Elder Scrolls Game History & Chronology: A Dive Past to Present

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It’s almost been thirty years since Bethesda released Elder Scrolls: Arena, a primitive open-world fantasy action game by today’s standards. But a technological marvel in 1994, it was praised for its vast world and fun first-person combat. The Elder Scrolls series has grown into a juggernaut of a franchise. Ranging from open-world RPGs to an MMO and even a TCG.

The Elder Scrolls series is set in a high fantasy world called Nirn and takes place on the supercontinent of Tamriel. Many real-world-inspired cultures inhabit Tamriel. Each Elder Scrolls game takes place in a separate region of Tamriel, excluding Elder Scrolls Arena and Elder Scrolls Online.

The Elder Scrolls universe is flourishing, full of magic, gods, demons, heroes, and kings. Elder Scrolls lore is extensive. The writers at Bethesda have had almost three decades to build the Elder Scrolls universe.

In the Elder Scrolls series, the player creates a character by choosing their race and class, much like Dungeons and Dragons. The player will fight and explore through dungeons, using weapons and magic associated with their class. Frequently improving their gear from acquiring loot and treasure. 

Elder Scrolls: Arena

elder scrolls arena

Elder Scrolls Arena is the first title in the Elder Scrolls series, debuting in 1994. Although the game didn’t receive much success as later Elder Scrolls games, it did establish a cult following.

The game takes place in the 389th year of the Third Era. The Imperial battlemage named Jager Tharn betrays Uriel Septim VII, the current emperor, by teleporting him into a different dimension. Trapped in the alternate dimension, Uriel Septim cannot stop Jager from assuming his identity and taking control of the empire.

Tharn replaces the imperial guard with his demon minions and kills his apprentice sorceress Ria Silmane when she discovers his plans. Although Ria is dead, she manages to transform herself into a spectral form in a last-ditch effort to find help for the emperor. Tharn later banishes a low-ranking official from the emperor’s court to the dungeons.

You take control of this prisoner in true Elder Scrolls fashion and are freed by Ria Silmane and tasked with rescuing the emperor. Traveling to the most dangerous locations in Tamriel, you’ll obtain fragments of the shattered Staff of Chaos. But this wasn’t Bethesda’s original plan for Elder Scrolls: Arena.

Development History of Elder Scrolls: Arena

Interestingly Bethesda did not initially plan for Arena to be an open-world roleplaying game. Instead, the game was originally set in a fantasy world and featured gladiatorial combat. The player would take control of a team of gladiators, ergo the name Arena.

But as Bethesda developed the game, they shifted their attention to side content. Which ultimately led to removing the arena aspects from the game, transforming Arena from an action game into an RPG.

Elder Scrolls Arena features a colossal world bigger than Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim combined. It had a 6 million square mile area to explore. As a result, it can take the player hours of real-world time to travel to towns or even days.

The world is randomly generated every time you leave a location or dungeon. There are countless dungeons for you to explore and 17 unique dungeons that tie into the main quest. The game also includes hundreds of towns that designed not randomly generated elements.

Launch Problems

Elder Scrolls Arena had a rough release, to say the least, as problems had already arisen before the game was released. Bethesda missed their intended release date and had to keep the existing Arena packaging. Because Bethesda was so behind to save money, they decided to keep the Elder Scrolls: Arena name.

The sheer size of the game’s open world and the randomly generated content made the game demanding for computers.

As well as the game’s high number of bugs and glitches did not help its reception, Bethesda would later fix these issues with patches. The game sold a mere three thousand copies in its initial release due to confusion regarding the misleading packaging.

Elder Scroll II: Daggerfall

elder scrolls daggerfall

After discovering their passion for RPG games, Bethesda developed a sequel to Arena. But this time, with hindsight and experience, they would continue innovating the RPG genre with Daggerfall.

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall was released in 1996 for MS-DOS and sold over 100,000 copies in just two days. Critics praised the game as revolutionary for its size, depth, and mechanics.

Unlike Arena, Daggerfall offers considerably more freedom to experience the game. The player is free to pursue side quests or abandon the main quest entirely at any time in the game. Bethesda also improved the character creator in Daggerfall, allowing you to customize your character’s background, influencing your starting items, skills, and reputation.

