of general, fan-requested changes and improvements - ZeniMax doesn't plan to raise the Champion Points cap for Veteran characters, but does plan to tweak the UI with buff-trackers, so you can get a handle on what exactly is kicking your arse in a three-way brawl.
One last thing - levitation is back, but in a "limited fashion". Hope you enjoy the view, Outlander.