Random Thoughts: The Elder Scrolls Arena

All right, first off, no, I’m not going to be talking about the entire game. I’ve never been that much of an Elder Scrolls fan, to be totally honest. I mean, they’re nice enough games, as far as RPGs go, they’ve just never gelled with me, for a few different reasons. For one thing, the standard fantasy setting just doesn’t tend to be my thing. I always went for Discworld more, but that never had any really big first-person RPGs about it, so you can see my problem there. What I’m going is take the first game in particular and point out a couple of things I thought was unusual about it.

For one thing, let’s do a quick comparison. Here’s the cover to Skyrim, which I’m assuming you’ve seen at somewhere not too long ago.


Simple and understated, but gives just a hint of what to expect about the game itself. Morrowind and Oblivion use the same kind of ‘symbol with the game’s name over it’ kind of motif. So, what would you be looking at in 1993?


Oh, my, there’s some big changes right there. And no, that’s not meant to be a boob joke. Unless you want it to be. Poor girl looks like she’s got spine issues of Lifieldian proportions. On the other hand, how many RPGs do you know where you can play as Genghis Khan?

So, once you open the game, here’s the basic plot: There’s this evil wizard who’s trapped The Emperor/Patrick Stewart in another dimension with The Staff of Chaos. And here’s where things get really generic: After doing this, he splits the staff into seven pieces and scatters them across the land. It’s your job as a wandering adventure person to go put the thing back together. And no, collecting all seven pieces won’t turn you into a floating, golden-haired super warrior. You don’t get that kind of thing without modding tools, and those wouldn’t be until Morrowind.

Here’s what I think is kind of funny, though: The game straight up dumps all this on you at the start of the game. It’s a pretty big change from games like Skyrim, where you’re put in some kind of strange or hostile situation from the start, and then you gradually find out the plot as you play. It’s just such a… direct style of storytelling.

Oh, and that evil wizard? Oh, he’s around. He’s also kind of a jerk, it turns out!

You get this cutscene once you far enough Jagar Tharn notices you’re in his dungeons, killing his dudes, as it were. As you can tell, he tends to overact just a little bit. And by a little bit, I mean you could have it so he’s yelling “HE-MAN!” at the end of each of his sentences and you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

What I think is interesting is how the game basically dances on your corpse in this cutscene. By Morrowind, the most that happened when you died is that you went ragdoll, and the game just shrugged and offered to load a save for you. It’s kind of a pretty big change in style, and I’m almost curious why it didn’t keep. I just feel like there’s not as much challenge and fear of death when you don’t have to worry about some guy giving you his high school drama level of acting every time you screw up.

Anyway, that’s all. Like I said, I didn’t really intend to go that in depth, I just wanted to point out some things with this game that are just kind of… weird. If I remember right, Daggerfall, the next game in the series, would go towards the more gradual kind of plot progression, in exchange of giving you the choice of making your character is terrified of people. Not a certain race. Just people in general. Have fun roleplaying that!

That said, however, Arena is a much better game than Home Alone for the NES, so there’s my endorsement.

Man, now I want an RPG that uses THIS for a game over screen.

Man, now I want an RPG that uses THIS for a game over screen.

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