Elder Scrolls
Elder Scrolls
For the items, see Elder Scrolls.
The Elder Scrolls 2011

The Elder Scrolls, often abbreviated as TES, is a series of role-playing video games developed by Bethesda Softworks. The development of The Elder Scrolls series began in 1992, when the staff of Bethesda Softworks—which had until then been a predominantly sports game-producing company—decided to shift the focus of their upcoming Arena from arena combat into role-playing. The team, pulling influences from Ultima Underworld and Dungeons & Dragons, released the massive, open, but ultimately derivative, first-person RPG The Elder Scrolls: Arena in 1994 for DOS PC systems. The game began a tradition of games based on the principles of "being who you want and doing what you want"[1] that has persisted throughout the series' history. To date, there are five titles in the main series of the game. Two expansions were published for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, two more accompanying The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's installment, and three others for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Timeline of release years
Key: red (release year), white (N/A)
1994 – The Elder Scrolls: Arena (main)
1995 –
1996 – The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (main)
1997 – An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire
1998 – The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard
1999 –
2000 –
2001 –
2002 – The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (main)
The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal
2003 – The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold
2004 – The Elder Scrolls Travels: Dawnstar
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey
2005 –
2006 – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (main)
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Oblivion
The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine
2007 – The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles
2008 –
2009 – An Elder Scrolls Novel: The Infernal City
2010 –
2011 – An Elder Scrolls Novel: Lord of Souls
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (main)
2012 – The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard
The Elder Scrolls V: Hearthfire
The Elder Scrolls V: Dragonborn
2013 – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Legendary Edition
2014 – The Elder Scrolls Online
2015 – The Elder Scrolls Online: Imperial City
The Elder Scrolls Online: Orsinium
2016 – The Elder Scrolls Online: Thieves Guild
The Elder Scrolls Online: Dark Brotherhood
The Elder Scrolls Online: Shadows of the Hist
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition
2017 – The Elder Scrolls: Legends
The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind
The Elder Scrolls Online: Horns of the Reach
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR
The Elder Scrolls Online: Clockwork City
2018 – The Elder Scrolls Online: Dragon Bones
The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset
Skyrim Very Special Edition
The Elder Scrolls Online: Wolfhunter
The Elder Scrolls Online: Murkmire
2019 – The Elder Scrolls Online: Wrathstone
The Elder Scrolls: Blades
The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr
The Elder Scrolls Online: Scalebreaker
The Elder Scrolls Online: Dragonhold
2020 – The Elder Scrolls Online: Harrowstorm
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor
The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms
The Elder Scrolls Online: Stonethorn
The Elder Scrolls Online: Markarth
2021 – The Elder Scrolls Online: Flames of Ambition
The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood
The Elder Scrolls Online: Waking Flame
The Elder Scrolls Online: Deadlands
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Anniversary Edition
2022 – The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle
20?? – The Elder Scrolls VI (main)

While beginning on DOS PC, the series has expanded to video game consoles, starting with Morrowind on Xbox and eventually expanding to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Oblivion and Skyrim), Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (Online and Skyrim: Special Edition). Four Elder Scrolls titles were released for Java-enabled cell phones, Nokia's N-Gage, and the PlayStation portable. These titles are known as The Elder Scrolls Travels. Two novels based on the Elder Scrolls universe, The Infernal City and Lord of Souls, were published by Del Rey Books. An MMORPG adaption set in the Three Banners War, called The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, was released for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in June 2015. The Elder Scrolls: Legends was released in 2016, and was be the first game available on iPad.

Main series


The very first game in the series was known as The Elder Scrolls: Arena. Though originally planned to be a gladiatorial game where the player and their three other companions would go from city to city fighting enemies, the idea of the game drastically changed during development. Resulting in many changes to the game, Arena became an all-out full exploration RPG game. Many of the promotional images had already been drawn and printed, meaning that the game could not be renamed. After missing the planned 1993 Christmas deadline, Arena was released in the spring of 1994.[2][3][4]



A character in Daggerfall.

The next Elder Scrolls series game—The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall—was published in 1996. Fueled by the modest success of Arena, Daggerfall was even more ambitious than its predecessor. Daggerfall attempted to create a game world twice the size of Great Britain, rendered in a truly 3D engine, and build a skill-system that revolved around skill building rather than experience gains. However, Daggerfall suffered at the hands of that very ambition: Daggerfall, rushed to publication, was found torturously buggy, and prohibitively hardware-intensive. In the opinion of one commentator, despite Daggerfall's commercial success, "the game still bears the mark of bad code."[5]



A Dunmer male in Morrowind.

