The Elder Scrolls: Arena

a game by Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 2 reviews, 4 reviews are shown
User Rating: 9.1/10 - 7 votes
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See also: Elder Scrolls Series

The Elder Scrolls is one of the most successful and popular game series out there. Most gamers are used to the mechanics the saga implements, and how it handles the RPG system. But even so, many people don't really know how it all began, and that's with The Elder Scrolls: Arena.

If you play video games, no matter your age or preferences, chances are you know or have played some version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. So let's take a look at the game that built the foundations for the fantasy game series we all know and love by now.

About this game

Released in 1994 for the MS-DOS, The Elder Scrolls Arena was like most other RPG titles of the time. The usual dungeon exploring, treasure hunting, killing monsters and completing tasks was what these games were all about. And in a way Arena is no different from that. Keeping all the basics of the dungeon crawler games, Arena was, gameplay-wise, pretty average for the time.

But it took things to the next level, or probably even a few levels further. Creating a massive world is huge even by today's standards. Believe it or not, the map includes all of Tamriel, which means all 9 provinces, including Skyrim, are present in the game. Sure, they may not be as detailed or even as big, but it was nearly impossible to explore it completely, not even to walk from one corner to the opposite. Just imagine a map in a modern game with around 400 cities to explore. Sounds crazy? Imagine having that in 1994.

In Arena, you play as a gladiator, which means that aside from defeating monsters in dungeons, you'll also have to face different fighters in arenas of the many cities on the map. Making your way into the Imperial City to become champion once and for all, kinda like a Pokémon game.

Can it compare to Skyrim?

Well, that's a tricky question for sure. Bethesda released this game in 1994, and sure, for the time it was impressive. But modern-day audiences would surely not enjoy this type of game. It's a game style that didn't grow old with much grace. And even though it somehow has a bigger map, it's not really comparable to exploring Skyrim.

The battle system is outdated and the story is basic at most. But it's an important piece of gaming history. Without Arena, we wouldn't have Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim or any of the other amazing The Elder Scrolls games.

Review

The Elder Scrolls Arena is a CRPG, just like any other of its time, except that it isn't. A huge map, original fighting system, more exploration, and quests made the game an instant classic. The game wasn't commercially a success due to a lot of issues after the release, but it surely stays in your heart. If you're a fantasy fan, this game is a must-play, if you like retro games, this game is a must-play. And if you like any of the Elder Scrolls games, checking out this game can feel nostalgic, even if you weren't even born when it came out.

  • Graphics and Visuals: For that time they were pretty good. The monsters and enemies were fantastic, and the world-building was out of this world

  • Gameplay: Improved fighting system, hundreds of hours of the game, collecting items, fighting monsters, customizable character. This game had everything you could ask for in a fantasy game.

  • Sound: An amazing soundtrack just like in any modern Elder Scrolls game will keep you in good company as you explore this vast world.

Download The Elder Scrolls: Arena

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Can you believe that as I write this The Elder Scrolls Arena is 25 years old? This is where it all started. Without this game, there would be no Oblivion or Skyrim! To celebrate the importance of this game it was actually re-released in 2004 which was the tenth anniversary of the game. Incredibly it is still very popular to this day.

Small Skyrim, Big Arena

Games like Skyrim and Oblivion are loved in part because of the large open world that they have. One of the most amazing things about The Elder Scrolls Arena is the fact that the world in this game is actually bigger than both of those games. Now granted the world is not as diverse, populated or impressive. However, it is still amazing that a game this old has an open world this large. There is a world generator in The Elder Scrolls Arena. This means that the world will be randomly generated each time you play. The game handled this quite cleverly and it is something I like. However, I must admit I do prefer the way that the modern Elder Scrolls games do it better as you actually learn certain parts of the map.

Die Tharn!

