The Elder Scrolls is a game series that has survived the tests of time; one of the few game franchises that can truly claim to have broken the generational gap. The Elder Scrolls boasts five main series titles and four more spin-offs, all achieving near-universal praise. But what has made this series so beloved and held in such high regard? Today we will be exploring the Elder Scrolls titles, what makes them unique, the purpose of the Elder Scrolls, and which Elder Scrolls game achieves this purpose most effectively.
The Elder Scrolls series began in March of 1994 with the release of Elder Scrolls Arena. The game started with a simple concept, go from town to town fighting in arenas until you’ve become champion of them all. While a simple core idea, it quickly morphed into something entirely new. The Arena development team began to fill the empty world they had built, first with side quests; then with cities and towns outside the arenas; until the game shifted focus from arena fighting to completing side quests. The change was so drastic that eventually the arenas, which were once the purpose of the game, where removed. With these changes, Elder Scrolls Arena had slowly become a fantasy adventure RPG, and while it wasn’t the first in the genre - it offered something more. Popular RPGs of the time included Final Fantasy; Eye of the Beholder; Ultima VI; and Might and Magic III; and while they all served the purpose of creating fantasy worlds of escape and adventure, they didn’t offer the large, fluid world that Arena achieved. Arena was broken into nine sections, each section a separate world that you could move through freely. You could go to whatever town or whatever cave you could find. The adventures were yours to define, not something on rails. And this was only part of the magic that has defined the Elder Scrolls series.
As the series came into itself the games became more and more experimental in creating more grandeur and mystical environments. Quests became these fantastical herculean tasks for our insanely unique characters to complete and in turn grow from. And while, yes, there were many one-off fetch quests and even a few quests that were more chores than anything, but I would argue this only adds to the games. Life has monotonous moments that take all our patience and effort to finish to the best of our ability, and yet when we do finally finish these tedious moments and do so correctly, the reward is infinitely sweeter. These moments of mild inconvenience add to a true role-playing experience and take us, for a moment, out of the mindset of our insanely powerful god of a character and reminds us there is still a world with worldly problems.
In terms of most effectively achieving these targets, it would have to be Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind. The game has an incredibly unique setting that really sets it apart from other games in a similar vein. Instead of the same green forests or lush mountain ranges, the game really gets experimental with swamplands and volcanic mountains. But it doesn’t stop at the setting, the creature design is a huge 180 from the standard Tolkienesque fair other Elder Scrolls and RPGs in general offer. And still, while the environments and creatures are completely exotic it doesn’t become unbelievable, as the world establishes and follows its own rules, only bending these rules a few times to add a new level of mystic. And it really hits balancing monotonous quests on the head, in order to join factions you have to start at the bottom and after one or two quick, albeit repetitive quests, your suddenly back to the epic fights and well-written story elements that the Elder Scrolls has become known for. If you haven’t played Morrowind yet but really loved Oblivion or Skyrim I highly suggest at least trying Morrowind if anything for the experience of playing such a unique Elder Scroll.