After Bethesda's purchase by Zenimax in 1999, work on The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind began. With Morrowind, Bethesda tripled their staff and pushed again towards hardware-intensive gaming. Morrowind saw a return to the old-style expansive and non-linear gameplay, but also a shift towards individually detailed landscapes and items, and a smaller game-world than past titles. Morrowind was released on both the Xbox and the PC, and saw popular and critical success on both, selling upwards of 4 million units by mid 2005. Two expansion packs were quickly developed and released for Morrowind between late 2002 and early 2003: The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal, and The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon.


Adrian Decanius

An Imperial male in Oblivion.

Work began on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2002, immediately after Morrowind's publication. Oblivion focused on providing a tighter storyline; improved AI, courtesy of Bethesda's proprietary Radiant AI; improved physics, courtesy of the Havok engine (used in Half-Life 2); and impressive graphics. The game was released, following much press coverage, on the PC and Xbox 360 in early 2006, and the PS3 in early 2007. Bethesda released two expansion packs for Oblivion in late 2006 and early 2007: The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine and The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion received a 9.5/10 average out of many different gaming site's reviews, with or without the expansions.



A Nord woman in Skyrim.

In 2011 Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the PC, Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3. The game is considered to be a spiritual successor to Oblivion, allowing for non-linear gameplay, with a large number of quests and side quests. In Skyrim, the "Last Dragonborn," or player character, starts as a prisoner awaiting execution, as in its predecessors, Oblivion, Morrowind, and Arena.

Skyrim excluded the conventional class-bases system of its predecessors in favor of more unique customization through skills and perk trees. The Birthsigns from other titles were exchanged for changeable Standing Stones, similar to the Doomstones in Oblivion only with effects that reign permanent until another stone is encountered and activated. The Mysticism school of Magicka was also eradicated and new spell-based attacks known as Dragon Shouts were introduced.

Skyrim's first DLC, Dawnguard released in June 2012. The storyline revolved around a group of Vampire Hunters known as the Dawnguard, opposed by the villainous Volkihar Clan. The plot divided at a quest called "Bloodline", where the Dragonborn decided whether to assist the Vampire Hunters, or become a member of the undead themselves. This was the first instance in which vampirism became a key element in an Elder Scrolls game; it also marked the creation of the Vampire Lord and werewolf skill tree perks. Dawnguard also saw the return of the crossbow, a projectile weapon first appearing in Morrowind.

Skyrim's second DLC is known as Hearthfire, allowing house building and adoption elements to the game. It allows the player to design and build a homestead, hire a steward, and adopt children.

The third DLC, Dragonborn, was released on December 4, 2012. The plot involves traveling to the island of Solstheim and the return of a mysterious former Dragon Priest and one-time ruler of the island. Unlike the ancient Dragon Priests of Skyrim, he is purportedly the first individual to be gifted with the dragon blood, much like the Dragonborn, and possesses the ability to absorb Dragon souls. The DLC adds new quests, characters, locations, weapons, armor, and the ability to tame and fly a dragon.

A Legendary Edition of Skyrim with the base game and the three DLCs Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn, was released on June 4, 2013. A graphically remastered version of the game, including all DLCs, called the Special Edition was released on October 28, 2016. A Skyrim VR (virtual reality) edition was released on April 3, 2018. An audio-focused version of the game called Skyrim Very Special Edition was released for the Amazon Alexa on June 10, 2018. An Anniversary Edition will be released on November 11, 2021, which includes the Special Edition, all DLCs, and 74 Creation Club items; all 48 currently available, plus 26 unreleased new items.

Box art



After the success of Daggerfall, Bethesda began work on a DLC for the game. The DLC was originally titled "Dungeon of Daggerfall: Battlespire," but after extensive work, the DLC became a standalone game. In 1997, An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire was released. It is the only game with the title "An Elder Scrolls Legend" to date.[6]

The Elder Scrolls Adventures

In the fall of 1998, Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard. Redguard was much more unique compared to any game and was very limited, having a pre-generated character with his own backstory named Cyrus and took place on the small island of Stros M'kai. Redguard was the first game to have 3D-generated characters and no further need for sprites. It was also the first game to have fully voiced dialogue.

