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The Elder Scrolls games ranked, from worst to best

Here’s the complete list – as it currently stands – of The Elder Scrolls games ranked, from worst to best.

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Did you know there are actually 7 Elder Scrolls series games, even though Skyrim is only number 5 in the linear series? Technically you could argue that there are 8 (including The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited) but if you do then you are a terrible, terrible person and we don’t want to hear anything further from you.

7. The Elder Scrolls: Battlespire

The Elder Scrolls Battlespire

It’s actually really hard to decide which is the worse game out of Battlespire and Redguard; they are both frankly terrible. Battlespire however gets the nod as the absolute runt of the litter because it added very little to the progression of the series as a whole, where Redguard at least introduced the third-person perspective that is now a series staple. That’s not to say Battlespire didn’t introduce anything at all, though: it was the first game in The Elder Scrolls series to include a multiplayer mode… and that’s yet another reason why it needs to be redacted from the annals of history with extreme prejudice.

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Imagine the scope and ambition of Daggerfall, then set it all in one dungeon, with no discernible story, factions, quests, and absolutely nothing at all to enjoy about the entire experience. Then make it even buggier than Daggerfall – if that is in fact physically possible – and you’ve got the basic premise of Battlespire. Then take what you’re imagining, and make it worse by a factor of one hundred billion, and that’s how Battlespire turned out. Just dreadful.

6. The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard

The Elder Scrolls Redguard

Don’t take the fact we’ve got Redguard placed one ahead of Battlespire in our list as any kind of endorsement that it’s a good game, because it simply isn’t; it’s just that it’s ever-so-marginally less shit than Battlespire. It also did slightly more to advance the series with the introduction of the third-person mode that some people (deviants, mostly) play in full-time, but most of us just use to check out how cool our latest armour/clothing combo looks.

If proof positive were ever needed that nobody is infallible, then the fact that the mighty Todd Howard directed The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard will confirm it for you. The game may have had a passable story and a very nicely put-together boxed release, but it also holds the ignominious record of being the only Elder Scrolls game in which you cannot customise your character. At all. And as Bethesda were just finding their way with third person mode, it didn’t play fantastically well either.

5. The Elder Scrolls: Arena

The Elder Scrolls: Arena

The Elder Scrolls: Arena isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, after the two complete misfires that were Battlespire and Redguard we have to start putting the good Elder Scrolls game in some kind of an order, and that’s where this list becomes an awful lot more difficult. If The Elder Scrolls games are like a box of chocolates, then Battlespire and Redguard are hideous dessicated coconut monstrosities that people either avoid or spit out, and everything else is delicious caramel or sweet fruit centres; how to you choose your favourite out of all the good ones?

Unfortunately someone has to come last – writing off Battlespire and Redguard, of course – and in this instance it’s the first game in the series, The Elder Scrolls: Arena. It was a great first effort and was enjoyable in its own right, but unfortunately it really shows its age and it was beset with all manner of problems and delays. There. Band-aid ripped off. It’s decided.

4. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

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In theory, Oblivion had plenty going for it. Bethesda were bigger and wealthier than they had ever been, and buoyed by the success of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the development team ploughed straight into the series fourth instalment; the Fallout/Elder Scrolls tandem development cycle hadn’t begun when work commenced on Oblivion in 2002, so they weren’t even distracted by the other open-world mega-series.

The trouble with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is that it was just a little bit of a misfire, compared to what went before it and ultimately, what followed. In its own right it’s a great game, but the relatively small map size and narrow setting – without an easy explainer like Morrowind’s island – combined with the weird supernatural overtures of alternate dimensions and demonic incursions through portals… it just felt a bit like it was set on Sunnyvale’s hellmouth, not in Tamriel. In all honesty, though, Oblivion is still a great game, but much like Arena, is simply suffering from the very fact we’re ordering them.

3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

This is where it gets really difficult. If it wasn’t a complete cop-out, I’d be tempted to have three games as the joint number one, but that’s the coward’s way out. The Elder Scrolls games are about making difficult choices, and picking between Skyrim, Oblivion and Daggerfall is one of the most difficult that has sprung from the series. So why is Skyrim third?

