Musings on Blackwood

Musings on Blackwood

Y’all, I tried. I tried so hard to keep the posts I came up with for Blaugust this week to say on theme. However, when I finished the main story quest of The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood, the most recent expansion for ESO, any plan I theoretically had about staying on topic went right out the window, especially when I realized what the plot was leaving us with.

When we reach this point in a new expansion’s life, I often want to talk about the storyline, but I never have a very good place to do so. I can’t post about it on Twitter for fear of spoiling friends who haven’t gotten to that part yet. And while I could talk about it in one of my various Discord channels, large blocks of spoilered text can get a bit unwieldy.

But it just so happens I have a blog now, so where better to flail about this sort of thing?

Please note that there will be spoilers for The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood from this point on. If you wish to remain spoiler-free, do not read the rest of this entry.

Consider yourselves warned.

Are they gone….? Good.

So let’s begin.

The Gates of Oblivion

The overarching plot for this year in ESO is cumulatively titled The Gates of Oblivion, in which Mehrunes Dagon (whom you all may remember from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) is making his first attempt at invading Nirn.

(And yes, I did say first. Canonically, ESO takes place roughly about 800 years before the events of Oblivion.)

Over the course of the storyline, players and their companions learn that the Longhouse Emperors entered into a pact with Dagon to help him invade Tamriel as long as they got to rule it in his image. To accomplish this, the Four Ambitions were created, four beings imbued with Dagon’s power that would need to be sacrificed for the invasion to occur. Only a small number of the Imperial Court knew of this, something that would later be deemed the Emperor’s Secret.

This is how we as players are catapulted into the storyline, and the first section of the story involves attempting to learn what the Emperor’s Secret really is. Once we learn it’s tied to whatever the Four Ambitions are, players quickly realize they need to find them before Dagon’s cult, the Cult of the Waking Flame, does. Along the way, we’re reunited with old friends (Eveli Sharp-Arrow, a fan favorite), we meet some new ones, and thwart Dagon.

For now, at least.

The Four Ambitions

While the threat of Mehrunes Dagon was used as a major selling point for this story cycle and while we were told he’d feature prominently in the arc, so far, we’ve actually seen very little of him. In my opinion, the Four Ambitions are the real star of Blackwood as a significant portion of the plotline itself revolves around them.

Eveli (and by extension, the players) believe the Ambitions to be Daedric weapons of some kind at first. However, in the hunt to lay claim to the Ambitions before the Cult of the Waking Flame does, we come to learn the Ambitions are actually people locked away in separate vaults and given little portions of Dagon’s power over the years. Eventually, they would be sacrificed, and Mehrunes Dagon would use the resulting power spike to merge Tamriel and the Deadlands.

Basically, it’s bad news for all of Nirn if Dagon-worshippers get their hands on them.

Speaking for myself, I was genuinely not expecting the Ambitions to be people whatsoever. As I mentioned earlier, no one really knew what the Four Ambitions were. Eveli made the suggestion they were weapons, and that seemed about as likely as anything else to me. So imagine my surprise when we made our way through our first vault only to find twin siblings just hanging out inside.

We meet three of the four Ambitions in the course of the Blackwood arc: Imperial twins Destron and Calia, and the Nord Sombren. It’s up to us as the heroes of the storyline to keep them safe, and I will admit that parental instincts kicked in with regards to wanting to protect the three of them, especially Destron and Calia who had seen nothing of the world outside their Vault until Eveli and I broke them out.

I was a bit iffy on Sombren from the moment we met him, though. Eveli and I found him in the course of another quest chain, captured by the high priest of the cult and on the verge of being sacrificed to Dagon. We were left with several questions, too, as it came up that he had been outside of his Vault when the cult found him. I had assumed at first that maybe, just maybe, Sombren wasn’t really an Ambition at all. While I was wrong on that count, I was further concerned when he told us the mentor that helped him control his powers was a Daedra. Who lived in the Deadlands.

Fortunately, that one turned out to be a case of Sombren being a bit too trusting, but I will admit I was relieved when he realized he had been deceived.

