The Elder Scrolls

ElderScrolls Logo

The Elder Scrolls (abbreviated as TES) is a series of role-playing video games. The development of The Elder Scrolls series began in 1992, when the staff of Bethesda Softworks – which had until then been a predominantly sports game-producing company – decided to shift the focus of their upcoming Arena from arena combat into role-playing. The team, pulling influences from Ultima Underworld and Dungeons & Dragons, released the massive, open, but ultimately derivative, first-person RPG The Elder Scrolls: Arena in 1994 for DOS PC systems. The game began a tradition of games based on the principles of “being who you want and doing what you want”[1] that has persisted throughout the series’ history. To date, there are five titles in the main series of the game. Two expansions were published for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, two more accompanying the The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s installment, and three others for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. An MMO set in Second Era Tamriel is scheduled for a early 2014 release. [2][3]

While beginning on DOS PC, the series has expanded to video game consoles, starting with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on Xbox and eventually expanding to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Four Elder Scrolls titles were released for Java-enabled cell phones, Nokia’s N-Gage, and the PlayStation portable. These titles are known as The Elder Scrolls Travels. Two novels based on the Elder Scrolls universe, The Infernal City and Lord of Souls, were published by Del Rey Books.



A character from Daggerfall.

The next Elder Scrolls series game—The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall—was published in 1996. Fueled by the modest success of Arena, Daggerfall was even more ambitious than its predecessor. Daggerfall attempted to create a game world twice the size of Great Britain, rendered in a truly 3D engine, and build a skill-system that revolved around skill building rather than experience gains. However, Daggerfall suffered at the hands of that very ambition: Daggerfall, rushed to publication, was found torturously buggy, and prohibitively hardware-intensive. In the opinion of one commentator, despite Daggerfall’s commercial success, “the game still bears the mark of bad code”.[4]


Following Daggerfall’s release, Bethesda ceased any development on any numbered series title until 1998, developing in the interim The Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire, released in 1997, and The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard, released in 1998. Both games had a smaller focus than the numbered series titles: Battlespire limited itself to dungeon-romping; Redguard was a linear third-person action-adventure game. The games sold poorly, and Bethesda flirted with bankruptcy. Only with the cash influx brought by Bethesda’s acquisition by the well-funded ZeniMax in 1999, did Bethesda return to the fore.


Nord morrowind
A Nord warrior from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

With The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Bethesda tripled their staff and pushed again towards hardware-intensive gaming. Morrowind saw a return to the old-style expansive and non-linear gameplay, but also a shift towards individually detailed landscapes and items, and a smaller game-world than past titles. Morrowind was released on both the Xbox and the PC, and saw popular and critical success on both, selling upwards of 4 million units by mid 2005. Two expansion packs were quickly developed released for Morrowind between late 2002 and early 2003: The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal, and The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon.


Sigrid (Oblivion)
A Nord woman in Oblivion.

Work began on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2002, immediately after Morrowind’s publication. Oblivion focused on providing a tighter storyline; improved AI, courtesy of Bethesda’s proprietary Radiant AI; improved physics, courtesy of the Havok engine (used in Half-Life 2); and impressive graphics. The game was released, following much press coverage, on the PC and Xbox 360 in early 2006, and the PS3 in early 2007. Bethesda released two expansion packs for Oblivion in late 2006 and early 2007: The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine and The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion got a 9.5/10 on average out of many different gaming site’s reviews, with or without the expansions.


Sylgja - Face
A Nord woman in Skyrim.

In 2011 Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the PC, Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. The game is considered to be a spiritual successor to Oblivion, allowing for non-linear gameplay, with a large number of quests and side quests. In Skyrim, the “Last Dragonborn“, or player character, starts as a prisoner awaiting execution, as in its predecessors, Oblivion, Morrowind, Daggerfall and Arena.

Skyrim excluded the conventional class-bases system of its predecessors in favor of more unique customization through skills and perk trees. The Birthsigns from other titles were exchanged for changeable Standing Stones, similar to the Doomstones in Oblivion only with effects that reign permanent until another stone is encountered and activated. The Mysticism school of Magicka was also eradicated and new spell-based attacks known as Dragon Shouts were introduced.

Skyrim‘s first DLC, The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard released in June 2012. The storyline revolved around a group of Vampire Hunters known as the Dawnguard, opposed by the villainous Volkihar Clan. The plot divided at a quest called “Bloodline“, where the Dragonborn decided whether to assist the Vampire Hunters, or become a member of the undead themselves. This was the first instance in which vampirism became a key element in an Elder Scrolls game; it also marked the creation of the Vampire Lord and werewolf skill tree perks. Dawnguard also saw the return of the crossbow, a projectile weapon first appearing in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

Skyrim’s second DLC is known as Hearthfire, allowing house building and adoption elements to the game.

The third DLC, Dragonborn, was released on December 4, 2012. The plot involves traveling to the island of Solstheim and the return of a mysterious former Dragon Priest and one-time ruler of the island. Unlike the ancient Dragon Priests of Skyrim, he’s purportedly the first individual to be gifted with the dragon blood, much like the Dragonborn, and possesses the ability to absorb Dragon souls. The DLC adds new quests, characters, locations, weapons, armour, and the abillity to tame and fly a dragon.


In 2012, industry sources confirmed that ZeniMax Online Studios was working together on The Elder Scrolls: Online, an MMO based in The Elder Scrolls universe. [5] Based in the Second Era, Mannimarco, King of Worms returns to divide Tamriel. The game features the entire map of Tamriel, and allows for multiple players to engage in the game globally.

