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This page contains extracts from the 10th Anniversary article. They provide insight into the development of the Elder Scrolls games and short synopses of the storylines.


Ten years ago this month, Bethesda Softworks released the first game in what would turn out to be its most successful and popular series: The Elder Scrolls. The Elder Scrolls: Arena was a role-playing game unlike any other and drew acclaim from gamers and the press alike for its innovative and open-ended gameplay. For an overview of the series and our anniversary, you can read the full press release here.

We thought we would take this opportunity to look back on all of the Elder Scrolls games released so far, both in terms of what took place in each game (for those of you who haven't played them all) as well as an inside look at the development for each game. You may be surprised at what you find out, like which game was originally a gladiator game, or which game was originally supposed to take place in the province of Morrowind. Find out more by clicking on the game links in the menu on the left, or use the timeline below. You can even download a free, full version of the original Arena from our Downloads section.

We also thought we'd use this opportunity say thank you for your support by giving away a ton of cool prizes in our Elder Scrolls 10th Anniversary Giveaway. Be sure to enter today for your chance at video cards from ATI and NVIDIA, wireless Xbox controllers from Hip Gear, sound cards and speakers from Creative Labs, cordless Xbox controllers and keyboard/mouse Duos from Logitech, and even one-of-a-kind Elder Scrolls concept art or a killer 4' x 5' Morrowind poster (yes, that's four feet by five feet).



Behind the ScenesEdit

Arena started, as the name might suggest, as a medieval-style gladiator game. You had a team of fighters and went around the world fighting other teams in each city's arena until you became grand champion in the Imperial City.

The world used for Arena was Tamriel, the fantasy world created by a few members of the staff for use in their weekly D&D campaign. During development of Arena, more and more RPG elements were added -- what if you could walk around these cities? What if you could take your team into a dungeon? And soon it was clear what Arena needed to be -- a full-blown RPG.

Inspired by such games as Ultima Underworld and the unheralded Legends of Valour, Arena was now seen as a massive first-person RPG -- the game that recreated the pen-and-paper RPG experience -- be who you want and do what you want. For a long time Arena was a party-based game, where you lead a group of adventurers. This style of play proved less fun in first person, so Arena became a single character game.

Arena was to be the first chapter in an ongoing series of games, so the series took its name from Tamriel's mystical tomes of knowledge that told of its past, present, and future -- The Elder Scrolls.

For a limited time we are making the full version of The Elder Scrolls: Arena -- available for download.


Jagar Tharn, imperial battlemage to the Uriel Septim, Emperor of Tamriel, betrays Uriel by using an artifact called the Staff of Chaos to imprison Uriel in an alternate dimension. Tharn then assumes the Emperor's identity and place on the throne.

You and one of Uriel's associates, Ria Silmane, discover Tharn's treachery, and threaten to expose him. Tharn kills Ria and imprisons you in the Imperial dungeons. Ria's ghost helps you escape and teleports you to your home province. Meanwhile, in an effort to ensure the Emperor never returns, Tharn breaks the Staff of Chaos into eight pieces and hides them throughout the eight provinces of Tamriel.

Your task is to recover the fragments of the Staff of Chaos from eight dungeons scattered throughout Tamriel. The final piece of the Staff of Chaos must be recovered from the Dwarven works at the fire mountain Dagoth Ur in the province of Morrowind. The location of this dungeon is unknown, but the King of Ebonheart consults ancient lore, and sends you to recover a special Dwarven hammer, known as Ghiron's Hammer. When this hammer is delivered to the King, he strikes a magical anvil with the hammer, producing a magical tone that indicates the location of the dungeon where the final piece of the Staff of Chaos is hidden.

After collecting the final piece of the Staff of Chaos from Dagoth Ur, the player re-assembles the Staff of Chaos and returns to the Imperial City to confront Jagar Tharn. When Jagar Tharn is defeated, the player releases the Emperor from his magical imprisonment, restoring him to the Imperial throne.


