The Elder Scrolls Online: Harrowstorm Review — Half of an Adventure
Explore an icy peak and a desert tomb in two new Elder Scrolls Online dungeons that underwhelm in comparison to past releases.
The Elder Scrolls Online is now onto its fourth “season” of regular content updates. The season, titled Dark Heart of Skyrim, begins with Harrowstorm, the new DLC that adds in several dungeons and over 11 new gear sets. That said, it’s a small roadstop in comparison to the larger content DLCs and expansions that make up the main features of each season.
Harrowstorm is broken up between two main dungeons: Icereach and Unhallowed Grave. The former is a bit on the short side, and is quite linear, while the latter is significantly longer and with more of those satisfying twists and turns that fans of previous dungeon DLCs have become accustomed to. Beyond that, the 11 new gear sets are designed for specific playstyles, but don’t offer too much in the way of diversifying your build — especially if you already have better gear.
Starting this first half of the new DLC is Icereach, a dungeon that takes you into the snowy peaks of Skyrim and gets you up to date with what returning fan-favorite Lyris Titanborn has been up to. That said, Icereach really disappointed me for the most part, and it sucks that it makes up half of the content overall.
I reviewed Harrowstorm with help from Forbes’ David Jagneaux, who was the party’s tank (I played as a magicka DPS Templar), and we usually coordinate dungeon runs in /group chat with our teammates. Icereach seemed like a far more shallow dungeon crawl than we’re used to, especially considering the fact that our team didn’t use /group chat even once. The bosses and combat were that easy, at least on Normal difficulty. This was a departure from even some of the old world dungeons, which forced you to coordinate for at least part of the dungeon.
Icereach generally has you following a single hallway as you grind bosses down to zero health, without offering many interesting environmental gimmicks to speak of. It lasts roughly 35 minutes.
Up next is Unhallowed Grave, which is far more interesting and quite a bit meatier if you complete everything. It takes over an hour and then some to finish on Normal mode, and possibly up to three hours on Veteran mode.
It’s here where I finally got to appreciate the CPU performance boosts introduced in Update 25. Much of the dungeon is set against some pretty vast canyons and chasms that crisply contrast with a setting sun. The fact that I could maintain a tight refresh rate through it all was certainly refreshing.
Once again, there are no standout bosses here if you’ve already played most of the other dungeon content from earlier DLCs, but the bosses overall have a trickier sort of dynamism to them than the health pinatas of Icereach. Each boss arena uses the grappling hook mechanic in some form, a mechanic which we also loved in our Dragonhold review.
For that matter, the grappling hook is far more prominent here than it even is during any individual section of Dragonhold, and it’s awesome that some of the challenges call for mid-air grapples to get to those hard-to-reach locations. Though, that could have been expanded on further for even more nuanced challenges.
I’m not sure if there were any secrets that I missed out on in Icereach, but the secret bosses in Unhallowed Grave added a nice extra layer of depth and replayability to that dungeon. I especially liked that some of the secret bosses gave you special buffs after beating them and interacting with a nearby urn, but I wasn’t so keen on the fact that those buffs really only gave a meaningful stat boost to Necromancers. It seemed like an underhanded sales pitch for the Elsweyr expansion pack vs a meaningful tie-in for that class.
If you grab the first of these buffs, your grappling hook gets powered up. This is useful because, in some cases, grappling through groups of trash mobs and boss adds is the most efficient way to quickly dispatch them. Again, this made the grappling hooks far more interesting than anything else in Unhallowed Grave.
Also, without spoiling anything, the last boss of Unhallowed Grave has a cool skeleton pet.
I wasn’t really impressed by much else. Overall, Harrowstorm is a forgettable side quest in an ocean already swarming with far better content. After being spoiled by two of my favorite dungeons in The Elder Scrolls Online with the Wrathstone DLC last year, I’m let down by what’s delivered here in Harrowstorm. The gear sets aren’t all that significant for those who are already powered up with (far better) dungeon gear from last season, and the highest note of the entire DLC is when you’re grappling through the gorgeous chasms of Unhallowed Grave with your teammates.