Daggerfall Story and Setting

Daggerfall is set in 405 of the fourth age and starts with a flash of fire from a torch. The emperor explains to you that the king of Daggerfall Lysandus, has died in battle. His ghost and defeated army now haunt the land.

He asks you, his loyal friend and ally, to find a way to free Lysandus from his torment. He additionally tasks you to destroy an important letter that got lost on the way to the queen of Daggerfall. The contents of the letter house crucial information on a superweapon that cannot fall into the wrong hands. As your adventure unfolds, you will discover that the letter somehow managed to fall into the hands of Gortworg, the king of the Orcs.

The game takes place in the region of High Rock and the borders of Hammerfell. High Rock is the homeland of the Bretons, a magic-sensitive people who descend from the elves of the Summerset Isle and Nords of Skyrim.

Daggerfall Gameplay Features

daggerfall map

Building upon the success of Arena, Bethesda developed new RPG enhancing features for Daggerfall. Bethesda would scale the map size down and keep randomly generated content, scaling it down to create designed content. As a result, this allowed for Bethesda to ground the world created 

Bethesda enhanced the magic system in Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall by adding a spell creation feature. The feature allows the player to experiment and combine the numerous spell effects to create a personalized spell. The player is limited to picking a maximum of three spell effects when making a magic spell.

Daggerfall introduced an enchantment system for gear, much like the spell creation system. As well as introduced vampires, werewolves, and wereboars as two kinds of lycanthropy. The player has a 1.22% chance of turning into a wereboar or werewolf after coming into contact with the monsters.

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

elder scrolls morrowind

Morrowind was released in 2002 for PC and Xbox, receiving critical and commercial success due to its appealing visuals, detail, and player freedom. However, the game was not without its problems, and critics quickly reported its numerous bugs and glitches. The game also received negative feedback because it was very demanding for computers.

Overall the scope of detail included in Morrowind would circumvent its issues and impress critics with the game’s real-time weather effects, fauna, and flora. Morrowind also introduced alchemy, giving utility to many flowers and herbs. In addition, Bethesda included over three hundred books that explain the history of Tamriel. These details make Morrowind surpass previous titles in immersion within the Elder Scrolls series.

Morrowind would push the series into a 3D cinematic-like world thanks to world detail and aid from Jeremy Soule’s short soundtrack. Many revered the OST as a fantastic score; however, it received criticism for its short length and overuse in the game.

Morrowind enhanced character creation by adding birthsigns, the Elder Scrolls version of star signs, and a horoscope. These signs give an extra layer of depth and personalization. There are thirteen birthsigns in the game that can grant bonuses and issue weaknesses simultaneously. Choosing a birthsign relies heavily on the type of character you want to play. 

Morrowind Story and Setting

Bethesda entirely abandoned randomly generated content and scaled down the size of the map once again. Taking place on the island of Vvardenfell, located in the Morrowind region. Bethesda created an incredibly complex, grounded world where players could return to locations previously traveled.

The volcanic island of Vvardenfell departs from the European landscape featured in Arena and Daggerfall. Instead, opting for a hostile and alien-like land where dark dust and ash bellow from a volcano.

 Bethesda’s location allowed to explore other cultural aesthetics, including Japanese, Egyptian, and Islamic architecture elements. As well as the alien-like creatures such as the giant flea like Silt Strider made Morrowind the unique installment of the series.

Morrowind has countless side quests and faction/guild quests. However, the main quest revolves around defeating Dagoth Ur and his cult, the Sixth House that sprawl from Red Mountain to all over Vvardenfell. Using his network of spies and giant mechanical golem Dagoth Ur now immortal, threatens to take over Morrowind.

Introduction to Morrowind

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is set in the third era and starts with a brief introduction. The ancient Daedric prince Azura explains to the Neravarine (you) in a dream that you are being transported from an Imperial prison to Morrowind. With no explanation for why Azura reassured the prisoner that everything would be okay. You are awakened by a Dunmer prisoner called Jiub, who then asks who you are triggering the character creation screen.

After creating your character and escaping the dungeon, you are free to explore wherever you like, interact with whoever you want. Bethesda designed Morrowind to be open-ended like Daggerfall but enhanced player freedom and choice regarding the main quest.

 Morrowind Expansions

Bethesda added two major DLCs to Morrowind:

  • Tribunal – Fixed the clunky journal mechanic and added the city of Mournhold and the Museum of Artifacts.
  • Bloodmoon – Introduces the island of Solstheim and werewolves and new locations, caves, and towns. 

