The Elder Scrolls games are landmarks on their own, with a variety of aspects of course. For instance, Bethesda’s cash grab Blades is an important mobile game. Because it’s an example of how great adventures can fall into ruin with heavy monetisation. We will analise the games in the series and rank them from worst to best. You can guess which game is at the bottom.
10. The Elder Scrolls: Blades
It’s obvious that I have some sort of a frustration with Blades. Indeed, when the game first surfaced, I believed there was a potential to bring a great universe into our mobile devices. However, with the controversial direction that Todd Howard and Bethesda Softworks took, such undertaking was obvious. The slender hope that it won’t have heavy monetisation due to its Switch port also came out empty.
Surely, the game has the “exploration” flavour of the franchise alive. Yet, everything stops there and the rest of the achievements are connected to your bank account size. In order to obtain the crafting materials that are essential, you need to bury ridiculous hours in the game. If you don’t have the time, you need to spend heavily on the legendary chests. Consequently, the loot box and microtransaction mechanics that are not compatible with the series’ DNA, kill the joy one would get from Blades.
9. The Elder Scrolls: Legends
Legends isn’t a bad game, actually, it’s a decent trading card game that we have lots of examples. Nonetheless, Bethesda didn’t think it deserved to be alive and pulled the plug on the future content. Currently, you can download the game and play it, but there won’t be any content-wise updates on it. Conversely, we can view Legends as a victim of Bethesda’s ambitious attempt at rivaling every single franchise on the planet.
Firstly, they wanted the market share Clash Royale and similar games have with Blades. Then they wanted to wrestle with Hearthstone and other trading card games with Legends. However, the difference between Bethesda and others is the firm doesn’t sit well with being a jack of all trades. In other words, Bethesda has never released a game that is a technological marvel. Therefore, them being stretched thin to put multiple games out there didn’t bode well.
8. The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard
Redguard has an interesting place among the Elder Scrolls games. Instead of a game where we can create our own character and explore freely, the game gives us a linear story with a pre-set character. In 1998, the game’s release year, transition into 3D action-adventure games was an early trend. For instance, a year later we saw the first third-person Prince of Persia, which wasn’t a great success. Redguard was another attempt to catch the hype train and set a separate franchise. Conversely, Bethesda wanted to capture the players that don’t enjoy RPG mechanics but wanted to explore Tamriel.
Despite Redguard had its bright moments in fighting sequences and some interesting puzzles to solve, it had camera problems, clipping issues and other bugs that Bethesda usually suffers from. On the other hand, the game wasn’t a commercial success to inspire further games in the Adventures branch. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a complete nightmare as it had inspirations from pirate movies and a good sense of humour.
7. An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire
Battlespire and Redguard both show that the ambition of Bethesda to capture market share in other genres/platforms isn’t new. Battlespire was another game with a limited scope and still had role-playing mechanics. Although the game had good ideas at its foundation, it suffered from Bethesda’s well-known disease of bugs and glitches. Conversely, some of these rendered the game unplayable. On the other hand, the game had a limited development time and budget. Therefore, the developers did their best to put something interesting together.
For instance, designing multiple planes to explore was a good idea to have a variety of locations. There were books and characters in the environment to teach you the lore and present the events that transpired. Probably, this game had one of the best representations of the daedra. Since they were running their own show in their own domains, their characteristics were different and vivid. The combat was demanding in terms of attention, as the monsters were powerful. However, the bad AI in the game opened them up to exploits and lowered the game’s difficulty. On the other hand, the game had chunky combat mechanics that made it unpleasant.
6. The Elder Scrolls Online
This entry has always been a huge disappointment among the fans of the Elder Scrolls games. Because, like Fallout 76, the fanbase wasn’t expecting an MMO, but another singleplayer game. Therefore, it was a game that was prone to get burned even before it shipped. Moreover, its vanilla edition felt so stale and far from exciting, most saw the game as a complete waste of time. Indeed, Bethesda and Zenimax had a picture in their minds where they could seize the success of Skyrim by bringing people together. Yet, as I said before, exploring unfamiliar waters isn’t exactly Bethesda’s forte.
