What makes the exotic homeland of the Khajiit so unique? Join us as we dive into the faraway lands of Elsweyr and the Khajiiti people who call it home.
Walk on Warm Sands
In The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr, you’ll explore a massive, living world made up of windswept savannas, craggy desert canyons, and dense jungles--a very different environment from the pristine wilderness found in last year’s Chapter, The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset.
“For us, Summerset was more of departure from our usual milieu where we went to a high-fantasy, visually striking location,” explains Greg Roth, Elsweyr’s Zone Lead. “But with Elsweyr, we wanted to return to more traditional Elder Scrolls experience. That said, while Elsweyr might not be as green as Summerset, it is still a very exotic land, with its own aesthetic and appeal.”
When coming up with Elsweyr’s environment, the team drew inspiration from multiple real-world sources.
“In general, when planning a new zone, we always try to take multiple different real-world inspirations and mash them together,” says Joseph Watmough, the new zone’s Senior Concept Artist. “For Elsweyr’s grasslands for example, we looked at West Africa, and for the southern more tropical parts, we looked at southern India, Indonesia, and Thailand. This gives the player an experience that’s rooted in reality, but also something a little different.”
A concept height-map of Elsweyr
Even when designing the new zone’s rocky environments such as the Scar, a giant canyon that cuts through the heart of the map, the team looked to the world around them for inspiration and direction.
“We researched different types of faults, including the kind of rocks they would generate, and investigated what the actual stratification of the rocks would be throughout the whole zone. In The Elder Scrolls Online, there’s a reason for everything. We never just come up with something; we look for the reasons why something is here to ensure it’s appropriate for the biome and has a real-world analogue.”
There’s always a logic to the way things are in Tamriel, grounding it in reality. Because of this attention to detail, it provides unique challenges for ESO’s designers, who are tasked with crafting the environments in a way that is visually appealing, realistic, and fun to play.
“The challenge with Elsweyr was the verticality and traversal,” explains Kevin Boehm, ESO’s Lead Artist in charge of worldbuilding. “This new zone features a lot of cliffs and a huge gorge that runs right through the middle, so it was tricky to build all those canyons and vistas without making it difficult for the player to navigate. In several locations, we had to go back and add more paths out, because while they’re really cool to look at, if you’re stuck in a canyon and you have to ride 100 meters to find a path up, it can be frustrating.”
An abundant-but-dangerous world
Of course, the team also put a lot of work into making sure you can experience as much of Elsweyr’s stunning landmarks as possible, as there’s no shortage of unique locations to discover.
“We spent time near the end making sure key elements were visible at great distance, such as the aqueducts or the city of Orcrest, so you would always feel like you’re heading toward something interesting,” said Boehm.
The Cat People of the South
As reportedly one of the oldest Tamerelic civilizations (supposedly predating the arrival of the Elves), the Khajiit have developed their culture and civilization over thousands of years. The Khajiit people have something of a reputation across greater Tamriel as thieves or worse, but the team was careful when exploring their culture to avoid some of the more negative stereotypes.
“We already knew what the stereotypes were, so we had to make sure that we were showing other aspects of the Khajiiti culture, too,” says Roth. “For example, the way that their family units work.”
In Elsweyr, Khajiit families and Clans can consist of very different types of Khajiit, and this diversity of furstock is always there in the backdrop of your adventures in the new zone.
“All Khajiit are born looking roughly similar, but as they get older, they’ll grow into different forms, depending on when they were born. You can have a brother and sister that are very different physiologically. For example, one could be a Senche-raht, and one could be an Alfiq. It’s a very strange family unit as far as outsiders are concerned, but to the Khajiit, it’s very normal.”
The Khajiit come in all shapes and sizes
While you might have experienced some of the more nomadic Khajiit during your previous Tamerelic adventures, as you encounter them in their homeland, you’ll discover that many choose to stay put, too.
“Some Khajiit tend to stick around in areas such as Riverhold, Merryvale, or Rimmen, as they’ve decided to settle in the area or have things to take care of, and you’ll discover that a lot of Khajiit often come home to retire, too,” said Roth.
Just like the environment, the Khajiit are an ancient people, and you’ll see evidence of their age-old culture in the cities and ruins scattered throughout the zone.
“The beast races are some of the oldest in Tamriel, and we wanted to show that these people and this civilization has been here for a long time,” says Watmough.
To do this, the team came up with multiple types of Khajiit architecture.
“When it comes to the structures in Elsweyr, there’s an older ruined set and a newer set that we often used in conjunction,” explains Boehm. “The newer-style Khajiiti buildings were frequently placed on top of Khajiit ruins to show how the culture evolved over time. You can see a combination of those two styles often in the cities, but in the dungeons beneath the ground, you will only find the ruins where it’s much more ancient.”
Khajiit structures both ancient and modern
“All the surfaces in Elsweyr are covered in these layers of ornamentation that have been gradually worn away over time, giving the impression that this is where it all comes from,” says Watmough. “We want players to feel like there’s a real sense of inherent culture in this place, like this is where the Khajiiti people draw all their ideas from. Like it’s their home and wellspring.”
A Land in Conflict
When you arrive in the homeland of the Khajiit, you’ll discover a land in strife, torn apart by roaming bandits, an Imperial invasion, and, of course, merciless Dragons striking from above. While the people of Elsweyr are no strangers to conflict, the combined threats seem almost overwhelming for the province’s scattered defenders.
“It’s kind of chaos. And you get to see part of that chaos chronologically as it is unfolding, starting with the prologue,” explains Roth. “The Dragons are loose, and because they were imprisoned in Elsweyr originally within the Halls of Colossus, they have spread out across the area.”
The Dragons are unleashed
Dragons alone would have been enough, but six years ago, Euraxia Tharn and her Imperial cohort invaded from the north and now have complete control over Rimmen, the zone’s largest city. In addition to her Imperial troops, Euraxia’s lieutenants utilize dread necromancy, too, allowing her to raise additional forces from the dead.
“Euraxia knows that in a battle of attrition it would not go well for her, so she has set up events so that the Khajiit are discouraged from launching an attack on her haven. She has all her siege equipment that she would usually use to defend the city, pointed right at the city.”
There are reports that the usurper queen has somehow brokered a deal with the Dragons that now plague the land, potentially tipping the advantage in her favor and allowing her to strike out deeper into Elsweyr.
Imperials, necromancers, an untamed wilderness full of bandits and other monsters, and Dragons. Any adventurers that make their way to the home of the Khajiit experience no shortage of action.
Tamriel’s Beloved Cat People
Ever present in The Elder Scrolls, the Khajiit of Elsweyr travel far and wide, bringing their skills, wares, and rich culture to the rest of Tamriel. For the first time in The Elder Scrolls Online, you can finally explore the Khajiit’s ancestral homeland, discover its ancient histories and exotic peoples, and help them wrest back control from the invaders and monsters that plague it.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr is coming to PC/Mac, Xbox One, and PlayStation®4 on June 4. PC/Mac players can take part in Early Access starting May 20. Pre-purchase Elsweyr now to receive unique bonus rewards and gain immediate access to the Rahd-m’Athra in-game mount (conditions apply). Don't miss out!