The Elder Scrolls is a name that sounds familiar, even to non-gamers or casual gamers. It’s a role-playing game, but it’s so much more than just that. The Elder Scrolls is an entire series of five main games and more than ten spin-offs and expansion packs, created by Bethesda Softworks. The games differ from other popular role-playing games in their priorities and approach. Rather than emphasizing battle systems and exclusive gear, the games focus on beautiful design, exploration, and creativity that allows rewarding open-ended play.

The Elder Scroll games are beloved by many. The way these games bring together fantasy, role-play, combat, creative expression, and open-ended gameplay is an incredibly unique feat. If you are young enough to only think of Skyrim when you think of Elder Scrolls, you have no idea how far this series has come. The games have clawed their way up from one somewhat successful 1994 role-playing game to a massive, household name of a series. There are now over 15 Elder Scrolls games and expansion packs.

We’ll cover everything you need and want to know, so read on to get the goods on the Elder Scrolls. 

The Elder Scrolls Games

elder scrolls boxed game set shown with discs displayed, maps and the book open

Image: screenshot via elderscrolls.bethesda.net

The Elder Scrolls first appeared on the scene in 1994, and the last game launched in 2012. These aren’t new games. At this point, they are classics. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth playing. Even if you’ve never tried an Elder Scrolls game before, consider revisiting the past. If you are a fan of open-play platform games, like The Sims series or Second Life, you should definitely play. A classic never dies.

The Elder Scrolls: Arena

The original game was planned to be a typical PC gladiatorial role-playing game, focused on fighting enemies and taking over cities. However, during the development process, the game’s creators had a change of heart. While it was too late to change the name of the game, it wasn’t too late to take the gameplay in another direction. Instead of more of the same, a beautifully designed world emerged. Breath-taking graphics (for the time), detailed environments, in-depth customization of characters, and open-ended gameplay that encouraged exploration over battle won out. The game hit the scene in the spring of 1994, several months past its original release date.

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

Two years after the first game was released, Bethesda Softworks followed up its moderately successful role-playing game with a sequel. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall was an ambitious project, aiming to significantly expand the size of the 3D environment. The second installment also sought to build a system for gaining skills based on specific skill building, rather than experience points. Although the game was a commercial success, many users complained of software bugs and unrealistic hardware requirements.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Elder Scrolls Morrowind screenshot showing black and red armored player with red hair

Image: screenshot via elderscrolls.bethesda.net

In 1999, ZeniMax bought Bethesda Softworks. This allowed the staff for producing the next Elder Scrolls game to triple. The release of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind brought with it a smaller 3D environment, allowing for individualized landscapes and items. This third game was available on the Xbox as well as the PC. Over four million copies sold within three years of release. Morrowind was considered to be a great success by critics and gamers alike. Two expansion packs launched over the next two years.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The new development team took no time to celebrate the success of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Immediately, work began on the fourth game of the series. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion brought with it the release of Bethesda’s proprietary artificial intelligence software, Radiant AI. Excitingly, the game also boasted significantly improved physics and impressive graphics. Additionally, the release of Oblivion was highly anticipated by gamers and in the press and launched for the PC, Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3. Two expansion packs quickly followed.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Elder Scrolls screen capture showing village and character with curved horn helmet

Image: screenshot via elderscrolls.bethesda.net

The last main Elder Scrolls game released was The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in 2011. Skyrim went further than any of its predecessors to allow fully detailed character and gameplay customization. It did away with the class-based system, allowing players to choose their own individualized skill sets. Many side quests and quests provide an option for non-linear gameplay. Bethesda soon offered Skyrim expansions via three downloadable content packs.

The Elder Scrolls Online

In 2014, ZeniMax Online Studios released The Elder Scrolls Online. The multiplayer online game was set in the Elder Scrolls universe and was supposed to be available for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. However, the game received harsh criticism immediately upon its launch. Users were unhappy with the subscription system, grouping within the game, and faulty combat mechanics. ZeniMax responded by announcing plans to re-release the game like The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited in 2015. This second release dropped the subscription service in favor of a buy-to-play model. Fortunately, it also addressed in-game glitches. Tamriel Unlimited received praise from several critics but ultimately did not become a fan favorite.

Novels

Del Rey has published two Elder Scrolls based books. Greg Keyes wrote the first novel, An Elder Scrolls Novel: The Infernal City, and published in 2009. The mythic tale tells the story of a prince, his friends, a vengeful villain, and a floating city. Two years later, Del Rey published a sequel to the novel titled An Elder Scrolls Novel: Lord of Souls, also by Greg Keyes. The story picks up forty years after the first novel, with the return of the floating city threatening the Prince’s empire.

2012 Lawsuit

In early 2012 Mojang, the creator of the massively popular video game, Minecraft, was sued for copyright infringement. The plaintiff? None other than ZeniMax, the parent company of The Elder Scrolls creator, Bethesda Softworks. ZeniMax claimed that Mojang’s new plans for a Minecraft game called Scrolls infringed on its trademark for the game. Minecraft’s creator insisted that it was not legal for ZeniMax to claim ownership of each word within a title. In the end, the companies settled on an agreement where Minecraft kept the Scrolls title, but ZeniMax retained the trademark. In addition, Mojang agreed not to market the Scrolls game as a competitor to The Elder Scrolls.

The rewarding quest for creativity stressed by the games attracts a colorful community of players and fans. There may be no other game series ever to develop such a dedicated fan base and unique culture. Fans of the games frequently create and sell or share fan fiction and art online. Some groups even carry over their characters and gameplay to Dungeons and Dragons style paper-based or in person role-playing. The creativity of the series’ fandom is endless and rather inspiring.

The game series is a landmark for role-playing games. The focus on open-ended play, the rich history of the Elder Scrolls map and universe, and the detailed character development set these games apart. Furthermore, the way games are played changed because of them and the expectations for future games in the genre. The history of the development of The Elder Scrolls spans over two decades. Therefore, it is in no way an overstatement to say that these games hold within them the evolution of RPG gaming as a whole.

 

Feature Image: screenshot via elderscrolls.bethesda.net