Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Elder Scrolls 1: Arena

Introductory remarks

This article is the first one in a series of 5 articles related to the video-game series The Elder Scrolls (TES). This article is highly inspired from this video game review on Youtube, which in turn seems highly inspired from the Wikipedia article about this game.

The game itself is available for free on its creator's website: http://www.elderscrolls.com/arena/. Since it was developed for running in a MS-DOS environment, you will need a DOS emulator like DOSBox to run it.

I have not played Arena but came to TES through the 2nd game of the series: Daggerfall which uses the same engine, with modifications.

Remember 1993!

Back in 1993, first-person view in video games was rare. If you except the car/plane/spaceship simulations which are not exactly first-person, only role-playing games were created with a first-person view. Such games include the Eye Of The Beholder series and Lands of Lore series. Granted, there was also a game-changer (pun not intended) that appeared at the same time: the Wolfenstein/Doom series. But all-in-all, 1st person view was rare. Rarer still was the use of 3D and most games only offered the option of moving in discrete increments and always facing North, East, South or West. A few role-playing games (RPG) offered more freedom of movement like the Ultima Underworld series or such games as Legends of Valour.

And then Bethesda Softworks decided to create a gladiator fighting game in 3D. This is where the title, Arena, comes from. That gladiator fighting game would have been absolute rubbish if really developed and released as such. But in order to add depth to the story, the developers added side quests. And side quests were fun and gave more sense of purpose than the core idea of Arena fighting. More and more quests were added. New skills were introduced. Magic made its way into the game. The world grew. Basically, the game was re-purposed as a medieval role-playing-game (RPG) and the initial idea was binned, leaving the creators to expand the RPG aspects of their project.

And voila! Bethesda had a full-blown quality RPG but due to marketing deadlines and previous artwork being already created for the fighting game, the original title "Arena" remained and they added "The Elder Scrolls" to make it look more RPG-ish.

What made this game a hallmark of RPGs despite terrible sales is the depth of its world. You could do uncountable things, create customized magic spells, steal, go to a great many dungeons and loot its denizens if you survived. It had a day-and-night cycle with baddies coming out at night. In other words, it was awesome... except for the combat system that totally sucked and a heapload of bugs that crashed the game every now and then. But it was almost everything that RPG enthusiasts could dream of at the time.


Arena was a turning point in computer RPGs. It marked the end of the Eye Of The Beholder era and the dawn of a new age for the genre. Of course, hardly anyone will play this game today and its flawed combat system will likely make it unbearable for any modern player. But it is to be remembered with fondness like a great-grandparent whose temper was horrendous, but who contributed greatly to make the family what it is today. And The Elder Scrolls family is absolutely awesome!

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