The story of The Elder Scrolls Arena is rather weak in comparison to the later games. Still, if you like fantasy movies, books and TV shows the main quest offers enough to keep you invested. You are on a quest to find the Staff of Chaos. This is the only thing that can defeat the evil tyrant known as Tharn. There are plenty of side quests and characters for you to come across as you play and this is what really you will be spending most of your time doing. One thing that is fun and still something that even happens in games like Skyrim is that it is very easy to get distracted.

You can be on your way to do a main quest, only to get distracted by one side quest, then another and another and before you know it a few hours have passed! This is not a bad thing, it just makes you feel like you are more of a badass adventurer.

Fire & Steal

Combat is rather basic, but to be fair by 1994 standards the combat on offer in The Elder Scrolls Arena is more than what most other games offered. You can get new spells, abilities and so on. These will help you defeat enemies and really the way you go about combat may differ to the way I did. I am always more of a sword man than a spell on so I tend to focus on melee attacks.

Is This Minecraft?

By that I mean this is one rather blocky game, but to be fair it is 25 years old! At the time this was cutting edge stuff, but the fact of the matter is father time has not been too kind to this game. I find some real charm and coolness to the old school graphics that the game has. Yet I do feel that the dated look may be something that puts people who are new to this game off.

Let’s face it you know going in that The Elder Scrolls Arena is not going to be as good as games that came after it like Skyrim. Still, I think that there is something very cool about going back and playing the first game in the series. It really is not a bad game at all, it is just a product of its time. If you love The Elder Scrolls, but did not play until games like Morrowind, you need to at the very least give this a try.

7/10

Pros:

  • You can play the game completely for free
  • The combat may be simple but it is fun
  • The world is way bigger than you think it will be
  • It is interesting to see where this series started
  • Lots of quests to keep you busy

Cons:

  • The game is rather dated by today’s standards
  • The story is not as epic as what the series would become known for

AH, the winter of 93... the texture-mapped winter of love, permissiveness, freedom. Long, dark nights with Ultima Underworld II the Brigitte Bardot of role-playing games. Exploring; discovering; role-playing. We did it all. The magic, the mystery. On parapets, in dungeons, knee-deep in lava - no place was taboo. Ever since then, I, you, all of us have been searching for the new role-playing fix. Lands of Lore, Shadowcaster, Betrayal at Krondor - all these have been lacking the kick and addictiveness of Underworld. As each new rpg appears on the horizon we weep, we drool, we slaver with anticipation.

Arena: The Elder Scrolls is the latest object of our excitement. Programmed by Beth-esda (Terminator 2029, Terminator Rampage), its what youd call a cross-dimensional, inter-continental, bitmapped-wrapped, full-scale, prime class RPG-athon.

The plot

The Septim family has been ruling the Tamiel for generations, since big, bad Tiber Septim invaded sometime in the First Era. The populace of this fair and varied land calls it Arena.

Recently, the monarch, Uriel Septim, was usurped by his chief sorcerer Jagar Jharm, whos taken control of the kingdom, adopted Uriels form and sent the King into an alternate dimension. Ria Silmane, the second-best wizard, has been slain by Jagar. You, being the nearest heroic person, have been imprisoned in the castles dungeons. Using special magic powers, Ria contacts you from the grave, giving you the key to your cell and a magic exit to escape through.

The idea

Before you can take on a quest to recover the six pieces of the magic special thing and save Uriel, the kingdom, and the world as we know it, you must escape from the dungeon. Youre given directions from the exit and woah - you find your sword and gold outside the cell. The prison is packed with goblins and rats, but its worth exploring to accumulate weapons and armour to sell off later.

Once out, you find yourself in a provincial town and must set about obtaining a room, bartering for equipment and spells, and seeking out individuals who want tasks done. Each town is a hefty size, with tudor-panelled domiciles, guilds, temples, manors and taverns. The streets are full of aimlessly-wandering characters who you can click on if you want to ask them something. By gradual means, you must gain experience and reputation, explore the Tamiels provinces, and piece together clues to the whereabouts of the magic things.

