The Evolution of The Elder Scrolls

PC Gamer's Jody MacGregor has produced a retrospective look at The Elder Scrolls series, which focuses on the five main titles and ignores the various spin-offs, up to and including The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMO developed by ZeniMax Online and released in 2013. The intent is to analyze how all the aspects of the series evolved throughout the decades.

Here's a snippet on Arena, the very first title in the series:

Where Arena shined was in its main quests. Not for their bare bones story after escaping from a prison you'd been locked in by an evil wizard who banished the Emperor to another dimension, you were sent to collect the pieces of a magic artifact to defeat him but for the dungeons each chapter is set in. They're hand-crafted, making them far more atmospheric than the randomized dungeons in the rest of the game, and each has a dramatically different theme. In Selene's Web spiders are bred in pits and signs warn their trainers to be careful, while in Labyrinthian (revisited in Skyrim) the story of two brothers cursed to guard the place is written on the walls.

Most of the dungeons have an alternate way of exploring them that monsters won't use, perhaps by jumping into mineshafts or underground rivers, as if the player is an alien in the ventilation shafts leaping out to launch surprise attacks before scurrying away. And though its sound palette was limited, the roar of a troll in the distance or the beating of drums in the deep adds menace.

The rest of the world isn't so atmospheric, and not just because of the randomization. Tamriel then was a much more generic fantasy setting. Its Orcs are typical dungeon fodder rather than a playable race, and the Khajiit are described as (feline and sleek) but look like ordinary humans. There are no Daedra and no Dark Brotherhood assassins. Though the Elder Scrolls themselves are referred to throughout Arena, repeatedly looked to for clues to the location of the next dungeon, a lot of what we think of as essential parts of the Elder Scrolls series aren't present, and wouldn't appear till its sequel.