For those who often spend their time with The Elder Scrolls Online, the habits of publishing new content should already be known: every major expansion, the last one was Blackwood, is followed by a pack of two dungeons that expand the narrative paths of the season , in this case Gates of Oblivion. For some time we too have been following this process with specific articles, once dedicated to a dungeon of the new package and another to the tour of the new region. This will be an article dedicated to a dungeon, specifically The Dread Cellar, in the Waking Flame expansion for release on August 23. The same people always accompany us: Rich Lambert, creative director, Jeremy Sera, lead content designer, and Mike Finnigan, lead encounters designer.
A prison with a bloody past
“The Dread Cellar”, Mike Finnigan, the narrator of each guided tour, told us, “is a former imperial prison located on the banks of a river, north of the Blackwood region.” The place has become the new home of a group of Daedra worshipers known as Waking Flame, certainly not armed with good intentions.
The Elder Scrolls Online hero is “summoned” by Marcus Tullius, a battle mage who has tracked down the cultists’ lair and obviously expects a hand to drive them out of the ruins. The dungeon has an alternative structure similar to that of Black Drake Villa (here is our test of Black Drake Villa): instead of the canonical five bosses, The Dread Cellar has three mandatory ones plus some optional ones that must be revealed by exploring the setting and coming to the head of some puzzles. In short, the dungeon is more compressed when faced in a quick and linear way, but has the potential to be played several times in an attempt to reveal every secret. Stylistically, the setting takes up the architectural and naturalistic characteristics of Blackwood: it was an imperial prison, so there are large turreted walls to keep prisoners inside and prevent attacks from the outside. The courtyard responds to the clichés of “bad prison”, as Mike Finnigan called it when he told us that the empire did not care about prisoners and indeed delighted in mistreating and torturing them: it is full of cages exposed to the elements and turrets. sighting, as if it were a forced shelter more suited to animals than to people. There is no trace of those prisoners, but the place is teeming with demons and cultists, probably in tune with the bloody past of the place.
The first boss is encountered almost as soon as you enter, after having crossed the courtyard and arrived in front of a door watched by a couple of fanatics and a demonic creature. His name is Scorion Broodlord and appears as a giant but headless spider. In the arena, a large courtyard with elevations at the edges, floating black stones with vermilion engravings that are part of a fundamental mechanic of the bossfight.
After accusing the damage, the arachnid is projected inside a red portal and reappears near one of those stones starting to suck energy. The task of the group is to prevent the Scorion from charging and continue to target it with shots, darts and spells until it crashes to the ground. The combat is rather linear and devoid of really challenging or spectacular situations. Only the final part requires a minimum of extra attention to avoid large area attacks that are particularly painful.
The next section is much more evocative in the scenario as we finally enter the actual prisons. For show’s sake the prisons do not look at all like the prisons of a medieval castle, they are instead tall and spacious. The first hall is divided into three naves supported by pillars, in the side aisles, large iron grids define the perimeter in which the prisoners must have once been. Cages hang from the roof, a “decoration” that wants to feed the sense of restlessness and reinforce the idea that this was really a “bad prison”.
The new area also reminds us of a custom of The Elder Scrolls Online team: that of “telegraphing” the mechanics to the player and making sure that he can experience them in a safe area before having to face them in a threatening situation or a bossfight. In the present case it is an altar from which a red flame starts moving, back and forth, on a clearly visible path on the ground. Clearly, the flames must be avoided if one is to survive. Then you go through a long linear corridor dotted with cages and enemies; a hall with a Scorion, this time smaller, and some other demonic creature and finally we arrive at the second boss. On the perimeter of the arena there are the same altars from which red flames come out already seen before: during the bossfight you have to be constantly wary and avoid stopping on the path of a flaming trail.
The boss himself has nothing special: he is an imperial magician, such Cyronin Artellian, who is smart enough to guess that unity is strength. In fact, two massive storm Atronachs fight alongside him and engage at close range while he is busy unleashing his magical potential. Another not very stimulating fight, but definitely more lively than the previous one.
The last location before the final boss responds to the didactic name of “Pit of Despair”. As you can imagine, it is a hole in the rock where torture chambers have been dug, still looking terrible due to the skeletons scattered here and there. The route culminates in a large cave in the center of which stands an infernal machine crossed by a red beam; behind it a stone tower, part of an architecture that delimits the walkable area, giving the space the appearance of an arena with terraces all around.
The boss is called Magma Incarnate and is a four-armed demon in which he wields as many incandescent swords. As usual, the final bossfight is where all the creative efforts are concentrated: the fight is much more dynamic and fun than the first two and much more spectacular in the staging. It’s even more varied, as the team is occasionally forced to enter a dimensional portal and engage in a fight against a Scorion before returning to the final boss.
Summing up, however, The Dread Cellar turned out to be in line with the dungeons of the Flames of Ambition package (here is our test of ESO’s The Cauldron dungeon), an uninspiring standard, as we wrote at the time, which probably it betrays a little creative drying up or, more plausibly, a phase of tiredness in the incessant path of expansion. Not that it’s a big problem for more experienced players, who will find the usual content package and an extra dungeon where they can spend more time with their fellow adventurers
The most positive note is that both The Dread Cellar and Red Petal Bastion, the second dungeon of the expansion, have been designed to hide secrets accessible only to the most attentive players. If you resist looking at a few guides ahead of time, solving puzzles could be a challenging exercise if you want a diversion from the fighting.