Graven Deep is a corrupt dungeon defined by stunning Dwemer architecture, rife with the living dead and an atmosphere ravaged by time. Rather than playing with randoms as you usually do, I had some of The Elder Scrolls Online team to walk me through it all. Our adventure was initially slow and ponderous until we reached a lever, our guides gathering us round to talk about what we’d seen thus far and the ambitions of the Lost Depths. But my muscle memory kicked in, and I yanked the lever the second I saw it. Whoops. Suddenly we were falling down a giant, gaping metal pit, landing in a Rapture-like underwater city. It was breathtaking, if a little embarrassing.
Yet this spontaneous action showcased the DLC’s ambition like nothing else could. This dungeon is one of ESO’s greatest to date because it’s clear that the team let loose and brought their wildest and most experimental ideas to the forefront. The ocean floor sits just outside the window with ghostly sailors banging on the glass; lasers can be manipulated to fend off bosses and would-be challengers; magic shields are used to walk across the seabed, letting us see this underwater city from the outside, and old enemies resurface with completely new patterns and techniques. It’s refreshing and exciting because even after nearly ten years, ESO isn’t done with surprising us.
The Lost Depths is the MMO’s newest dungeon pack, bringing us the Earthen Root Enclave and Graven Deep. These both continue High Isle’s Legacy of the Bretons storyline as we uncover the world of Druids and pirates in more depth than ever before – those same Druids that haven’t been touched on since way back in the ‘90s with Daggerfall. Finally, they’re getting their dues in modern times and they’re so distinct from the other factions despite being so entrenched in nature like the wood elves. They feel almost otherworldly in comparison.
Lore aside, the preview’s highlight was how different the bosses felt to most of what’s come before. ESO is usually very slow and methodical with brutish hulks for boss fights. Playing as a tank, you normally have a simple enough time keeping aggro, relying on the healer to ensure smaller critters don’t take out the DPS’. As long as you stick to your role and play your part right, these fights are manageable and strategic. Graven Deep flips that on its head. One of the first bosses reminded me a lot of Artorias from Dark Souls, leaping around the arena and moving with incredible speed. He would scurry from point to point, forcing the tank to stay hyper focused and constantly reactive to the unfolding situation.
All the while, monsters emerge from pits in the ground that you’re tasked with sealing, giving everyone a distinct role. On normal difficulty, it was fairly simple still – dole out damage, plug the holes, roll away from red circles. Bish bash bosh. Veteran isn’t so easy as damage is upped, punishing you for the slightest of mistakes. With how much is going on and how fast the boss is, that makes Veteran feel like Veteran.
It pushes the challenge even further by bringing in all of our learned ESO knowledge up to this point while introducing all-new attacks. For returning players, this is a worthy challenge that puts your knowledge to the test, but it’s drip-fed in such a way that new players will be able to pick it up from this dungeon alone. ESO has always walked that fine line between accommodating new and old fans, and this is no exception.
Competitive players hellbent on the endgame content who live for farming dungeons and grinding out gear will find plenty to sink their teeth into, but I’m a lore diva so the nitty gritty mechanics escape me – I play ESO for its quests and story, and these two dungeons accommodate that in spades. The Dwemer have always been an interesting race from the ghosts of Morrowind’s winding towers to Skyrim’s steampunk constructs rocking through hallways, yet after over a decade of exploring their mysterious disappearance and the ruins they left behind, ESO gives us something new.
That’s an impressive feat. I’ve been tired of the Dwemer. Every ruin has started to blend together into one big mishmash of gold and stone with the same enemies littered in each corridor. I felt that fatigue in Skyrim, never mind ESO, so when we first entered the dungeon and I saw the same designs on display again, I thought it was going to be a repetitive retread. Then that lever came and whoosh, I got plunged into this lavish underwater glass city that was part aquarium, part BioShock, and part Atlantis, with the staples of TES’ mysterious dwarven race bringing it all together. This is the most exciting expansion of Dwemer culture since Blackreach.
The Druids were just as fascinating to behold. We’ve seen nature-based dungeons time and time again with the usual spriggans and wildlife making up the ranks of its enemies, but this manages to feel new. It taps into the spiritual nature of the Druid culture with faceless wooden ghosts and caves made out of branches and winding roots. It could have so easily fallen into the trap of being yet another wood elf dungeon, but it highlighted how much more one with nature the Druids feel, living among it rather than bending it to fit their needs.
These dungeons ooze character as much as the main expansions, proving that even after a decade, ESO has tricks up its sleeve and far more to offer. We’re not at the end just yet – if anything, it feels like Zenimax is just hitting its stride.