I admit that I was one of the first people on board with the original idea that there would be no dragons in the main part of Elder Scrolls Online. I liked that the story of the Vestage was more about the Daedra and Molag Bal. I had some trouble with other things that drove me from the game originally, but the story didn’t even make it to the top 10 reasons why.
There is still a problem with dragons being in ESO because in-lore, dragons haven’t existed for a thousand years, and Creative Director Rich Lambert said they wouldn’t be in ESO. As with many of the lore in Elder Scrolls, these two issues are a bit more nuanced than they appear on the surface. And that is exactly why I believe they are important enough to tackle in this article today.
The biggest controversy is the lore surrounding dragons. According to multiple statements by NPCs in the Elder Scrolls games, dragons haven’t been around for thousands of years. The Atlas of Dragons in Skyrim says that Grahkrindrog was slain in the 184th year of the second era. ESO takes place 398 years later. So it’s not thousands of years from ESO, but is it thousands of years from Skyrim? After the slaying of Grahkrindrog, there are 712 years left in the era, and the third era is 433 years. Add that to the 201 years into the fourth era for Skyrim, and you have 1,346 years. So, a thousand years, for sure, but thousands? Not quite. Since Oblivion and Morrowind take place 200 years before Skyrim, similar math can be applied. Using that math, the statements — given some exaggeration — are correct.
Now, I don’t want to upset anyone, but the NPCs in Elder Scrolls games have never been the most reliable when it comes to historical events, even books aren’t reliable. Consult Vivec’s writings on the events of Red Mountain and compare it to the truth we learned in Morrowind. I don’t know of any stronger evidence that the written word in Elder Scrolls is unreliable.
Like people in real life, many NPCs — and writers of texts — tend to paint themselves and their beliefs in the best light, but as we learn over and over in Elder Scrolls the truth is usually a lot darker. There is a name for this kind of storytelling, and it’s called the Unreliable Narrator. This keeps things interesting for the players and allows the game designers to say one thing, then spin it a different way later down the line.
Making fiscal sense
I’m not attempting to be an apologist for creators of ESO, but at the time Rich Lambert was asked about dragons in ESO, the game hadn’t launched yet, and most of the other questions during that time were centered around what the game would have at launch. Could the ESO developers have known that we would eventually see dragons in ESO? I don’t think it was ever completely off the table, but I will give Lambert the benefit of the doubt and say that there weren’t plans for dragons before launch.
We know that Wrothgar and the Orsinium expansion changed a lot of the plans for ESO because many mechanics were introduced at that time that led to the success of additions like the Dark Brotherhood and Morrowind. It’s possible that dragons were on some wall of possible directions to take the timeline, but I don’t believe it was pulled off that wall until later in game production.
We also have to remember that the game is a business. Yes, while creating a game is one of the more exciting and fun businesses to be in, the ultimate goal of a game like ESO is to make its owners money.
When ESO launched, Skyrim was still fresh on players’ minds, and if ESO had immediately turned to dragons as a selling point, it would seem cheap to its audience. I would go so far as to say that ZeniMax couldn’t even release its first expansion with dragons. Its second expansion could have probably used a dragon-like boost because of its lukewarm reception. But adding dragons to the third expansion will probably make up for the dip.
I would also recommend looking at the expansive future of the game. ZeniMax painted itself into a corner by naming its expansions after the region that it takes place. I blame Daggerfall for starting that trend (although we suppose Oblivion was an anomaly). That also means that the MMO doesn’t have a lot of places to expand after this next expansion. If Elder Scrolls VI is indeed Hammerfell, then Skyrim might be the only candidate for the next expansion. The single-player game for Skyrim will be far enough away at that point that I believe they can name an expansion after it. But it can’t have dragons or players will revolt.
The developers had to introduce dragons in Elsweyr or just never have dragons in the game at all. Dragons are far too popular in the Elder Scrolls franchise to not ever include them. So dragons in Elsweyr was the only answer.
You can agree with me or not: I believe that not only are dragons appropriate at this time, they are necessary for ESO to be a continued success. What are your thoughts? I’d like to read them all in the comments below. Do you think that dragons are needed in ESO? Could ZeniMax release them at a different time? And what are your thoughts about dragon lore? Do they fit into the timeline? I look forward to reading what you think.