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The Elder Scrolls
Genres Action role-playing
Developers Bethesda Game Studios
ZeniMax Online Studios
Vir2L Studios
Publishers Bethesda Softworks
Platforms MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, N-Gage, Java ME, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
First release The Elder Scrolls: Arena
Latest release The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dragonborn
December 4, 2012
Official website
The Elder Scrolls release timeline
1994 The Elder Scrolls: Arena
1996 The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
1997 An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire
1998 The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard
2002 The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
2002 The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal
2003 The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon
2003 The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold
2004 The Elder Scrolls Travels: Dawnstar
2004 The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey
2006 The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
2006 The Elder Scrolls Travels: Oblivion
2006 The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine
2007 The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles
2011 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
2012 The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard
2012 The Elder Scrolls V: Hearthfire
2012 The Elder Scrolls V: Dragonborn
2014 The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls is a series of action role-playing open world/fantasy video games developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks.


Before The Elder Scrolls

Prior to working on The Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda had worked predominantly with sports games. In the six years from their founding to Arena's release, in 1992, Bethesda had released ten games, six of them sports games[1]—games with such titles as Hockey League Simulator, NCAA Basketball: Road To The Final Four ('91/'92 Edition), and Wayne Gretzky Hockey[2]—and the remaining four adaptations from other media[1]—adaptations predominantly from the Terminator series.[2] Bethesda's history as a sport and port game developer did not help it when it began its first action role-playing venture. Designer Ted Peterson recalls the experience: "I remember talking to the guys at Sir-Tech who were doing Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant at the time, and them literally laughing at us for thinking we could do it."[3] Ted Peterson worked alongside Vijay Lakshman as one of the two designers of what was then simply Arena, a "medieval-style gladiator game."[3][4]


Peterson and Lakshman were joined by Julian Lefay who, according to Peterson, "really spear-headed the initial development of the series."[3] Peterson, Lakshman and LeFay were longtime aficionados of pencil and paper role-playing games,[3] and it was from these games that the world of Tamriel was created.[4] They were also fans of Looking Glass Studios' Ultima Underworld series, which became their main inspiration for Arena.[3] Initially, Arena was not to be a role-playing game at all. The player, and a team of his fighters, would travel about a world fighting other teams in their arenas until the player became "grand champion" in the world's capital, the Imperial City.[4] Along the way, side quests of a more role-playing nature could be completed. As the process of development progressed, however, the tournaments became less important and the side quests more.[3] RPG elements were added to the game, as the game expanded to include the cities outside the arenas, and dungeons beyond the cities.[4] Eventually it was decided to drop the idea of tournaments altogether, and focus on quests and dungeons,[3] making the game a "full-blown RPG".[4] Although the team had dropped all arena combat from the end game, because all the material had already been printed up with the title, the game went to market as The Elder Scrolls: Arena. Lakshman who came up with the idea of "The Elder Scrolls",[3] and the words eventually came to mean "Tamriel's mystical tomes of knowledge that told of its past, present, and future."[4] The game's initial voice-over was changed in response, beginning: "It has been foretold in the Elder Scrolls ..."[3]

Bethesda missed their Christmas 1993 deadline, and released the game in the first quarter of 1994, "really serious for a small developer/publisher like Bethesda Softworks." The packaging included a scantily clad female warrior which further contributed to distributor distaste for the game, leading to an initial distribution of only 10,000 units. "We were sure we had screwed the company and we'd go out of business." Nonetheless, sales continued to grow, month after month, as news of the game was passed on by word-of-mouth.[3] Despite harsh reviews, general bugginess,[3] and the formidable demands the game made on players' machines,[5] the game became a cult hit.[1] Evaluations of the game's success vary from "minor"[3] to "modest"[5] to "wild".[1] Game historian Matt Barton concludes that, in any case, "the game set a new standard for this type of CRPG, and demonstrated just how much room was left for innovation."[5]


Work on The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall began immediately after Arena's release in March 1994.[6] Ted Peterson was assigned the role of Lead Game Designer.[3] Daggerfall's plot was less clichéd than Arena's and involved a "complex series of adventures leading to multiple resolutions".[3] With Daggerfall, Arena's experience-point based system was replaced with one that rewarded the player for actually role-playing their character.[6] Daggerfall came equipped with an improved character generation engine, one that included a GURPS-influenced class creation system, offering players the chance to create their own classes, and assign their own skills.[3][7] Daggerfall was developed with an XnGine engine, one of the first truly 3D engines. Daggerfall realized a gameworld twice the size of Great Britain,[6] filled with 15,000 towns and a population of 750,000.[1] It was influenced by analog games and literature Julian LeFay or Ted Peterson happened to be playing or reading at the time, such as Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask and Vampire: The Masquerade.[3] It was released on August 31, 1996.[8] Like Arena, Daggerfall's release suffered from buggy code, leaving consumers disgruntled.[5] This led to a more cautious release schedule for future games.[9]

