Today, The Elder Scrolls series is one of the big dogs of the Western RPG genre, thanks to the 1,2,3 punch of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. But like many big dogs, the series didn't start at the top. The first Elder Scrolls game, Arena, was far from the in-depth open world adventures gamers have come to expect from Bethesda. But it's fascinating piece of gaming history in its own right, and the Elder Scrolls' evolution from Arena to Skyrim is filled with amusing and intriguing anecdotes.
Here are 10 Facts And Trivia You Never Knew About The First Elder Scrolls
10 It Wasn't Supposed To Be An RPG
Believe it or not, but one of the WRPG's vanguards wasn't originally going to be an RPG. Arena was conceived as an action game, players would raise a team of gladiators and compete to become Tamriel's "world champion". The developers added in some dungeons as side-quests and a few other RPG elements for flavor. Eventually though, the dungeons overtook the arena fights and that part of the game got discarded. Bethesda put all their focus on the RPG elements and a legend was born.
9 The Name "Elder Scrolls" Didn't Mean Anything
While shifting the focus from tournament fighting to fantasy RPG made sense to Bethesda, it did present a problem for them. All the material with the original title of Arena had already been printed up. They were stuck with the name. Vijay Lakshman, one of the developers, came up with the title Elder Scrolls to add onto it. He just thought it sounded cool, and the team gave it a lore explanation after the fact. Arena became a nickname for Tamriel itself, due to how dangerous traveling through the country was.
8 It Came Out Late
Bethesda aimed for a Christmas 1993 release for Arena. Unfortunately for them, development ran long and it ended up released in March 1994, considered a dead zone for video game releases. A cover with a scantily-clad warrior woman also turned some distributors off, leading to low availability.
Despite this rocky start though, word of mouth saved the game. RPG fans embraced Arena, leading to improved sales and a slew of awards. Good reviews in the gaming press also helped The Elder Scrolls find its audience. Bethesda's gambit had paid off.
7 It Has The Biggest World Of Any Elder Scrolls
Until Elder Scrolls Online, Arena was the only game in the series to let players visit all of the continents of Tamriel. Yes, this game from 1994 that runs on DOS has a bigger game world than Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim combined. Some people have charted out the continent at 6 million square miles. If true, that would make it one of the largest games ever made. Bethesda was able to achieve that size through randomly-generated environments, but that technical complexity caused many PCs of the time to crash.
6 Bugs Made It Impossible To Beat On Release
Bethesda's reputation for buggy games didn't come from nowhere. Arena is a good origin point, because its bugs were some of the biggest. Some of them made the game nearly impossible to beat. Enemies would randomly spawn to block your path, you could get stuck mid-fall, using your bare hand as a weapon could cause the game to crash. Some in-game spells would even corrupt save files. Bethesda put out various patches over the years to improve playability, finally allowing players to finish the main quest.
5 Morrowind's Designer Almost Couldn't Beat Its First Dungeon
Like many games of its era, Arena could be unforgiving to gamers with its difficulty. While this is expected for newbies, it usually doesn't extend to the developers themselves. Except for Bethesda. Ken Rolston, lead designer of Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, said in an interview that he tried starting Arena at least twenty times and only managed to get past the first dungeon once. In the same interview, Rolston said he looks forward to one day getting through the entire game. It's been twelve years since and no update on his progress.
4 Rumors About Slow Travel
Unlike many of its descendants, Elder Scrolls: Arena didn't have a connected open world. There was no way to walk between cities or dungeons through the wilderness. Despite this, rumors persisted for years that players could do just that. Anyone who tried was in for a massive headache.
The overworld in Arena is huge, and no matter how far you walk or how deep into the wilderness you go, the game considers you just outside of the last city you were in. That's what happens with randomly generated environments. Fast Travel is the only option.
3 Bethesda Was Mocked For Trying To Make It
Before they became the RPG titans we know today, Bethesda was a much different company. They were a small developer, known mostly for sports games and licensed Terminator games. When they started working on a big fantasy RPG, other companies laughed at them. Literally. Developer Ted Peterson recalled that workers at SirTech, a veteran RPG developer, laughed at him when he described what Bethesda was attempting. Low initial sales made them fear the competition was right, but Bethesda got the last laugh.
2 Retcons From Morrowind
As the first in a now celebrated series, Elder Scrolls: Arena has seen many re-releases over the years. But as the first game, the lore and world were not yet as fleshed out as they'd become. Bethesda used these re-releases as opportunities for continuity housecleaning.
One re-release included physical maps for all of Tamriel's different provinces, including Morrowind. But Morrowind's map had cities from its titular game that weren't in Arena. Bethesda noted the continuity error, but said it wouldn't be Morrowind without those cities.
1 Free To Play
Those interested in gaming history can still play Elder Scrolls: Arena. Bethesda has a free download of the entire game available on the series' website. Gamers will need to install a DOS emulator to run it though. Beware, even after all this time the game's sheer size and bugginess causes numerous crashes. If you want to avoid that hassle, hunt down a copy of The Elder Scrolls Anthology. It includes all five games along with a version of Arena that doesn't need an emulator.