Behind the ScenesEdit

Work on Daggerfall was started immediately after Arena shipped. The success of the first game allowed us to think even bigger for the second chapter of The Elder Scrolls. Since Arena encompassed the entire world of Tamriel, it also felt too generic, so it was decided that each successive game in the series would focus on more specific areas of the Empire.

Originally titled Mournhold and set in the land of Morrowind, the game was eventually moved to the provinces High Rock and Hammerfell, with the events centered on the city of Daggerfall. With this second game, the role-playing experience would get even deeper. Gone was Arena's experience-points-based leveling system that rewarded you for simply killing things, and in its place was a new skill-based system that rewarded you for actually role-playing your character.

Daggerfall initially was developed using an updated Arena raycast engine similar to Doom's, where the world is really 2D and drawn to look 3D. We then decided to begin development of one of the very first true 3D engines in computer games -- the XnGine. This engine provided unparalleled 3D visuals and would go on to power other titles such as The Terminator: Future Shock, SkyNET, X-Car, Battlespire, and Redguard.

Daggerfall featured one of the first true 3D worlds on a massive scale, with a game world the size of Great Britain. The game had twice as many features as Arena, a deeper role-playing system, and helped usher in an RPG renaissance in 1996.


You're sent to Daggerfall at the request of the Emperor, who is concerned about events there. You are given two quests: to liberate the tormented soul of King Lysandus haunting Daggerfall, and to find a letter from the Emperor to his queen. The Emperor says the contents of the letter are unimportant, but, in fact, the missing letter was to have been delivered to Lady Brisienna Magnessen, the noble sister of a Great Knight of the Blades in disguise at the court of Daggerfall, posing as one of the witches of Popudax.

The Blades are a group of knights who work clandestinely for the good of the empire. Their goal is to repair the great iron golem, Numidium, which forcibly united the Empire hundreds of years before under the rule of Tiber Septim. The Blades have been assembling the pieces of Numidium ever since it was shattered by the Underking. They have in their hands the Totem -- an artifact capable of controlling the Numidium.

Only one piece remains to energize the golem -- the Mantella, a great engine that is the heart of Numidium. King Lysandus' mother, Nulfaga, had discovered the location of the Mantella in her astral travels, and informed the Emperor that she would give the location if he would guarantee that by recreating Numidium he would not destroy any of her son's power.

The Emperor doesn't like being presented with conditions, so he sends a letter by priest to Brisienna (though officially addressed to Mynisera -- a special seal on the envelope was to tip Brisienna that the letter was actually for her). The letter directs that whatever pressure is necessary, Nulfaga must be persuaded to yield up the location of the Mantella.

The priest is delayed by the war, and delivers the letter not to the old queen Mynisra, but the new queen Aubk-i. The new queen's lady-in-waiting is, of course, not Brisienna.

Instead the letter passes directly to the new queen, Aubk-i. She reads the letter, realizes it was meant for her predecessor, Mynisera (which, of course, is wrong -- it was really meant for Brisienna), and becomes very nervous about her mother-in-law and the Emperor. She files the letter away.

Brisienna has meanwhile left the Queen-Mother's service and is now working for Popudax and has no clue about the events. Aubk-i cannot trust anyone, especailly if she learns that Mynisera was (maybe is) sleeping with Lord Bridwell. She certainly isn't going to trust you.

The lady-in-waiting, noticiing that Aubk-i was rattled by a recent letter, reads it, and sells the information (which she does not really understand, except that it is important) to the highest bidder.

This turns out to be the orc Gortworg, who wants all the dirt he can get on all the royal families of High Rock. He has no idea what the Mantella is and consults the King of Worms, leader of the Necromancers.

Nulfaga is the only one who knows where the Mantella is. And Gortworg, the King of Worms, and the Emperor all know that she knows. The Underking is in a tomb in High Rock, still recovering from using up all his energy to blow up Numidium hundreds of years before. He's getting stronger, but not quite mobile yet.

In order to get the Mantella to someone, you must lay Lysandus to rest. To do that, you have to kill the man responsible for his death (Lord Woodborne, in his heavily defended fortress) and perform a ceremony at the spot where he was killed, over at least one of his bones.

