It’s hard to argue that Bethesda’s long running Elder Scrolls series hasn’t changed gaming. From its inception, the series has focused on delivering story driven, RPG action that its fans crave. It’s influence has shaped the genre and helped to propel Bethesda Softworks into the upper tier of developers. So I decided to take a look back at the eight entries I’ve played from the series, ranking them from worst to best. To be clear, I’m ranking these on enjoyment and overall experience, not how poorly they’ve help up. Generally if I enjoyed playing it, it’s likely to be further up the list.
8. The Elder Scrolls: Battlespire (1997) – I remember playing Battlespire way back in the day, and getting bored very quickly. Returning to play it for the purposes of this list only reminded me of how tragically poor the entire experience is. Where Daggerfall was a breathtakingly enormous (if slightly repetitive) world, Battlespire takes that same blueprint and traps you in a labyrinth of endless dungeons that all look the same. Very quickly it all gets samey and without the charm or wow-factor of the Elder Scrolls Universe to fall back on, Battlespire falls tragically short. The only redeeming feature of this game is the villain Mehrunes Dagon – who would become the main antagonist of Oblivion down the line. Honestly, just avoid. Of play Daggerfall if your nostalgia bells are ringing.
7. The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard (1998) – On the one hand, the decision to go full 3D was an interesting one for Bethesda to make. On the other hand, this game is so glitchy and tediously dull that you might actually fall asleep playing it. Ejecting most of the RPG elements that fans loved, this plays more like an action adventure with melee combat. It’s not a good fit for the series and leads to a game that clunks around with all the bad tropes of the early 3D games. The central story, where you’re looking for your sister in Tamriel, isn’t particularly engaging either and becomes something of an awkward slog as the game progresses. Age hasn’t been kind to Redguard over the years.
6. The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994) – Largely overlooked by 1994’s gaming press, Arena is a solid first entry into the Elder Scrolls universe. It setup the RPG elements that many would come to love, while also offering up some fun in the main story (Which sees you taking down battlemage Jagar Tharn). The combat is adequate and unlike Redguard and Battlespire, which both looked horrendous, there’s a nice nostalgic charm to Arena. Sadly, as with a number of these early Elder Scrolls games, the limitations of the game become quickly apparent. Yes the world is open and the monsters are many, but it all begins to get samey all too quickly. But hey, it’s certainly not unplayable and laid the groundwork for the series as a whole.
5. Elder Scrolls Online (2014) – The dream of an MMO Elder Scrolls has hung around since the series early days. The series just felt like it had the right fit for the idea – and with World of Warcraft paving the way, the time seemed right in 2014. Sadly what we got was an average MMO that felt awkwardly out of sync with many of the Elder Scrolls more loved features. Instead of the deep, lore driven story that characterized the series, it all kind of felt a little bit tame and limited. This wasn’t helped by the game launching with an insane amount of bugs and glitches, half-baked ideas and just feeling dull overall. To its credit, Bethesda have added in a heap of content since the game launched that have brought fans back into the fold. Who knows, maybe they can turn this sinking ship around.
4. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996) – Daggerfall was big. Like insanely big. Like half the size of Great Britain big. In 1996 that was a monumental achievement but it also gives way to the games biggest issue, filler. With thousands of towns and millions of inhabitants, Daggerfall quickly becomes repetitive as the world repeats itself over and over with similar towns and the same character sprites. But put this aside and the core game play is fundamentally what the later Elder Scrolls would hang from. The introduction of skill based progression became a series staple while the use of RPG elements added plenty to the games customization. It’s just a shame that there’s so much repetition at the games core.
3. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (2006) – I didn’t really like Oblivion when it first came out. It’s central story was not to my liking and the fantasy setting of Cyrodill just didn’t give me the experience I wanted. Yet returning to play it, I find it has a lot charming features than I remember. The side quests in this game are brilliant and flesh out the world no end, really packing in personality. The voice acting in this game is also up to a solid standard, Sean Bean a particular highlight. Not only this but this game looked gorgeous back in 2006, with a heap of mods and customization to add to the fun. I also stand by the statement that Oblivion has the best expansion pack in the entire series – The Shivering Isles – which all to itself could place high on this list. As said, I’ve mellowed to this games charm over the years and while I think Skyrim does it better – Oblivion certainly helped to set the bar for the HD era of Elder Scrolls titles.
2. The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind (2002) – Morrowind, in many ways, is like Goldeneye on the N64. When it came along, it blew everything else around it out the water and became a hugely loved game that really changed the series of games it was representing. However much like Goldeneye, Morrowind has aged like an onion. Ignoring that though, Morrowind is arguably the most engaging of the Elder Scrolls locals. From deep swamps to the bustling city of Bamora – the game has variety by the bucket load. On top of this, Morrowind features some of the best side quests in the entire Elder Scrolls canon of games and really helped to set the bar for combat and core mechanics that would be later polished in Oblivion. The two expansions to this game, Bloodmoon and Tribunal, add incredibly to the experience, throwing in a heap of fixes and content that helped to flesh out the experience. Yes there’s a tiny bit of nostalgia here, but Morrowind for me is a high point for the Elder Scrolls series. There’s a reason why fans beg Bethesda to remake this game.
1. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (2011) – Hardcore fans might disagree, but there really can’t be another option for the best Elder Scrolls game than Skyrim. It’s the culmination of a series that had honed its craft and created such a beautifully balanced experience that it’s hard to be harsh to it. The big thing here is that all the RPG elements come together beautifully. Voice acting keeps things brisk, while the locations are varied enough to keep you engaged. The endless selection of dungeons and skill trees on offer mean you’ll spend weeks and months building your character up. It’s a wonderfully crafted experience that ultimately defines what Elder Scrolls is about, and while it may be more casual in some areas (Dungeons are notably less complex than in earlier games) these are not detrimental to the overall experience.