Nowadays most people know the Elder Scrolls from Skyrim, the hugely popular fifth instalment in the overall series that tempted new players who may have never played an Elder Scrolls title before.
Published mainly by Bethesda Softworks the games are known for their incredible depth and detail, immersing players in a vibrant and fleshed out world that can suck one in for hours with its wealth of lore and backstory.
Where did it all begin?
The Elder Scrolls: Arena – 1994 – MS-DOS
The first entry into the Elder Scrolls came with Arena, released on early PC’s in 1994. The game world within Arena is huge for its time and gameplay is in first person view. Arena is a sandbox title, the player is free to move around the world as they see fit and explore dungeons, towns and other areas, just like the modern day’s instalments.
The plotline follows Emperor Uriel Septim VII who has been captured and held in another dimension. Back in the human world, he is being impersonated by an Imperial Battlemage Jagar Tharn. The usurper Tharn tried to corrupt Septim’s apprentice, Ria Silmane and bring her to his side but she bravely resists, Tharn decides to take her life.
Ria in her last moments shows the player how to escape the dungeons. The main quest line sees the player to obtain artifacts of power. When found and collected Ria appears in the player’s dreams when they rest their character and other hints to the next item. When all the pieces are collected the player can assemble the powerful Staff of Chaos, and heads to take on Tharn in the Imperial City. Once defeated the true Emperor can be returned to the world and re-take the Ruby Throne.
The game brought it release forward from December 1994 to November to beat the Christmas rush and make it into stockings for Christmas Day. However, a mere 3000 copies were shipped due to the box art putting distributors off.
Early reviews were not easy on the game, taking shots at bugs and the pressure put on players computers at the time. The game is also well known to be incredibly difficult for new players, the starting dungeon turned some players off right away due to the tough enemies. However, the game eventually became an underground hit and developed a cult following.
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall – 1996 -MS-DOS
Following suit from Arena, Daggerfall, the second title in The Elder Scrolls series was an open world, sandbox RPG.
Set within the High Rock and Hammerfell provinces of Tamriel, alongside these new areas the sequel introduced a new spell creation system by introducing the player to the Mages Guild, one of the game world’s most well known and prestigious factions. The player could also buy property and items, enchant items in their inventory and become Vampire or Werewolves (another long-running option in the future games). Daggerfall was remarkably in depth for its time and showed players that this series was destined for great things in the future.
Religions and other joinable guilds brought the world of Daggerfall to life and supported the games ambitious lore building. The demonic Daedra now tormented players as they worked their way through the wealth of quests in a gameplay area littered with around 15,000 settlements, dungeons, and towns packed with 750,000 NPC’s. Very impressive numbers for 1996.
The plot line in Daggerfall sees the player summoned by the Emperor who wants two things. One, the player needs to free the ghost of the late King Lysandus and second, the player must discover what happened to a letter from the Emperor to a Blades agent in the court of Daggerfall. The letter reveals that Lysandus’s mother, Nulfaga, knows the location of the Mantella, the key to resurrecting the first Numidium, a powerful brass golem. The Emperor wants his spy to force Nulfaga into revealing the location of the Mantella so that the Blades can finish the reconstruction of the Numidium. Through a series of mishaps and
The letter reveals that Lysandus’s mother, Nulfaga, knows the location of an artefact known as Mantella. A key to resurrecting a powerful golem known as the first Numidium. The emperor asks the player to make Nulfaga give up the location of the Mantella so Blades can finish the reconstruction of the Numidium.
As the player progresses the letter finds its way into the hands of an Orc by the name of Gortworg. He has no idea what the artefact is and so consults the Elven Necromancer Mannimarco AKA the King of Worms. During this time the Underking, who originally fought and defeated the first Numidium after Tiber Septim abused its power is locked deep within a tomb after expending so much energy destroying it.
For the player to give the Mantella to anyone, the player must kill King Lysandus’s murderer and put his spirit to rest. Once done the player then must steal a Totem of Tiber Septim from the King of Daggerfall and free the Mantella from its prison in Aetherius. Following this, the player then has six choices of how to deal with the Mantella ultimately giving the game six endings.
- If the player activates the Mantella while in possession of the totem the Numidium will slay the player and be destroyed by Imperial forces. However, there doesn’t appear to be any possible way to achieve this ending without hacking the game because the player cannot retrieve the Mantella without giving the totem to one of the major powers first. Something to this day that Bethesda hasn’t cleaned up.
- If the player gives the Mantella to the Underking, he absorbs its power, passes into eternal rest, and creates a large “magicka free” area around himself.
- If Gortworg is victorious, he uses the Numidium to destroy the Imperial forces and the Bay Kings who control numerous territories. The Underking arrives shortly thereafter to destroy the first Numidium once and for all, losing his own life in the process. Gortworg then succeeds in creating Orsinium, a kingdom of Orcs.