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

elder scrolls oblivion

The development of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion began straight after Morrowind. Releasing alongside the Xbox 360 in 2006. Oblivion built upon the foundations that Morrowind introduced. By producing a complex, rich world filled with an abundance of content.

However, this time, Bethesda would cast their attention to creating a more streamlined story and fuller characters. By reducing filler quests and casting talent of Patrick Stewart to play the emperor Uriel Septim VII and Sean Bean as Martin Septim.

Jeremy Soule, composer of the Morrowind soundtrack, would return, but this time he would create 26 fitting tracks that varied for all gameplay aspects. The soundtrack was nominated for the 2006 British Academy of Film & Television Arts and Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences awards.

As stated by Todd Howard, the team at Bethesda set out on a goal to “create the quintessential RPG of the next generation.” The game would feature less content than its predecessor but an upgrade in quality. In Morrowind, the voice acting was sparingly used for the main quest, but Oblivion would include voice acting for all NPCs.

Oblivion Story and Setting

The Elder Scrolls Oblivion takes place in the Imperial home region of Cyrodil and is set six years after the events in Morrowind. 

The story starts with the hero of Kvatch (you) locked deep within the Imperial dungeons. Uriel Septim VII, accompanied by the Blades, enters your cell to access a secret exit to flee from assassins. In a bid to escape the same fate as his sons. 

Astounded recognizing you from his dreams, he states your destiny is tied with his and that you must close the gates to Oblivion. The emperor hands you the Amulet of Kings ordering you to accompany him and the Blades through the secret exit.

It’s not long before assassins ambush the group. As the Blades attempt to fend them off, they die alongside the emperor. Now alone, you must find Uriel’s illegitimate son. The last heir to the throne, and prepare for the upcoming Oblivion invasion as the fate of Tamriel is in your hands.

Developments and Improvements

Although the player’s actions are integral towards the story and the saving of Tamriel. Bethesda would stray away from the player’s character being the almighty savior and prophesized hero they usually use as a protagonist. They instead opted for a protagonist that supports well-developed characters, where quests offer multistranded paths and outcomes.

Bethesda returned to the European-inspired aesthetic that they created over a decade ago. But this time in a fully 3D-designed world that featured state-of-the-art radiant a.i and technology. The region of Cyrodil is home to the capital city of the Imperials and the palace of the emperor.

The countryside is filled with beautiful rolling hills, forests. As well as a vast river surrounding the Imperial city and washes out to sea, acting as a port for imperial trade. The land also features various weather and sights nearing its borders because it is central in Tamriel.

Oblivion Features and Gameplay

Unlike previous Elder Scroll main quests, the Oblivion quest impacts the world as you progress through it. Only one Oblivion Gate is open located at Kvatch, but after closing this gate, this triggers for the gates to open all across Cyrodil. This ties into gameplay mechanics, as in your adventures, you will discover many of these gates that you will have to close.

Oblivion would streamline fast travel and general travel by allowing the player to fast travel to any previously visited location. In addition, Bethesda would introduce horses in Oblivion to provide more immediate forms of travel. The player can buy, steal and earn horses as rewards for completing quests. This overall would improve the player’s experience allowing them more freedom to focus on quests rather than constantly traveling if they were so inclined.

Oblivion would include birthsigns for character creation and improve character personalization. By allowing players to sculpt their character from a series of presets from all character races.

oblivion forrest

Oblivion Expansions

Bethesda introduced two major DLCs:

  • The Knights of the Nine – Introduces Knights of the Nine faction who recover salvage and protect crusader’s relics.
  • The Shivering Isle – adds the Realm of Madness, focusing around Daedric prince Sheogorath.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Here be Dragons!

elder scrolls skyrim

Releasing in November 2011, five years after Oblivion, Skyrim is the most popular and best-selling title of the Elder Scrolls series. The game has cemented itself as a must-have for every Steam or disc collection. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim takes place two hundred years after Oblivion in the snowy northern region of Tamriel, Skyrim.

Skyrim Story and Setting

The land of Skyrim is home to the Nords, a hardy people accustomed to the arctic winds and biting frosts of Skyrim. They are skilled warriors, strong, bold with long-lived traditions. However, they are also versed, poets and singers.

