It’s hard to love a swamp. Mountains have majesty, deserts have mystery, but what do wetlands have? I imagine some Joe on the street would boil it down to something like “muck, malaria, and mosquitoes.”

Even so, Famia Mercius, an antiquarian who’s a great admirer of the Elder Scrolls series’ lizard-like Argonians, is trying to get me to love the surrounding marsh as she does. She’s not doing such a hot job. She slaps a gnat off her neck while in the middle of a giddy introduction, and her stone house suggests she retains some reservations about living like the locals. I can’t say I blame her. After all, the place (and the name of the DLC) is called Murkmire, which hardly sounds like it’s going to rival Tahiti in vacation listicles anytime soon.

eso murkmire sappyLeif Johnson/IDG

The story gets a little…sappy.

Murkmire is a risky setting; I doubt it could have sustained one of Elder Scrolls Online’s largest “chapters” like Morrowind or Summerset. You won’t find traditional fantasy crowd pleasers like snowswept peaks and elven towers here.

Instead, I spent roughly half my 10 or so hours with Murkmire sloshing and slooshing through a flat expanse of puddles punctuated by a thousand spindly trees; the rest of my time consisted of sloshing and slooshing through puddles pooling between rocks. Murkmire occasionally channeled Indiana Jones by sending me into long-abandoned Argonian ziggurats stuffed with blow-dart traps and spikes, but I sometimes got the feeling that developer ZeniMax Online was trying to minimize the time you spend here. Murkmire isn’t even that big: You’ll only find two new delves and two new world bosses, although there’s quite a few new gear sets and motifs for crafting.

eso murkmire flatLeif Johnson/IDG

It looks like the area where I grew up. That’s not a compliment.

Born on the bayou

And yet it’s needed. After all, Elder Scrolls is often at its best when it runs us along the rough edges of fantasy worlds.

Longtime fans know the Argonians come from the Black Marsh, but in the past we’ve only caught glimpses of it in zones like Shadowfen. There, the lizardkin remain overshadowed by cultural forces that have loomed over them for years, be they the Dark Elves that use them as slaves or the Imperials that hold them in only slightly better regard. They’re treated like turds under the world’s boots, forced to live in muddy hovels on the edges of towns. I used to see those muddy huts as evidence of a proud culture; Murkmire, though, hints that they might represent forced poverty.

Murkmire lets us see Argonian life when they live on their own terms. The main city of Lilmoth is a welcome one (and one you’ll probably spend a lot of time in, considering that crafting benches are as close together here as they are in player-favorite Rawl’kha).

eso murkmire lizardsLeif Johnson/IDG

The ghosts of lizards past.

Here, they live in wooden, comfy homes with stilts that raise them above the muck. Occasionally you’ll find some of these huts built around a hist tree—which Argonians revere as other races revere gods—creating a structure that’s at once a village and a treehouse. Frankly, I’d kind of like to live in one of these huts myself, but the only new player house here is a staggeringly large half-sunken ziggurat with the lower level magically sealed off to serve as an aquarium. Considering the state of the rest of Murkmire, I’d be worried about gentrifying the neighborhood.

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