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On a guided tour through Scribes of Fate – the latest DLC for The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda’s ongoing and successful online role-playing game, annually has a narrative focus that spans the entire calendar year. For 2023 is the theme Shadow over Morrowind and the update that kicks off the story is the dungeon DLC Scribes of Fate. The saga will continue this summer with the expansion Necrom.

Scribes of Fate contains two dungeons, each complete with its own quest, challenges, rewards and achievements, and more. In one, Scrivener’s Hall, you will help a secret society of Hermaeus Mora worshipers regain control of the sect. And in the second adventure, Bal Sunnar, you help an agent of the Psijic order investigate a temporal anomaly in the hidden village of Bal Sunnar. Both are self-contained adventures with self-contained little stories. Although they contain clues and details that tie them to the overall story of the year – Shadows over Morrowind.

Adventure with professionals

I had the opportunity to be escorted through Scribes of Fate along with key people from the development team at Zenimax Online, the studio that built and maintains The Elder Scrolls Online. Mike Finnigan, lead encounter designer, was the shield of the group and tanked all the bosses and monsters with his necromancer. Shane Slama, senior designer, put arrows in the eye of everything that moved with efficient precision and Jeremy Sera, lead content designer, made sure we stayed alive – until he disconnected. They all had great equipment and were significantly higher level than me. But what really impressed me was how coordinated and skilled they were at the game. Here were people who actually play the game they work on.

The time I had with the gentlemen from Zenimax was limited, so I was given the honor of choosing which dungeon they would guide me through. Naturally, I chose Scrivener’s Hall, as Hermaeus Mora is one of the more interesting gods in The Elder Scrolls. The adventure begins in a cave in The Rift, where we meet the cult Scribes of Mora who map Oblivion for their god Hermaeus Mora. We are tasked with stopping their fanatical and warlike leader Valinna, so that the cult can return to its peaceful work.

Read more about Scrivener’s Hall on the game’s official website.

The art of building good dungeons

We head deeper into the cult’s caves and run into a couple of Valinna’s loyal members. In the heat of battle, I note tentacles being thrown from one of the enemy’s hands and another being surrounded by green runes. Details I directly associate with the new Arcanist class, which becomes available in the Necrom expansion. Finnigan explains that while we can’t play the Arcanist yet, they wanted to show off a bit of the class so fans have something to look forward to.
“It’s so cool,” says Shane Slama. “Arcanist has things that really make it stand out.”

The passages in the underworld eventually lead us to the cult’s library and the cave’s first boss, Riftmaster Naqri. This beefy librarian has an exciting twist on his mechanics. In whirlwinds of books and parchments, and against evil magic, we need to find selected books in the library and push them back to the bookshelves. If you don’t, it will be difficult to survive. I love combat mechanics and on this front Zenimax has really improved over the years.

Scrivener's Hall, Zenimax Studios, Bethesda 2023.
Scrivener’s Hall, Zenimax Studios, Bethesda 2023.

“It’s really not easy,” admits Mike Finnigan, laughing. “We iterate on different ideas to find a mechanic that fits the boss and the environment. But unfortunately it is not possible to use all the ideas we have.”
“But it’s nothing that gets thrown away,” Shane Slama clarifies. “We save any concept we come up with because it can be used in the future in other content.”
Finnigan goes on to say that their team has several designers who specialize in creating bosses. They all have different ways of chiseling out a given boss. Some use the story as a template, while others start from a mechanical function.

With the first boss killed, the adventure escalates and we make our way to the Deadlands via a portal under a particularly impressive statue of Hermaeus Mora. The explorer in me wants to deviate from the group when I saw a smaller passage off to the side. But Finnigan stops me, “that’s something you get to explore after release.”
He explains that it is important to them that dungeons appeal to all types of players. Combative and efficient players can run from battle to battle without a problem. Although they want players interested in the story to also enjoy the adventure, through dialogues, notes and environmental narration. And for explorers like me, they implement alternate paths and secrets.
“The development of these additions varies from dungeon to dungeon,” says Shane Slama, senior designer at Zenimax Online. “But we always try to add something extra.”

The volcanic caves we are in lead to a large underground hall and I am reminded of how amazing the environments are The Elder Scrolls Online. This hall also gives a visual preview of the second boss. As we chase down the boss, Finnigan points out some luminescent bugs that can be stepped on. Despite the fact that squashing insects goes against my values, I try to walk over one and – after the critter explodes in a vile goo – get a speed boost. They explain to me that this subtle effect is a necessary clue to survive the next boss.
“We try to introduce new mechanics to players before they need to use them,” says Mike Finnigan, lead encounter designer at Zenimax Online.
And of course it’s true, because during the second boss I had to stomp a lot of creeps to death for us to win.

Scrivener's Hall, Zenimax Studios, Bethesda 2023.
Scrivener’s Hall, Zenimax Studios, Bethesda 2023.

Superb overall, fantastic adventure

The final stage of Scrivener’s Hall is a dizzying battle through a brand new environment – ​​Mephala’s home Spired Skein! This world looks like no other in The Elder Scrolls Online and shows how talented the artists at Zenimax Online are. The final boss, Valinna, is an epic battle that takes place in several different rooms and ends on a narrow cliff. I was ecstatic!

Overall, the fingertip feel for storytelling, environment design, and adventure is well balanced. Compared to, for example, Spindleclutch, one of the game’s first dungeons, is Scribes of Fate on a completely different level. Do you love adventure in The Elder Scrolls Online and looking for a new kick, I can highly recommend Scribes of Fate. Both the dimension hopping in Scrivener’s Hall and the time travel in Bal Sunnar offer interesting storylines, cool battles and exciting environments.

If you are wondering if you have to buy Scribes of Fate to appreciate the story in the upcoming expansion Necromthen you don’t have to worry. Scribes of Fate are self-contained adventures although they contain clues to the overall story.
“When we sit down to start working on dungeon DLC, we ask ourselves: what will the player know after they complete them?” says Mike Finnigan. “When we have the answer to that question, we create a story that can then stand on its own legs.”
So you won’t miss out on any important details if you skip this DLC. However, you miss out on two awesome adventures!

Scribes of Fate dungeon DLC is out now to The Elder Scrolls Online on PC and Mac. On March 28, the package also arrives for Playstation and Xbox. Scribes of Fateas well as all other previous DLC are included in the The Elder Scrolls Online Plus Membership (the game’s monthly subscription), but can otherwise be purchased separately for 1500 Crowns if you don’t have a membership.

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