Legacy of Gaming: The Elder Scrolls
The world of the RPG is one of gaming’s oldest domains. The inspiration for gaming was arguably that of the pencil and paper games back in the days of dungeons and dragons. Many developers have crafted incredible fantasy realms, lovingly crafted environments and dangerous foes within them. One of the largest series ever to grace the world of the RPG is that of The Elder Scrolls. Bethesda threw every resource they had into, The Arena, and the result was one of the largest, most creatively gorgeous environments, we’ve ever had the chance to explore. Coming off of this success Bethesda has grown The Elder Scrolls into the most successful RPG series of the current generation. Achieving great success with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, they have handed the reigns over to Zenimax who are now attempting to move the franchise into the world of MMO, possibly forming the next great MMORPG in gaming.
The origins for The Elder Scrolls came from developers at Bethesda becoming tired of being considered only as a sports games publisher and wanting to branch out into open world RPG’s. Despite being laughed at they began work on, The Arena, which was originally designed as a gladiator sim. The team behind the game drew inspiration from Ultima Underworld series and created a tournament-based narrative with plenty of extraneous side-quests added in. Very quickly, however, the side quests became more important than the tournaments and the team decided to stretch out the world into a more open style RPG…thus Tamriel was born. After coming up with the name Elder Scrolls as the documents of history for Tamriel, Bethesda shipped the game in 1994, receiving praise from fans and critical disappointment, Elder Scrolls: The Arena became a cult hit.
The Arena was followed up in 1996 with The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Daggerfall brought players a fully customisable class system, numerous skill trees, 750 inhabited villages and a map twice the size of Great Britain! The game stretched the plot of The Elder Scrolls into a broader choice based quest line than was used in Arena. Devised in the process of creating Daggerfall was the third in the franchise, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, released in 2002.
Often described as the height of The Elder Scrolls, Morrowind redefined the RPG genre by creating the richest, most detailed world gamers had ever seen. Despite this scale, Morrowind was originally designed to be much larger, giving players the entire province of Morrowind to explore. Unfortunately the developers realised that the technology at the time was much too limited for that so instead restricted the player to the island of Vvardenfell. The reason this title was so important in the series was that it introduced The Elder Scrolls Crafting Set to the development period. Described as taking, ‘over 100 man years’, every single item in the Morrowind world was digitally sculpted by individual developers. What Claymation was to film, Morrowind was to games.
Next up in the series was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the game that brought the scrolls to the current generation of consoles in 2006 and provided what was arguably the greatest Elder Scrolls plot of all time. Tasked with finding the heir to an assassinated emperors throne, the player must halt the evils pouring from the demon world of oblivion before all of Cyrodill perishes. Since the release of Oblivion there has only been one other addition to The Elder Scrolls franchise. In 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released. Venturing into the cold winters of Skyrim in the north of Tamriel, Skyrim gave players a graphically stunning open world filled with hand crafted weapons and ornaments, libraries of lore and memorable characters and enemies. Skyrim received the most awards of any Elder Scrolls title and remains one of the all time greats of current generation gaming.
The original formula of Elder Scrolls gameplay was the classic RPG leveling system. Players would create classes and characters that they would then use to explore the world and complete quests, using a 3rd person camera angle, to level up and shape their skill sets. As the series developed Bethesda faced the on-going struggle of putting as much talents, skills and content as they could into the game without making the class system confusing and arbitrary. This desire formed the basis of Skyrim’s customisation. Players would level certain skills through use rather than through choice and personal preference was restricted only to the talents players could place in any skill they so desired. This system was praised by all and represented a no-fuss, easily accessible solution to the RPG dynamic.
Combat of The Elder Scrolls has always been debatably simple. Where many RPG’s feature confusing weapon customisation and magic capability, Bethesda focused their gameplay on a dual handed system. Originally in the first three Elder Scrolls titles, one hand was restricted to all manners of weaponry while the other was for either a shield or a spell. In later titles this combat system was opened up even more, allowing players to place whatever they decided fitted their character in either hand. This allowed for complication and strategy in choice of weaponry and build in class, while keeping the simplicity of a two button combat system. Other examples of this system can be seen in games such as Bioshock or Dishonored.
The legacy of The Elder Scrolls resides mostly in its impact to the RPG genre. Other developers are constantly copying the size and scope of Bethesda’s maps, lore and detail. Where we may see further legacy, however, is in the MMORPG installment of The Elder Scrolls franchise. As Bethesda attempts to they combat the giant of World of Warcraft they venture into territory many believe is not right for a series so built up on single player experience. Only time will tell how successful The Elder Scrolls: Online will prove to be, but for those gamers who are worried about the future of solo Elder Scrolls experience, my advice is simply…don’t. If Bethesda is approaching multiplayer in the MMO way it probably means that they are less likely to tack a multiplayer mode onto the single-player we all know and love and ruin it. If they are successful perhaps the legacy they leave behind will be less about the worlds they have created and more about the ones they put to rest.
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