The region of Skyrim has been plunged into a time of civil war. The Stormcloaks fight for the independence of Skyrim from the Imperial Empire. It’s a time where people live in distrust for their fellow neighbors, and the expression of political stances could get you killed.

However, the tensions of war have masked an unseen threat that is slowly creeping in for the people of Tamriel. The returning of dragons led by Alduin, also called the World Eater or Twilight God threatens to devour the world.

You, the Dragonborn awake encaptured by Imperial soldiers, now a prisoner, you are transported to Helgan, a small village near the Cyrodil border. You are greeted by Ralof, a Stormcloak who introduces you to Ulfric Stormcloak, the leader of the Stormcloaks and Jarl of Whiterun. As you enter Heligan, you are introduced to both sides of the civil war and Alduin, the real threat to Tamriel.

Skyrim Gameplay and Features

Skyrim would enhance freedom and variation in gameplay through several new ways with the following:

  • Dragon Shouting – As the Dragonborn, you can channel the power of the Thu’um by speaking in the Dragon language. There are a total of 20 shouts in Skyrim. To learn this power, the player must find inscriptions of the shouts in dungeons and NPCs.
  • Leveling system – Skyrim swapped skill point allocation as a leveling system to improve skills by utilizing skills. Allowing players to change up their combat and gameplay style throughout the game.

Reaching skill level milestones would further unlock skill level perks that can impact gameplay mechanics and percentage bonuses. Alongside skill levels, characters had an overall level that can be leveled, allowing the player to allocate points in either health, Magicka, or stamina.

Crafting – Skyrim introduced a dedicated crafting system adding Smithing, Enchanting, and Alchemy as a skill. That can be accessed through crafting stations where players can make items using resources gathered along their adventure. Previous titles include some aspects of crafting. However, Skyrim overhauled it, adding many items to create, and each item and ingredient can be inspected in great detail.

  • Smithing – Interacting with a forge, the player can create weapons, armor and, apparel.
  • Enchanting – interacting with an Arcane Enchanter, the player can create enchantments applied to weapons, armor, and apparel.
  • Alchemy – Interacting with an alchemy station, the player can create an abundance of different kinds of potions and poisons.

skyrim world

Fauna Immersion

Skyrim features a wide variety of enemies that require different approaches in combat. For example, Frost Trolls are resistant to frost attacks but weak to fire and have fast regeneration.

Creatures in Skyrim interact with their environment in realistic scenarios compared to previous titles. Frostbite Spiders, for example, can be seen scurrying around in their nests and can drop down from ceilings. Dragons will hover, fly, stomp around the ground, mount buildings, and attack by breathing fire and ice. In addition, they have powerful physical attacks.

Skyrim Expansions

Bethesda introduced three major DLCs:

  • Dawnguard – adds new weapons and armor and the vampire hunter faction Dawnguard. The Dragonborn can also become a Vampire Lord.
  • Hearthfire – Adds child adoption and land plots allowing the Dragonborn to build their very own home.
  • Dragonborn – Re-introduces the island of Solstheim and adds the realm of Apocrypha, as well as introducing dragon-riding as an ability.

Elder Scrolls: Online

elder scrolls online

The vast exploration, detail, and depth of history in the Elder Scrolls series. Alongside the social gameplay mechanics featured in MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online) would be a match made in heaven. For years fans of the series dreamt of exploring Tamriel with their friends in co-op.

It was desired so much that even modders built a co-op mod for Skyrim. Elder Scrolls Online was in development for seven years before releasing in 2014. ZeniMax Online Studios would give the community what they desired by launching ESO, the first MMO Elder Scrolls game.

ESO was received with mixed reviews due to its subscription model. However, the game was later re-released in 2015 and rebranded to Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Edition. Bethesda switched to pay to play model that included microtransactions and an optional subscription called ESO Plus that gives:

  • Unlocks all DLC expansions.
  • A reoccurring bursary of Crowns for the Crown Store.
  • New areas and dungeons.

The Elder Scrolls Online features a much different class system than previous series titles. While the game keeps the usual list of skills, you will choose one of six classes, including DLC classes, at the start of the game. Each class has three skill trees that heavily impact gameplay. 