During its first release, the game had a monthly membership model. Obviously, it was Bethesda’s attempt to clash swords with Blizzard. However, the Elder Scrolls franchise wasn’t convincing by itself to make the game a World of Warcraft killer. Nonetheless, ESO didn’t join the flock of those who got killed in the attempt. On the contrary, changing the membership model into microtransactions and regular expansions, the developers redeemed the game. Nowadays, the game has a lot of enthusiasts and good community management. Because of the mitigation of its technical problems and massive expansions that enrichened the lore, the Elder Scrolls Online has become a game the fans can actually enjoy.
5. The Elder Scrolls: Arena
Arena was where the franchise started and again an early showcase of technological problems Bethesda always had. Firstly, the game’s release date was almost the same as other legends like Betrayal at Krondor. However, the game was way behind from some technological aspects and made some players feel it was incomplete. Nevertheless, being technologically perfect isn’t a trait of the Elder Scrolls games. What makes them unique is the sense of adventure they carry into our lives. For instance, the NPC in the game would react to you according to the character you created. As a Dunmer, you would see a Hammerfell resident treating you harshly because of the disputes among the both regions.
The game also had a day-night cycle that would trigger a host of events. For example, if you were out on the streets at night, you could witness an invasion by orcs. These were the early renditions of the themes that we see recur in the series. Moreover, despite their limitations, the developers tried to add characteristics to towns like annual celebrations and sorts. Indeed, it didn’t have one of the most creative stories ever. Also had problems like crashing when it shipped. Yet, it created a franchise that has been alive for three decades.
4. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Oblivion is the first Elder Scrolls game I played a lot. Because I was too young to understand Morrowind’s deep narrative and lore in 2001. Therefore, Oblivion was the game that made me familiar with the franchise. However, it’s also one of the weakest links in the grand chain of the Elder Scrolls games, despite having worse counterparts. First of all, Oblivion didn’t have the best character models and they’re still laughing stock across the internet. On the other hand, some of the mechanics like Speechcraft mini-game lacked the depth for us to appreciate them. NPC dialogues were also funny at times because they had no emotional consistency.
The level-scaling of the game was another mechanic that damaged the lore. For instance, if you leveled-up with side quests and left the Oblivion gates to a later time, you would face stronger Daedra that would make the combat frustrating. Not only the Daedra, but the bandits would also become so strong with Daedric armor (which made no sense), that you would find yourself in quite a predicament.
The game had great voice talents like Sean Bean and Sir Patrick Stewart, but they weren’t enough to make the story memorable. Indeed, it was a struggle for the throne that had elements from another dimension. However, despite having creative quest elements, the game failed to reflect the importance of the threat from Oblivion completely. I think I don’t need to mention the bugs and glitches anymore. But, these flaws set aside, Oblivion was full of mysteries and surprises for players to explore. Furthermore, it had a charm to it that would take your hours away. The Shivering Isles was also one of the most creative expansions ever with a great sense of humour.
3. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
With one of the greatest maps in gaming history, Daggerfall offers a huge adventure that has almost no bounds. On the other hand, the second of the main The Elder Scrolls games has a plot that is quite intriguing compared to the traditional storylines. The game starts with our character sent out on a mission to investigate the murder of a Breton king. As an imperial agent, the Septim sovereign expects us to find our way within treason and political maneuvers. Therefore, with this storyline, the quests and events that transpire become more interesting.
One of the successes Daggerfall managed was the character creation system. The attributes, skills, and classes carried themselves over to the following installments in the franchise. The game was, however, unforgiving with respect to the balance between them. You had to set those up carefully, otherwise, you’d lose fights in the vast dungeons of the realm. Talking about dungeons, the game had some of the largest in the franchise. In detail, you could spend a couple of hours to completely explore one. Furthermore, the variety of traps, secrets, enemies to fight and other elements, the sense of exploration would remain alive. Nonetheless, the dungeons weren’t too different from each other and had bugs that keep you trapped.
