The history of the Elder Scrolls series can be traced back to the earlier '90s when development on the first game, The Elder Scrolls: Arena began. At the time, Bethesda Softworks was mainly a sports game studio and as a result they were laughed at when the idea for an action-RPG game came up. Despite the mockery, Bethesda went on to create one of the most beloved RPG series around that redefined open-world gameplay and player choice.
The Elder Scrolls places a large emphasis on player customization, freedom, and the ability to do almost anything you want and be whoever you want. The games start with the player creating their character, and from there the world opens up to them with nearly endless possibilities. This is one of the reasons why the series has received praise from critics. Although certain elements like combat and the level progression have been criticized in the past, credit is always given to the studio for giving the player lots of freedom.
Bethesda has shown an appreciation for detail in their games in the past, and a common theme is that each games starts out with the player either escaping or being released from prison.
- Release Date: March 1994
- Platform: PC
Originally, Arena was meant to be a tournament fighting game in which the player and a team would travel from arena to arena battling other teams to eventually become the grand champion. In addition to the arenas were side-quests that could be completed along the way. During development however, side-quests started to become more and more important than the actual arena fighting, and eventually RPG elements were added in as well as cities and dungeons. The team decided to drop the tournament fighting in favor of creating a large singleplayer first-person RPG.
The game was meant to be released around Christmas of 1993, but Bethesda missed the deadline and as a result had to wait till earlier the next year to put the game out. The game became a cult hit despite negative reviews and poor sales (partially due to the misleading title). The game was free for download from the Bethesda website.
It's worth noting that the game is not like the games that came after, in that you are unable to create a custom class, and experience is gained through completing quests and killing monsters, rather than practicing skills. You are also able to travel throughout Tamriel instead of being restricted to specific provinces, although the countryside surrounding city or town is randomly generated and never links up with the other areas. For the player to reach a new location he or she MUST use fast-travel, and dungeon locations that can't be found in the countryside, including all main quest locations, must be found through interacting with NPC's.
It may be the only game in the major Elder Scrolls line that featured a fully operating cosmology, complete with solar eclipses on certain days, though Daggerfall did feature some of the holidays in Arena.
- Release Date: August 31, 1996
- Platform: PC
Immediately following Arena's release, work began on a sequel and Ted Peterson was assigned the role of Lead Game Designer. The game was to be called Mournhold and set in Morrowind, but the team soon changed the location to the provinces of High Rock and Hammerfell. A few big changes were made for the game, including the omission of experience points for a system that revolved around skills. Daggerfall also gave players the ability to create their own class rather than choosing from a pre-set list and the ability to assign their own skills as well.
Daggerfall has one of the largest game worlds ever created. There are 15,000 towns, dungeons, cities, and villages for the player the explore and over 750,000 NPCs the player can interact with. According to Bethesda, the game world is equal to twice the size of Great Britain. For comparison, the next game in the series, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, is 0.01% the size of Daggerfall.
Unlike Arena, Daggerfall was released within the intended release window but suffered from many, many bugs. The code was patchable by Bethesda but they avoided releasing patches so they would learn to have a more cautious release schedule for future games. Following the release of Daggerfall, Ted Peterson left Bethesda and in July of 2009, the game was made free to download legally on Bethesda's website.
Daggerfall was the first game to feature a skill system with skills openly displayed, along with the ability for the player to create a custom class. The skills chosen for primary or major skills are the ones that influence the gathering of experience, now a hallmark for the series. Another staple of the series, the various guilds that players can interact with by performing quests for them, was started in Daggerfall (Arena's guilds performed pretty much like shops, and never gave the player quests to complete for standing in the guild).
- Release Date: May-June 2002
- Platforms: PC, Xbox
The third title in the Elder Scrolls series was thought up during the development of Daggerfall, and the team intended for it to encompass the entire province of Morrowind and be closer to Daggerfall in terms of scope. However, the technological limitations at the time meant that the team had to put the game in the back of their minds and instead they went on to develop Redguard and Battlespire. The Morrowind project was revisited in 1998 and Todd Howard was put in charge of it. The team decided on Direct3D for the engine that would power the game as it provided them with better graphics.