Unlike Bethesda’s games that came before it – the Obsidian-written Fallout: New Vegas – and the one that followed – the astonishing Fallout 4 – the story of Skyrim is somewhat weak. All the individual components are stunning and every quest and area is incredibly written, but it’s hard to get particularly invested in the overarching storyline of Empire vs… those other blokes, the Nordic Defence League types. See? Boring.

Also, dragons are amazing for about two thirds of the game, but what during the early stages are Shadow of the Colossus-esque encounters that you’re lucky to survive, latterly turn into just another enemy to put down. If you find yourself chasing after a dragon, swearing at it and calling it a coward for not staying and fighting you, then they’re too easy; and when one of the game’s biggest assets gets boring? Then it’s hard to keep at it.

2. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Why is Morrowind above Skyrim, then? I’ll answer this one quite simply: apparently unsatisfied with Skyrim, a group of modders set out to bring their favourite Elder Scrolls adventure – Morrowind – to life in Skyrim’s modern engine, in the marvellously ambitious (and incredibly stupidly-named) Skwind project.

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So, the community really liked Skyrim, but felt it would be much better if it was actually Morrowind?

Enough said. Though it must also be said of Morrowind that it was really quite brown, like Quake II or Turok brown which is saying something, and the repairing mechanic was also an enormous drag. Other than that though, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was damn-near perfect, and a game that I’ve logged thousands of hours in over dozens of restarts.

1. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

Why, you might be thinking, could Daggerfall possibly be at the pinnacle of this list? It was chronically late to the point of almost being vapourware, suffered from several game-breaking bugs – that could render you interred in a dungeon from which you can never escape or totally unable to complete the main quest-line – and by today’s standards it has not aged especially well, if you can even figure out how to play it using DOSbox.

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is the finest game in The Elder Scrolls series because of its sheer scale of ambition. It’s enormous. Seriously, stupendously big. 161,600 square kilometers, or 62,394 square miles, to be precise: roughly half the size of Great Britain. People are quick to heap praise on the likes of Just Cause 3 and Grand Theft Auto V for having big maps, but theirs are frankly pathetic compared to Daggerfall’s… and that was in 1996. Sure, not every inch of Daggerfall’s vast world is entirely interesting, but I can’t even begin to quantify how many hours I’ve pumped into The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, in spite of all of its flaws, and how I kept going back in countless replays and re-rolls, through every different character class and possible archetype you can think of.

I always took that ebony dagger, though. Every. Single. Time.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. CoC

    10th August 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Oblivion is still the best
    Quests
    music
    and it was never as broken as the other games

  2. jonathan riley

    24th October 2016 at 4:54 am

    Oblivion is the best Elder Scrolls game. Second is either Morrowind or Skyrim. Morrowinds combat was quite terrible how you miss often even tho your sword touches your opponent.

  3. Jon

    28th October 2016 at 3:46 am

    this list is terrible

  4. doctoru

    19th November 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Since we’re doing lists, here’s one for why this list is an awful joke.

    1. Why disclude TES Online for being mediocre but then include Battlespire and Redguard, which are worse?
    2. If we’re being technical by including spin-offs, where is Shadowkey, and the mobile games? Because there are actually 11 games, not 8.
    3. How is “you can’t customize your character” an acceptable sole reason to justify calling a game awful?
    4. Did you seriously just compare a game with an entirely RANDOMLY GENERATED map to modern open world games? And how does just having said randomly generated map make it the best game?
    5. Daggerfall was never late, it was released within its window, which was precisely why it was so buggy. It was actually Arena that came late. Awful journalism.

    • Tom Baines

      19th November 2016 at 10:37 pm

      Wow. That was quite the comment, and thanks for laying it out in such a cogent list. It makes it easier for us to play this game:

      1. I didn’t preclude it for being mediocre. In fact I made no comment whatsoever as to its quality; I just said that anybody who thinks of it as a main series title is just awful. I was being a little glib because I don’t like MMORPGs.

      2. Redguard and Battlespire were developed by Bethesda for the PC platform, the series mainstay. Events in Redguard are included in the lore of later games, though I can’t really make the same point about Battlespire (because nothing much really happens that is noticed outside the spire). The Elder Scrolls Travels spin-offs on the other hand were developed by Vir2l and released for mobile platforms, and as far as I know aren’t included in any lore; it’s not really the same thing.