Elder Scrolls Online Story and Setting

ZeniMax would bring back the entire Tamriel map allowing players to travel to all regions of Tamriel. As well as Coldharbour, a new never before seen plane that Molag Bal rules. The game takes place in the second era, 949 years before the events of Skyrim.

You, the Vestige, along with your soul, are captured and imprisoned in Coldharbour by Mannimarco Molag Bal’s most trusted agent. With help from Lyras Titanborn, the Prophet, and, Cadwell you escape. Now you, the Vestige, and your allies must regroup, reunite the five companions and find a way to stop Molag Bal.

Tamriel is currently in wartime between three allegiances that the player will be put into depending on their race. These allegiances are fundamental to the main plot and tie into PVE and PVP for the player. 

  • Aldmeri Dominion – Consisting of the Altmer, Bosmer Khajiit, occupying the regions of the Summerset Isle, Elsweyer, and Valenwood.
  • Daggerfall Covenant – Consisting of Orcs, Redguards and, Bretons occupying the regions of Hammerfell and Highrock.
  • Ebonheart Pact – consisting of Dunmer, Nords, and, Argonians occupying the regions of Morrowind, Black Marsh, and Skyrim.

Although designed as an MMO, ESO features gameplay mechanics from the Elder Scrolls series such as crafting, alchemy, smithing, and enchanting. As well as being able to play the game in third or first person. Although an MMO, the game caters to solo players featuring content that can be played solo. 

ESO features a PVP mode where the three factions go head to head in an all-out war in the region of Cyrodil battling for control over the Ruby Throne. Whoever wins, wins rule over Tamriel. To do this, a faction needs to capture objectives such as mines, towns, keeps, and castles.

However, this area is not just dedicated to war. You’ll find dungeons and towns. Alternatively, ESO offers PVE dungeon raiding. DLC would unlock new ways to play PVP in a battlegrounds mode and add new dungeons to delve in PVE.

ESO Forever Expanding

Since ESO’s release in 2014, there has been an abundance of new content and expansions added to the game. From cosmetics, pets mounts to the more substantial dungeon expansions and major story and area expansions. The major DLC includes:

  • Morrowind – returns to Vvardenfell from Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, including a new Battlegrounds PVP mode, a new Warden class, and trials.
  • Summerset – The Summerset DLC unlocks the Summerset Isle, the home region of the High Elves, and introduces a new storyline, a new trial, jewelry crafting, and a new skill line.
  • Elsweyer – adds the Elsweyer region home of the Khajiit race and introduces a new story revolving around dragons. The expansion additionally adds a Necromancer class.
  • Greymoor – Introduces new areas of Skyrim to visit and adds a new antiquities mechanic, new trial, and new storyline.
  • Blackwood – Adds new areas of Cyrodil and Black Marsh to the game and features a new storyline, companions system, and new trial.


Question: When will Elder Scrolls 6 be released?

Answer: Bethesda has stated that the Elder Scrolls 6 will not be released until after the Starfield is released in 2022. Elder Scrolls VI was revealed in a short announcement trailer in 2018. The trailer features an aerial shot of movement through peaks of mountains. In the distance, a shoreline can be seen, possibly hinting at a return to High Rock and Hammerfell due to the landscape.

Question: Are the Elder Scrolls and Fallout Series Connected?

Answer: while both series are developed and owned by Bethesda, Fallout and Elder Scrolls reside in different universes. However, both games share similarities and feature references and easter eggs. Both Fallout 4 and Elder Scrolls titles feature the Nirnroot plant. As well as feature the Sweetroll item, which has turned into a running gag between the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout series.

Question: Can anyone Use Magic in Elder Scrolls Lore?

Answer: Anyone can learn to wield magic, while some races may be more magic sensitive such as the Bretons, Dunmer, and Aldmer. The Elder Scrolls is set in a high fantasy world, but this does not mean that magic is easily accessible. Redguards are forbidden from the use and study of magic in Hammerfell.

Elder Scrolls Game History: Conclusion

The Elder Scrolls series is an established franchise with a revered history within the video game industry equal to its lore. The Elder Scrolls carved a path for other RPGs and game developers and has reached over thirty million players worldwide.

The series has been present from the humble beginnings when video games were viewed with disdain to the colossal industry it has grown into today. Spanning almost three decades, the Elder Scrolls Series has been part of many lives, spanning generations of families, and will continue to do so with the Elder Scrolls VI.

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