I could ramble on for a lot longer about the Ambitions, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed running around with the three we met.

The Finale

Ultimately, though, it turns out the Cult is coming for the three Ambitions we’ve found, and we relocate to somewhere safer to confront them: a somewhat remote fort.

Sombren, having a firmer hold on his powers as an Ambition, takes it upon himself to protect the twins. Eveli and players head to meet up with them to help protect them.

Just in time for the high priest to show up, lure Destron out of Sombren’s protective shell by threatening his sister, and sacrifice him.

Which has the terrifying consequence of merging the fort and the area around it with part of the Deadlands. This means Mehrunes Dagon shows up at long last (and legitimately terrified me when he did).

Destron’s death breaks Calia, but with Sombren’s help, she channels her power into weakening the high priest just enough so players can ultimately defeat him and by extension, Mehrunes Dagon, who gets sent back to the Deadlands while the fort itself returns to Nirn proper.

And the world is saved. For now.

My Thoughts

First of all, that’s where they chose to leave things? Really?

Second of all, Destron’s death was a story beat I genuinely didn’t see coming, and while it shocked me, it didn’t have the same emotional impact as other major NPC deaths have had for me in previous expansions.

I think part of that came down to the fact that while the Ambitions were such a focal part of the storyline, we didn’t really spend a whole lot of time getting to know them. We knew their names and some very basic character traits of theirs, but we didn’t really get to know them as people.

Sombren is the only one of the three we meet that felt somewhat developed to me, but even with that, the only moment of his that really stood out to me was his poor choice in who to trust. The three of them felt a bit underdeveloped overall, and while I did want to protect them, I wasn’t sure if that was simply because of what they were or if it was because they were so new to the world itself.

That said, though, I am glad that Calia is going to get the training she needs to control her powers, and I’m glad she’s sticking with Sombren (who absolutely has a better handle on how his work). I don’t really approve of where they’re going to do it (back in the Deadlands), but I hope she and Sombren will be okay out there until we run into them again. I also hope the two of them seem more developed when we run into them again.

I have a slight worry in the back of my mind that whoever writes this particular storyline is going to have Calia and Sombren be in love when we see each other again. I hope I’m wrong.

And I haven’t even touched on some of the unresolved questions I still have.

Like with the high priest defeated, who becomes the main villain when the final part of the DLC storyline launches? Will it be another high priest? I hope not; that might feel a bit repetitive.

Will we be directly taking on a Daedric Prince again in the end? The last time we did anything like that was Summerset, so we’re a bit overdue at this point. Still, I’m not sure if that would have the same emotional resonance as taking on the others had. We’ll have to see, I suppose.

Also, what the hell has Lyranth been doing this entire time? From her appearance in the cinematics, I assumed she’d have a bit of a larger role in the story, but the last time she has any major story involvement is when she’s helping us escape after rescuing Sombren from being sacrificed, and then we don’t see her again until the obligatory “we saved the world” party at the end. We can’t even ask her about where she’s been by the time we see her again, either, which feels a bit frustrating overall.

More importantly, though, where is the fourth Ambition? Are they still in their Vault or are they free like Sombren was?

It’s strange to be going into the next phase of a story arc like this with what feels like a major plot thread unresolved. For the events of Greymoor and Elsweyr, the first part of the storyline usually feels resolved, even though we know we still have to defeat the main villain in whatever new DLC comes out in the latter portion of the year, but the first portion of the storyline still feels like it finished. This is the first time where it genuinely doesn’t, and that’s baffling to me.

I might feel slightly less concerned about it if we had some idea of where the fourth Ambition was by the end, but we do not. They’re still largely an unknown and I don’t think I like it.

Overall, while I’m looking forward to the second half of the storyline, this is the first major story arc this game has had that I feel a bit underwhelmed by. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but so far, it’s missing that little something that makes me feel more connected and invested in it.

Right now, I have my fingers crossed we’ll get that thing in the final DLC of the storyline, but only time will tell, I suppose.

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