Telvanni And Tentacles: How The Elder Scrolls Online Decided On Necrom’s "Cosmic Horror Vibe"

Morrowind is quintessentially Elder Scrolls. There’s an entire elven species cursed with ash-coated skin because three among them rose to godhood and challenged the natural order; their nation itself is threatened by a looming volcano that seeks to drown them in that same ash; and an asteroid is floating above the Poet God's city, only held in place by his will. All the hallmarks of TES bleed into Morrowind, from its bizarre lore to its fascination with mortal divinity, so it’s no wonder we keep going back there, whether in Skyrim’s DLC or The Elder Scrolls Online. This year, we’re revisiting a part of Morrowind we haven’t seen since 1994—Necrom.

“Necrom is this ancient city, the City of the Dead, where a lot of prominent Dunmer houses bury their dead in elaborate ceremonies,” The Elder Scrolls Online’s creative director Rich Lambert tells me. “It was rumoured to be founded before the Tribunal was even created, rumoured to have been built upon the bones of this giant creature that Vivec slayed way back in the day, and we were able to take a lot of those elements and put them into the city. When you first come into the city, you cross over this giant cavern and see these rock spires that are sticking out if you look the right way. You could see how people would interpret that as the bones and ribs of this giant creature.”

ESO’s base game took us to Morrowind and a later expansion took us to Vvardenfell, making this our third trip to the home of the Dunmer, but this was a choice that came about naturally when trying to find a match for the Daedric realm we’re also visiting. “When you look at High Isle, it was this almost idealistic island chain, [it] was a more grounded storyline in terms of politics and noble houses, and it was very traditional fantasy. We decided really early on that we wanted to blow the doors off that and do the complete opposite [for Necrom],” Lambert says. “We landed on the Daedric Prince Hermaeus Mora, this Lovecraftian creature focused on knowledge and secrets, and when looking for a place in the world that would mesh with them, we landed on the Telvanni Peninsula because it’s the home to the most powerful mages in all of Tamriel. We thought those fit really well together, and the aesthetic of Morrowind also fit with this cosmic horror vibe.”

Much of Necrom and its quest, and how the team is expanding on the Daedric realm of Apocrypha, are shrouded in mystery so as to not spoil our adventures, but we did get a detailed look at the new Hermaeus Mora class – the Arcanist.

The first new class since Elsweyr’s Necromancer, Arcanists pull from ancient forbidden knowledge and hidden tombs to summon tentacle arms that would make Micolash jealous, while also being able to conjure portals that let them leap around the arena as they fight. Other classes have fallen into generic fantasy archetypes in terms of aesthetic, but this is visually distinct to The Elder Scrolls, and completely new for Online. It uses something called Crux, which allows you a set number of points to spend on spells to make them more effective, pushing you to be more selective with your abilities in battle.

Lambert tells me about the conscious decisions that went into making the Arcanist feel different to other classes, particularly with how it consciously accounts for weaving, a mechanic in which you blend abilities with light and heavy attacks to deal more damage. “There are some abilities that are channelled,” he says, “So you have to slow down a little bit to use them, and adding the Crux component on top of that, some abilities will do more damage and have a little bit more utility.

“Some heals can be morphed into spenders and when healed with them, they also return stamina and magicka. It’s this really wide, deep toolkit that will hopefully be very easy for players to pick up and give them a lot of opportunity. They can spend a lot of time trying to master things because now it’s not just ‘Go through a rote rotation,’ it’s ‘How much Crux do I have? Is it worth spending it this time? Or do I wait until I get another one?’ It’s more cerebral in that regard, which has been really refreshing and a lot of fun to play.”

What drew my eye most in the Arcanist overview trailer were the portals. They were seamless as players ripped open fabrics of reality to appear in another spot, now behind an enemy and ready to strike. It’s a far cry from the other portals in-game which require you to press a button and watch as your character goes through an animation before being put into a loading screen.

“We’re still working on it,” Lambert says. “There’s a lot we’re still working on and fine-tuning and tweaking. That particular ability has had a lot of iteration over time, we’re in the testing phase with it right now. And I’m sure there’s going to be more iteration as we start to explore what creative players could do with it. But we’ve been working on this class for over a year now, so it’s been a long time in development.”

As the interview was coming to a close, there was one question that I had to raise – we’re visiting Apocrypha, the same place we fought Miraak in Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC. He’s been there a long time, since the Merethic Era (which is way before even ESO). So, going back to Apocrypha, I asked if we’d meet him again.

“We’ll just let you figure that out as you go and explore the world.”

I’ll take that as a maybe. There’s hope for us Miraak fans, yet.

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