The Totem disappears from possession of the Blades and passes from faction to faction during the course of the game. Once the Mantella is activated, its power races across the bay, bringing the Underking totally to life.

Daggerfall can end in any of six ways:

  • If you activate Numidium, and you hold the Totem, Numidium will crush you dead, then go on a rampage and be destroyed by the forces of the Empire.
  • If the Underking is given the Mantella, he grabs the gem and sucks all the energy out, thus giving himself final rest at last, and in the process creating an anti-magic zone of several miles radius around that area.
  • If Gortworg wins, Numidium defeats the forces of the Empire and the kings of the Bay just before the Underking arrives on the scene -- destroying the golem and himself. Nevertheless, the result is the rise of Orsinium and the further crumbling of the Empire.
  • If the Blades win, Numidium is created. It defeats the forces of the orcs and the kings of the Bay, uniting the provinces of Tamriel under the Emperor.
  • If one of the Kings of the Bay wins, all the other forces are defeated by Numidium, followed by the Underking's appearance to destroy the golem and himself (as in the Gortworg climax).
  • If the king of Worms wins, he uses the power of the Mantella to make himself a god.


Behind the ScenesEdit

After Daggerfall, it was clear that The Elder Scrolls had reached a large audience that wanted more games, more often. Work began on three separate projects -- Morrowind, Redguard, and Battlespire.

Originally titled Dungeon of Daggerfall: Battlespire, the game was created to be an expansion pack for Daggerfall. The game would focus on the best part of Daggerfall -- romping through a dungeon and battling creatures. It would be much smaller in scope and feature intense level design. It was the only Elder Scrolls game to offer multiplayer as well, where you could play death-match against other player's characters.

Morrowind was also in early development during this period, and its massive scope was too much for us to handle at the time, so it was put on hold, and the staff was moved onto Battlespire and Redguard to make those games even better.

With the extra staff, Battlespire became more than a simple dungeon romp. Characters, story, voice, and other dimensions were added to it. It had grown out of its expansion pack roots, and became a standalone game - An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire.


Communications have been lost with the Battlespire, the Imperial Battle College's elite training center in a pocket realm in the vast chaotic emptiness of Oblivion. An agent, an acquaintance, is sent to investigate. She doesn't report back. So they send you.

You enter to find yourself trapped, your return through the Weir Gate blocked by a magical Daedric Sigil. The staff of the Battlespire are all dead, and the facility is crawling with Daedra. In addition, four of the arcane anchors holding the Battlespire in place have been disconnected. You must restore the anchors, or the Battlespire will be destroyed.

You can't go back to Tamriel. Once you have restored a teleport device, you can only search deeper into the occupied Battlespire laboratories and administrative center.

Fortunately, the agent who preceded you has left you reports of all she has learned. She has gone on ahead to scout and track down the traitor who betrayed the Battlespire.

From your agent's notes, you discover that a human servant of the Daedra Lord Mehrunes Dagon has induced a Battlespire mage to turn traitor and open a gateway for an invasion of Daedra. Your only hope is to fight your way past the Daedric troops, guards, and captains, steal arcane keys from the bodies of your enemies, and pass through the Beachhead Portal the Daedra used to invade the Battlespire.

This will lead you directly into the enemy's camps and routes of march -- into the myriad pocket worlds that float in the voids of Oblivion. At best, you might find a way back. At worst, you can avenge yourself on the Daedra invaders and the traitor who opened the way into the Battlespire.

Through the Portal you find yourself in the Soul Cairn -- a Daedric realm occupied by lost souls. You must fight your way past the maddened revenants and the Daedra garrison troops to make your way to the next pocket world -- the Shade Perilous.

In the Shade Perilous, you discover that a number of Daedric realms have been invaded and occupied to provide travel corridors from Mehrunes Dagon's invading army base to the Battlespire. To pass through to the next Daedric realm along the invasion path, you need the help of two Daedra lovers, Jaciel Morgen and Deyanira Katrece, victims of the invading Daedric army. Only Deyanira Katrece's tragic sacrifice can shake Jaciel Morgen from her despair enough to help you teleport to your next objective -- the Chimera of Desolation. Jaciel Morgen also promises to come at your call when you reach Mehrunes Dagon; she pledges to help you take your revenge on him.

