The Elder Scrolls Online: The Gold Road Review – About the Journey, Not the Story

The Elder Scrolls Online: The Gold Road Review - About the Journey, Not the Story

This review contains minor spoilers for Elder Scrolls Online: The Gold Road.

I have been playing ESO on and off since launch. For 10 years I have been questing through the world and uncovering stories of different lands. I have ventured through Coldharbour, battled dragons in Elsweyr, fought through harrowstorms in Western Skyrim and lost my ESO husband to the stupid Deadric Prince, Meridia. I have experienced elation and heartbreak, joy and frustration; a myriad of emotions brought on by the wonderful storytelling (and only sometimes by the frustrating mechanics). 


As I played through the latest ESO expansion, Gold Road, only one emotion bubbled to the surface: disappointment. The story is bland, the characters are one-dimensional and the dialogue feels like it was AI-generated. Bethesda has created this absolutely stunning landscape for the expansion and unfortunately, I don’t care about anything that resides within it. 

That sounds like a very bold statement to make at the start of a review, but it’s true. And the reason I speak so harshly is because I absolutely love this game. ESO is one of the few MMOs where I play it for the story, and not for connection with other people. When I played through the base story and met the amazing characters, I was instantly in love. The story had plot, it had drama, it had flirting with a handsome man who loves gnawing on loaves of bread – it had everything I could have ever wanted! And whilst not every expansion has been so consistently phenomenal, I return to every new iteration hoping this will be the one that recaptures that feeling. Unfortunately, Gold Road didn’t deliver. 

The story unravels in West Weald, where a group of Bosmer (the Recollection) are trying to restore a Daedric Prince to glory in the hopes it will help them reclaim lands long lost to the Imperials. The story has all the bones of a good time – there’s political drama, suspicious deaths, creatures dropping out of the sky to wreak havoc and there’s a BRAND NEW FREAKING DAEDRIC PRINCE. Yet try as I did, I couldn’t become invested in any of it. The plot was fragile at best, twists and turns were obvious and seen a mile away. The characters lacked personality, the voice acting was lacklustre. There came a part at the end where you’re led to believe two characters had died, and I didn’t give a shit. Not only because they were boring, and probably better off dead, but because nothing else in that expansion had led me to believe the story would deliver on such an interesting plot point.

The most interesting quest in the whole game was a side quest where you discover the lore and background behind Ithelia, the new Daedric Prince. This sets her up to be such an interesting character and then at no point does it deliver. Ithelia has a rich and wonderful story behind her, but the supporting villains working alongside her are such transparent, tedious characters to witness, that it pulls away from anything cool Ithelia may achieve. 

Whilst I wasn’t a fan of the story of Gold Road, there is a lot that this expansion gets right. The brand-new area of West Weald is absolutely gorgeous. The city hub is steeped in historical Imperial architecture and culture, but step outside its gates and you’ll encounter sprawling wineries nestled against a lush jungle and bordered by a barren wasteland of death. Each area has its own distinct atmosphere, and I found myself wandering the map in awe as I tried to explore all of it. 

Like a magpie distracted by shiny things, I often found myself diverted from my goal as I ran around the map, and too often I stumbled face-first into death at the hands of the new world events; Incursions. Incursions are the first world events where I felt like I had to jump in and help every time they cropped up; not to help the world around me, but for the purely selfish purpose of ‘if I don’t, all these enemies will kick my ass’. Unlike world events from previous games, where you could run straight through it and survive, these spawn enemies and environmental effects in a large radius around the event. It really made you feel like the Incursions mattered and encouraged people to jump in and help stop them. They’re chaotic, they’re flashy, and until you do a few of them you’ll have no idea what’s going on – but that’s what makes them great.

Though I didn’t feel like any of the quests or story bosses were particularly well-written, what I did love about them was that they were mechanically different from the other games. The story bosses are some of the more mechanically dense ones in the series so far, requiring more than just a hack-and-slash approach if you want to be victorious. Stuff like this really modernises ESO and I love seeing the team expand on their battle mechanics. 

Quests are also more varied in Gold Road – one, in particular, requires you to repair ballistas and stop an army advance. To my dismay, your success in this quest is guaranteed, no matter how you perform. If you miss with the ballista, the enemies wait at the gates – standing perfectly still and awaiting their death. One of the characters mentioned that soldiers trapped outside the base had perished because I didn’t save them in time, but this was never brought up again and I suffered no consequences for my actions. 

Another area where Gold Road does absolutely shine is the introduction of the new skill; Scribing. Scribing has no skill line, it is levelled up through quests and rewards you with a myriad of brand-new skills and spells. Scribing has kicked open the door for new and exciting class builds, allowing players to really bust through the meta and pick skills that complement their playstyle and their character. Though Scribing seems unfathomably complicated at first, it’s one of those things you get the hang of the more you do it. I love the creativity and originality this will bring to battles in the game, and can’t wait to see what people create.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road ultimately left me disappointed. It has certainly paved the way for more dynamic gameplay and interesting battle mechanics, but the shallow storyline and lamentable writing was hard for me to look past. Whilst I won’t be in any hurry to redo the story with my other characters, the new skill and world events (plus the fact that you can now pat the dogs!) do make the game worth picking up … when it goes on sale. 


ESO: The Gold Road was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher. 

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