Franchise / The Elder Scrolls

"Go ye now in peace. Let thy fate be written in The Elder Scrolls..."

A popular series of computer and console RPGs produced by Bethesda Softworks. The Elder Scrolls games (or TES for short) are set in Tamriel, a landmass roughly the size of Africa. The games are renowned for their open-ended style of gameplay, allowing the player to play as a heroic or diabolical character, to pursue the main quest with vigor or to ignore it entirely, and to gain prowess and fame through working for guilds, military legions, and the like. The games are also noted for the largeness of the game world — Daggerfall in particular has a game world roughly the size of Great Britain, with approximately 750,000 NPCs to interact with. Though later games in the series are considerably smaller, they remain much larger and more finely-detailed than the typical RPG game world.

The principal games in the Elder Scrolls series are:

  • Arena (1994): The benevolent Emperor of Tamriel, Uriel Septim VII, is secretly overthrown by his own Battlemage Jagar Tharn, who traps him in Oblivion, assumes his appearance, and reigns in his stead. However, the ghost of his late apprentice Ria Silmane teams up with a minor noble (the Player Character) to fight the usurper. Together, they travel through all provinces of Tamriel to collect all pieces of the Staff of Chaos, which the PC then uses to kill Tharn and to restore the rightful Emperor. The game was originally going to be about, well, gladiatorial combat arenas, but that idea was scratched in favor of adapting the developers' home-brew D&D setting, Tamriel, into a computer game. The fast-paced gladiatorial combat style remained, though, and Arena was much more action-oriented than other RPGs of the time. The game was met with lackluster sales, but developed a strong enough cult fanbase to warrant a sequel.

  • Daggerfall (1996): The PC, a personal acquaintance of Uriel Septim VII, is sent to the Western province of High Rock to investigate the ghost of its former King Lysandus, who now haunts the city of Daggerfall. Cooperating with the Emperor's Blades, the PC uncovers a sinister plot to reactivate the Lost Superweapon Numidium, which was originally used to forge the Third Tamrielic Empire. Several factions in the region enter the fight for controlling the Numidium, and it depends on the PC who wins it. Also of note is the emphasis on side-quests—after seeing how much time Arena players spent on them, the designers decided to put them in the spotlight. Daggerfall featured several different factions for the player to join outside of the Main Quest, all of which will give players hundreds of hours of side-questing. It also had positively HUGE randomly generated dungeons, often "designed" in the silliest ways possible.

  • Morrowind (2002): A convict from the Imperial City Prison (the PC) is released in the North-Eastern province of Morrowind on the Emperor's direct orders. Guided by the Blades, the PC fulfills countless local prophecies and is acknowledged as the Chosen One who will save the land from the Blight (no, not that Blight or that). Tracing the Blight to the evil god Dagoth-Ur, the PC destroys the source of his (and other local gods') immortality and kills him, bringing relative peace to the province. The game was significantly smaller in scope than its predecessor (a "mere" 18 square miles as opposed to hundreds, and a non-infinite number of side-quests), but managed to come off as much more epic anyway due to the quality of the writing and the diverse, exotic landscapes. It's also notable for being much, much weirder than the rest of the franchise, being set in an alien landscape populated by Dunmer, dinosaurs, giant bugs, and tiny Cthulhu lookalikes.
    • Tribunal (2002): An attack by the Dark Brotherhood brings the PC to Morrowind's capital of Mournhold. After a while, the PC finds themselves at odds with the local deities and has to kill them, now that their immortality is lost.
    • Bloodmoon (2003): Arriving on a Northern island of Solstheim, the PC runs into ravaging werewolves and is soon embroiled in a ritual conducted by the Daedric Prince Hircine to determine the strongest fighter on the island. Naturally, the PC has to participate, all the while helping an Imperial mining colony to grow from literally nothing into a thriving frontier settlement.

