Packing enough Elder Scrolls adventure and lore into its massive online world to keep fans busy for years, The Elder Scrolls Online has defied the MMO downturn with huge player numbers and regular expansions to its story and scope. Now, new chapter Elsweyr brings a missing ingredient to Tamriel – dragons. Big, angry dragons!

Ever since World of Warcraft peaked at 12 million paying players and started its inevitable decline, people have been declaring the MMO game genre dead or dying. A lot of that’s got more to do with peoples’ attachments to these persistent online worlds being overtaken by games with more immediate rewards – let’s face it, the whole “open world” game fad owes a lot to the MMO, but can never quite replicate it. The MMO is a special kind of beast, however, a place where you create a character and then only do anything one time, for better or worse. Your character never truly dies (that would be bad for business, so resurrection is a universal skill) and the world continues to be active, changing and growing even when you’re not online. It’s like a giant global Tamagotchi with real people in it.

A lot of people take the term “MMO” (Massively Multiplayer Online) to mean games that must be played in groups, that you’ll need to have (or to build) an extensive network of friends just to get along in. But, increasingly, that’s not the case. WoW pioneered the idea of solo play in a multiplayer world, and over its five years of life so far, The Elder Scrolls Online has perfected it.

“It’s like a giant global Tamagotchi with real people in it.”

If you’re not familiar with ESO, think of it as a persistent online version of one of the most popular games of all time – Skyrim. ESO came out on the heels of that game’s success, took a while to find its feet, but now offers a very solo-player-friendly trip through the wider lands around that same game universe. And it’s a gorgeous game – huge, detailed and atmospheric zones, full of things to discover and long, story-driven quests to pursue, all of them fully voiced by pro actors (including big names like Bill Nighy, Kate Beckinsale, John Cleese and Peter Stormare). It’s a safe bet that anyone who loved exploring their way through Skyrim with all its janky beauty will find ESO to be like a second home – complete with extensive customisable player housing and a deep, complex crafting system.

The Elder Scrolls Online model is “buy to play” – in other words, you buy the game, and that’s all you need to pay to play it as long as you like. You can pay $15 per month for “ESO Plus” – arguably essential if you plan on getting deeply into the crafting side of things, just for the extras it provides, and also granting access to several older DLC zones that you can otherwise just buy separately. But in recent years, the focus has shifted to “chapters” to expand the game world and story. The first was a fresh journey into Morrowind from the third Elder Scrolls game, then last year Summerset opened up two large seaside zones full of high elves and magic. Both of those “chapters” functioned very much like WoW’s “expansions” – you’ve got to buy them separately.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elswyr

So this year we come to Elsweyr, the third “chapter” to be released, and a perfect time for anyone who hasn’t discovered Elder Scrolls Online to jump in. The reason? If you buy the retail Elsweyr disc, you don’t just get the new chapter – you get the base game and the two previous full-priced chapters, Morrowind and Summerset, all bundled together. That equates to literally hundreds of hours of play just from the solo element of the game, and if you start venturing into group content like dungeons, world bosses and trials, the sky’s the limit.

Elsweyr is set in a land populated by the Khajiit – walking, talking cat people with an exotic accent and a taste for the finer and sweeter things of life (hey, they’re cats, after all!) This alone is a big draw for many players – one of the races you can create a character as is Khajiit – but added to the mix across the land of Elsweyr is the big threat: dragons. BIG dragons. Acting as the new (and very dangerous) world bosses for groups to attack and take down, these dragons roam around the game world to often terrifying effect. For a world that’s so heavily steeped in dragon lore – after all, nobody ever forgets that first dragon in Skyrim – it feels both perfectly natural and strangely unsettling to have these giant flying beasts of fiery death roaming around while you’re busy trying to fetch “ten of these” for some merchant from the nearest town.

Along with the new zone, story and dragons, Elsweyr also includes a new character class to play – the much-requested Necromancer. This is going to be the real meat of Elsweyr for a lot of players, and while it’s early days for our fledgling character, it’s looking like it’ll be a lot of fun. This time there’s a “gotcha” that’s initially amusing too; as an agent of death, your necromancy is unwelcome in most towns and cities, and if you dare to use many of your abilities in polite company you will be killed on sight by guards. It’s something that’ll surely be toned down later, but it adds a lot of unique flavour to the class in the meantime.

So if you’re a long-time fan of The Elder Scrolls who’s been on the fence about jumping into the game’s always-online, real-people-populated version, now’s an ideal time to give it a try. With three superb expansions included on top of the huge base game, lots of stuff still to come and with one of the friendliest player bases in the genre, Elsweyr is a must-have for anyone who wants to dive into this expansive world.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elswyr is available now on PS4, Xbox One and 4 and a half

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