All Elder Scrolls Games, Ranked Best to Worst

The Elder Scrolls franchise has evolved through the years, and it still has even more to offer.
All throughout the past 20 years, the world has seen several installments in the Elder Scrolls franchise. Which is your best pick?

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It has been more than 20 years since the birth of The Elder Scrolls franchise, with numerous major releases and several additional contents in between each. The flame hasn’t died yet, and in contrary, the game continues to gain even more ground among gamers, enticing old-timers and newbies alike.

With all the installments and DLCs that have swarmed the market, it can get perplexing to decide which ones are worthy of your play time. To get you started, we’ve ranked all Elder Scrolls games (excluding DLCs, as they are still part of the major releases) based on user popularity.

1. The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

Defenders of peace. TES Online delivers highly-detailed graphics for quality gaming experience.

Set in the continent of Tamriel, the events in the game happened around 800 years before Morrowind and Oblivion. The land is torn between three clashing alliances battling for the vacant throne, while people are struggling against the dreadful plan of the Daedric Prince Molag Bal to combine the plane of Mundus with his realm of Coldharbour. You start as a soulless husk, wandering in the Wailing Prison in Coldharbour, with the objective of recovering your stolen soul.

THE GOOD

The wish of millions of players has been granted, in a rather massive scale, as TES Online comes in an MMORPG setup. There’s a vast area of land to cover, complete with troves of secrets and treasures to discover. The amount of lore is simply monstrous – a delight for hardcore TES fans.

Its greatest strength shows during PVP battles: setting up wall defenses, charging with your teammates onto a fortified cluster, or raiding nearby villages and taking it away from defending NPCs, there are a lot of things you can do with or against a competing party.

The game also offers much freedom, like Skyrim, on how you want to proceed with the game in terms of skills selection, weapon and armor choice, factions to join, and quests to take.

THE BAD

The game seems unpolished upon release, with players reporting several bugs and glitches ranging from minor to annoying. The game’s storyline is a copy-paste of previous installments; they just replaced the characters involved in the conflict.

There’s no improvement whatsoever in the combat animation and mechanics; it’s as clumsy as ever. During massive combat scenes, you’d expect mayhem of sparkling magic spells and shattering physical blows like an epic Lord of the Rings style of warfare, but all you’d see is a whirl of confusing colors smudging your screen.

The economy is also chaotic, lacking proper market standards in trading and such. There’s no uniform pricing for items, resulting to unfair item rates.

Lastly, the game was too costly for its meager content. It went free-to-play just this 2015 to counteract dropping subscription.

Daedroth battle. Beware of the reptilian servant of Molag Bal. They’re capable breathing fire to toast enemies.

RATING

It received mediocre rating among gaming websites and fans have mixed reaction on it as well. The game has so much potential but failed to capitalize on the gains for releasing it prematurely to the world. Bug fixes and future patches might be able to save it from vanishing into oblivion.

Tamriel Unlimited: E3 gameplay trailer

2. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

The Ordinator. Special Tribunal guards sworn to uphold the color yellow as the symbol of law and order.

People believe the Dunmer hero, Indoril Nerevar, will be reincarnated and oppose the tyranny of the evil deity Dagoth Ur. You play as "The Nerevarine", the incarnate of Nerevar, who needs to pass several trials to complete the prophecy of The Ashlanders and legitimize your role as the hero incarnate.

Passing all tests, the Great Houses and Ashlanders rally behind you to finally defeat the immortal Dagoth Ur and return peace to the land of Vvardenfell.

THE GOOD

The character class selection, increased from the previous 18 choices to 21, was even made better by allowing undecided players to answer a questionnaire and let the system generate a class for you. This system encourages and enforces character class and skills experimentation.

Bethesda also introduced an improved skill leveling system, which makes much more sense because it’s tied to the overall progress of the character. Skills are improved by practicing them often, departing from the usual RPG formula of character and skills development.

Morrowind offering huge and detailed environment, improvements in alchemy and magic item building process, the option to join guilds, insane number of quests, and the inclusion of a reputation level that rises or fluctuates depending on your deeds, all helped to make sure the game sits at the top as the best Elder Scrolls game at that time.