- If the Blades are victorious, they succeed in recreating the first Numidium and use it to defeat the Bay Kings and the Orcs as well as unite all the provinces of Tamriel under the empire once again.
- If any of the Bay Kings win, that king will use the first Numidium to defeat all the other kings just before the Underking destroys him and itself
- If Mannimarco receives the Mantella, he uses it to transform himself into a god.
Daggerfall hit shelves in August 1996, but much like Arena it suffered from bugs, fortunately, this didn’t have a huge impact on sales. The game received multiple Game of the Year awards and bagged itself a Game Developers Choice Award (then named Spotlight Award). In publications the game received strong scores and positive reviews, pathing the way for the next title.
An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire – 1997 – MS-DOS
A lesser-known Elder Scrolls title made its way onto shelves in 1997. An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire is a typical ES game but this time featuring elements of Survival Horror. Unlike other Scrolls games, Battlespire has no rest feature. There are also no merchants to buy items from and no gold pieces to find. Enemies also do not reset when the player leaves the area and they are also not randomised as they were in Arena and Daggerfall making this entry a real tough nut to crack for players.
A multiplayer feature was also built into Battlespire which introduced a Co-Op mode to help ease the punishing gameplay and a versus mode in which players could square off against each other. Both modes were powered by the now, long defunct Gamespy online services.
The Battlespire plot is fairly simple in comparison to the other two titles. The player takes the role of an apprentice about to take part in his final test. They suddenly discover that an army of Daedra led by one of the Daedric Princes, Mehrunes Dagon has invaded and slaughtered hundreds. The player’s partner is also being held captive by Mehrunes Dagon himself. Working through seven levels, the player must quest through different realms of Oblivion to reach Mehrunes Dagon and finally defeat him and return peace to Tamriel.
The reception of the title was underwhelming, lacking depth and story compared to Arena and Daggerfall the game passed most by with little notice. The new Semi-3D engine was also hampered by bugs which were now becoming commonplace for Elder Scrolls titles. Reviews were mainly mid-range.
The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard – 1998 – MS-DOS
In 1998 another spin-off and a non-numerical title was released with Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard. The name differed mainly due to only being playable in third person view along with the players’ name, race and skills also being preset and locked, unlike the previous titles, no custom characters were possible.
The game had a complex plot, once again set in Tamriel, in the year 864 of the Second Era. The focus is on Cyrus, a young Redguard who the player controls, as he lands on the island of Stros M’Kai to search for his missing sister, Iszara.
At this point in the series overarching timelines, Tiber Septim has begun his conquest of Hammerfell, the home of the Redguard race with allies in the Forebears faction who have pledged allegiance to the Empire. Hammerfell was finally defeated by Imperial forces at the Battle of Hunding Bay and plunged the region into political chaos. Featuring in the story are components who were critical to the defeat of Hammerfell, a Dark Elf by the name of Dram who is an ex-assassin and holds the weapon of a necromancer with Daedric allies and Nafaalilargus, a dragon who serves Tiber Septim.
Cyrus is sent by the Imperial Governor in charge to retrieve a powerful amulet in order to find his sister. He learns of his sister’s disappearance is due to her being a part of a Redguard resistance movement known as the Restless League. Cyrus along the way, however, ends up in prison and has to eventually escape and track down the league.
Once embedded with the rebel group he learns that if they can resurrect Prince A’tor, the people of Hammerfell may still have hope to push out the Imperial invaders. Cyrus travels to the Island of N’Gasta to defeat N’Gasta’s (the necromancer’s soul trapped weapon’s) magical hold. Discovering that Daedric Prince Clavicus Vile has his sister’s soul Cyrus tricks the Daedric Lord and takes back his sister’s soul to learn of the Prince’s Soul Gem’s whereabouts, located within the Dragon Nafaalilargus’s den. Killing the dragon grants him the Soul Gem with which he needs to resurrect the Prince.
Sadly for Cyrus, he fails and the Prince’s soul manifests into the Scimitar of Prince A’tor, a sort of self-aware artefact known as the Soul Sword. Cyrus calls on his allies for an all-out attack with him leading the charges now against Governor Richton and Dram, who were planning to flee Hammerfell. As Cyrus claims victory, Richton tries to fake surrender. However, the Soul Sword imbued with the Prince’s spirit strikes a killing blow on Dram and Richton. With victory comes a chance to lay out acceptable terms with the Empire ensuring Hammerfell’s future is prosperous.
Upon release, early copies of the game came boxed with a comic book that detailed a prequel story leading up to the events in the game. The game scored pretty decently in its day, reaching 7 and 8 marks out of 10 in some areas. Since then there has not been another “Adventures” release in the Elder Scrolls series.
Stayed tuned for Part 2 of this look into The Elder Scrolls where we’ll detail the more popular entries in the series right up to the current release.