Battlespire and Redguard

Following the release of Daggerfall, work began on three separate projects all at once: Battlespire, Redguard, and Morrowind. Battlespire, originally titled Dungeon of Daggerfall: Battlespire, was the first of the three to be released,[10] on November 30, 1997.[11] Originally designed as an expansion pack for Daggerfall, it was repackaged as a stand-alone game. Battlespire focused on dungeon romping and offered multiplayer gaming—player versus player deathmatch— the only series title to do so as of 2011.[10] Redguard was the second of the three titles to be released, on October 31, 1998.[12] It was a pure action-adventure game inspired by Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia, and the Ultima series.[13] Redguard did not offer the player the chance to create their own character. Instead, players would play the prefabricated "Cyrus the Redguard".[13] Both games were failures with the gaming public. Players used to the vast open spaces of Daggerfall did not take well to the reduced worlds of Redguard and Battlespire. There was a downturn in sales in The Elder Scrolls franchise and Bethesda redoubled its efforts to build the next major chapter.[1]


The third title in The Elder Scrolls series was first conceived during the development of Daggerfall.[14] Initially designed to encompass the whole province of Morrowind and allow the player to join all five Dunmer Great Houses it was decided that the scope was too grand given the technology current at the time.[14] At publication it covered just the isle of Vvardenfell and allowed the player to only join three of the Great Houses. The XnGine was scrapped and replaced with Numerical Design Limited's Gamebryo, a Direct3D powered engine, with T&L capacity,[15] 32-bit textures and skeletal animation.[16] It was decided that the game world would be populated using the methods the team had developed in Redguard; with the game objects crafted by hand, rather than generated using the random algorithmic methods.[17]

The project took "close to 100 man-years to create". Bethesda tripled their staff and spent the first year developing the The Elder Scrolls Construction Set. This allowed the game staff to easily balance the game and to modify it in small increments rather than large.[14] Ted Peterson, who had left following the release of Daggerfall, returned to work as an author of in-game material, and as a general consultant on the lore-based aspects of the work.[18] The PC version of Morrowind had gone gold by April 23, 2002,[19][20] and was released on May 1 in North America,[21] with the Xbox release set at June 7.[22] On January 3, Bethesda announced that game publisher Ubisoft would take control of Morrowind's European distribution, in addition to those of eight other Bethesda games.[23]

The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal expansion pack went gold on November 1[24] and was released, with little fanfare,[25] on November 6.[26] Tribunal puts the player in the self-contained, walled city of Mournhold, which can be teleported to from Morrowind's land mass.[24] Development on the game began immediately after Morrowind shipped, giving the developers a mere five-month development cycle to release the game. The prior existence of the Construction Set, however, meant that the team "already had the tools in place to add content and features very quickly".[27] Interface improvements, and specifically an overhaul of Morrowind's journal system, were among the key goals.[27][28]Morrowind 's second expansion, The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon, went gold by May 23,[29] and was released on June 6.[30] It had been worked on since the release of Tribunal.[31] In the expansion the player travels to the frozen island of Solstheim and is asked to investigate the uneasiness of the soldiers stationed there.


Work on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion began in 2002, immediately after Morrowind's publication.[32] Oblivion was developed by Bethesda Softworks, and the initial Xbox 360 and Personal computer (PC) releases were co-published by Bethesda and Take-Two Interactive subsidiary 2K Games.[33][34] Oblivion was released in March 21, 2006.[35] Developers working on Oblivion focused on providing a tighter storyline, more developed characters[36][37] and to make information in the game world more accessible to players.[38] Oblivion features improved AI,[39][40] improved physics,[41][42] and improved graphics.[41][43][44] Bethesda developed and implemented procedural content creation tools in the creation of Oblivion's terrain, leading to landscapes that are more complex and realistic than those of past titles, but had less of a drain on Bethesda's staff.[45][46]


In August 2010, Todd Howard revealed Bethesda were currently working on a game that had been in development since the release of Oblivion, and that progress was very far along. While the game was conceptualized after Oblivion's release, main development was restricted until after Fallout 3 was released.[47] In November, a journalist from Eurogamer Denmark reported overhearing a developer on a plane talking about the project; a new The Elder Scrolls game,[48][49] although Bethesda did not comment on the report. At the Spike Video Game Awards in December, Todd Howard appeared on stage to unveil a teaser trailer and announce the title of the game.[50] The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released on November 11, 2011.

The Elder Scrolls Online

On May 3, 2012, The Elder Scrolls Online was revealed, which will be released for Windows, Mac, Xbox One and PS4 in 2014.

