Welcome back to Table Not Required, a series where I feature game series that I feel capture the spirit of one of the elements of Tabletop Roleplaying Games. For the first entry, the Final Fantasy series was highlighted for its excellent storytelling and narrative elements. It was followed up by the Baldur’s Gate series, which captures the interactions and relationships formed within the party. The final entry of the series will be delivered in two parts, featuring two-game series that each represents freedom of exploration, another important aspect in many TTRPGs.
The first series to be featured for its focus on exploration and discovery is The Elder Scrolls from Bethesda Softworks. Beginning in 1994 with The Elder Scrolls: Arena, the Elder Scrolls series has since released five main title games (with a sixth in development), as well as a number of spin-off games as well. Undoubtedly their most popular title in the series is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which has been released on PC as well as three generations of video game consoles for a total of nine different versions of the game! Having sold tens of millions of copies, it is one of the highest-selling video games of all time. All of this is to say it is likely you or someone you know are familiar with The Elder Scrolls as a series in some capacity.
If you find that you have yet to play any of The Elder Scrolls games, they share a number of common themes. Each game in the series takes place within the world of Tamriel, with some games featuring the entirety of its surface to explore, and others taking place primarily within one or two of its nine provinces (High Rock/Hammerfell, Morrowind, Cyrodil, and of course Skyrim). They all feature a high fantasy setting, incorporate an Action RPG style, and allow the player great freedom of movement and choice of how they will interact with the world.
When an Elder Scrolls game begins, we are tasked with creating their own character both in appearance and ability before being whisked away to an instanced (pre-planned) mini-adventure designed to acclimate us to the primary exploration and combat controls and features. At the conclusion of said adventure, we are typically presented with general advice on where to head next to continue unraveling the plot threads placed before us. However, this is generally the point at which we are free to make up our own minds as to where we will go and what we will accomplish.
The Elder Scrolls games operate in what has been referred to as a Sandbox environment. While traditional video games tend to progress sequentially through stages or levels, Sandbox games operate within one (or sometimes several) large seamless environments. This allows for greater freedom of movement and better aligns with how navigating the worlds of our TTRPGs tends to work. If one wanted to walk across the entire surface of a world in a game such as Cyberpunk or Pathfinder they are welcome to do so, provided they can survive the harsh elements or dangerous creatures that they may encounter. This is also true of games like Oblivion and Skyrim, with miles of wilderness and bustling cities and towns all available to traverse with little or no loading from coast to coast.
Another common aspect of the series is that the act of exploration itself is often encouraged and rewarded. As the games all exist within the same continuous world and story, there are often several callbacks to previous games and characters hidden within the dark dungeons or difficult to reach locales of the different provinces of Tamriel. This may include a journal that provides closure on a past games cliff-hanger sidequest. A hero or villain from Morrowind may have traveled to Cyrodil or Skyrim, taken refuge in a cave or ancient ruin, and left behind a keepsake or sign of their travel. In addition, Bethesda tends to hide some of their more powerful artifacts and armaments in the darkest of dungeon depths, rewarding keen players with a much needed boon. It is possible to acquire some of the strongest armor or weapons right at the start of the adventure if you are lucky or know where to look. Lastly, the development team goes to great lengths to provide beautiful and interesting flora, fauna and natural formations to their games. Some of the most impressive vistas and backdrops are hidden away from the primary paths of the adventures, and require one to seek them out.
If you are the party member who gets excited when the party is lost, carries the map and compass, and longs to seek new routes and destinations to see all that can be seen, The Elder Scrolls as a series was designed with you in mind. Countless hours can be spent mapping out every nook and cranny of Tamriel throughout the many games in the series. There are dungeons to delve, caves to spelunk, ancient ruins to study, and lost shrines and temples to dark and terrible Daedra to discover. Whether you’d like a focused adventure in one of the provinces, or the whole wide world at your beck and call, The Elder Scroll has a game that delivers on that promise. And if you’d rather not go it alone, Bethesda partnered with Zenimax Online Studios for a multi-player The Elder Scrolls Online. There’s an entire world out there waiting for you to strap on your best hiking boots and discover it!
And once you have, stop by again next week for Part 2 of this entry. I will be featuring another series that takes Exploration in a different direction.
What are some of your recommendations? Tell us in the comments!