Following a tease about a journey to a "never-before-seen world" in 2022, Zenimax Online Studios has revealed the next expansion coming to The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle will take players to the previously unexplored Systres Archipelago, a playground for society's elite and the location of diplomatic talks aimed at ending the Three Banners War.
High Isle will be part of The Elder Scrolls Online's next year-long adventure, The Legacy of the Bretons, which will dive deep into the descendants of the Nedic and the Aldmeri who make their home on High Rock. The Systres is located some distant from High Rock, though: According to the map included with The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard—the only place the archipelago has ever been referenced in Elder Scrolls canon—it lies in the Abecean Sea, roughly equidistant from Hammerfell to the northeast and Summerset Isle to the southeast.
"The Bretons are the one race that has never really had an opportunity to shine in the sun," Elder Scrolls Online creative director Rich Lambert told me in a recent chat. "They've never had a spotlight in any Elder Scrolls game. Even when we did bits and pieces of them in both Glenumbra and Stormhaven, we never really focused on their culture. So that was something we wanted to rectify."
The Bretons may not be the most exotic race in Tamriel—Lambert described the High Isle setting as "traditional medieval fantasy"—but they're a good fit for the upcoming adventure, which will have a very different flavor than much of the previous content.
"This year, with the stories we're telling and the visuals that we're showing, it's going to be a nice change of pace," Lambert said. "We've done a lot of 'cosmic threat'-type stories where Daedric princes are coming to destroy the world, and this is more grounded in reality and focused more on politics."
The narrative focus of this year's adventure is a high-level summit hosted by the Society of the Steadfast that aims to end the Three Banners War, the long-running conflict between the Ebonheart Pact, the Daggerfall Covenant, and the Aldmeri Dominion. But, just like in the real world, not everyone is quite so enthusiastic about the prospect of peace, and a mysterious group known as the Ascendant Order is, for reasons unknown, determined to throw the talks into disarray.
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle will begin in March with the Ascending Tide DLC, which will add two new dungeons and "set the tone and provide backstory" leading into the High Isle chapter itself, which will get underway in June. A pair of new companions, a Khajiit from the street named Ember and an aspiring Breton knight called Isobel, will also join the fray, and more dungeon and story DLC will be released later in the year, and both new and existing players will be able to access the expansion content at any point.
"The interesting thing about how we tell stories in Elder Scrolls Online is, we never advance time. Time is a construct of the player, and the player's journey through the world," Lambert explained. "And that sounds really weird, but it allows us to have players come in at any point over the course of the history of ESO and jump into the story, and the story always works, any which way. You don't have to grind your way through seven years of older content to get to the new stuff to play the new stuff, you can just jump in and play the new stuff."
Another big addition coming in 2022 is a collectible card game called Tales of Tribute that is played entirely within Elder Scrolls Online. The game will be playable just about anywhere in Tamriel—in taverns, through player-to-player challenges, and through group matchmaking—and will offer both PvP (including a ranked ladder) and a singleplayer storyline that can be advanced by challenging certain NPCs. Players will get four "starter decks" upon completing the Tales of Tribute tutorial and will unlock further "patron decks" and unique upgraded cards as they explore the game and complete related quests, and will earn rewards including cosmetics, furnishing items, crafting materials, and gold for winning matches.
"It's been something that I've always wanted to see come to Elder Scrolls Online," Lambert said. "One of the earliest things I remember ever pitching in ESO was tavern games, the concept of tavern games, where you go to an inn, you hang out, you meet people, you play games. That's one aspect of that, and we were finally able to not only have the time, but have the ability to build something like this."
"ESO is more than just questing and killing, especially over the last few years. We've started adding new systems that add to the breadth of the game, alternate activities, and this just seemed to fit right in with that whole—this is an alternate activity you can play that really helps flesh out the world and make it feel more like a virtual world rather than an MMO, so to speak."
One aspect of Tales of Tribute that separates it from most other CCGs is that newcomers will not be at a disadvantage—mechanically, at least—when they face off against players who have collected every card in the game. When a match begins, each player picks two of their decks to play: Those cards are all shuffled together, and both players play from the shared deck. "So it's more about your strategy, rather than, 'I have the best cards, I'm going to win all the time'," Lambert said.
As for whether Tales of Tribute will ever emerge, Gwent-like, from The Elder Scrolls Online into its own standalone game, that's a very long-distance proposition—but Lambert sounds hopeful. "My goal right now is, let's actually get the game done first, and then we'll go from there," Lambert said. "But I would be lying if I said I didn't think about that."
The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle is set to go live on June 6 for PC, and June 21 on consoles. To learn more, hit up elderscrollsonline.com.