On the design

Some may call Arena a tribute, others may say its a rip-off, but play it and youll see elements of Betrayal At Krondor (continental playing area and outside bits), Eye of the Beholder (AD&D-style stats and modifiers) and Worlds Of Legend (the ability to design your own spells).

Play it for a little longer and its main influences will show through the cracks. Arena blatantly borrows the Ultima Underworld I and II movement and combat systems, right down to some of the keyboard shortcuts. You have a playing area and a mouse pointer. Moving the pointer up the screen and holding the left button moves you forward: the higher up, the faster you move. Right-click when moving to jump. Slide the pointer to the upper sides of the screen and you rotate sluggishly. Middle left and right side-steps you, while the bottom area moves you back. With the sword drawn, holding left and dragging up, across or down forces a stab, slice or chop manoeuvre. Frequenters of Lady Underworlds boudoir will also find the swimming and automap scribbling systems remarkably similar.

Arena's other major influence is Legends Of Valour, an ambitious attempt at rendering a fully interactive city, with the taverns, guilds and sub-quests which Arena concentrates on. Legends' 3D system was quite pleasant (based on Wol/ensteins) but the playing area was too big, the controls too complicated and the gameplay too directionless. You spent more time trying to earn money and buy equipment than actually fighting, questing, exploring and doing the stuff the best rpgs throw at you. And this, alas, is one of the biggest problems with Arena. Unfortunately, its just one of many.

On the engine

Arena seems to be using the Terminator Rampage 3D engine (anyone who's trudged through Rampages jerky corridors will groan). The good news is that its faster. The bad news is that its not that much faster. Turning the detail down pixellates the fringes of the screen, but youll need a 486/33 before it reaches a near bearable speed. You cant shrink the playing screen, or remove the floors or ceilings to hurry things up. When you walk, you edge forward. Try a quick roundhouse and three seconds later you may have managed it. If youve got a small cache on your machine, entering areas of the map, investigating your inventory, or saving/restoring a game will trigger two to 15 second delays. This whole slow-poke feel affects the entire pace of the game.

On the look

The graphics are good, if a little inconsistent. While the character generation graphics are poop (heads not superimposed properly, badly drawn backdrops and so on), the in-game aesthetics are top-notch. The outside locations may look garish by day but, come the night or misty weather, they look lovely and highly atmospheric. The dungeons' interiors are pleasant enough, but don't expect any of Underworlds architec-tural finesse, though.

Arenas maps are distinctly blocky. Most of the animated people are horrible. Badly-drawn and coloured, they look like Stor Wars figures which have been too close to an infra-red bar heater. The spells are probably the bestlooking and most pyrotechnic of any rpg, some are not dissimilar to (try: exactly the same as) the Rampage explosions.

On combat

Combat is okay. There's plenty of blood and animation frames, but the arthritic engine takes away the sense of pace and excitement in the battles. And how do you know if your opponent is close to death? Shadow-caster had this problem and it was a pain. If you don't know where you stand after minutes of hacking away at a goblin, how do you know when to run away?

And why cant you look down? You get attacked. Its dark. The screen judders. But wheres your assailant? Between your feet and totally out of frame. And dont think hiding behind a door will protect you -even the rats in this game can open doors. Get assailed from behind and youre in real trouble. Turning is achingly slow, and its a two to one bet that Monsieur Goblin will have diced your spine before youve revolved even 90 degrees.

On the map

If you discover a tavern, or guild or whatever, the map will automatically label it for you. Nice feature, apart from when you find two places next to each other. Then both place names overlap into an unreadable mess, forcing you to delete both names and retype them on different levels.

