Tamriel Infinium: The history of Elder Scrolls games (before and after Elder Scrolls Online)


There’s nothing quite like that feeling when you first dip your toes into a particular game only to discover that it’s part of a massive franchise that’s been going on for decades. I have no doubt that there are plenty of Elder Scrolls Online players who are ignorant of the series’ long history on the PC — Skyrim memes aside.

As ESO heads toward its own golden road this year, I thought it would be interesting to look at all of the games in this franchise, including the obscure and the ones yet to come. It’s timeline time!

Arena (1994)

The very first game in Bethesda’s RPG series landed on PC (for MS-DOS!) all the way back in the grunge-soaked era of the ’90s. It put players in a first-person perspective as they roamed over an infinitely generated Tamriel, using magic and melee to carve a path through this living world. While it was a rough game to get into (and remains so today), Arena garnered awards and convinced the studio that this was worthy of a follow-up.

Daggerfall (1996)

That sequel came two years later with the much better received Daggerfall, which toted an improved character creation system, 15,000 locations to discover, and even the ability to become a vampire or werewolf. Unlike Arena with its 2.5-D visuals, Daggerfall was the first TES title to make the full jump to to 3-D. It was a strong success, both in sales and reviews, and put Bethesda on the map for many gamers.

Battlespire (1997)

The first spin-off from the main series, Battlespire is a straight-up dungeon crawler with seven levels and multiplayer support. It wasn’t particularly well received and came out only on the PC.

Redguard (1998)

The final ’90s entry in the Elder Scrolls saga was Redguard, another spin-off that eschewed the RPG design in favor of an adventure story about a guy named Cyrus who’s investigating the disappearance of his sister on Stros M’Kai. As in many adventure games of the time, players used keyword commands and items to solve puzzles and progress the plot forward. It also didn’t perform well, which convinced Bethesda that more of these types of games was probably not the way to go.

Morrowind (2002)

Six years after Daggerfall, the third entry in the mainline series arrived with Morrowind. Bethesda had a bona fide smash hit on its hands as this freeform open-world RPG took the industry by storm, even with its odd setting on the ash-covered and often-mushroom-dotted landscape of Vvardenfell. It sold several million copies and spawned two expansion packs: Tribunal (2002) and Bloodmoon (2003).

Stormhold, Dawnstar, and Shadowkey (2003-2004)

These three rather obscure mobile games came out in the early 2000s and were outsourced to Vir2L Studios. Because they were to be played on non-touchscreen phones with tiny resolutions, the titles had a tough time convincing anyone that they were worthy. A fourth Oblivion-focused title in the “Elder Scrolls Travels” series was reportedly in development for PlayStation Portable but never came out.

Oblivion (2006)

The fourth game in the quickly escalating core TES series was fast-tracked for development and came out four years after Morrowind in the form of Oblivion. Now available for console as well as PC, this open-world RPG featured voice actors and a sprawling adventure across Cyrodiil. It too had a pair of expansions: Knights of the Nine (2006) and Shivering Isles (2007). Plus there was horse armor, but we don’t talk about horse armor.

Oblivion Mobile (2006)

A follow-up of sorts to the popular PC game, the mobile title sends players on a limited isometric RPG quest with eight classes through 10 levels.

Skyrim (2011)

Oh, you knew this was coming. As huge as Morrowind and Oblivion were to the franchise — and they were! — the Nordic-themed Skyrim ended up eclipsing them all in sheer name-brand recognition and sales. The timeline was moved forward 200 years and became a massive hit with some 60 million units sold by 2023 (helped along by an endless stream of ports). Skyrim had three expansion-like DLC packs: Dawnguard (2012), Hearthfire (2012), and Dragonborn (2012).

The Elder Scrolls Online (2014)

Bethesda’s first foray into MMORPGs took place in 2014 with this huge prequel to the main series. It struggled at first but found its footing with 2015’s revamp under Tamriel Unlimited, going on to pump out a long list of DLC in addition to yearly “chapters:” Morrowind (2017), Summerset (2018), Elsweyr (2019), Greymoor (2020), Blackwood (2021), High Isle (2022), Necrom (2023), and the upcoming Gold Road (2024).

Elder Scrolls Legends (2017)

This online collectable card game was developed by Dire Wolf Digital and published to multiple platforms by Bethesda. After a couple years of operation, Bethesda halted development in 2019 and put the title into maintenance mode.

Elder Scrolls Blades (2020)

The pandemic year also saw the release of a high-aiming mobile game with Blades. This first-person dungeon crawler featured limited multiplayer interaction with PvP. It sold well but wasn’t the ongoing hit that the studio hoped.

Elder Scrolls Castles (2024)

Just announced this month, Castles is the next attempt at bringing the series to mobile — this time with a base-building strategy angle akin to Fallout Shelter. Which makes sense, as it’s being developed by the same team.

The Elder Scrolls VI (TBA)

It’s now been 13 years (!) since the last mainline Elder Scrolls entry, and Bethesda is under incredible pressure to deliver with its next game. We know that it’s coming but precious little else, including its title, date, and focus.

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online! Justin Olivetti will be your guides here in Tamriel Infinium as we explore together the world created by ZeniMax and Bethesda in one of the biggest MMOs in the genre.
Previous articleNew World introduces new combat leads, talks dodge spam, mana, and movement
Next articleAlmost 11 years post-Kickstarter, Camelot Unchained devs are working on UI, lighting, NPC navigation, and performance

No posts to display

Subscribe to:
oldest most liked
Inline Feedback
View all comments