The Chimera of Desolation appears to be a great island floating in the void. Here you find yourself the target of a Wild Hunt. Only with the help of the old mad hermit of the island can you find the Armor of the Savior's Hide and the Spear of Bitter Mercy to turn the tables on the Daedra huntmaster and his Daedric dogs chasing you. On the dead huntmaster you find the key to the gate that leads you to the next realm.

The Havoc Wellhead is the staging area for the Daedric invasion of Battlespire. Here the ambitious and competing rival captains of Mehrunes Dagon's armies are mustered with their respective troops, preparing to use the Battlespire as a bridgehead to invade Tamriel. You must play the rivals off against one another to get the keys to the next realm. You also get the opportunity to kill the mortal sorcerer who treacherously helped Mehrunes Dagon stage his invasion of the Battlespire.

The next and final realm is full of giant stone islands floating above a sea of lava. The floating stone islands are connected by flimsy bridges and guarded by mighty Daedra warriors. In the center of the realm is the Hunting Lodge of Mehrunes Dagon. You must enter the Hunting Lodge and confront Mehrunes Dagon, using the lore you have wheedled from Daedric informants, wearing the Armor of the Savior's Hide, and striking Mehrunes Dagon with the Broadsword of the Moon River (taken from the body of one of the Daedra Lord's most fierce and faithful bodyguards).

You call on Jaciel Morgen. She comes and distracts Mehrunes Dagon long enough for you to strike him, hard and true. The Daedra Lord is cast far out into the trackless void of Oblivion, and will be a long time finding his way back to his realm and his minions. You rescue your fellow agent held captive here, then return to Tamriel to receive the grateful praise of your emperor.


Behind the ScenesEdit

Developed along with Battlespire, Redguard was our first attempt at a mass-market action adventure game. Inspired by Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia, and the Ultima series, it was put under the series of The Elder Scrolls Adventures; Redguard was developed to be a new breed -- a pure action-adventure game. You would talk to people through keywords, use items to solve puzzles, all progressing an epic story with the hallmarks of a classic adventure game. At the same time, you would explore dungeons, sword fight, swing and leap across chasms with all the flair of an action game.

One of the goals in Redguard was to focus our art time on one area and to see how detailed we could really make something with the XnGine. The island and town Stros M'kai, complete with its Dwarven Ruins, were a new landmark in real-time 3D environments.

Redguard was also the only Elder Scrolls game where you did not create your own character. You played Cyrus, a Redguard hero returning to his homeland. Cyrus was very popular here, and many stories were written about his adventures. This fueled various sequel concepts, as well as the comic book detailing his origin, which was included with the game's manual.

Also included with Redguard's manual was the now famous Pocket Guide to the Empire. By this time, Tamriel had grown to be one of the most interesting fantasy worlds ever created, but we had no book or reference that put all of the information in one place for people to enjoy. So the Pocket Guide was created to condense and reconcile all the lore and color mentioned in the previous games, as well as material already created for Morrowind. To this day it remains the definitive source for information on the world of The Elder Scrolls.


The story of Redguard begins as you, Cyrus, search for your sister, and ends up telling the story of the Reguard [sic] rebellion of 2E864.

From the moment Stros M'kai is in sight, Cyrus becomes engaged in the troubles of his homeland. Run-ins with both the Empire and the Reguard [sic] fanatics, the "Restless League," convince you that your sister has gotten herself into serious trouble. Eventually, you butt heads with Imperial Governor Richton, find out Iszara is part of the Restless League, and get sent to the death-trap ridden Catacombs. Escaping, you then contact the League and meet with their leader, a cautious and enigmatic Redguard named Basil. You learn that Iszara stole a soulgem (with Prince A'tor's soul inside) from the League and made off to Stros M'kai to try and restore the Crowns to power. Basil tells you, "find the soulgem and you'll find Iszara."