The team changed the idea of having the game focus on all of Morrowind to just focusing on a smaller area instead. Bethesda increased the size of their team dramatically and for the first year spent their time creating the Elder Scrolls Construction Set that would be used to easily balance and modify the game. By E3 2001, it was announced that Morrowind would also be released on the Xbox and a beta build was shown to the public.
Upon release, Morrowind received mostly positive reviews that praised the game's visuals and the freedom it offered the players. Like Daggerfall, the game used attributes and skills and a similar leveling system.
- Release Date:November 6, 2002
The success of Morrowind inspired Bethesda to develop an expansion pack for the game. Tribunal takes place within the city of Mournhold. Besides a new story, the expansion also improved the interface and, more specifically, greatly improved the journal which received criticism in Morrowind for being clustered and cumbersome.
- Release Date: June 6, 2003
Bloodmoon takes players to the frozen land of Solstheim where they investigate the soldiers there and the reason why they are uneasy. The player must complete several rituals to investigate the reports of werewolves as well. Several new creatures were added with the expansion and it also gives players the ability to become a werewolf.
- Release Date: April 2006 (Xbox 360, PC), 2007 (PS3)
- Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Bethesda started working on Oblivion in 2002 but it wasn't officially announced until 2004. Todd Howard said that originally the easier route would have been to do a two year sequel, but through much persuasion he managed to convince the "upper management" to give them four years. This meant that the team would be developing the game for next gen consoles that didn't even exist yet. In fact, the team didn't get final hardware until the last six months or so of development.
After Morrowind's release, the team was split into two groups: artists/designers, and programmers. The former group was sent to work on expansions for Morrowind, while the latter began developing the technology that would be used for Oblivion. According to Bethesda, the Xbox 360 version was the easiest to develop because the PC was more like a "random amalgamation of graphic cards and RAM and processors" and that it was poorly "defined". Their lack of experience with the PlayStation also meant that the programmers who had worked with the Playstation in the past went to work with that system specifically.
In the year 2005, Bethesda entered into an agreement with Take-Two Interactive that proved to be a very successful relationship. In the agreement, Bethesda was allowed to retain complete and total control over the development of Oblivion and any future games and Take-Two agreed to publish the game under the 2K Games brand. The good relationship was considered a rarity in the industry. Take-Two had minimal interference with the development of the game and mostly left Bethesda alone.
Bethesda focused on making Oblivion with a combination of freedom and cutting-edge visuals. Unlike Morrowind, every line of dialog is spoken. Graphical improvements include the use of high dynamic range and enhanced textures. Bethesda also used Havok for the physics. In order to make the NPCs in the game seem dynamic and more life-like, Bethesda developed the Radiant AI system that allowed NPCs to have daily schedules, move about the city, and have conversations with other NPCs. To create the beautiful forests seen in the game, the team used SpeedTree which gave them the ability to generate complex forests with relative ease. Some of the major goals for the game included the omission of pointless filler quests and the development of more fleshed out characters with actual personalities. Because of this, the number of NPCs in the game had to be reduced. As a result, the characters in the game no longer feel like mindless drones. Improvements to the combat made it so that hits were no longer determined by "dice rolls".
Like other Elder Scrolls games, the player starts out in jail. They are freed when Emperor Uriel Septim VII must use the escape passage that is conveniently located in their cell. The Emperor is soon murdered by a cult known as the Mythic Dawn. Because there is no heir the Dragonfires aren't lit, and as a result Oblivion gates begin opening all over Cyrodiil. The player must find an heir to the throne whilst closing Oblivion gates and defeating the Mythic Dawn cult, who seek to bring Mehrunes Dagon to Cyrodiil so that he can reign destruction on the land.
Two expansion packs were released for Oblivion. The Shivering Isles added an entirely new setting to explore with a unique aesthetic, characters and plot. Knights of the Nine added a new questline to Oblivion as well as new equipment.
- Release Date: November 21, 2006
An official "expansion pack" developed by Bethesda Softworks, released in the form of a mod/DLC collection.
Knights of the Nine gives players the option to join the faction of the same name, and help them in preserving and collecting the artifacts known as the Crusaders' Relics.
