Making Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle’s Never-Before-Seen Area Was A Different But Welcome Challenge

The Elder Scrolls Online continues to evolve, offering players a chance to see the continent of Tamriel hundreds of years prior to the events of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. With the game’s most recent expansion, High Isle, developer ZeniMax Online Studios added a brand-new area to the Elder Scrolls universe, exploring never-before-seen lore.

“It’s a different kind of challenge when we get to create something brand-new, especially when there’s no previous game lore,” The Elder Scrolls Online creative director Rich Lambert told GameSpot. “It’s an exciting but very different challenge, creating something and then trying to make it fit into a well-established world.”

Lambert explained that there’s a process when it comes to developing the world and setting of The Elder Scrolls Online, with the team working closely with Bethesda Game Studios (which helms the direction of the mainline Elder Scrolls games) with every new expansion. According to Lambert, ZeniMax Online Studios had “garnered a lot of trust over the years” and the two teams have a “deep respect for each other.”

“When it comes to creating our own version of an existing area, it can be challenging to try to interpret something our way while then making sure we still check off all those necessary boxes,” Lambert said. “We really love the challenge of being able to do both.”

High Isle represents a noticeable narrative and environmental shift in comparison to recent expansions for The Elder Scrolls Online. The area is smaller and the overarching problem you’re trying to solve–setting right some political upheaval among the Breton nobility of the Systres Archipelago–doesn’t have world-ending consequences. It’s a more grounded tale.

“The shift came because we were getting a little bored of that [apocalyptic] story arc as developers, and High Isle harkened back to our storytelling roots–the team crafted a lot of grounded, personal stories at [The Elder Scroll Online’s] launch, and that’s one of the reasons players enjoyed the game so much,” Lambert said. “We had the chance here to flex our creative muscles in a different way, and I think the team really killed it. And as far as players seeing more stories like this moving forward goes–only time will tell!”

Lambert continued: “[And] when we create new stuff, we take a look back at what we built. For instance, Elsweyr, Greymoor, and Blackwood all have very different stories and biomes. With High Isle, we wanted to switch up the formula and do something different and distinct again. Part of that switch up is to stay away from monotony–we don’t want to make the same thing over again. That’s boring for us, and it’s boring for the players. But the other part of it is that we want everything we create to be memorable, and that’s a huge part of the process.”

With High Isle now out, ZeniMax Online Studios is hard at work on The Elder Scrolls Online’s next chapter, scheduled to launch in 2023. “We have tons of stuff that we still want to do, and we’re going to support [The Elder Scrolls Online] for as long as people want to play it,” Lambert said. “It takes a long time to build this stuff, and we’re already hard at work on next year’s chapter.”

The Elder Scrolls Online is available for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, and Stadia. The game is also available via Xbox Game Pass.

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