You return to Stros M'kai and learn from a Khajiit that Iszara had attempted to take the soulgem to N'gasta the Necromancer - the only sorcerer powerful enough to use it and restore Prince A'tor. But Iszara went to the Necromancer without precaution and ended up with her own soul stolen and the soulgem in the Empire's hands. You find the Flask of Lillandril, use it to vanquish N'gasta and restore Iszara, and join Iszara's cause.

You then recover the gem from the Empire's dragon and find a kinder, gentler sorcerer who can use the soulgem's magic, and then gather the League together to witness the restoration of Prince A'tor. The soul, however, does not go into the Prince's body but into his sword instead. Though the League becomes disheartened, you rally them, taking up your sword to fight the Governor and the Imperials yourself. As the League retakes the harbor of Stros M'kai, you enter the Palace through a secret entrance and catch up to Richton just as the Imperials are making their escape. You defeat the Governor in combat and win the day, igniting a revolution that spreads across the rest of Hammerfell.


Behind the ScenesEdit

Concept map of Morrowind

Morrowind was originally conceived during development of Daggerfall. It was to be called Tribunal and set in Summerset Isle. It was then redesigned after Daggerfall to use a new SVGA version of the XnGine (later used in Battlespire) and feature the entire province of Morrowind, not just the subsection of Vvardenfell where the final game actually takes place. The original story featured all 5 houses of the Dark Elves, including your ability to join House Indoril and House Dres. The original design also featured the progressive expansion of the Blight, cities being destroyed, armies marching, along with the return of Dagoth-Ur. Overall, it was much closer to Daggerfall in scope, setup, and gameplay style. We decided it was simply too much to create and that the technology was too akin to Daggerfall, so the project was put on hold in 1997.

With the completion of Redguard at the end of 1998, it was clear to us that we needed to return to Morrowind, and that our audience wanted the grandeur and scope of the main Elder Scrolls' chapters. It had been several years since we had developed one of our big RPGs, and technology and gameplay in the market had grown by leaps and bounds with the arrival of 3D acceleration and the proliferation of first-person games. 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.

We immediately focused the game on the story of Dagoth-Ur's return and on a much smaller land area than the original design. We had the goal of creating it all by hand, using similar techniques that we used on Redguard, which most of the team had just finished. Both Arena and Daggerfall had been created using algorithms that randomly built the world's areas. Doing this by hand was an enormous task that took us close to 100 man-years to create. Two things were needed to accomplish this.

First, we tripled our staff by hiring many new faces. Morrowind for us was not just about building a game, but building a new development team. Second, we spent the first full year of the project creating The Elder Scrolls Construction Set. It's often said amongst our team that The Construction Set is the best product we ever made, and it just may be. This tool made Morrowind possible, not just for creating it, but playing and modifying it. The file system, which stores any change to the game in small plug-ins, allowed us to rebalance the game and really make it fun. The Construction Set shipped with the PC version of Morrowind and has spawned thousands of mods and millions of plug-in downloads -- giving Morrowind never-ending life.

Morrowind also marked our first major foray into the world of console games, as we also developed it for the Xbox. We saw Xbox as a great opportunity for us to bring our style of RPG to an even bigger audience. It also spawned two expansion packs, Bloodmoon and Tribunal. These were released separately on the PC and put together with the original to be sold on Xbox as Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition.


The Emperor sends you to Morrowind to fulfill an ancient prophecy and become the reincarnation of a long-dead hero. The prophecies are incomplete and obscure, so to succeed, you must first find the missing clues. The prophecies also say to beware of a mysterious Morrowind cult called the Sixth House that worships Dagoth Ur, the immortal nemesis of Dunmer religion and an ancient enemy of Nerevar. You are therefore ordered to prepare yourself to face the threat of the Sixth House and Dagoth Ur.

The Emperor places you under the orders of the head of Imperial Intelligence in Vvardenfell, Caius Cosades, the Spymaster. Following the Emperor's orders, the Spymaster sends you to investigate the background and activities of the Cult of the Nerevarine and the Sixth House.