Two more sequels were planned, named The Elder Scrolls Adventures II: Eye of Argonia and The Elder Scrolls Adventures III: Paradise Sugar. Due to poor sales of Redguard and Battlespire, the sequels were ultimately set aside as Bethesda flirted with bankruptcy. After Bethesda's purchase by Zenimax in 1999, the sequels were never developed and work shifted to Morrowind and its DLCs.[7]

The Elder Scrolls Travels

Following the release of Morrowind in 2002, four mobile phone games were created. The first was The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold in 2003, followed by The Elder Scrolls Travels: Dawnstar in 2004 and continuing with The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey in the same year.

The last game in the series was The Elder Scrolls Travels: Oblivion, but instead of being a standalone game with its own storyline the game was a mobile adaptation of Oblivion. The game was released on mobile phones in 2006, but development of the game on the PlayStation Portable was canceled.

The Elder Scrolls Online

In May 2012, ZeniMax Online Studios, a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media and a sister company of Bethesda, officially revealed The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG set in the Elder Scrolls universe due for release in late 2013. The game was initially to be exclusive to PC, but in June 2013 it was announced that the game was going to be released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as PC, with a release in Spring 2014. It is the first game in the series to feature online play.

The PC version of the game was released on April 4, 2014, with heavy criticism. The game suffered from a rocky launch and the game was criticized for having issues with grouping, poor combat mechanics, and its utilization of a subscription model. A delay was announced for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions in May 2014, with those versions expected to come in 2015.

ZeniMax eventually announced that the game was being relaunched as The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited in March 2015, which aimed to fix most of the problems that critics pointed out initially. ZeniMax also announced that the game was dropping its subscription model in favor of a Buy-to-Play business model. The company also announced a definitive release date for the console editions—June 9, 2015. Tamriel Unlimited was praised by several critics.

The Elder Scrolls Online currently has seventeen available DLCs, and two upcoming DLCs:

The game also has five "chapters," which are essentially larger DLCs, and one upcoming chapter:

The Elder Scrolls: Legends

On June 14, 2015, Bethesda released information regarding an Elder Scrolls strategy card game titled The Elder Scrolls: Legends. It will in some way involve a number of races such as Khajiit and Nords, and will be available on the PC and iPad for free.confirmation needed[8] The initial release date was set to be Fall 2015,[9] but was later delayed[10] to March 9, 2017 for PC, March 23, 2017 for iPad, May 10, 2017 for Android, May 31, 2017 for Mac OS, and July 2017 for mobile.[11]

The Elder Scrolls: Blades

On June 10, 2018, Bethesda announced The Elder Scrolls: Blades, a free-to-play game available on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices on September 1, 2018.[12]

Logos and box art

Game mechanics

The Elder Scrolls games can be safely categorized as role-playing games, although they do include elements taken from action and adventure games. However, in contrast to other games of the genre, The Elder Scrolls maintains a unique, skill-based approach to character advancement. A multitude of skills can be raised through use, and once a character's skills have increased sufficiently, their level increases in reflection of those skills. Because of this, players are allowed immense flexibility and choice in character advancement. This is perceived as both a strength and a weakness in the series by gamers, although the flexibility of the games' engines has facilitated the release of game extensions (or mods) through the Construction Set that change the skill and level mechanics.

The Elder Scrolls main series of games emphasizes different aspects of the gaming experience from most computer role-playing games. A brief by Joystiq in early November 2006 contrasted BioWare's creations to Bethesda's by noting a difference in emphasis. Bethesda's creations focused on "aesthetic presentation and open-ended adventuring"; BioWare's on a combat system and modular architecture.[13] The series' overarching aim has been noted by their designers as well. Bethesda has described their motivations in creating the first series game, Arena, as those of any good pen-and-paper RPG: creating an environment in which the player could be what the player wants and do what the player wants.[14] Daggerfall's manual begins with a sort of design manifesto, declaring the developers' intention to "create a book with blank pages," and "a game designed to encourage exploration and reward curiosity." Choices, in the form of paths taken by the player, to do good, to chase after evil, are left open to the player, "just like in real life."[15] This design trend continued with Morrowind, following the hiatus of similarly epic games in the interim, though Joystiq's previously noted insistence on graphics came again to the fore. During the development of Morrowind, Bethesda tripled its staff, so as to perfectly color its newly hand-made world. In their own words, "We knew we had to exceed the visual polish of the other games on the market, and we made it our goal to put The Elder Scrolls back into the forefront of game innovation."[16] The Elder Scrolls series' emphasis on freedom remained. In the words of Bethesda's Morrowind Prophecies, "Experience it as you wish."[17]