On August 1, 2013, Bethesda revealed The Elder Scrolls Anthology on PC, a compilation of all five The Elder Scrolls games, including all of the expansions to Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim.[51]


The Elder Scrolls games can be safely categorized as role-playing games (RPG), although they do include elements taken from action and adventure games. In Arena, as in many RPGs, players advance by killing monsters (and thereby gaining experience points) until a preset value is met, whereupon they level-up. However, in Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion the series took a skill-based approach to character advancement. Players develop their characters' skills by applying them, and only level-up when a certain set of skills have been developed. Skyrim took a new approach, where the more a skill is leveled, the more it helps to level the character. This shifted the focus away from character creation and more onto character development. The flexibility of the games' engines has facilitated the release of game extensions (or mods) through The Elder Scrolls Construction Set.

The Elder Scrolls main series of games emphasizes different aspects of the gaming experience than most computer role-playing games. A brief article by Joystiq in early November 2006 compared 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.[52] This 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.[53] 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".[54] 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."[55]


The Elder Scrolls world can be described as one of high fantasy with influences from a multitude of cultures all over the globe (Medieval, Roman, Nordic, Ancient Japanese, etc.). Like most works of high or epic fantasy, the Elder Scrolls games are typically serious in tone and epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against a supernatural or evil force. Other characteristics typical of high fantasy fiction are common themes in The Elder Scrolls, such as demi-human races including elves, orcs and dwarves (a now-extinct race known as Dwemer), magic and sorcery, mythical creatures, factions with their own political agendas, walled medieval cities and strongholds, and plot elements driven by prophecies and legends. In accordance with many literary high fantasy works, the world of The Elder Scrolls is known for its attention to detail including well developed lore and back story. This includes a vast amount of information such as names, dates, and places that constitute its history and the interconnected structure of its various societies, cultures, and religions. Lore including histories and legends are contained in dozens of readable in-game books that are scattered throughout the game world.

The Elder Scrolls games take place on the fictional world of Nirn, on the continent of Tamriel, a large landmass divided into nine provinces. The exceptions are The Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire, and parts of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which take place between the realm of Oblivion (one of several alternate dimensions ruled by immortal god-like beings known as Daedra) and the mortal realm of Mundus. There are other continents besides Tamriel on Nirn (such as Akavir or Yokuda),[56] but there has yet to be an official game that takes place upon one of them.

Tamriel itself is divided into nine provinces, each with its own native race. Those provinces are as follows: Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock, the Summerset Isles, Hammerfell, Black Marsh, Skyrim, Valenwood, and Elsweyr. The native races of the provinces are as follows: Imperials in Cyrodiil, Dunmer (also known as Dark Elves) in Morrowind, Bretons and Orsimer (also known as Orcs) in High Rock, Altmer (also known as High Elves) in the Summerset Isles, Redguards in Hammerfell, Argonians in Black Marsh, Nords in Skyrim, Bosmer (also known as Wood Elves) in Valenwood, and Khajiit in Elsweyr.[57]

There are three separate ruling powers on the continent: The Mede Empire (which is made up of Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock and Skyrim), the recently-independent Hammerfell, and the Aldmeri Dominion (comprising the other four provinces). The emperor of the Mede Empire resides in the capital province of Cyrodiil. The ruling dynasty throughout the Third Era consisted entirely of the descendants of Tiber Septim. His line, frequently called the Septim Bloodline, ended at the conclusion of the Third Era, with the death of Martin Septim, the last living heir of Uriel Septim VII, during a failed invasion of Cyrodiil by the forces of Oblivion.

Several years after the Oblivion Crisis, a Colovian warlord named Titus Mede assumed the throne of the Empire, reigning through at least the first forty years of the Fourth Era.[58] During the Fourth Era, the Empire declines in power, leading to the secession of the provinces of Elsweyr, Black Marsh, Valenwood, and the Summerset Isles. The provinces of the Summerset Isles and Valenwood, home to the Altmer and Bosmer, respectively, create the Aldmeri Dominion, an Elven empire whose influence quickly eclipses the Old Empire, who faces another separatist movement in the province of Skyrim.

Notably, there is no one compilation of all information pertaining to The Elder Scrolls world, and, within the games, historical references are often vague or even contradictory, as players are encouraged to draw their own conclusions about situations and events.

