Remembering the Classics: The Elder Scrolls

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Role-playing open world games have become immensely popular with the current generation of consoles. Even though titles have existed since the very early days with fully expansive worlds that people can completely explore at their leisure, advancements in technology have made these games both top tier and mainstream. Instead of becoming the focus of a completely linear plot, more players nowadays like to be dropped into open worlds with the freedom to do whatever they want. The Grand Theft Auto series is obviously a perfect example of this, minus the role-playing staples of leveling up and getting upgraded armor and weapons. There is a story you can follow but most people would rather go on mass killing sprees just because. The games simply bleed freedom from every orifice.

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Within the current market of games, there is no greater company at creating immense open worlds steeped in the realm of fantasy than Bethesda Softworks. Bethesda has found incredible success after picking up the Fallout series from Black Isle Studios but the company’s original claim to fame was The Elder Scrolls. With its expansive landscapes and fully-realized locales, The Elder Scrolls is frequently regarded as the premiere series for those aching to enter a completely different world on their own accord (without being an MMORPG). It certainly wasn’t as popular in the beginning as it is now. In order to get more current gamers attached to the much older titles, Bethesda recently released The Elder Scrolls Anthology exclusively for the PC. This Anthology features all five games and every single piece of DLC for the low, low price of $80. Saying that this Anthology will consume your life is a complete understatement, but there’s a reason why Bethesda is able to release their entire Elder Scrolls library for practically dirt cheap. It’s because they know people will buy it and they will for good reason.

Each installment of The Elder Scrolls takes place on the continent of Tamriel with each installment focusing on different regions. Whereas The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall focused around the city of Daggerfall and the High Rock and Hammerfell provinces, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is based in Vvardenfell within the Dunmer province of Morrowind. Each region is as rich as the next providing the player with a wealth of unique experiences. Regardless of location, you play as your own created character and set out on a journey to vanquish a source of evil. You travel through caves, ancient dungeons, abandoned castles amongst many others gathering an unimaginable amount of items to help you throughout your journey. Weapons used by your character are typical fantasy fare such as swords, bows, and magic, and enemies are frequently skeletons, undead creatures, golems, and other mythological beasts. The first two games The Elder Scrolls Arena and Daggerfall had a definite greater focus on story rather than exploration while later titles starting with Morrowind made exploring these vast worlds a significant part of the story. In fact, the main story is frequently an afterthought with all the freedom available.

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One of the biggest grabs The Elder Scrolls series has had since the beginning was its unfathomable scale and detail. Despite relative limitations of technology in 1994 and 1996, both Arena and Daggerfall boasted extremely large worlds that were available to exploration. The regions around main cities are filled with inns, farms, small towns, and dungeons with terrain being randomly generated in Arena. Daggerfall itself took the phrase of “go big or go home” to extremes by creating a world that, as Bethesda claims, is twice the size of Great Britain with a staggering 188,000 square miles. Yeah, try wrapping that around your head. Future titles Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim cut down significantly in terms of world scale but are still viewed as massive. The smaller scale though allowed these games to be much more detailed which later became a point of great praise for the series.

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The other huge appeal is the freedom each game gives you. Like I said before, Arena and Daggerfall were definitely focused on story more but with Morrowind and beyond the story itself became an afterthought. Take 2006’s Oblivion for example. The main story for this award winning title was the player’s efforts to stop a cult called Mythic Dawn from opening the gates to Oblivion and unleashing demons onto the world. Throughout the game, this is the obvious focus. However, whether or not you actually COMPLETE that story is up to you. You have full access to the realm of Cyrodiil the moment you embark on your journey. This means that the “impending doom on the land” is only “impending” if you choose it to be. You could spend, and I kid you not, over 100 hours on this game and not even touch the main story. There is just so much else to do that actually completing the pre-determined focus isn’t even necessary. Despite this, Bethesda still does everything it can to create a rich and engaging story for the player to enjoy and it succeeds this in every way possible.

I have never played Arena or Daggerfall but I became fully aware of Morrowind thanks to those game reviews Toonami used to do. The simple thought that a game existed with an extremely expansive game world that completely lets your character do whatever was enough to both excite and intimidate me. I only ended up renting Morrowind to play it for a little and borrowed Oblivion in college. Both games had lasting impressions on me and the desire to explore these huge worlds wasn’t satiated until I finally picked up my own copy of Skyrim. I won’t go into detail of how many hours I have dedicated to that title, but I will say it took me several months before I even gave the main story a shot. Bethesda’s attention to detail is incredible and my love for this fifth installment just makes me want to play the earlier titles even more.

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If you have a lifetime of hours to spare and are hankering for one of the most expansive games you will ever play, The Elder Scrolls Anthology is the perfect bundle. Just one of these titles alone can eat away hundreds of hours of your life. Having all five plus the expansion packs just feels like a life sentence. It’s absolutely overkill. That being said, if I had a more dedicated gaming PC I would absolutely buy this to experience The Elder Scrolls in all of its glory. Even the most mild of fantasy lovers should experience one of these fine titles as least once in their life. Plus, the worlds are so huge that years could go buy and the games still feel fresh and full of content. It’s difficult to imagine any other series that can give you more bang for your buck.

graphics credit: bethseda softworks