The Elder Scrolls Explained

elder scrolls timeline banner art

Today saw the release of Skyrim: Special Edition, and I know I, like many people, can’t wait to revisit this fantastic world. But Skyrim is only one of many games, though it is perhaps the most critically acclaimed.  The games also have a rich lore that can be intimidating for people who don’t know what they’re getting into. The first time I ever tried to get into an Elder Scrolls game (Oblivion), I was overwhelmed with the scope. So this guide should help people get an idea of what the franchise is all about. I have my Elder Scrolls timeline, but that doesn’t quite do this franchise justice. So to compensate, we present The Elder Scrolls, explained.

Historical Background

The Elder Scrolls Explained post image of the first gameThe Elder Scrolls games began with The Elder Scrolls: Arena in 1994. The developer, Bethesda, had previously worked on a variety of sports games, and few others. But they had never ventured into the fantasy genre before. Arena started as a simple “medieval-style gladiator game,” according to designer Ted Peterson. But inspired by table-top role-playing games, Arena was one of the first games to introduce the concept of side missions, that would take place between the main objective to fight in the arenas of various cities. As the game was developed a much heavier emphasis was placed on these side missions and dungeons, dropping the gladiator-style arenas entirely.

Despite some poor launch results, word of mouth was able to gradually launch the game into a huge success. It set a new standard. Bethesda would launch a sequel with The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall in 1996. This game used procedural generation to create a world as big as Great Britain, with 15,000 towns and 750,000 people in it. Other sequels would follow. The Elder Scrolls III: Morowind was released for PC and Xbox in 2002. Unlike Daggerfall this game went back to hand-generated landscapes. The game was a huge critical success, winning the Game of the Year award. Oblivion followed in 2006, and also received the Game of the Year award. Then, in 2011, Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which received the best critical acclaim to date.

Since then, there hasn’t been much. Elder Scrolls Online was released in 2014, but received lukewarm reviews. And today, 28 October 2016, a remastered version of Skyrim was released with enhanced graphics. And that’s probably all we can expect for a few more years.

The Story

There’s no single story to the Elder Scrolls games. Each game stands on its own, but contains a story that can affect the entire continent. That continent is called Tamriel, where all of the games take place. The story is a high-fantasy, which means it includes Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Dragons, and many other fantasy races/creatures. It also includes a heavy use of magic, magic artifacts, and dungeons. The Elder Scrolls themselves are artifacts that tell the story of Tamriel, past, present, and future. They appear here and there throughout the games.

The continent of Tamriel is divided into multiple regions, each one usually dominated by a specific race, though most races can co-exist in any continent. Each area also bears a different climate. At one time, the provinces were united under one ruler, Tiber Septim the Dragonborn. However many years later, during the events of Oblivion, the political stability was shaken. As of Skyrim (which takes place 200 years after Oblivion)the continent is split into warring factions, and we don’t know how this will eventually play out.

And if you want to know a lot about the lore of Tamriel and the Elder Scrolls, we recommend Shoddycast’s lore series on YouTube.


Where to Start?

There are several good places to start experiencing the world of Elder Scrolls. The general conscensus is that Skyrim is the best place to start, even though it’s last chronologically. It’s by far the best game, it also stands on its own, plus it just got a remastered edition. After that, if you want to know more story, you can look at the other games. For a complete gaming experience, we recommend the Elder Scrolls Anthology for PC.

And if you want to start chronologically, you should start with Elder Scrolls Online. In fact, though not as critically acclaimed as some other Elder Scrolls games, it’s not too bad. There is certainly a lot more to see and explore in that game, and it’s the most recent game produced in the series.

What Else Is There?

There are a handful of Elder Scrolls books that we highly recommend. Acclaimed science-fiction author, Gregory Keyes, has written a pair of fiction books set in this world. Also, there are some really cool in-universe documents for Elder Scrolls Online and Skyrim that collect all of the books and documents found in the games themselves (which are many). It’s all content you would find in the games, but much more conveniently collected for easy reading.

See the links above to find them on Amazon (and support the site while you’re at it)! And if you want to see where these books fit in, you should visit our Elder Scrolls timeline. Otherwise, we hope you enjoyed this beginner’s guide to Elder Scrolls. If you have any questions, hit us up through our contact page!

Where to Learn More?

  1. General – The Main Elder Scrolls Website
  2. History/Story – The Elder Scrolls Wiki
  3. Lore – See ShoddyCast on YouTube (embedded above)
  4. Timeline – Our Elder Scrolls Timeline