The cities and towns are packed with houses and locations. But trying to open most doors yields the message: This lock has nothing to fear from you, so you cant get in. Does that mean youll be able to get in at a later date? Or is this message the interactive equivalent of the classic You cant do that reply. There are loads of Tardis-style buildings with hallways and rooms which couldnt possibly fit. And each pub, guild and palaces interior is exactly the same - no matter which pub, which town, which province. Why? How hard could it be to vary the interiors just a little bit? With this kind of monotony the incentive to explore other locations is lost.

On interaction

When you talk to any character you're fobbed off with such lame replies that you get bored. You do occasionally - I suppose as in life - meet an interesting person wholl sketch a location on a map or tell you a decent rumour or piece of gossip. But mostly the next person will say: 'Hey big boy, I don't do elves' (shes a prostitute you see), and the next Im a stone mason. I fix stones'. After a while, you begin to find this very tedious.

On balance

Arena: The Elder Scrolls is disappointing. The cities are dull. The interaction is dull. The playing area is too large. The quests and money-earning too laborious. Theres no. wit. The over-serious storyline is the kind ofthee, thou, forsooth sub-Tolkien crap you get in your average fantasy novel. The graphics are inconsistent, the engine badly implemented and too slow. The overall objective, the most important thing in an rpg, the feeling that theres some great mystery to unlock, is obscured by the size and repetitive complexity of the design. The combat is flawed, small details are passed over and dungeons are puzzleless and boring. Theres no pace, little atmosphere, few incentives and, overall, absolutely no fun. Sorry. Back to the luscious embrace of Madame Underworld Im afraid.

Some may be wondering just what the heck The Elder Scrolls: Arena is and I would bet it is you younger gamers who are wondering this. Well, this right here is actually the very first game in The Elder Scrolls series. This was first released all the way back in 1994 which is just insane. However, back in 2004 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the game, Bethesda re-released the game. They have kept the game alive and you can play it on their site to this day.

The World Is Huge

The first thing that has to be mentioned about The Elder Scrolls: Arena is the size of the world you will be playing in. As this is the first game in the series you are probably thinking that the world will be rather modest in its size. This is not the case at all and the world that they crafted here is larger than what Morrowind and Skyrim offered which is really amazing when you consider this game is 25 years old as I write this.

Wait, Where Is That?

While the world is massive there is a good reason for this. While games like Skyrim and Morrowind had smaller worlds, those worlds were set in their design. The Elder Scrolls: Arena on the other hand always had a new world each time you played. The game had a very sophisticated random world generator in it. It would use buildings, dungeons, monsters and so on and place them in random places. In the case of buildings, it would even give these different names. The massive world also means that you have to make use of the fast travel system the game has. You could walk if you want, but you are looking at hours to get from place to place.

It Is All About The Quest

While you are free to wander around and just do what you want. There is a main quest and a story for you to follow. The basics of the story are that there is a big bad called, Tharn and the only way he can be defeated is with the Staff of Chaos and that is your quest. To get that and to defeat him and bring peace to the land. The story as you would expect is not exactly the best, but to be fair this is a much older game and storytelling in games have gotten much more sophisticated in this day and age.

Still, I will say that many of the tropes that the Elder Scroll series has become famous and loved for are right here in the very first game so that is really cool to see. Combat is rather basic and you will be swiping your weapons with the mouse and you can also scroll through various spells which can do some serious damage. It is much more basic and scaled back from what the series would become in regards to the combat, but it is still a lot of fun.

The Elder Scrolls: Arena is a very interesting game. It is the start of what would become a truly huge series in the history of gaming. It is also really cool being able to go back and play this and see how things in Skyrim and Morrowind were clearly inspired by this very first game. You can play it for free and I highly recommend you check it out as it is pretty cool. Just go in with the mindset that this is an over 20-year game and the first of its kind and you will have a much better time

7/10

Pros:

  • It is free to play
  • The world is massive
  • Plenty to see and do
  • Combat is basic, but still pretty fun
  • It is great to see where this series began

Cons:

  • The story is not that great
  • It is a product of its time

Snapshots and Media

PC Screenshots

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