The Elder Scrolls is a series that has long defined open-world RPGs. Developed by Bethesda, the game largely takes place in a magical, fantasy-based kingdom that’s home to a number of different races and some truly mind-bending lore.
Starting as a small but ambitious roleplaying title, the series has since become a true AAA juggernaut.
The series has managed to stretch out into a number of different platforms and genres, but the seven games below are by far the best examples of everything that The Elder Scrolls has to offer.
After playing most of the Elder Scrolls games, we have ranked the best seven in our opinion from worst to best.
#7. The Elder Scrolls: Redguard
The seventh spot is probably the most controversial on this list, not just because Redguard is such a divisive game but also because the spin-offs from the main series are just so weird.
Redguard itself was a fairly significant commercial flop for Bethesda, but it’s also one of those games that did a little bit of walking so that the games that would come after it would be able to run.
With all of the rumors about the next Elder Scrolls game possibly taking place in or around Hammerfell, there’s never been a better time to revisit this particular game.
While it’s quite different from the rest of the series in that it’s much more of an adventure game than a true RPG, it features a fairly deep exploration of the themes of the greater series and makes a case for giving the player a set race, class, and character.
Though you’re not going to see a lot of people clamoring for the re-release of this one, Redguard is nevertheless the edition that takes home the prize of making the top seven list.
#6. The Elder Scrolls: Arena
Arena absolutely has to make an entry on this list, if only because it’s the very first Elder Scrolls game.
An absolute mess by modern standards that features ancient graphics and a user interface that’s often more trouble than it is worth, this is nonetheless a game that kicked off an entire universe.
A true spectacle for the time, Arena managed to not only help to lay the foundations of the future of the Elder Scrolls series but also to really push forward the idea of what a CRPG could be at the time of its release.
One of the coolest things about Arena is that it isn’t the game that the developers set out to make.
Instead, most of what players love about the series – the lore, the choices, and the world – were meant to take a back seat to the titular Arena content.
That content obviously was a bit too ambitious for the time, leaving players with the first entry in a beloved series.
Though Arena is positively archaic by today’s standards, it is nevertheless worth looking at if you love the lore of the Elder Scrolls.
#5. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
If Arena was a bit of a mess, Daggerfall is worse. A buggy game that often seemed like it created an open world only to forget to put anything inside it, it was a controversial game at its release.
Even with that said, though, Daggerfall was a huge leap forward for the Elder Scrolls series and one that helped to further define what the series would become.
For all of its flaws, Daggerfall also feels infinitely more playable than its predecessor, giving it a clear edge when it comes to its ranking on this list.
Daggerfall is arguably the game that has the most to do with the Elder Scroll titles that would really help the series make a mark.
Not only does its admittedly rough open world nature line up with how the series would evolve, but it’s a roleplaying game that was always envisioned as just that.
Though it’s remarkably old-fashioned by today’s standards, going back to be exposed to some of the series’ DNA is worth the effort.
At the very least, playing through Daggerfall makes a whole host of the books that are present in later TES games make much more sense.
#4. The Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls Online is Bethesda’s latest entry in the world of Tamriel as well as the most unique.
While the rest of the series is composed of single-player roleplaying games, this one is an MMORPG.
Despite that, it has so much in common with the mainline series that it absolutely feels like it could have been its own numbered entry.
It did have a fairly rough launch when compared to the other games, but today it stands as a stunning example of what a live service game can become when the developer is willing to stick by it and pour money into its development.
TES Online takes place a thousand years before Skyrim, thrusting players back into the Second Era to a Tamriel that’s only been seen by players in the series various in-game books.
Setting the game this early not only allows the developers to ignore the branching choices of Skyrim, but it also allowed them to create a world that is just familiar enough to players to be recognizable while still being old enough to be unique.
The MMO nature of the game doesn’t sit right with every player, of course, but getting a living, breathing Tamriel is more than worth the trade-off for other players.
#3. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Not putting Morrowind in the third slot on this list is sacrilege to many. It’s absolutely the game that helped to make TES one of the better-known RPG series in the West and it’s also a game that really helped to set the tone for what the modern iteration of the series would be.
With that said, it’s also a game that shows its age both in terms of how it looks and in terms of how it is played.
Taking place on the isle of Vvardenfell, Morrowind takes players into the homelands of the Dunmer and places them at the center of a plot involving ancient demi-gods, the Dwemer, and the Daedra.
As Nerevarine, players become an instrument of prophecy and find themselves adventuring across a huge, diverse island landscape.
This is a game entry that pulls no punches about holding players’ hands, with quest markers and fast travel totally absent from the game.
While many enjoy the sense of exploration that inspires, many others find the game purposefully obtuse and hard to get into.
At the very least, though, the game helps to create a solid platform for future entries in the series.
#2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It seems virtually impossible that anyone could avoid playing Skyrim at this point.
First released in 2011, the series will have been around for three console generations and has made its way to virtually every gaming platform out there.
Perhaps the greatest mainstream success thus far in the history of The Elder Scrolls, the game reaches some truly impressive heights while also falling just short of the best spot in the series. For many, though, Skyrim is the definitive Elder Scrolls game.
Skyrim puts players in the role of the Dragonborn, a mortal with the soul of a dragon who can use the ancient draconic language to warp reality.
Players must not only deal with the re-emergence of Dragons in Tamriel, but they must also navigate the civil war in Skyrim between the native Stormcloaks and the forces of the Empire.
A solid game, it falls just short of its predecessors due to a set of fairly lacking expansions as well as a lack of the truly memorable side quests that helped to make the previous game so beloved.
#1. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Oblivion wasn’t necessarily beloved when it was first released. Widely decried for over-simplifying the formula of the series, this was an Elder Scrolls game that seemed meant for more casual, console gamers than its predecessors.
As players really dug into the game, though, most found that the changes to the title were for the best. That, coupled with series-best writing, led to Oblivion becoming the best game in the series.
Oblivion doesn’t make the player a creature of prophecy; instead, he or she is a simple prisoner who happens to be in the wrong cell at the right time.
Sent on a quest to find the illegitimate son of the late Emperor, players face down the forces of the titular plane of Oblivion in an attempt to save Tamriel itself.
While the main story was definitely interesting, most point towards the side quests as where the game really shined.
Between the excellent Dark Brotherhood, the truly entertaining Thieves Guild, and some fun quests with the Daedra, this game helped to show that not only could The Elder Scrolls be an accessible series, but it could also be one into which gamers of all types could pour countless hours.
If you’re only going to play one game in the series, it really should be Oblivion.
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