When you consider yourself a game commentator and gaming historian, you tend to know a lot of things. Picture my surprise when I met people who didn’t know there were games before Skyrim in the Elder Scrolls series. I know, right? Let’s take this as a teachable moment, shall we?
Now, I know a lot of folks are going to be quick to jump in and go “But Candice, I know there are other games. Come on! I know about (insert Oblivion or Morrowind here) and I loved them!” and to that, I would nod and find you doing pretty good. However, there are a handful of other titles pre-Morrowind that perhaps Scrolls peeps would like to get in on or even just research up. It always helps to know where stories start and, to that I say – let’s do this.
The Elder Scrolls: Arena
Listen, I know there’s going to be people in the comments who talk about how they still roll with Arena, but let me be clear – they shouldn’t. Arena is what we had when we had nothing else fantasy to work with in a Doom-like mechanic. While the lore starts from here, it was painful to push through. Arena had good story that kept people wanting more, but that gameplay was not easy to chug through. We were aching for more story, but we desperately needed a change in gameplay. Woof. I’ll be kind though, as this game first came out in 1994, so what really could we expect other than a complex PC game for its time?
The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall
Now, Daggerfall was visually a lot more enhanced than Arena but that’s still not accounting for a ton when it came to gameplay. It furthered the story going through the world and that’s what real lore hungry folks wanted. You had plenty of character work to push through and that was why Daggerfall was really quite good in comparison to Arena. What a difference two years make though, when it comes to the visual inspiration they were able to bring to life. 1996 got a decent game for those Arena fans that wanted more story but were truly hoping the visuals would start to match the all-encompassing world.
The Elder Scrolls: Battlespire
The trailer for Battlespire didn’t really include gameplay and I felt it was important to have some of that in here. Thankfully, YouTuber Vazz had the opening and character creation for you guys to get an eyeful of. Musically, this game will never not have the same tracks repeated in my head when someone mentions it. For all those that complained that Oblivion and Skyrim had a lacking character creation system — they have no idea. Please, just.. trust me, we got worlds beyond Battlespire and prior.
The Elder Scrolls: Redguard
Okay, look – this is where stuff got kind of wild. A lot of the gatekeeper types of Elder Scrolls fans may tell you that Redguard was more of a spin-off kind of deal and to that, I would possibly agree. It definitely has a more escalated feel to it and brings in voice work, more cinematic visuals to the game and actual cut-scenes that enhance the story. Given that, it does feel like more of a linear game and doesn’t approach the open-worlds that Elder Scrolls likes to hand out for their big titles, but it was still some lore that folks liked.
The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind
Anyone who knows me, knows I (excuse my language) fucks with Morrowind. In fact, it was the first game I bought when the original Xbox came out (Halo came bundled already with mine, so shush) and if I wasn’t rolling with Master Chief, I was playing the brownest game ever conceived for an Elder Scrolls title. Morrowind was so brown. Man, when I think back to the days where I would get to look up at the sky and it was blue and stayed that way? Hell, I never wanted to leave those areas. Vivec and it’s ridiculous amounts of buildings and maze-like territories were still at least in a blue skybox. Morrowind was when choices, voices and all those trappings really came to a beautiful fruition. I loved Morrowind so much that I bought into the hype everywhere I could. I bought it then on PC, I got every expansion so I could deal with all them vampires and werewolves and I turned this game into a travesty of mods and mini-stories for myself. Considered the actual third game in the series, it helps those theories that Redguard and Battlespire were spin-off direct sequels to those games and not in titular order. Gosh, I don’t even care. Now, I just want to reinstall Morrowind. This game made 2002 so good for me.
I made pillow bridges to get myself across lakes and streams, deep chasms and cliffs – all thanks to the pillow thievery that I carried into many games after. Couldn’t help it, man. Sometimes you needed a pillow fort too and Morrowind was where the severity of Elder Scrolls games met the open world playroom of my dreams.
The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
Flat out – Oblivion was gorgeous. When you look back at the games before it, it’s a shock we ever got to here. Oblivion, even now, is still beautiful. Sure, they bloomed the utter stuffing out of the game to make it feel fantasy, but the crispness of this game opened up a once dark world. I have to feel the reason they brought such life, lush and flora-filled, to Oblivion was to help with the juxtaposition between the real world and the Oblivion. You step through those gates and Doom was peeking out like “Hey! How are ya!?” and it was terrifying. Oblivion was another game I rolled with over and over again. Thanks to an expansive modding community who loved this game so deeply that it continued to flourish for years, Oblivion never died down. Absolutely flush with incredible stories and a world that felt vibrant enough to be real – Oblivion was great. That stellar voice acting too, it’s hard to imagine anyone would not still be playing this game. Heck, I feel like some of the story here was even better than Skyrim. I know, I know. Don’t hurt me.
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
Everyone knows Skyrim. Problem is, it appears it’s the game everyone knows but they didn’t know how far back the series went prior to Skyrim and that, well, that’s a bummer. Skyrim has been in our lives since 2011. Yeah, I know. 2011. Can you believe we’ve had this game for that many years and it keeps getting remasters and put on newer consoles? See, you can’t even get mad at Bethesda for that either because we keep freaking buying it. There’s a reason for that: Skyrim is a masterpiece. It is absolutely the culmination of so many of the stories before it and puts some real intense power into the hands of your character. You’re the Dragonborn and you’re here to make it clear – Skyrim is fantastic and that’s how you got to here. Now, you’re caught up though and perhaps you want to go peeking around in the prior two games? There’s more to this lore than Skyrim, my dudes. Put the dragons down and let’s talk for a second, okay?
And now we’re at the end of the titled canonical games and even their lil’ baby spin-offs. I didn’t include the game for NGage, because that’s not a game. I’m sorry, but it’s not. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who worked on those that would disagree, I think. I didn’t include the MMO (online games) or the card game because those post-date Skyrim and, well, they’re more social and lore push games than the titled sequences pre-Skyrim. What I would tell you, however, is that you need to leap into Oblivion and Morrowind for sure. Get to know the games, which are remastered and available on PC and have fun with those because it’s there. Beware though, because Morrowind will terrify Skyrim players and so will Oblivion. I know people who played the series backwards and the intensity of not having everything handed to you – freaked them right out! Just the way us old school gamers like it. Mwahahaha.