The Elder Scrolls

The actual Elder Scrolls (Kel, in the language of the dragons) play a very limited role in the storyline of the series, serving only as framing plot device (i.e., "[the events in this game] were foretold in the Elder Scrolls..."). The Elder Scrolls themselves are rarely referred to in-game, or even in the in-game literature. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion marked the first actual appearance of the scrolls in the final quest of the Thieves Guild questline.[59] The scroll itself appears as an incomprehensible chart, containing luminous glyphs.[59]

Information about The Elder Scrolls is sparse, and often contradictory. They are thought to be relics from the Aedra (legendary beings similar to Daedra that sacrificed their immortality to create the world). Also, the scrolls do not exist but they have always existed. Attempting to read the scrolls also proves difficult as the scrolls are protected by several layers of magical safeguards, this includes the blinding light that emanates from the scroll's text. Another safeguard exists independent of the light that makes the writing on the scrolls indecipherable. However, there exist a sect of monks, the Order of the Ancestor Moths, who devote their lives to the reading and interpreting of the Elder Scrolls.[59] Bypassing the scrolls' safeguards, however, takes a huge toll on the monks' vision. Senior members who read the scrolls wear blindfolds at all times when they are not divining the scrolls' content and retired Moth Priests are always completely blind. Attempting to read the Elder Scrolls without training always results in failure and immediate blindness. However, cosmically important individuals, or individuals that are the subject of prophecy, have been able to see the unencrypted writing on the Elder Scrolls without the associated rituals or resulting blindness. A book entitled "Lost Histories of Tamriel" provides further insight on the Elder Scrolls, stating that when any event has actually occurred, it sets itself unchangeably into the scrolls, and no action, magical or otherwise, can alter this.[60]

In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the scrolls are described as "fragments of creation" (a reference to the creation-myth associated with the Aedra), and play a vital role in the main questline. They are said to be very descriptive works of writing and without vast knowledge of the arts, one may go insane trying to decipher them. The player is tasked with retrieving an Elder Scroll from an expansive Dwemer ruin known as Blackreach, located underground. During gameplay, if the player tries to read the Elder Scroll they will go temporarily blind. It is discovered that the Elder Scroll was used by the ancient Nords to battle Alduin, the ancient Dragon prophesied to destroy the world, inadvertently sending him forward in time. The player character uses the Scroll to travel back in time to gain the knowledge of how the Nords were able to combat Alduin. It is also described that the number of the Scrolls is unknown not because of their immense quantity, but because the number itself is unknowable, as the Scrolls "do not exist in countable form". The actual number and placement of elder scrolls fluctuates constantly as it is said that they technically exist and do not exist at the same time. This makes their predictions difficult to cite authoritatively because entire scrolls or entries can change or vanish as events transpire. This unpredictability has caused other ascetic groups, such as the Greybeards from Skyrim, to find the existence of the Elder Scrolls a blasphemy.

In Dawnguard, Lord Harkon attempts to use the Elder Scrolls to blot out the sun so the vampires can overwhelm Tamriel. Whether the player joins the vampires or the Dawnguard they will find a Moth Priest to read the scrolls that are collected. Once collected, the Moth Priest reveals that he is blind, not having prepared himself properly in his hurry to read the first scroll. So he tells the player of a ritual allowing the player to read the scrolls. The ritual involves harvesting bark from a special Canticle Tree and using it to bring Ancestor Moths to a shaft of light and reading all three scrolls to find Auriel's Bow. The Moth Priest Dexion tells that Ancestor Moths can give a person the extra sense needed to truly read the scrolls.


In 2009, science-fiction author Gregory Keyes released The Infernal City, a novel set approximately 40 years after the Oblivion crisis. Lord of Souls was released in 2011 as Keyes' second novel in his The Elder Scrolls book series.

Lawsuit against Mojang

In August 2011, Bethesda Softworks contacted creator of Minecraft, Mojang, claiming that the intended trademark of the title Scrolls for its new game breached Bethesda's trademark on The Elder Scrolls.[61] On March 10, 2012, Markus Persson tweeted that the two had come to an agreement over the use of the name. The agreement prohibits Mojang from using the title Scrolls in any future sequels of the game.[62]


Aggregate review scores
As of June 13, 2013.
Game GameRankings Metacritic
The Elder Scrolls: Arena (PC) 80.00%[63] -
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (PC) 78.80%[64] -
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC) 89.01%[65]
(Xbox) 87.08%[66]
(PC) 89[67]
(Xbox) 87[68]
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (X360) 93.85%[69]
(PC) 93.29%[70]
(PS3) 92.98%[71]
(X360) 94[72]
(PC) 94[73]
(PS3) 93[74]
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (X360) 95.15%[75]
(PC) 94.42%[76]
(PS3) 88.00%[77]
(X360) 96[78]
(PC) 94[79]
(PS3) 92[80]

In 2012, Complex ranked The Elder Scrolls at number 20 on the list of the best video game franchises.[81]

In 2013, Fans voted The Elder Scrolls as the Greatest Game Series of the Decade on, beating out 64 other competitors. The Elder Scrolls reached the final round, beating the Grand Theft Auto series by a margin of 52.5% of the vote for The Elder Scrolls to 47.5% for Grand Theft Auto.[82][83]


Further reading

External links

  • official site
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