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Monday, December 12, 2011

Ranking the Elder Scrolls games; from Arena to Skyrim

So by now most of us have had a chance to properly digest The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s a good game, for certain, but the big question is: how does it stack up against the other games in Bethesda’s premier series?

For those who came to the series at Skyrim first, you might want to look back at some of the earlier games. Because if you enjoyed that game, you’re going to be over the moon about some of the others.

5. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Saying Oblivion is the weakest of the Elder Scrolls games is saying vanilla is the worst ice cream flavour; it’s still awesome, but you might be last in the lineup of choices.

Oblivion struggled a little with a less-than-compelling storyline, some technical issues above and beyond Skyrim as it was on (at the time) new consoles, and a silly levelling system that meant your opponents would become more powerful as you did; rendering experience somewhat redundant.

But still, a great game, and the first Elder Scrolls game that could genuinely be called “pretty.”

4. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

As I discussed in my review of Skyrim, there are some issues that hold this game back from being truly great. Bethesda’s inability to adjust the combat system to take into account the brilliance we’ve seen in the likes of Dark Souls, as well some of the nastiest bugs this side of Fallout New Vegas holds the game back from a technical perspective.

On the other hand, the game is one of breathtaking scope. Rare is the game where I can spend an hour, if not more, just reading the in-game books of lore that have come from the previous four games. Every time I came across a bookshelf I felt a need to read each and every tome, because this is a breathing world with a real sense of history about it.

It was also good to see Bethesda step back to the more open structure in Skyrim. Oblivion had me a bit worried the series was heading in a more linear direction.

3. Elder Scrolls I: Arena

The game that started it all. Arena was a massive game back in 1994 when it was released, with several hundred towns, dungeons and NPCs available to interact with. It was also merciless in difficulty, presenting a challenge that we haven’t seen in Elder Scrolls games since. Many love it for that, but newcomers beware.

Predictably, it looks terrible by modern standards too, making Arena the only game that we can’t really recommend to people to play now, unless you’ve got a strong fondness for retro RPG-visuals. There’s no way to fast travel, either, so you’ll be doing a lot of wandering through a rather ugly wilderness.

And yet, this is the game that started it all. Exploring the roots of the entire series, and experiencing some of the events you read about in books in later games helps give the entire series context, so it’s worth braving through the game just for that.

2. Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

Daggerfall is perhaps still the largest game in the Elder Scrolls series in terms of raw content. Just to run you through some stats: There’s the equivalent of 487,000 square kilometres in this game; about twice the size of Great Britain. There’s 15,000 towns, cities, villages and dungeons to explore. There are 750,000 NPCs to interact with.

By comparison the sequel, Morrowind (roughly the same size as Oblivion and Skyrim), has 0.01 per cent of that amount of content. Of course, Daggerfall is a story of quantity over quality; about 749,900 of those NPCs fail to add much to the experience and you’ll only need to visit a tiny fraction of the game to finish it, but for people who like to simply explore, there’s a lot of generic environment to experience here.

Daggerfall deserves to be played for its sheer ambition. This is still the biggest RPG of all time, with a world that tries its hardest to be believable in a fantasy fashion. Does it always succeed? No, but this is a game you can lose yourself in like none other, nonetheless.

1. Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

What The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is to the Zelda series, Morrowind is to the Elder Scrolls series; it’s the full realisation of everything the franchise had promised. It offered a deep, absorbing world, with a brilliant toolkit that allowed people to make some amazing mods; a compelling story that was not necessary to follow at all, and a visual style that, while primitive, was polygonal and aesthetically attractive.

It also has the finest soundtrack ever written, thanks to the brilliant Jeremy Soule. So good, in fact, that while Oblivion and Skyrim were also his work, and pull themes from the Morrowind score, they’ve failed to top it. Beautiful ambient music that perfectly suited the fantasy universe that people were playing in; Morrowind’s score is a brilliant example of how important music is to a game.

Morrowind was also the moment where the Elder Scrolls universe started to take a solid form of its own. The first two games introduced players to some of this history and the personalities of the universe, but Morrowind was the first game that felt like there was depth and a history that extended past the player’s own narrative.

Morrowind is a game that desperately deserves a HD remake. There’s still a lot of people that need to explore what is a honest contender for the greatest game of all time.

So, how many of the Elder Scrolls games have you played? Which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments!
Ranking the Elder Scrolls games; from Arena to Skyrim
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