“Wake up, We’re here. Why are you shaking?”, these words were my introduction to the world of Tamriel and The Elder Scrolls. It was 25 years ago that the first game, Arena, was released by Bethesda, but I didn’t play until the third game in the series, 2002’s Morrowind.
Morrowind was, for me, a formative game. Along with Ultima it set my taste in games, gave me my love of RPGs. Its deep world, expansive lore, and, frankly, a convoluted storyline with no clear sense of who’s telling the truth was, and is, deeply compelling. The game drops you into it right from the start and lets you be the fish out of water your character is, and it works wonders.
Having just gone back to Morrowind there are a lot of things that have held up amazingly over the years. There are also some other things that the Morrowind expansion of the Elder Scrolls Online did better. Morrowind, the original game, not the ESO (Elder Scrolls Online) expansion, was deep in its characterization. You had a variety of attributes and skills you could boost as you leveled, giving very granular control over your build. ESO goes for a more streamlined approach, only 3 attributes but many skill lines, like Skyrim.
However great that granularity was though, it did lead to one of my biggest issues with the older game: the Speed stat. For a game with little real fast travel (there were options just not as convenient as modern games’ systems) walking was a slog. If you didn’t have a character who used things like light armor or similar skills tied your character’s speed attribute then speed would stay low and your character’s walking speed would be approximately that of a snail trapped in molasses. In winter. In Siberia.
The newer game still has a rich environment. Set a thousand years before the original, it’s pure nostalgia fuel to walk through the streets of Vivec as it’s being built or go to Balmora and see where Caius Cosades’ house will one day be. Although, it also lacks some of the things that made the original such a gem. Gone is the ambiguity of the plot. You know who’s on the up and up. You know where you stand. The sense of unease and that you’re being played was at the center of the original game and still sticks with me to this day.
The newer direction of the games, “dumbing down”, to use the term of some gamers (with whom I disagree), of the mechanics, can be divisive. Gone are the days of Speed and other stats, but perk trees and other customization options abound. ESO has over 50 skills each with their own tree, so the depth is there. The enchanting systems have gotten simpler, sure, you don’t have to hunt around and remember a complex map of overlapping fast travel systems (do I want to use the mage’s guild, silt striders, boats, or propylon chamber to get there? Which stops do I make on the way?) to get where you’re going. That, to me, is a good thing. It lets me get on with the story and less with the busy work of playing, but then there’s an argument to be made for immersion. It’s the same way that I’d love a system that lets you level Smithing in Skyrim immersively and efficiently, instead of making a billion iron daggers. Something the modding community added, by the way.
The modding community is really the heart of The Elder Scrolls after 25 years. Morrowind was the first really moddable game in the series and while it doesn’t have the depth of mods as Skyrim, there are quite a few. Some mods even could be seen as necessary; the fan patch for instance, but for other games like Skyrim, the modding community really shines: full new lands, recreations of old ones, armor sets, quests, entire DLC sized mods. The fans are what make these games new after the thousandth playthrough. Even ESO, an online game, has add-ons for it by fans that make things like crafting easier. Fans made it a point to make a mod which maps all the gathering points for resources, similar to Gatherer for World of Warcraft. A must have if you’re into smithing like my Dunmer is.
Twenty-five years after its birth The Elder Scrolls is a series that captivates and pulls people in. It’s come a long way in terms of story and mechanics, some good, some not so good. But ultimately, it’s one series I will always go back to when I need something to play. The Elder Scrolls is a gaming classic with which I look forward to many more years.
You can learn more about The Elder Scrolls and their 25th anniversary on their website.
What do you think? Do you have a favorite moment from The Elder Scrolls world? Morrowind or Skyrim? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter!