The Crypt of Hearts is one of the most prominent locations in the Elder Scrolls being a key location throughout 3 installments, and being connected to various mysterious topics, like Shadow Magic (umbra-keth), a piece of the staff of chaos among others.
Just like for the installments before it, the Crypt of Hearts will be a key location for certain questions, but also more prominently is the history of this Crypt from mythic times to the present; layers upon layers of the interred, in Crypts of different making, of different civilisations in different time-periods, ranging from the truly ancient to more recent squatters.
Practically, the Crypt of Hearts (CoH), will be a mega-dungeon, comprised out of many layers of dungeons, pathways, caves etc. That stretch all over the eastern part of High Rock. Zinitrad made a very apt description:
“Anyways the point of all this: Truly massive place, sprawling throughout the eastern rock, in totality unmapped and almost possible too, deep enough for people to get lost in and never return, like mammoth cave if mammoth cave was a crypt. Numerous mouths, some built up like mausoleums, some just like caves, and of course that great entrance that’s a massive skull. No one’s really barred entry- it’d be nearly impossible to. Some entire villages bury their dead there, hauling them off to the entry they know and interring them in the walls. It’s so deep and wide that so much can be hidden- treasures both wondrous and terrible have been placed in its halls in attempt to keep them secret, some totally forgotten. Many things hide there too- something about that one lich guy who was hiding out down there? It’s just so big it can’t belong to any one man, to any one beast, to any one terror.”
Miraclestone's Crypt of Hearts concept
In a sense it could be seen as designing a whole region, but vertically instead of horizontally.
The idea is to make a version of the CoH which will both pay homage to its presentation in the previous installments, but at the same time we also need to make full use of what we’re able to show and incorporate, and with that comes some of the alienness of TES3’s world; I’m particularly partial to the version of the CoH we’ve built through discussion on the discord and the forum, so here below Dev input and design ideas are listed:
• [Zinitrad] “But yeah, my friend's big idea on top of that that its massiveness at its root stems from it being the mass grave of those etada and ehlnolfey who were destroyed in conflict in ways that did not produce the world, dead bones buried so deep they nearly reach the machinery of the world, and on top of that thousands of years of men and mer have built upon it, interred their own corpses, countless druidic nedes and then many settling mer, and even some bretons”
• [ThomasRuz; paraphrasing] Lorkhan was judged in the adamantine tower, his heart flung to what now is red mountain, his flesh became the moons. The skull that is the entry-point for the CoH is Lorkhan’s skull. His leftover corpse buried in the spot that became the CoH. He became the first to be interred there, his bones melding with the soil, the skull the only thing that remained visible. He was the first interred there. Eventhough this origin is not known, neither to the scholars nor common folk (though some conspiracies might exist), the site has always excuded some calming aura over the dead. Later becoming the burial site of many other civilizations. As such the crypt of hearts has become a very prominent internment site for many different cultures that came after. This includes most of the cultures present in High Rock since: Galenic Druids, Nedes, Direnni (and other Altmer colonists), Ostern, Normen, Goblinkin, (Old Reachmen). But not all of them were properly laid to rest in orderly fashion, plague, war and disease have also plagued the Bretons throughout the centuries, causing some parts of the Crypt to be entirely immaculate in construction, but others as merely tunnels in caves entirely made of skulls and bone.
The easiest way to get a set together for the CoH is to have the CoH be a culmination and a mixture of various sets featured in HR427 (Mass Graves set, (Bayard) Crypt set, Ancient Norman Crypt set, Direnni set), with some setpieces and/or special meshes especially added in for the Crypt of Hearts.
Division of the Crypt of Hearts
Because the CoH is such a massive honker of a dungeon, the dungeon needs a clear division (to the Devs) to make it easier to distinguish between the levels, but also easier for player accessibility and so on. I will give a more abstract list of Categories, of which we can later make a design plan proper:
• Surface level: the surface level encompasses most places that inter the dead that have some kind of entrance to the CoH, examples could be the Shornhelm crypts, a tunnel a ghoul dug from a mass-grave, or similar.
• Upper levels: The upper levels contain easier to defeat enemies of different origins; like Goblinkin, Shadow creatures, looters, lesser undead and beasts. Which also reflect the building style to some degree, often consisting out of recent (desecrated) crypts, caves and pathways. These levels often contain pathways to the surface level, and a not-so-linear path to varying intermediate levels.
• Intermediate levels: The intermediate levels contain enemies who pose a bit more of a challenge. Goblinkin and beasts can still be found here, but find it challenging to survive these levels. Undead particularly thrive in these levels, Shadow creatures are also present. In the intermediate levels the building style is often in the old Normen style, 10Kingdoms and old Ostern/Witch-King style, combined with the Mass Graves style. These pathways are also still fairly non-linear, but often do not connect to the surface levels.
• Lower levels: The lower levels contain hard enemies to defeat. The living usually do not venture this far, but for those that do, great treasure can be found. The enemies in the lower levels usually are undead, constructs and fey (to some degree). Because these levels are generally untreaded ground, a lot more traps can be encountered. The building style in these levels are generally Direnni, Nedic and Galenic Druidic. The pathways now are linear, there is only one to two entrances to the lower levels, for which the player either needs to defeat a boss enemy or solve a puzzle.
• Darkest Depths: The darkest Depths is the lowest part of the CoH. Both the living and the dead have not been able to enter this space, save for the Player Character. At this point the crypts unfurl into something more meta-physical and abstract, the player should be expected to encounter ancient evils and horrors which have never seen light of day, in spaces that cannot feasibly exist. Paths are fully linear here and boss fights are common.
• Nirn’s Grave: Nirn’s Grave is the bottom-most part of the CoH filled with geometric coffins in a hall of infinite space where et’ada are interred.
The endless paths of Od Nua in Pillars of Eternity: The endless paths of Od Nua is almost literally what we want to pull off in a sense, but shown in a different game, for those that have not played it, I implore to watch it to get a general sense of execution.