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Elder Scrolls Online: Scribes Of Fate Preview – Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

A look into Elder Scrolls Online’s new dungeon with ZeniMax Online Studio’s Lead Content and Encounter Designers Jeremy Sera and Mike Finnigan.

As Elder Scrolls Online’s High Isle chapter reached its conclusion, the new year has promised a darker and even more exciting chapter, Necrom. The latest addition to the game includes two new zones-Telvanni Peninsula and Apocrypha- and a new class, the Arcanist. To start off Necrom’s year-long content roadmap, the Scribes of Fate DLC introduces ZeniMax Online Studio’s (ZOS) Shadow of Morrowind storyline along with two new dungeons, Bal Sunnar and Scrivener’s Hall.

Acting as the entrées to the prologue that will be released soon after, the two dungeons are both standalone stories and tasters to the over-arching storyline that when put together give context to the current over-arching evil that will plague the Necrom chapter. I had the pleasure of previewing Bal Sunnar, one of the two new dungeons in the Scribes of Fate DLC, with Jeremy Sera, Lead Content Designer, and Mike Finnigan, Lead Encounter Designer.

Set in a Dunbar village in the mountains of Stonefalls, Bal Sunnar is an ashen covered and ruined village that is rumoured to be using temporal magic to create time anomalies. Along with the Psijic Order, we’ve been dispatched to investigate and destroy the dark magic that is devastating their village. However, the inhabitants of Bal Sunnar are hellbent on keeping the “scourge” out, and, unbeknownst to us at the time, the scourge are the heroes who mean to save Bal Sunnar from their own demise.

At first glance, Bal Sunnar itself appears to be pocket-sized. There are a couple of relaxed encounters leading to the main village, which comprises mostly of burning houses, a bridge with a cave underneath and a singular tower at its pinnacle. However, as Mike Finnigan explains it, the dungeon was designed to take premises from the Psijic Order and integrate that into the structure and design of the dungeon. And we learn as we arrive at the first boss Govan, that time travel plays a huge role in this new space.

Govan is a sorcerer tapping into temporal magic to augment his powers. Parts of himself are separating and reforming to create multiple versions of himself that can attack us around a circular arena. Playing only the normal version of the boss fight, Govan was akin to a rainbow bullet hell. His remnants send out huge blasts of temporal magic that you must dance around in the arena while Govan himself teleports between players. The fight is fast-paced and doesn’t allow players a moment to rest, which means you always have to be on your toes.

The village of Bal Sunnar plays host to a variety of thrills

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Upon defeating Govan, the time anomaly closes, and the disjointed temporal world disbands, causing Bal Sunnar to change. Teleporting back to a time when the village was only first built, areas that might have been closed off in the beginning, have now opened themselves up after closing the time anomaly. And despite Finnigan’s reluctance to share if there were secret puzzles or bosses in the dungeon, it’s safe to say that time travel is an integral part of finding any hidden content within Bal Sunnar.

Jeremy Sera leads us to the second main area within the dungeon, which is an Excavation Site that the residents of Bal Sunnar discovered hidden within the mountainside. The cavernous space is filled with magical glowing flora and fauna and, surprisingly, hordes of Nix-Ox, which foreshadows that the villagers have dug up something foreboding within the cave.

On a designer’s level, Sera explains that the encounters in the cave were created to telegraph mechanics players will find in the second boss fight. Temporal orbs appear on the outskirts of each encounter that need to be destroyed (or interrupted), otherwise, they can kill you and your teammates. Telegraphing plays an important role in how ZOS designs level maps because they want to highlight difficult mechanics before reaching a higher-stakes encounter such as a boss fight.

Finnigan also explains that encounters play an important role in controlling the pace of the dungeon. Areas they want to highlight to players for either its visual design or narrative importance tend to contain more encounters to keep players in the area.

The boss within the Excavation Site is a Nix-Ox that has been tampered with by temporal magic to become ginormous in size. This boss fight follows a similar pattern to the first where the Psyijic Order mage unravels the time anomaly within the fight. However, this time the arena is encased in a deadly black haze that you must find protection from in a shield either with the Psyijic mage or under the Nix-Ox. I liked that the fight offers safe places for both melee and ranged dps, as traditionally melee are often thrown into the fire of AOE’s and negates while trying to attack bosses.

The whole party feels involved in new boss fights and dungeons

The mechanics are easy enough to engage with as the Nix-Ox is jumping around the arena and targeting the tank for the majority of the fight. The only difficult mechanic is the hidden black temporal orbs that appear on the very outskirts of the arena that can very well one-shot you with its blast. Interestingly, after defeating the Nix-Ox, we climb a rope that leads up a well into the middle of Bal Sunnar. Once again, the village has changed, which emphasises the multi-levelled design of the dungeon instead of a singular narrow path that is common in dungeon design.

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Finnigan refers to this stage of the dungeon as the ‘Doom of Bal Sunnar.’ The village is overrun with poison and fire, with meteors falling from the sky and killing anyone underneath them. There are certain worshipping signifiers such as the dragon statues found in Scale Caller Peak and villagers now dressed in worshipping robes. All the visual signs lead us to the conclusion that Bal Sunnar is now worshipping the Daedric Prince Peryite, Bringer of Pestilence.

And it’s within one of these Peryidic Ritual Chambers that we find the final boss Matriarch Lottie Telvanni, the leader of Bal Sunnar. Finnigan shares that it is we, the heroes, that have pushed the villagers to such lengths to protect themselves. Throughout time we have come to shut off their temporal magic and meddle with the affairs of the village. We are, to the villagers of Bal Sunnar, villains.

The final boss showcases the terrifying power that Daedric Prince Peryite has bestowed on the people of Bal Sunnar. There are two defining stages on normal difficulty. The first is reliant on the tank keeping Matriarch Lottie Telvani away from the group as she spews out contagious venom. On our first run, we were all inflicted with vomiting poison, which lead to a very quick death. And the second is signified by the whole arena becoming shrouded in poison and muck that we must survive through with a healing check. There are time stops found throughout the arena, reminiscent of Sunspire, which freeze enemies so you can kill them. The normal difficulty didn’t pose too much of a challenge for our group, but it relies on stacking up and being aware of tank placement.

Upon defeating Matriarch Lottie Telvani, the final time anomaly closes and we return to the present day, where we find the Psyijic Order Mage has been split into three different versions of herself after tampering too much with temporal magic. Experiencing time all at once and all the horrors that are brought with it again and again.

Bal Sunnar is truly a unique dungeon in its design. How the narrative unfolds through time travel is reminiscent of my favourite zone quest Rivenspire and the dungeon’s path feels fresh and intricate. Lore hunters will certainly be digging deep into the small titbits of information that can be found and players looking to complete the hard mode difficulty will be up for a challenge.

The Scribes of Fate DLC has even more to offer with its other dungeon Scrivener’s Hall and an all-new trial. The new DLC arrived on PC on March 13 while Xbox and PS players will have to wait until March 28 to start their journey into the Shadow over Morrowind.

Previewed on PC // Preview code supplied by publisher

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Written By Chantelle McColl

Chantelle McColl is a writer based in Melbourne, Narrm, who specialises in video games and analysing how they convey memorable narratives and experiences. Dabbling in indie genres like platformers, Metroidvanias and all games story-rich, Chantelle is always on the lookout for the next experimental game. You can find her work on Checkpoint Gaming, Byteside, ScreenHub Australia and on Twitter.

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