Murder, wine and life-sucking pearls make Summerset another captivating Elder Scrolls Online expansion

At first mention of Summerset Isle you might think The Elder Scrolls Online development team had finally lost their minds and were going for some weird Wicker Man mashup. Sadly, you’re thinking of Summerisle, while this new fantasy expansion has a lot more high elves and a lot less burning people in giant effigies. If anything, the new setting of Summerset Isles looks like the kind of place the people of Tamriel might vacation if they’d made a killing in the soul gem business, with vineyards (prepare for a bittersweet flashback to The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine), hanging plants and a crystal tower that definitely isn’t in any way phallic.

Of course, as any good HBO miniseries will tell you, behind the perfectly manicured scenery lies intrigue, drama, and serial killings. It also packs a checklist of features: a new Psijic skill line, jewelry crafting (amazing news if you just can’t find the right brooch to match your helmet), a new 12 player trial, along with lots of other smaller treats to make the $30 price for a new expansion sting a bit less.

I only went hands-on for a couple of hours—barely enough time to make sure my slottable items were properly organized—but that was enough to give me the impression that the Elder Scrolls Online team are up there with some of the hardest working in the business.

I should have been a good reporter and headed off on the main quest line, guided by everyone’s favorite Khajiitt Razum-dar, but I got distracted by a murder mystery at a local vineyard. I did manage to start one of the bigger plotlines in the expansion, smashing up Skaafins in an Undercroft for the quest ‘The Queen’s Decree’ with the Psijic mage Valsirenn, which had a distinct odor of Daedric Princes and treachery about it all. In the space of 30 minutes there was a “life sucking pearl,” political drama, murder and an anecdote about pudding tarts.

I was supposed to be whacking on an elegant outfit and infiltrating an important meeting when I wandered off to the Ghost Of Green case. You can watch it play out in the video above.

Forget the demands of local royal Queen Ayrenn, her gaunt accomplices or her khajiitt emissary who may or may not have featured in a number of my sexual fantasies. Or that whole Daedric thing—nothing screams "living fantasy dreams" like doing your best Miss Marple impression among the grapevines while decked out in heavy armor. 

It was a quest called "Old Wounds," starring a pair of elven Jurisreeves (we muggles would call them investigators) who are 90% cheekbones, and a killer called the Ghost of the Green, supposedly dealt with but now returned and killing innocents with his signature wood elf arrow to the heart. This being ESO, my part in it all was less finding fingerprints or sending off forensics and more searching the fields for clues, finding chatty bystanders, observing magical rites and reading extensive exposition from everyone in sight. And damn it was satisfying following every lead, bringing it to a satisfying end and being patted on the head by all involved. Honestly, this stuff is crack for people-pleasers. 

It was one of those perfectly formed ESO side missions that seems like a quick diversion and ends up leading you through impressively ornate locations and plot lines while quietly eating up two hours of your limited life. Did I encounter bugs while trying to fight my way through the corridors of the Red Temple? Yes. Is that par for the course with any early preview of an MMO? Hell yes. You haven’t known the privilege of early access until you’ve had a concerned-looking producer leaning over your shoulder, running one hand nervously through their hair and asking if you’ve tried logging in and out again. 

What is a good sign is that a simple side quest ended up just as attractive and diverting as the main storyline, which is a credit to the writing and depth of this latest expansion. That bodes well for Summerset Isle and its life sucking properties. The expansion is out on June 5.