The game had lots of side quests too. Almost every NPC you run into could give you one of those. Furthermore, these had a variety to them such as delivering a package or saving someone from a random dungeon. Moreover, players could find lots of factions and guilds to join and perform their tasks. Among these factions, there were vampire bloodlines and bankers. On the other hand, the game had six different endings according to the player’s choices. You could doom the entire continent by placing it at the hands of a powerful dark wizard.
2. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
The reason Morrowind is in the second place is that Skyrim created a culture on its own. Yes, we could blame the lack of social media and a less-powerful internet in 2001. Nonetheless, I tend to include the multiple sides of things when I pick a winner. Surely, Morrowind is not worse than Skyrim and when we consider the narrative and lore, Morrowind is better among the Elder Scrolls games. The game builds on the mysteries of Daggerfall and also manages to polish and improve its mechanics. Although it lacks fast travel, hiking from places to places can make you breathe the realm in and be one with it.
One of the aspects that makes Morrowind great is the sense of freedom that it places in your hands. This freedom is visible in character creation and undertaking the quests. For instance, you can kill a character at the expense of rendering the main quest impossible to complete. On the other hand, you can use magic and backstab bonuses together to be more successful at stealth. Another thing that makes Morrowind so special is the apparent passion behind it. Every character and place feels integral to the overall lore. The game displays the power of Bethesda’s creativity when it comes to constructing engaging worlds.
Morrowind also contained lots of politics to explore. For instance, the Dunmer (Dark Elves) had lots of different beliefs and views among them, which prevented the unity in the realm. Also, they had hostilities with the Imperial occupants that they couldn’t fight against effectively, due to this divide. The faction quests would also get quite harder and determine your influence in those in an obvious way. However, they also created the habit of lazy writing as becoming the leader of a faction or guild wouldn’t bring additional benefits other than a few dialogues.
Overall, the main quest was interesting and long. Also in terms of writing it was the best in the series. The story expansions Tribunal and Bloodmoon were quite satisfactory too. Especially the latter would grant you a different experience altogether with the werewolf lore being so vivid.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim has changed many things in gaming, either good or bad. First of all, I believe the game was the product of passion. The developers worked hard to create a world that is pleasant to explore. Furthermore, they added a strong sense of adventure to keep your motivation alive. Every major location had a Jarl with a different character and lots of quest lines to spend hours on. Moreover, the Dragonborn lore was suitable to create a power fantasy where you would spend hours and feel on top of the world in terms of power.
Indeed, the narrative and some quests lacked the depth Morrowind had. But 2011 was the start of a period in which the developers gratified the casual gamer. With the omnipresence of decreased attention span around the world, Bethesda chose the practical (and pragmatic) way to tell a story. Therefore, the shortened dialogues and optimised fast travel mechanics had the purpose to make things easier. Also the game had a simpler character progression mechanic due to this. Nonetheless, Skyrim granted the freedom to create your dream character. Whether you wanted a mage or a rogue, you had a massive skill set at your disposal on top of the Thu’um.
In terms of timing, Skyrim had a great advantage. As the internet and social media were building its strength, the game was a suitable place to mine content. From “Arrow to the Knee” memes to fan-made movies Skyrim has become a gaming event rather than a videogame. Furthermore, Skyrim saw the pinnacle of modding. Fans of Bethesda had always been supporting the game with sacrificial efforts, however, Skyrim’s unofficial support exceeded what Bethesda could ever offer. Even today, you can download a plethora of mods including standalone stories with voice talent and impeccable design.
I guess even Bethesda didn’t expect Skyrim to be so successful among the Elder Scrolls games. Therefore, this success also became their greatest regret. Because they went like “We made one of the best games ever, but we only did it for once,” and started searching further strategies to milk it. With hundreds of editions including VR, Skyrim is still “in development” at Bethesda’s hands and awaits its next adaptation. This by itself is enough to perceive how important and big Skyrim is. In terms of DLCs and story expansions, Skyrim also has great content to present. I personally like how Dragonborn takes us back to Morrowind (even if it’s only a small region of it). Whether it’s Switch, Legendary Edition or vanilla, you’ll always come back to Skyrim, even if you hate how Bethesda attempts to milk it.