- Every Elder Scrolls Game
- How Many Elder Scrolls Games Are There?
The Elder Scrolls is a colossal series. From somewhat obscure origins, it has emerged as the most recognizable brand of role-playing games in the world. To say the anticipation for the upcoming sixth mainline entry is palpable would be an understatement.
Tamriel's tales extend beyond the five numbered chapters and their popular massively multiplayer counterpart, branching out into several spin-offs that vary in notoriety from favored to forgotten. Come forth, brave adventurer, and learn about every last one of them.
Every Elder Scrolls Game
First, let's take a look at every Elder Scrolls game that has launched so far, including those odd little spin-offs and experimental titles.
The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994)
Some things in Arena will feel familiar to current audiences. The first-person view and menu-cycling magic have never really faded from the main entries. Arena is also one of the first video games to incorporate a day/night cycle that feels at least remotely realistic. But the sheer size of the game's world necessitated a degree of procedurally-generated content that can quickly wear out its welcome, with hundreds of dungeons that will look, well, more than a little similar.
The game's also notorious for its punishing difficulty. Even Ken Rolston, the lead designer for Morrowind — which isn't exactly a cakewalk, either — has famously stated that he only ever managed to get past Arena's introductory dungeon once.
The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall (1996)
Daggerfall sports over 15,000 towns and dungeons. Let that sink in.
The gaming industry has more than a few obsessions. One of them involves developers boasting increasingly large open-world environments. To be sure, many of these are wonderful and rich with imaginative content. The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall's map is approximately 63,000 square miles in size. That's the state of Florida.
As with Arena before it, all that real estate comes with a price. The amount of procedurally-generated content can make anyone's head spin. It is not a "handcrafted" game by most measures. It is, however, a significant step up from Arena, with a much more involved plot and the beginnings of a truly intriguing Tamriel.
An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire (1997)
With the relative success of Daggerfall, Bethesda decided to begin work on not one, not two, but three separate Elder Scrolls projects. The first to launch was An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire, set not on the surface of the realm of Mundus, but in another plane of existence sandwiched between Mundus and the realm of Oblivion.
The hero is an apprentice serving at the titular Battlespire who bears witness to the slaughter of his compatriots and sets out on a seven-level quest to defeat the nefarious Daedra called Mehrunes Dagon.
The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard (1998)
Even among spin-offs, The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard is fairly unique. The only game in the entire series that features an established protagonist, it's the story of a young man named Cyrus who journeys to an island off the coast of Tamriel's Hammerfell province in search of his missing sister.
The tangled political web of Daggerfall returns here in full force as Cyrus is forced to navigate the machinations of various aspiring upstarts. It feels like Redguard has more in common with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time than it does any mainline Elder Scrolls chapter, with free-roaming action-adventure at the forefront and a singular narrative.
The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind (2002)
It's hard to believe now, but there was a time in which Bethesda was on its last legs, desperate for a hit before financial woes sealed the company's fate. Neither Battlespire nor Redguard sold well enough to meet management's expectations, and Morrowind was taking an awful long time to come together. In numerous interviews, long-time Elder Scrolls director Todd Howard has noted that Morrowind was a last-ditch effort. A final fantasy, if you will.
The Nine Divines proved merciful in the end. Despite its PC and Xbox exclusivity, The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind was a rousing success. To this day, the tale of a reborn hero from a foreign land, whose arrival in Vvardenfell upsets the balance of a hypocritical religious order and a squabbling trio of noble houses, is celebrated as a strong main quest with choices that matter.
Morrowind's decidedly alien aesthetic also helps it maintain a sizable fandom; massive alien mushroom trees and equally gargantuan tick-like creatures who act as carriages are only the beginning of the game's willful weirdness.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold (2003)
Early mobile games feel like their own distinct kind of relic these days. Back when iPhone and Android were years away, and target platforms included Nokia and Motorola instead, the thought of a game with breathtaking graphics likely felt less like reality and more like an episode of Star Trek.
These limitations certainly show with The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold. The entire game is a prison breakout sequence; the player's goal is to make a few acquaintances and bust out of jail by defeating the evil warden Quintus Varus. It doesn't take long to do so, nor is the gameplay especially engaging along the way, but it's still a neat footnote in Elder Scrolls history.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Dawnstar (2004)
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Dawnstar's single quest involves the player determining which person among a small camp of individuals is secretly a traitor and subsequently defeating an evil Ice Tribe.
There's not a whole lot going on here, really, though there's an interesting little bit of trivia: the old version of The Elder Scrolls' official website claimed it featured a plot about restoring one's good name and opting between a life of good and evil, while none of that can be found in Dawnstar.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey (2004)
The graphics were gradually improving, for the time. The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey is the final game in its sub-series, popping up on mobile devices a few months after Dawnstar.
