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Unwinnable By Mistake / The Elder Scrolls

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Examples of Unwinnable by Mistake in The Elder Scrolls series.

Daggerfall:

  • Daggerfall shipped with a number of bugs and glitches that made it impossible to complete the main quest. The plot-breaking bugs were eventually corrected with patches. However, one potentially game-breaking bug with collision detection can result in the Player Character getting stuck in "the void" after falling through a flight of stairs. This bug has never received a fix.
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  • Uniquely for the series, a number of quests in Daggerfall are Timed Missions which result in failure if not completed within the time limit. This also includes certain main quest missions. The very first mission in the main quest after escaping Privateer's Hold is such a quest, though there, you at least get several letters pointing you to the quest target before failure. A later quest given by Queen Mother Mynisera involves you tracking down a courier who has a letter. You must wait in a certain city and meet the courier on a certain date. However, the date, as stated in-game, is wrong. If you miss the courier, you fail the quest.

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Morrowind:

  • Attempting to address the concerns of Daggerfall, Morrowind takes several steps to avert this with its main quest. First, if you kill a main quest important NPC, you receive a pop up message that "the threads of prophecy have been severed" which instructs you to reload a previous save. However, it isn't a perfect solution, as some plot important characters do not display this message upon death, and some who are not plot important do. Additionally, Morrowind offers three means to beat the main quest. In addition to the standard way, there is the "backpath" or "backdoor" option. This requires only one living NPC, but it skips the entire story and is pretty well hidden. The third option is to, by whatever means necessary, buff your character so that he/she can handle the Tools of Kagrenac, Keening and Sunder, without the protective Wraithguard gauntlet. This typically requires exploits or cheats, as the tools will instantly kill any player who is constantly regenerating thousands of health points. In all three cases, Keening and Sunder are still required. If you misplace them, you've made the main quest truly unwinnable.
  • A number of sidequests can be made unwinnable (including entire faction questlines) by accidentally selling or misplacing the related item before realizing that it's required for said quest. A list of prominent examples:
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    • Many items you have to steal during the Thieves' Guild quest line are unique. Worse still, a few are consumable, meaning if you stumble upon them before receiving the quest, it's possible that you already used it.
    • The Morag Tong "Threads of the Webspinner" questline is already quite long, difficult, and nearly impossible to complete without a guide. It requires you to find 26 unique, enchanted items scattered around Vvardenvell. Only a handful are on enemy NPCs associated with the questline, meaning that its possible to find them before joining. While each has a unique enchantment, they aren't particularly powerful so it's quite possible to leave them on the dead body of the NPC who possesses it. Dead bodies are cleared from game cells every three in-game days...

Oblivion:

  • It is very possible to make the last mission of the Shivering Isles main quest unwinnable. It involves a final battle outside, and if the player character happens to be a vampire that has gone without feeding for a few days, and if it is day outside, and if the player doesn't have enough healing items, the character can die shortly after the final boss is defeated and makes a speech to the player. If you don't save before you leave Sheogorath's throne room, have fun and don't talk to real people for a few hours, as the autosave happens immediately once you're outside. Of course, this can apply to many areas in Oblivion and "Shivering Isles" when one is a vampire.

Skyrim:

  • At the end of the quest "The Break of Dawn", the player is suspended in mid-air above a mountain while talking to Meridia. She's supposed to let the player drift gently back down to earth afterwards, but a glitch can kick in where the player simply gets dropped and suffers fatal fall damage. The game autosaves right before their conversation, so you can get stuck playing through their dialogue and then dying over and over. The only way out is to reload an earlier save and make sure you aren't carrying too much gear.
  • Certain quests can be broken if they're done in different orders, due to the radiant quest system. One of the Dark Brotherhood Contracts can render Narfi's quest unwinnable due to now making him utterly terrified of you (making it impossible to turn in his personal quest). They can also be broken if they're dependent on a random location and require a certain amount of kills; one of the Dawnguard recruitment quests requires you to go to a random cave and kill a Bear. Unfortunately, it can select a cave where you've long since cleared out the enemies, resulting in no bears spawning in the cave and locking out the entire quest chain.
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