In anticipation of the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online: Markarth DLC, we sat down with ZeniMax Online Studios Creative Director Rich Lambert for a quick chat.
Elder Scrolls Online has been steadily growing in size over the past six years since its original launch. Now boasting over 15 DLC packs and four full-length expansions across 28 updates, the Tamriel that players experience today is much more developed than it’s ever been before.
The world of Elder Scrolls Online is about to become a bit larger with the release of the upcoming 16th DLC pack, Elder Scrolls Online: Markarth. Announced on September 10, Markarth will conclude the year-long Dark Heart of Skyrim event that opened earlier in 2020. To commemorate the occasion, we sat down with Elder Scrolls Online Creative Director Rich Lambert for a chat about what ESO fans can look forward to in the coming months.
Gabriel Moss: How’s it going, Rich?
Rich Lambert: Hello, does this thing work? It works.
GM: Oh, yeah, so just go ahead and just from the top, update me on how Markarth is coming along.
RL: So, we’re really excited about this. Markarth is the next step I guess in what you’d call the culmination of this Dark Heart of Skyrim storyline that we have been telling over the course of this year. It is a story-based DLC. So what that means is, it is about 10 hours of new quest content that is centered in the Reach and Markarth. It is kind of the focal point there. Markarth obviously was in Skyrim. Our timeline is 1000 years in the past, so it’s going to feel a little bit different. It’s going to look a little bit different, but it’s still the same giant stone Dwemer fortress that’s built into the side of a mountain. It’s just the Reach people now that inhabit this area and control the city. And so it is, you know, in their kind of image, if you will.
GM: So do we see a lot of storylines from the perspective of the Reachmen?
RL: Yeah, so the main storyline is focused on this Dark Heart of Skyrim story but all of the side content in there is focused on the Reach and the people that live within there, which is really cool because up to this point in Elder Scrolls Online at least- and I’m pretty sure in most of TESO lore- the Reach people are always kind of portrayed as villains. And so we get to see a little bit about them, learn a little bit more about their culture and kind of who they are as a people which is really cool.
GM: So are there quest threads that are referred to in Skyrim that are going to be tapped on in Markarth?
RL: Um, not so much because we’re 1000 years in the past, but there are definitely locations and slight nods to, you know, the goings-on in Skyrim.
GM: Okay, so for someone who’s played Skyrim- like, what things are they going to notice right off the bat when they first enter Markarth the city?
RL: It’s that same kind of crazy layout. You know, when you first walk in there where, you know, it’s just, it’s that same look and feel. But because of the Reachmen there, there’s fetishes all over. There’s you know, tusks and all these other wild things in there. So it feels very different. And then as you kind of go around and explore the Reach outside, you’re going to come across familiar places. Karthwasten is one of those examples. You’re going to be able to go down into Blackreach and learn more about Blackreach and see what is being done under there, which is pretty cool. So it’s gonna feel very familiar, but it’s gonna be different.
GM: So exactly how much of the Reach is included in the greater zone that’s going to be added?
RL: Uh, what’s the best way to explain it? So I guess size-wise, it’s equivalent to some of the other story DLCs that we’ve done. So, like Murkmire, Clockwork City. It’s a pretty good chunk of that kind of, I guess it’s the southwestern corner of Skyrim. It encompasses the majority of that chunk.
GM: Is [the Reach] as labyrinthine as it is in Skyrim?
RL: I will say yes. It’s pretty cool. You know, Markarth, especially digging in into the city and going, you know, there’s only a small part that’s actually outside of the mountain and then there’s a huge portion in the mountain as well.
GM: What’re your favorite quests so far?
RL: I think Maelstrom Arena from Orsinium is my favorite piece of content we’ve ever done. I love the challenge. I love the constant kind of chase to improve my score and my times and whatnot. So there’s a really cool new solo arena coming, and it is essentially a story about the Reach and this is where they go to test their warriors. And so you’ll learn a little bit more about their warrior culture and whatnot, but you’re also going through this really cool new interesting space where you have a lot of choices about how you tackle the various arenas. There are three major wings and you choose the order that you go through them. There’s a bunch of new secrets in there. Really cool new mechanics. And then once you complete the three wings, it opens up the fourth final boss wing, and it’s just a bonkers boss battle at the end. So that’s the thing that I’m most looking forward to. And the story is pretty cool as well. I love it.
GM: So besides the new zone, what new features will Markarth bring with it that you can talk about?
RL: Well, there’s performance improvements. You know, that’s one of the things we’ve constantly been working on. So there’s some more of those. There are some small quality of life improvements in terms of the crafting UI and crafting writs. The big new feature is the item set collection system. And so I don’t know if you’re super familiar with ESO and how many item sets we have in-game?
GM: I have about 600 hours in, so I do!
RL: Oh, perfect. So you know, we have well over 500 item sets in the game, and it is almost impossible to collect them all. This new system that we’re putting in there is essentially a sticker book of sorts for non-crafted item sets. Okay, so once you collect one of those, and you bind it to yourself, you can deconstruct it. And because of this new system, and the sticker book, you can go in there and you can essentially recraft that item.
