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ESO Gold Road Review: A Fate Well Written In A Glittering Return To Cyrodiil

ESO: Gold Road delivered its best-written characters, thrilling story encounters and moments, and a stunning West Weald region to explore to our hearts' content.
ESO Gold Road Review: A Fate Well Written In A Glittering Return To Cyrodiil
ZeniMax Online Studios

Developer ZeniMax Online Studios celebrated the tenth anniversary of The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO), headlined with the launch of the Gold Road chapter. This expansion continues from last year's Necrom chapter, of which some story threads continue to be explored in the West Weald region as players embark on a quest to find the Daedric Prince Ithelia.

After Gold Road was officially announced, players were anxious to see if it could follow up post-Necrom. Much to their surprise, the writing, combat, and introduction of the scribing system were stellar additions to the long-running title.

Unraveling The Strings Of Golden Fate

Every expansion that ZeniMax Online Studios and Bethesda Game Studios have released for ESO have been self-contained stories that didn't rely too heavily on previous releases for immersion. This had been the case until last year's Necrom, as Gold Road continued specific story beats and elements that remained unanswered from the Telvanni Peninsula and Apocrypha.

The Zone questline starts with the free Prologue quest and picks up following the closing moments from the Necrom chapter. (Picture: ZeniMax Online Studios)

Starting with the Prologue quest, a prominent NPC returns to assist in finding one of Ithelia's known followers. This continues in Gold Road's Zone questline, which was brilliantly written, as the Daedric Prince plays a more pivotal role and is one of ESO's best-developed characters to date.

Without providing too many spoilers, Ithelia poses a massive threat to reality according to Hermaeus Mora, the Daedric Prince of Knowledge. His proxy is sent to Skingrad to aid players in finding Ithelia; as a Daedric cult, the Recollection gains prominence in the Dawnwood subregion and may be tied to the commotion occurrence in the jungles.

Uncovering how the Recollection came to be, the strange occurrences in Dawnwood and Ithelia's character development felt better constructed than past Zone questlines, bar perhaps Necrom. The intrigue behind both Ithelia and the Recollection's motives was thrilling to unravel, though some plot points suffered from being somewhat predictable. The cowardice actions of King Nantharion, and the Bosmer's lack of involvement which led to a disappointing conclusion of Gold Road's Zone questline despite a fantastic final boss encounter.

All Roads Lead To West Weald

After introducing the Telvanni Peninsula and Apocrypha as new locations for ESO in the Necrom, ZeniMax takes a slight backstep in allowing players to revisit a fan-requested location. We return to Cyrodiil for Gold Road, exploring the greater West Weald region, which certainly didn't disappoint as we spent hours admiring its golden beauty throughout our explorations.

Immediately, the first objective after arriving in West Weald is to explore every inch of this incredibly stunning region, which is split into three unique subregions: the Gold Road, of which Skingrad City is at its epicenter; the Colvian Highlands to the north; Dawnwood in the south. Exploring every inch of West Weald is mesmerizing and unique to behold as not only did this aid the immersion, but it helped discover most of the Wayshrines, locate the Skyshards, identify the Points of Interest (POIs), accidentally start side quests, and find oneself caught in a Mirrormoor Mosaic unprepared. 

Each location throughout West Weald feels distinct by design and rich and visceral to explore, from the golden landscapes of Skingrad City to the scorched and barren fields in Wildburn and the densely rich green yet tropical environments of Dawnwood. Speaking of the Dawnwood subregion, players will first arrive here during the Zone questline to investigate what caused the destruction of homes and roads and the loss of lives in Ostumir.

One of the game's favorite inclusions is the exploration of Ayelid Ruins which adds more intriguing lore and has great value toward the Zone questline. (Picture: ZeniMax Online Studios)

Despite its tragedy, we couldn't help but marvel at how rich, lush and green Ostumir was. The large trees adorned the dense forest areas akin to lighthouses at the end of the bay, the grassy fields cleverly hide smaller enemies which caught us off-guard when venturing into Vashabar, and the ruins left behind are squeezed by vines and roots.