  • Oblivion (2006): Emperor Uriel Septim VII is assassinated by the Mythic Dawn, but not before seemingly accidentally freeing yet another convict from the Imperial City Prison (the PC). The PC then joins the Blades in their search for the last remaining heir to the Empire, Martin Septim, against the backdrop of an ongoing invasion from Oblivion by the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon, whom the Mythic Dawn worships. Eventually, the PC, Martin, and the Blades manage to repel the Daedra but... at a price. This was the first big-name RPG for the 7th generation of consoles, and made full use of the Xbox 360's and Playstation 3's technical abilities. However, some complained that it had been dumbed-down for casual gamers, what with arrows pointing to your objectives, overdone Level Scaling, and simplified role-playing elements.

  • Skyrim (2011): Set 200 years after the Oblivion crisis when the empire Tiber Septim founded is in bad shape, being slowly picked apart by the fascistic Aldmeri Dominion through means of subterfuge, imposing treaty terms, or outright war. The PC barely survives crossing over to Skyrim after Alduin, the Nordic aspect of Akatosh, decimates a village the PC was planned to be executed at. Now with dragons appearing all over Skyrim, the PC discovers that they're the Dovahkiin (Dragonborn) and the only one able to stop Alduin from ushering The End of the World as We Know It, all in the midst of a civil war.

Bethesda has also produced several other games and media set in the Elder Scrolls universe:

  • The Elder Scrolls Online (2014): An MMORPG prequel to the main Elder Scrolls series, set during the Second Era interregnum between the fall of the Akaviri Potentate and the rise of the Septim Dynasty. The PC has had their soul stolen by the Daedric Prince Molag Bal, and they must stop him as he attempts to take over Tamriel. Meanwhile, the Ruby Throne is empty, and three alliances vie for control of Cyrodiil and the Empire. Originally subscription based, it went "Buy to Play" in March 2015, meaning you only need to buy the game to play it.
  • The Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire (1997), basically a long, trippy dungeon-crawl. Set during the time of Arena, and originally planned as an expansion pack for Daggerfall. A Wizarding School for Imperial Battlemages is attacked by Mehrunes Dagon, who aims to use it as a conduit for invading Tamriel. A single graduate (the PC) has to fight their way to Dagon through Oblivion, defeat him, and free their partner. It is the only game in the series to include multiplayer, though that addition proved a spectacular failure and Bethesda never tried it again. A good chunk of the information of the things known about the Daedra originate in this game.
  • The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard (1998), an action-adventure game with very few RPG elements. Some 400 years before Arena, a Redguard by the name of Cyrus travels home to find his sister missing and himself embroiled in a web of political intrigue. It was well received by critics and fans, but due to the cost of production and being built on outdated technology, it was a financial flop. The Pocket Guide to the Empire is the origin of most of the background lore on Tamriel.
  • Dawnstar (2003)
  • Stormhold (2004)
  • Shadowkey (2004)
    • These last three were released for mobile phones. Generally, only Shadowkey is considered canon.
  • Legends (2015), a digital strategy card game for PC and tablet.
  • The Elder Scrolls In-Universe Books covers the various In Game Novels found in the games from Daggerfall on.
  • The Elder Scrolls Novels: The Infernal City and Lord of Souls by Greg Keyes. Set forty years after Oblivion, they tell of the appearance of the floating city of Umbriel in Tamriel and the devastation it wrought.

Additionally, a "remake" of Oblivion was released for mobile phones. A PSP version was also planned and demonstrated, but is currently presumed cancelled.

In 2004, Bethesda released the original version of Arena as a freeware download. In 2009, it was joined by Daggerfall.

In 2011, a rewrite of Daggerfall's game engine, known as DaggerXL, started development under an independent programmer.

Both Arena and Daggerfall run quite nicely under DOSBox, though, so grab them here and here and enjoy.

An Elder Scrolls Anthology was released in 2013 for the PC. It includes every game in the main series (Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim) along with all the addons and expansions for the most recent three.

The Elder Scrolls has inspired many world-building projects, such as The Uutak Mythos.

The Series as a whole provides examples of:

Alternative Title(s): The Elder Scrolls Adventures Redguard, An Elder Scrolls Legend Battlespire, Elder Scrolls