You learn that the Cult of the Nerevarine awaits a prophesied hero called the Incarnate, a reincarnation of the ancient Dunmer Hero Nerevar -- and evidence confirms the Emperor's belief that you may be the object of the prophecies. Also, the Sixth House and Dagoth Ur are the source of a supernatural blight that threatens to overwhelm the land of Morrowind and every living thing upon it.

Morrowind's most powerful religion, the Tribunal Temple, denies the prophecy of the Incarnate, persecuting the Cult of the Nerevarine as heretics. But you learn of a rebellious Temple faction called the Dissident Priests who may have the Lost Prophecies you seek. The Dissident Priests have also discovered that the Temple's immortal god-heroes -- Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil -- employ the same profane magics as Dagoth Ur, and that, grown weaker and weaker in their battles with Dagoth Ur, the Tribunal can no longer defend Morrowind from Dagoth Ur and the Blight. The Temple hierarchy, dominated by the Ordinators (the Temple's elite guard and inquisitors), will do anything to prevent the Dissident Priests from attacking the authority of the cult. By associating with the Dissident Priests, you becomes the target of Ordinator attacks.

As you dig deeper into the mysteries of the Nerevarine and the Sixth House, you are attacked by dark dreams, demented cultists, and fanatic assassins sent by Dagoth Ur and the Sixth House. When you finally locate and destroy a Sixth House base, you contract the terrible corprus disease, a supernatural weapon of Sixth House cultists. But when, with the help of an ageless Telvanni wizard, you are miraculously cured, that cure ironically fulfills one of the prophecies of the Nerevarine's reincarnation.

The recall of the Spymaster to the Imperial City leaves you without a patron and guide. You must thereafter rely on two native Dunmer for guidance: the Dissident Priest Mehra Milo, a friend and informant of the Spymaster, and Nibani Maesa, an Ashlander wise woman, seer, and leader of the Cult of the Incarnate. However, after you rescue Mehra Milo from the Ordinators who have imprisoned her in the Ministry of Truth, and receive from her the Lost Prophecies, you have everything you need to prove that you are indeed the prophesied Nerevarine.

To assume your identity as the prophesied Incarnate, you must provide proof to the Cult of the Nerevarine. First you deliver the Lost Prophecies recovered from the Dissident Priests to Nibani Maesa. Then you perform a quest for the Warrior-Protector of the Cult, Sul-Matuul, retrieving tokens from a subterranean Sixth House base.

A satisfied Sul-Matuul then reveals the secret location of the Cavern of the Incarnate, where you travel and encounter the Daedra Lord Azura, who confirms your status as the Incarnate, and gives you a token so that all Dunmer shall recognize you -- the Moon-and-Star Ring of Nerevar, an ancient magical treasure long believed lost, and known from legend to instantly kill any who wear it but Nerevar himself. Azura then interprets the Incarnate's prophecies, foretelling the next stages of the Incarnate's quest: to be acknowledged as war leader by each of the three Great Houses and by all four Ashlander tribes, and to reconcile the warring factions of the Tribunal Temple.

As described in the Lost Prophecies, the second stage of the Incarnate's main quest is to be named war leader of the four Ashlander tribes (the "Nerevarine") and war leader of the three Great Houses (the "Hortator"). When you have been named both Nerevarine and Hortator, you are invited to an interview with the Archcanon of the Tribunal Temple, Tholer Saryoni, and then with the God-Hero Lord Vivec. Vivec admits that he and the Tribunal have failed, and asks you to save Morrowind from Dagoth Ur.

The God-Hero Lord Vivec tells you that three great artifacts must be used to unmake Dagoth Ur and the Sixth House. Vivec gives you the first -- Wraithguard -- and tells you that the other two, Sunder and Keening, must be recovered from Sixth House citadels within Red Mountain's crater and defended by Dagoth Ur's lieutenants, the Ash Vampires. When you have all three artifacts, you must descend into Dagoth Ur's own citadel and use the artifacts to destroy the enchantments that give him his supernatural powers. With the enchantments destroyed, Dagoth Ur and all his minions are unmade, and the blight removed from Morrowind.