In Gold Road, there are plenty more Ayleid Ruins to locate and explore, which remain a wonderful addition when not actively completing the Zone and Scribing quests. But what makes the Ayleid Ruins so much more important than other locales across West Weald is the lore implications concerning the Forgotten Prince, Ithelia, which we won't spoil.

More specifically, the Ayelid Ruin of Elenglynn from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion returns in this expansion and bears great significance to the Zone questline. 

What became a slight nuisance during our explorations, which we briefly alluded to, was accidentally finding ourselves amid a Mirrormoor Mosiac for its World Event. There are a few static locations throughout West Weald, and the earliest occurrence for us was during the first Zone quest when heading to Ostumir; we had to reset at the nearest Wayshrine or carefully tip-toe around the area to continue the quest as we felt slightly underpowered at the time to challenge the World Event bosses.

In this World Event, four static locations can be discovered in each corner of West Weald and players can step onto the battlefield and challenge Daedric enemies to summon its Champion. The mechanics for this World Event made them distinctively different from previous events and and some of the rewards earned are for the new in-game mechanic, the Scribing system.

To Scribe Or Not To Scribe...

The Gold Road chapter marked the launch of a brand new combat-centric in-game mechanic, Scribing, which allows players to customize new skills that best suit their gameplay style.

Before players can utilize this mechanic, they will be given a full walkthrough during its questline, starting with The Second Era of Scribing quest, where they can explore a then-unknown location and investigate "the secrets of the past." Along the way, they'll unlock new skills, Scripts, and Skill Styles.

The Scribing system was formally introduced with the Gold Road chapter as a means of adding unique skills to enhance builds and playstyles further. (Picture: ZeniMax Online Studios)

The mechanic itself is a massive inclusion to ESO, changing gameplay combat and how players approach class builds. However, the Scribing questline sometimes felt repetitive and very grind-like, especially where it sent players across West Weald completing objectives before returning to the Scribing altar to scribe new artifacts and gain new skills.

All the Scribing skills unlocked through the mechanic are weapon, guild, or World Skill-related. The mechanic is still in its infancy, having just been released, but in its current state it feels lackluster, especially for specific classes and builds that won't have a great need for them.

Examples would be the Necromancer and the Arcanist class, the latter of which was released with the Necrom chapter last year. Its abilities alone deal massive amounts of damage without needing or using a Scribing skill, ultimately making it pointless for certain classes. One of our biggest hopes is for the later baddition of class-based Scribing skills for a more significant impact when building the best well-rounded character. 

Final Thoughts & Closing Statements

Gold Road is another stellar success for ESO following the Necrom chapter, and made Ithelia one of the most interesting and complex characters depicted in the MMORPG thus far. While this Daedric Prince got plenty of screen time to shine, the chapter's conclusion fell flat given how well the rest of the storyline was crafted.

The Scribing mechanic felt somewhat incomplete at launch as specific class builds will feel no need for them immediately; the system has a lot of promise moving forward, given the developer's commitment to more plans in store. Despite this, some skills are quite interesting to explore and experiment with for certain builds.

The Mirrormoor Incursions World Event offers unique gameplay elements that players haven't seen in past events as they must fight off waves of Daedric enemies to face against its Champion. (Picture: ZeniMax Online Studios)

West Weald is a marvel to observe, enhancing and recapturing locales from previous Elder Scrolls entries. Much like the Necrom chapter, Gold Road features a few too many quests, which became increasingly difficult to keep track of, especially when trying to complete the Zone and Scribing questlines. The latter of which started strong but became tiresome as we progressed.

With a well-written Zone questline, exciting boss encounters, a stunning new region, and a compelling character in Ithelia, Gold Road contains some of the best content ZeniMax has released in the ten years of ESO. However, some key aspects, such as the Scribing system, feel incomplete. But we believe it'll be worth revisiting with a few more updates under its belt. 

The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road Chapter - The Verdict:
ESO: Gold Road boasts an exceptionally well-written storyline, a compelling main character, scenic landscapes, and a World Event worth sinking your teeth into. However, the Scribing system feels incomplete but has the potential to become a useful mechanic with time and effort.
The review code was provided by the publisher.
Reviewed on PC