The Elder Scrolls Online Gold Road Is Gorgeous Missed Potential - review

Ithelia from ESO Gold Road wearing a hood and looking directly towards the camera, placed against a blurred background of Skingrad.
Credit: Zenimax. Image edited by GfinityEsports.

Ithelia from ESO Gold Road wearing a hood and looking directly towards the camera, placed against a blurred background of Skingrad.
Credit: Zenimax. Image edited by GfinityEsports.

Can you believe that it’s been ten years since The Elder Scrolls Online launched? With many highs and lows over the years, all eyes were on ESO Gold Road to serve up a showstopping expansion, a magnum opus to celebrate ESO’s tenth birthday. As it turns out, Gold Road is a great expansion in its own right and a solid follow-up to Necrom, but it's not the standout expansion fans expect.

Very much following on from the previous Chapter, Necrom, Gold Road takes us to the West Weald, a new region within Cyrodiil. It’s here we get our first brand-new Daedric Prince, Ithelia, since The Elder Scrolls' debut. Removed from history by Hermaeus Mora, Ithelia is without a doubt one of the most interesting additions in the latest expansion, despite being added alongside the new Scribing spell-crafting system.

Picking up where Necrom left off, Ithelia's introduction as the long-forgotten Daedric Prince of Paths immediately pays off Necrom’s mic-drop. Not only is she a dangerous new threat, but an intriguing character, and her role in the story is remarkably well done as she comes to remember who she truly is.

Ithelia from ESO Gold Road standing and talking to the player next to a large glowing object in the background.
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Credit: Zenimax. Screenshot taken by GfinityEsports.
Ithelia's character model looks oddly out-of-place with ESO's traditional style.

Her powers over fate and reality open the door to some intriguing multiverse story beats that are sadly underutilized by the expansion's quest design. Being able to explore other realities, this was the perfect opportunity to make things wacky, to take off the shackles and do something wild. Instead, Gold Road quests typically boil down to characters you know being painted over with a different personality. Nevertheless, Ithelia’s arc and her relationship with Hermeus Mora make for an intriguing setup.

What’s not quite so strong, however, are the other supporting characters and factions. Outside of Leramil the Wise who returns once again, the other characters you meet are rather bland and one-dimensional. The biggest victim here though are the villains known as the Recollection. A group founded to recover the stolen memories of their ancestors and dig up the history of colonialization against the Bosmer, they are quickly turned into a Daedric cult to cause trouble across the Gold Road. Pretty much, it's ESO's favorite plot once again.

Thankfully, strong voice acting, writing, and more unique gameplay sections in Gold Road pull the rather generic story back. It’s an interesting main questline for sure, but it feels like another missed opportunity, especially considering the arrival of a brand-new Daedric Prince that can alter fate. The concept is there, but its execution is muddled.

A Sorcerer riding a flaming mount overlooking an ancient ruin in an autumnal woods in ESO Gold Road.
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Credit: Zenimax. Screenshot taken by GfinityEsports.

Exploring a brand-new region is always the greatest strength of an ESO expansion, and Gold Road's West Weald is impossibly stunning. Sure, it’s not the biggest zone in ESO, but it’s varied and intricately detailed with fields of amber grass and trees, ancient Ayleid ruins, and cozy Bosmer camps. In fact, you could say it’s the best-looking zone yet even down to the new major city of Skingrad. It's a location packed with detail, from an artist painting in the street to a ghost relaxing in the graveyard, but it does feel like it’s retreading old ground.

An artist painting a large church on the street with a woman posing in front of him in ESO Gold Road's Skingrad.
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Credit: Zenimax. Screenshot taken by GfinityEsports.
We'll ignore the fact that he's not actually painting the right thing.
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West Weald is very much an amalgamation of existing biomes and zone styles we’ve seen before in ESO. Of course, this is somewhat expected as West Weald is in western Cyrodiil, so, naturally, it needs to feel consistent with neighbouring regions, but it often feels like a remaster of what's come before.

To make matters worse, Cyrodiil's gorgeous new fields are also filled with many of the same enemies that we’ve been fighting since the launch of The Elder Scrolls Online. You can expect to see cultists, minotaurs, and all manner of creepy crawlies in West Weald. Even worse, these repetitive mobs also fail to add any overworld challenge to the game, likely to accommodate newcomers joining with this new expansion.

A scenic screenshot of a river with a camp set up on the embankment, surrounded by autumnal trees, in ESO Gold Road's region of West Weald.
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Credit: Zenimax. Screenshot taken by GfinityEsports.

While the One Tamriel update was perfect for streamlining the experience, especially for newcomers, it’s had a big impact on how engaging questing and exploration is. With no threat to my built Magicka Sorcerer, I’m free to endlessly lob crystal fragments. In part celebrating the first decade of ESO and setting up more to come, it’s a shame that Gold Road didn’t take the opportunity to truly innovate on the foundations, such as adding world-level options to up the difficulty for experienced players.

A third-person screenshot of a Sorcerer player casting spells at an enemy wasp inside a dark ruin in ESO Gold Road.
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Credit: Zenimax. Screenshot taken by GfinityEsports.

The one game-changing addition here comes in the form of Scribing, the big-ticket feature in ESO Gold Road. Much like Blackwood’s Scrying and Antiquities or High Isle’s Tales of Tribute, Scribing offers a new system to master outside of your typical skill lines. After years of fervent calls for ability crafting, Gold Road finally serves it up on a gold platter. With a fresh new Scribing questline to guide you through the feature, you’ll soon start unlocking new Grimoires, Scripts, and more to create your own skills.

Experimenting with different combinations to create the perfect skills for my build was a blast. Scribing opens a lot of new doors for build crafting - more so for support and tank players than DPS, however. This is supported by Skill Styling which lets you tweak the appearance of certain skills. While nothing major, Styling is the cherry on top for more build diversity and to support your various ESO fashions.

If you’re the type of player who likes to optimize everything, Scribing effectively adds very, very little. Only a few combinations are truly better than any of the existing skills in endgame activities, and in those rare cases, it’s as simple as just swapping the standard skill for the scribed skill, which doesn’t feel all that distinct from the existing suite in practice. It’s merely a fun addition, especially if you’re looking for more personalized setups.

All in all, ESO Gold Road is simply another expansion to one of the best MMO games. It’s one of the best expansions for the game, with great quests, bosses, activities, and a stunning zone, but it fails to take The Elder Scrolls Online into the next decade with a bang. Who knows, perhaps Ithelia can show us an alternate reality version of Gold Road that pushes the boat out further?

The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Road
Gold Road is an exciting expansion in isolation, though it disappointingly passes up the perfect opportunity to innovate on The Elder Scrolls Online's now-predictable formula.
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7 out of 10
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