- Release Date: March 26, 2007
In Shivering Isles, players travel to a mysterious land where they are recruited by Sheogorath to help him defeat an apocalyptic event that is about to sweep through his realm. The world the expansion comes in features new creatures, items, art design, and architecture.
- Release Date: November 11, 2011
- Platforms: PC, X360, PS3, PS4, XONE, Switch, PS5, XSX
The fifth major edition to the Elder Scrolls series was officially announced at the Spike Video Game Awards 2010 on December 11, 2010. The next day, Bethesda announced that the game will run on a brand new engine. The game takes place in the land of Skyrim and includes many new features as well as tweaks and improvements. The world of Skyrim is 16 square miles and is much more rugged and mountainous than previous games. However, the entire game world is not rocky--there are open areas, such as the tundra where the player can find massive mammoths, giants, and other creatures roaming around. The climate is said to vary more than in Oblivion, with the expected snowy mountains contrasting with rugged taiga and lush forests. There are 150 handcrafted dungeons in the game.
The game uses an enhanced Radiant A.I. system that not only governs creature and civilian behavior but also quest behavior as well. When the player accepts a quest that takes them into a dungeon, for example, the game will put their objective inside of a dungeon that they have not yet visited. In addition, if a player murders a quest giver, any relatives they may have can give the quest and will have reactions to what the player has done.
In addition to the improved A.I, Bethesda has made several gameplay changes as well. Players can now dual-wield one-handed weapons, as well as spells. These spells can then be combined to produce more powerful effects. Another new gameplay mechanic is the addition of Dragon Shouts, powerful mystical abilities that the player can only receive after learning the incantations and then absorbing the soul of a slain dragon.
One of the bigger changes is that character creation happens as you play. You pick a race, which gives your character different starting stats and special abilities, but for the most part, the player chooses what skills he or she will develop by practicing them, doing away with Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion's need for players to know what skills are significant and will aid the player's goals BEFORE the player has enough experience with the game world. Now the player can just play and find out what skills they need. They pick their role through action, and planning can only benefit this in terms of their character's thematic cohesion.
In addition to skills there are now perks, similar to the system from Fallout 3, where upon leveling, skills you are experienced in can have extra bonuses attached which are chosen in trees. Each skill has its own perk tree.
Attributes, too, long used to help detail various statistical increases and skill synergy, are folded into the skills themselves. Instead of Intelligence dictating magic points, you simply have magic points. Instead of endurance contributing to health, you just have health. This conforms with the decision to prevent lack of knowledge of the game's engine preventing a player from making a character that conforms to their gameplay desires, while harder-core roleplayers can still make decisions that fall upon traditional lines.
In the world there are Guardian Stones, which are ways to further differentiate your character, at least temporarily. When you discover their locations, you are able to choose one of three, and they will boost certain abilities. The first set so far revealed divide their ability modifiers along the traditional Elder Scrolls line of Thief/Mage/Warrior, although other stones may have other types of differences. There are 13 sets of stones to be found in the game.
The main story line in Skyrim starts out with the player being taken to their execution as a prisoner along with some others. A dragon attack stops the execution, and the player escapes and sets out into the world to discover why the dragons have appeared. The player character is the last remaining Dragonborn, people with the unique ability to absorb the power from dragons they kill and use Shouts, powerful magical abilities utilized by the dragons themselves.
Guilds return in Skyrim. The Fighter's Guild and the Mage's Guild have been replaced by the Companions and the College of Winterhold respectively and the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild return.
Skyrim's first expansion pack, Dawnguard, was announced in May 2012 and introduces several new gameplay features. In the expansion pack, players must choose to side with a vampire lord who wishes to block out the sun and the Dawnguard warriors who seek to stop him.
The sixth main entry in the series was first announced by Todd Howard at the Bethesda E3 2018 Showcase on June 10, 2018. No details were given aside from a short flyover trailer.
- Release Date: November 30, 1997
- Release Date: October 31, 1998
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold
- Release Date: August 1, 2003
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The Elder Scrolls Travels: Dawnstar
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- Release Date: November 11, 2004
The continent of Tamriel is divided into nine regions. It is on this continent that the Elder Scrolls games take place.