Shadowkey's plot is a bit more complex than those of its predecessors, with quests in the provinces of Hammerfell as well as Skyrim. Unfortunately, its surprisingly decent story is marred by its own openness. Players are free to complete it in all sorts of orders, but the story's told in such a manner that it's clear the writers assumed everyone would go about things with a single route in mind.
Confusion can pile upon confusion, but if you do it all the "right" way, it's a fun little diversion.
The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion (2006)
Even at launch, some folks chuckled at Oblivion's facial models. Bethesda should be praised for attempting to add a more diverse batch of facial expressions, but the claims that the game's cast is stuffed full of "potato faces" is a popular joke to this day.
That's not to say Oblivion is anything short of a triumph. Sure, it's Skyrim that put The Elder Scrolls on the map for the mainstream, but the core RPG community was already enamored with Morrowind, and Oblivion delivered on plenty of expectations. Its epic plot about Mehrunes Dagon's invasion – which happened before in Battlespire, but was lesser-known – and the tragic bravery of the last of Tiber Septim's family line has a certain Lord of the Rings vibe to it – but then, that aforementioned Septim descendant is voiced by Sean Bean.
Oblivion also expands upon Morrowind's faction storylines considerably, with the Dark Brotherhood quests often viewed as a high-water mark for the entire series.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim (2011)
Simply put, Skyrim is a phenomenon. It would not be enough to say that it took the gaming world by storm. It's been ported so many times that one of its nigh-uncountable internet memes consists of people joking that it will soon be coming to kitchen appliances.
The Elder Scrolls tends to foretell a lot of things. That's kind of what they do. In Skyrim, they've foretold the coming of the Dragonborn and his legendary struggle against the dragon Alduin, otherwise known as the World-Eater. The game also incorporates a secondary major quest about a civil war between Imperial loyalists and vengeful rebels that is tearing the cold realm to shreds.
Skyrim is set a full two centuries after Morrowind and Oblivion, which gave Bethesda the opportunity to revamp and upend loads of lore. It sets up a few tantalizing things for a sequel to chase, and none could have predicted just how long we'd all be waiting to see it all come to fruition.
The Elder Scrolls Online (2014)
The Elder Scrolls Online's greatest strength rests in its ability to stoke the vivid flames of nostalgia, expansion after expansion. The realms of Morrowind, Cyrodiil, and Skyrim are all here in this distant prequel, gorgeous as can be.
There's also the fact that so much of the rest of Tamriel is represented here in ESO, and that's not to be taken lightly. Fans have pined for a mainline game set in regions as untamed as Elsewyr and Black Marsh, but it feels rather unlikely that Bethesda's upcoming sixth chapter will take place there.
Of course – being an MMO – ESO plays out like an MMO. The main story is stronger and more in-depth than some may suspect, but those who would prefer a quieter, single-player experience might not fall in love with The Elder Scrolls Online as its massive subscriber base has.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends (2017)
A free-to-play deck-builder somewhat in the vein of online contemporaries like Hearthstone or Magic, The Elder Scrolls: Legends soaks up all of the series' rich lore and turns it into a bunch of collectible cards.
Matches come in two varieties: you can go head-to-head against other players or elect to challenge a computer-based opponent instead. There's even something of a story to be told here, threadbare though it may be – but it helps to spice things up. Fresh content for Legends progressed rather nicely for a time, but active development has ended as of December 2019.
The Elder Scrolls: Blades (2020)
16 years after The Elder Scrolls Travels, a mobile game designed for the smartphone world arrived at last. The Elder Scrolls: Blades features three game modes: Abyss, Town, and Arena. Abyss is a roguelike endless dungeon; Town is Blades' primary mode, wherein the hero's village has been destroyed, and building it back up means accepting a myriad of quests on behalf of NPCs. Arena is a player-versus-player stage.
The game's reception has been mixed, with some criticizing the quest design as rote and repetitive. Others have voiced concerns over the number of microtransactions and their prevalence in menus. Still, Blades has its fair share of fans who have taken to it as a bite-sized bit of Elder Scrolls goodness during work commutes, lunch breaks, and maybe even under the table at corporate meetings.
How Many Elder Scrolls Games Are There?
There are 13 Elder Scrolls games and counting, and it doesn't take a fortune-teller to know there's plenty more where that came from. It will be interesting to see what sorts of spin-offs accompany and succeed The Elder Scrolls 6. Maybe not half as interesting as The Elder Scrolls 6 itself — but you never know.
One thing's for sure. From 1994 through 2022 and on toward an uncertain future, the Scrolls are not finished with us yet.
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