      3. Not being able to customise your character is fine in a game like Uncharted or Tomb Raider, where the main character is a fixed entity. But in a series like The Elder Scrolls, where (almost) the whole point is doing whatever the hell you damn well please? That’s a pretty stark omission and to me, is a negative point of Redguard.

      4. Yes, I did compare them! This is a subjective list and I put a hell of a lot more hours into Daggerfall than I ever have into any of the other Elder Scrolls games, and do you know what? I loved every single second of it, repetitiveness, procedural generation, bugs and all. This wasn’t a comparison of which game is technically the best because I know Daggerfall would get crapped all over, but I still love it. It was a different time. I’m old. Allow me my nostalgia.

      5. That’s an interesting citation on Wikipedia to an article that doesn’t exist on Gamespot’s servers anymore. I recall at the time Daggerfall originally being slated for 1995, then later “January 1996” before being bumped back to the “general window” of 1996, which they evidently did hit in the end. If you’d like some references whose links actually go somewhere, see these Daggerfall previews, all written in 1995:

      http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Daggerfall:Old_Preview – “TES:DAGGERFALL will become an instant hit when it is released at the end of 1995.”
      http://dungeonhack.sourceforge.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=76 – “The current official Bethesda policy is “Late January 1996”. If you order the DAGGERFALL Limited Edition you are “guaranteed” to get it earlier than this. Its release date was initially going to be February 1995.”
      https://imgur.com/a/a0Tsu/layout/blog – “When I visited Bethesda, Daggerfall … was about eight weeks from completion.” (Published in PC Gamer, Nov 1995)

      I’ll concede that maybe I was being a bit of an ass on point 1 – I really, really hate MMORPGs, and when the likes of The Elder Scrolls and Final Fantasy delay a main series entry for one it upsets me – and I even agree with you on point 4, to a certain extent. But this isn’t supposed to be the definitive list – we haven’t gone out and done actual science, surveys or any of that stuff – this is just one hack’s opinion, and you’re perfectly entitled not to agree with me.

      Thanks for playing!

      • TheJoJ

        8th December 2016 at 12:14 pm

        Props to you for defending your opinion! I still like Morrowind best though 🙂

  5. BrunixTp

    11th January 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Amazing list!
    I can’t very much speak about Battlespire, Redguard and the like because I never played them. However I very much agree with Daggerfall being 1st place, maybe not on a objective point of view because that would belong to Morrowind (but only by a small margin).
    I may be a little “upset” about Skyrim being above Oblivion, mostly because Skyrim got boring very quickly, however Oblivion…The side quests were amazing!
    But Oblivion’s problem doesn’t lie with the quests but with the Oblivion gates, it’s like Dragons in Skyrim, they are fun at the beginning…but after two or three it gets really boring.

  6. Pancake_Armageddon

    24th February 2017 at 3:45 pm

    Honestly I think Oblivion should be at the bottom of the list. Most of the people who say that it is the best game ever or in TES don’t know what a real RPG is. This is the same with people who say that fallout 4 is even plausible for consideration into the RPG genre, it’s an FPS with stats.

  7. The Mattbat999

    9th March 2018 at 1:37 am

    In my opinion, Oblivion was the best with Skyrim and Morrowind tying for second. Oblivion had the ability to enter gates to basically Hell and slay demons. I loved all, but Oblivion ended up being my favorite. Skyrim was fun until you got to level 50, then you realize you done everything it dropped in interest fast after that. Morrowind had probably the most unique design with such an alien like land and crazy enemies. Combat was intense, especially when you fight your first rat or over-sized bug. I would rate Arena and Daggerfall, but I haven’t played Daggerfall, so that would unfair to it.

  8. JGR

    24th August 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Daggerfall was a bland, procedurally generated slog. 60,000 square miles of randomly placed tree sprites is not an interesting world. Designed worlds are ALWAYS better than randomly generated ones.

    Morrowind was by the best in the series, because of it’s unique world and lore. Simply nothing in the series beats Morrowind for atmosphere, although Skyrim is not bad. Morrowind is one of the greatest feats of worldbuilding in all media.

    Oblivion was a massive let down after Morrowind, because although it improved slightly on combat and graphics (which are not especially important features in a RPG anyway), the world was utterly generic and uninteresting. I can’t see how anyone could think Oblivion is the best in the series unless it was the first one they played, in which case their opinion is 100% nostalgia.

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