Box art

Game mechanics

The Elder Scrolls games can be safely categorized as role-playing games, although they do include elements taken from action and adventure games. However, in contrast to other games of the genre, The Elder Scrolls maintains a unique, skill-based approach to character advancement. A multitude of skills can be raised through use, and once a character’s skills have increased sufficiently, their level increases in reflection of those skills. Because of this, players are allowed immense flexibility and choice in character advancement. This is perceived as both a strength and a weakness in the series by gamers, although the flexibility of the games’ engines has facilitated the release of game extensions (or mods) through The Elder Scrolls Construction Set that change the skill and level mechanics.

The Elder Scrolls main series of games emphasizes different aspects of the gaming experience from most computer role-playing games. A brief by Joystiq in early November 2006 contrasted BioWare’s creations to Bethesda‘s by noting a difference in emphasis. Bethesda’s creations focused on “aesthetic presentation and open-ended adventuring”; BioWare’s on a combat system and modular architecture.[6] The series’ overarching aim has been noted by their designers as well. Bethesda has described their motivations in creating the first series game, Arena, as those of any good pen-and-paper RPG: creating an environment in which the player could be what the player wants and do what the player wants.[7] Daggerfall‘s manual begins with a sort of design manifesto, declaring the developers’ intention to “create a book with blank pages”, and “a game designed to encourage exploration and reward curiosity”. Choices, in the form of paths taken by the player, to do good, to chase after evil, are left open to the player, “just like in real life”.[8] This design trend continued with Morrowind, following the hiatus of similarly epic games in the interim, though Joystiq’s previously noted insistence on graphics came again to the fore. During the development of Morrowind, Bethesda tripled its staff, so as to perfectly color its newly hand-made world. In their own words, “We knew we had to exceed the visual polish of the other games on the market, and we made it our goal to put The Elder Scrolls back into the forefront of game innovation.”[9] The Elder Scrolls series’ emphasis on freedom remained. In the words of Bethesda’s Morrowind Prophecies, “Experience it as you wish.”[10]

The series’ grand ambitions have put some members of the gaming press into an apparent position of subdued skepticism prior to the release of each new game, incredulous as to Bethesda’s capacity to surmount its obstacles. Nonetheless, whether this be a grab for reader interest or a true sentiment on behalf of the game press, such feelings evaporate by the end of each unvaryingly warm review the series’ games receive.[11]

These mechanics exist in contrast to most RPGs, where experience points are the sole measure of a character’s advancement, and levelling up drives skill increases.


Tamriel map
The continent of Tamriel on the planet of Nirn.

The world of TES is known for its attention to detail, realism, and the long, complex lists of names, dates, and places. They constitute its extensive history and the vast, interconnected structure of its various societies, cultures, and religions much more than most players are familiar with.

Furthermore, there is no one compilation of all information pertaining to TES, and, within the games, historical references are often vague or

The Elder Scrolls Universe
TES universe

unsure. Players are encouraged to draw their own conclusions about situations and events for which the records are few and incomplete or when competing viewpoints obscure the truth. This has spawned a subculture amongst TES players of history and philosophy debaters affectionately called loremasters.

The Elder Scrolls games take place on the continent of Tamriel, a large landmass divided into nine provinces. An exception is The Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire, which takes place between the realm of Oblivion, an alternate dimension ruled by the Daedra, and the mortal realm of Mundus. It is known that there are continents besides Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls planet known as Nirn, but there is yet to be an official game that takes place in one.

The nine provinces of Tamriel and some other continents are :

The other continents of Nirn:

  • Atmora is the ancient land of the Atmorans before settling in Skyrim and becoming the Nords.
  • Akavir is a land east of Tamriel; it is home to five different races, all seperated by their individual empires. It is believed that the dragons originally came from Akavir, and then moved to Skyrim.
  • Yokuda lies west of Tamriel and was home to the Redguards before they escaped to Tamriel, when a massive, devastating event occured within the continent which sank the entire land, lost forever to the vast oceans of Nirn. The Redguards arrived to Tamriel in the Year 808 of the First Era, where they settled in Hammerfell. Though it is known that Yokuda sank long ago, the cause of the catastrophe is still debated today.

While each of the ten playable races has a “home province” or province of origin, they are not limited to this province and can be found outside its borders, though they are a minority. It should also be noted that the home province of the Orcs is, in fact, a city-state called Orsinium, which lies within the borders of High Rock.

Other races included in TES lore are Ayleid, Chimer, Dwemer, Falmer, Hist, Imga, Kamal, Ka Po’ Tun, Maormer, Sload, Tang Mo, and Tsaesci. The Dwemer were destroyed for unknown reasons before Arena, but this is explained in Morrowind (Elder Scrolls III).

Mythology and religion

The Elder Scrolls places great emphasis on the idea of the dualism and equality of opposites. This dualism is not the Abrahamic dualism of good and evil, but more closely resembles a fusion of Eastern and pre-Christian Western beliefs on the subject, being the duality of order and chaos. According to Elder Scrolls Lore, the concepts of order and chaos can be translated collectively into everything. These notions might be more exactly approximated using the words “stasis” (unchanging continuity) and “force” (unknowable energy). Almost all Tamrielic religions strongly feature the idea that the world was created through an intermingling of these two things, some saying that time is a synthesis of continuity and alteration, and most religious creation-theories deal with one or more mythological characters representing these absolutes either procreating or engaging in combat (or both, as the case may be). The thought experiment of the irresistible force is often invoked, and much of the Elder Scrolls theosophical lore is devoted to developing and examining hypotheses as to how such a thought experiment might actually play out on all levels, were it metaphysically possible.




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