The series' grand ambitions have put some members of the gaming press into an apparent position of subdued skepticism prior to the release of each new game, incredulous as to Bethesda's capacity to surmount its obstacles. Nonetheless, whether this be a grab for reader interest or a true sentiment on behalf of the game press, such feelings evaporate by the end of each unvaryingly warm review the series' games receive.[18]

These mechanics exist in contrast to most RPGs, where experience points are the sole measure of a character's advancement, and leveling up drives skill increases.


Tamriel map

The continent of Tamriel on the world of Nirn.

TES Universe

The Elder Scrolls universe, also known as the Aurbis.

The world of TES is known for its attention to detail, realism, and the long, complex lists of names, dates, and places. They constitute its extensive history and the vast, interconnected structure of its various societies, cultures, and religions much more than most players are familiar with.

Furthermore, there is no one compilation of all information pertaining to TES, and, within the games, historical references are often vague or unsure. Players are encouraged to draw their own conclusions about situations and events for which the records are few and incomplete or when competing viewpoints obscure the truth. This has spawned a subculture amongst TES players of history and philosophy debaters affectionately called loremasters.

The Elder Scrolls games take place on the continent of Tamriel, a large landmass divided into nine provinces. An exception is Battlespire, which takes place between the realm of Oblivion, an alternate dimension ruled by the Daedra, and the mortal realm of Mundus. It is known that there are continents besides Tamriel in The Elder Scrolls planet known as Nirn, but there is yet to be an official game that takes place in one.

The nine provinces of Tamriel and some other continents are:

The other continents of Nirn:

  • Atmora is the ancient land of the Atmorans before settling in Skyrim and becoming the Nords.
  • Akavir is a land east of Tamriel; it is home to five different races, all separated by their individual empires. It is believed that the dragons originally came from Akavir, and then moved to Skyrim.
  • Yokuda lies west of Tamriel and was home to the Redguards before they escaped to Tamriel, when a massive, devastating event occurred within the continent which sank the entire land, lost forever to the vast oceans of Nirn. The Redguards arrived to Tamriel in the year 808 of the First Era, where they settled in Hammerfell. Though it is known that Yokuda sank long ago, the cause of the catastrophe is still debated today.
  • Pyandonea is a small island located south of Tamriel and is home to the Sea Elves, or Maormer. It is debated as to whether or not it can be counted as a continent due to the small size of the island.

While each of the ten playable races has a "home province" or province of origin, they are not limited to this province and can be found outside its borders, though they are a minority. It should also be noted that the home province of the Orcs is, in fact, a city-state called Orsinium, which lies within the borders of High Rock.

Other races included in TES lore are Ayleid, Chimer, Dwemer, Falmer, Hist, Imga, Kamal, Ka Po' Tun, Maormer, Sload, Tang Mo, and Tsaesci. The Dwemer were destroyed for unknown reasons before Arena, but this is explained in Morrowind.

Mythology and religion

The Elder Scrolls places great emphasis on the idea of the dualism and equality of opposites. This dualism is not the Abrahamic dualism of good and evil, but more closely resembles a fusion of Eastern and pre-Christian Western beliefs on the subject, being the duality of order and chaos. According to Elder Scrolls Lore, the concepts of order and chaos can be translated collectively into everything. These notions might be more exactly approximated using the words "stasis" (unchanging continuity) and "change" (unknowable energy). Almost all Tamrielic religions strongly feature the idea that the world was created through an intermingling of these two things, some saying that time is in essence a synthesis of continuity and alteration, and most religious creation-theories deal with one or more mythological characters representing these absolutes either procreating or engaging in combat (or both, as the case may be). The thought experiment of the irresistible force is often invoked, and much of the Elder Scrolls theosophical lore is devoted to developing and examining hypotheses as to how such a thought experiment might actually play out on all levels, were it metaphysically possible.


  • With the exception of Daggerfall, each of the main series games, i.e. Arena, Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, and the spin-offs of Stormhold and Online, the main character always starts the game as a prisoner, though not always in a prison.

External links