GM: So you’re saying if I get a dungeon set, I can basically break down that set improvement and then turn that into another crafted item.
RL: Well, basically what it’ll do is once you’ve collected that set, or that item, you won’t have to go back to that dungeon and regrind the dungeon and hope you get that drop because it’s in your sticker book and you can just recraft it at that.
GM: So, you mentioned performance improvements. But I’m curious about, like, are you ever going to do multi-core CPU support as well? Or is it just going to be server-side improvements?
RL: That is one of the things that we’ve been working on. So the rendering engine, I think it was two updates ago now. We did some initial kind of multi-threaded stuff in there. We’re still working on that. So yes, that stuff slowly coming in, as we kind of continue to chip away at performance.
GM: Is ESO gonna come to next-gen consoles as well?
RL: Yep, it is. What we’ve kind of announced up to this point is we are going to do a next-gen client. We’re not quite ready to talk about it yet, but at the launch of the consoles, you’ll be able to play Elder Scrolls Online in compat mode.
GM: Okay, very cool. Very cool. Is ESO ever going to have cross-play compatibility as well?
RL: We get that question a lot. And it is not an easy problem to solve. You know, we made some decisions 13 years ago now- 2007 when we started building the game- that aren’t easily, you know, changeable at this point. And then also the game has been live for six years now. And each of the mega servers has its own unique community and more importantly, own unique economies. And so trying to merge all of those kind of into one thing is a huge challenge. So right now, it’s kind of not in the cards for us.
GM: So now that you bring up the economy, are there plans to support a universal auction house or like something a bit more nuanced than just the guild traders?
RL: You know, we’ve had lots of back and forth internally about that. We really like the concept of, you know, individual trade hubs. And, you know, I think that the guild traders do that for us. You know, again, we keep kind of going back and forth and having those discussions right now, we’re pretty set on the guild traders, but who knows?
GM: Okay, that’s a good response. Now, do you have any plans to add places like Riverwood, or Whiterun after this? Or is it that you’re done with Skyrim after Markarth?
RL: Oh, how do I answer that? You know, future stuff is I think, I guess the best way that I can kind of talk about that without spoiling things or anything is we’ve slowly been filling the world out over the last six years.
GM: Yeah, yeah.
RL: So there are places on the map we haven’t gone to yet. There are still a few places that we can go to. We also have the nearly infinite realms of Oblivion to plan. Yes. So there are lots of places we could go. Certainly. I mean, that’s one of them. Sure. But there are lots of places we could go. And so we have to- one of the things we try to do when figuring out where to go next is ‘What haven’t we done? What haven’t we done in a while? How do we make the next thing feel different?’ And so that plays a big part in kind of what we do and where we go next.
GM: That’s fair. What else have you not talked about Markarth yet that you want to expound upon?
RL: I think I think we covered the big bits. I think the last thing that I don’t think I touched on is the prologue quest. It officially goes on tomorrow [September 19], and that is the start of this kind of fourth-quarter storyline. And this prologue quest is pretty cool. It brings back a character from Rivenspire that you kind of had grown to admire if you’d done that storyline. And he comes back with a secret and the secret kind of flips hat you know about this person on its head.
GM: Is this the same character from Greymoor that I’m thinking of?
RL: No, this is I mean, we tell you who it is in when you watch the stream and whatnot, but it’s Verandis Ravenwatch from Rivenspire. And so he’s coming back. He’s got a story and new secrets. And he basically is with you for the remainder of the year.
GM: Okay. Okay. Very cool. Alright.
GM: I think you’ve answered every question I had!
RL: Did I miss anything? I didn’t talk about the events. So yeah, Lost Treasures of Skyrim. This is a new event that kicks off next week. It is centered on- we’re focused on the Antiquity system. Which is something that we launched with Greymoor to a really overwhelming response, like we knew it was going to be something that players liked because it was focused on exploration and lore, which, you know, that’s what every Elder Scrolls player loves.
GM: [The Antiquity system is] like Candy Crush!
RL: Right, exactly, but we didn’t expect the reaction that we got, so we’re doing an entire event based around this. And essentially what this is, is a community-focused event where the more participation and the more antiquities that are dug up during the course of this event, the more cool rewards players are going to get. Including if they hit all of the goals on a brand new house.
GM: So is this similar to the event that was during Summerset where people could earn the Grand Villa?
RL: Yep. Also, like the event that we did with Elsweyr.
GM: Yeah, that one too. Yep. Yep.
RL: And then, in addition to that event that we also have Witches Fest coming up and New Life [Festival] and a new Undaunted event coming up. So there are lots of things to keep players busy over the course of the last quarter in addition to the DLC.
GM: Okay, excellent! That’s gonna be it for my questions. Thank you so much for your time!
RL: Thank you. Take care!
That’s it for our interview with Rich! If you’re interested in viewing the Dark Heart of Skyrim year-end preview event which is running right now, make sure to click the previous link or head directly over to the live Twitch stream. Elder Scrolls Online: Markarth is slated to launch on November 2 for Steam and Stadia users, and November 10 for Xbox One and PS4 users.