Why Every Elder Scrolls Game is the Best and Worst in the Series «

Skyrim! That’s seemingly all anyone in the 1UP offices talks about these days. While I’m excited as anyone about the newest Elder Scrolls game, I have a feeling that when the dust settles, fans will look upon the game the same way they do every other game in the series. Some will proclaim it the greatest game the series has ever seen, and others will see it as the worst. How do I know this will happen? Because that’s what happened to the last four Elder Scrolls games.



Why it’s the best:

It’s 1994, and Bethesda unleashes The Elder Scrolls: Arena on an unsuspecting Doom and Street Fighter obsessed public. With over 400 individual locales to explore, a day/night cycle, and weather that changed with the seasons, the world of Arena felt more alive than any other game world at the time. While other RPGs had used a first-person perspective or boasted a massive game world, no other game combined both in such an impressive way.

Why it’s the worst:

Arena is a brutally hard game. While part of this is by design, most of the game’s difficulty stems from its abominable control scheme. Do you like playing as a mage? Well you better have the clicks per-minute of a StarCraft champion to survive, otherwise you’re best sticking with a more straightforward warrior class. The game is so difficult that even people working on the current Elder Scrolls game can’t make it very far; according to Ashley Cheng, production director at Bethesda, “Over the years I’ve probably started Arena 20 times. Each time I had to relearn the arcane secrets of DOS memory management. Each time I loved the creaking doors, squeaking rats, and long swims in flooded tunnels. Only one time did I make it out of the first dungeon and wander around chattering with folks. And each time I abandoned the game, satisfied, and moved on to the next Flavor-of-the-Month.”

Arena also introduced the series’ tradition of being a buggy mess. While that’s a big problem today, in 1994 it was a catastrophe. Most gamers didn’t have access to the Internet where they could download patches, so most developers didn’t bother patching at all.


Why it’s the best:

Arena was a big game, but The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall was huge: the entire game world encompassed 487,000 square kilometers of space. That’s twice the size of Great Britain, bigger than California, and way larger than Skyrim and Oblivion’s 41 square-kilometers. 15,000 towns, dungeons, and locations fill this massive game.

The game’s mechanics matched the open world. Players could craft their own spells and enchantments, and customize their character abilities within the game’s guilds and leveling system, which naturally increased the proficiency of players as they used various skills and abilities. Daggerfall has perhaps the most free and open combination of gameplay and game world of any game in the series.

Why it’s the worst:

Yeah, Arena was buggy, but that’s nothing compared to Daggerfall. Reviewers almost unanimously condemned the game for tech issues that ranged from getting stuck in geometry, to being able to talk to or kill NPCs through walls, or even getting stuck in a dungeon that lacked an exit.

While the game was large, not everything in the world merited checking out. Art assets were used over and over again, and very large stretches of the game world existed that simply weren’t worth exploring; there’s a reason Bethesda ditched the massive game world for a smaller, and more crafted experience in future Elder Scrolls titles. As if that weren’t enough, the game provided one more disincentive to explore the world — it was too easy. It didn’t take long to level up to the point that you could take on any enemy in the game with ease; and if you’re already the most badass character in the world, why bother exploring? What are you going to find — a random item that makes you that much more powerful? There’s also a reason that Bethesda instituted scaling difficulty in later games.


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