THE BAD

Still the unexciting main quest of nobody-to-hero-status type of plot plagues the franchise, making fans tired of the same recipe fed to them over and over again. To make it worse, the main quest only begins after several hours of play time. As if the plot is not repetitive enough, monsters and creatures are just recurrences from previous games, leaving fans wishing for more variation and even an introduction to new ones.

NPCs are unintelligent, unappealing, and too fixated on their role, failing to act like real humans. For example when you try to break in the house of shopkeepers, even if they see you during the day, they won't check what you're doing in their house. They’re like static mannequins standing in one place without doing anything.

The bug where you get stuck between geometries still persist, and now NPCs join the party to increase annoyance.

Demonic battleaxe. Judging just by the looks of the weapon, it’s obvious who will win.

RATING

It took Bethesda a longer time to launch the game, learning from the mistakes of their past releases. Only minor issues were raised by concerned gamers. The graphics increased significantly, moving away from pixelated, Doom-like visuals to engaging 3D models, making use of lighting and soft textures to enhance the overall gaming experience.

The noteworthy feature of Morrowind is its open-endedness and the liberty offered to players to create their own character class, make their own spells, and build their own magic items. Finally, the dream of what all Elder Scrolls game should be starts to show in this installment. It laid out the foundation, a new generation, with which the succeeding games just need to improve on. This milestone makes it the overall best Elder Scrolls game in the franchise by far.

Morrowind E3 trailer. The prophecy will be fulfilled.

3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

A dragon vs. the Dragonborn. It takes one to know one.

Skyrim, a province on the continent of Tamriel is in the middle of a civil war. The Stormcloaks, led by Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak, wants to free the province from Imperial arms. The Imperial Legion, under the command of General Tullius, is there to pacify the rebellion and maintain the Empire's hold of the region. Accused as a rebel, you end up in the hands of Imperial forces, awaiting your execution. Before your head gets chopped off, a dragon appeared out of nowhere and started attacking everyone. You and your fellow prisoner, who happened to be Jarl Ulfric himself, skillfully escaped the attack. The rebel leader asks you to warn the next village on the reemergence of the supposedly long-dead dragons. Upon your arrival on the next town, the dragon reappeared and attacked the area. With the help from city guards, you managed to bring the dragon down; surprisingly, you absorbed the soul from the burning dragon corpse. Bewildered and full of questions, you embark on a journey to discover the mystery behind the dragon attack and what it means to be a Dragonborn.

THE GOOD

Skyrim continued its predecessor’s legacy of bringing exquisite graphics, detailed environment presentation, and excellent artwork design. The departure from the copy-paste level designing ensured that each place visited is unique. With the help of advanced graphical features like bloom, reflection, and shadowing, it’s obvious why it ranks as the best Elder Scrolls game in terms of visual experience.

The leveling system received very positive responses from gamers for its improvements from Oblivion. By reducing class-specific attributes, players are given more freedom to do their own character build. It enforces players to experiment without getting stuck with limitations brought by choosing a race at the start of the game. Chosen skills get stronger as you use them more and you also unlock more perks, improving overall combat ability and experience.

There are still numerous side quests available, easily sucking in players to spend hundreds of hours of gaming. The introduction of dual-wielding weapons and magic abilities further expanded the combat preference for players.

Overall, it seamlessly carried the baton passed onto it by its predecessors, and even improving upon their shortcomings.

THE BAD

There are still few glitches which should be expected for the game's massive scale and enormous scope. The most noticeable department that lacked improvement is the combat mechanics, carrying over the system used in previous installments. No matter how heavy the skirmish is, you won't feel you’re landing hits on solid flesh.

Dragon battles were good until it gets repetitive. They lack decent AI, making the encounters unchallenging, boring, and just a nuisance as you get used to them.

And still, there’s no multiplayer option on this one.

Burn baby burn. Help the frost troll from catching colds by lighting him up.

RATING

It received critical acclaim upon its release and was favored by numerous websites to receive the game of the year award. Probably the greatest weakness of the game is its main storyline, deemed by many as shallow compared to previous installments’ plot. Nevertheless, it gave a solid gaming experience fans have been looking for in a game for years. It’s the epitome of an open world role-playing game which future generations need to measure up to.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim official trailer

4. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Auroran of Garlas Malatar. Destroying the dark orb will prevent the guardian from endless resurrection.

Cornered by assassins, emperor Uriel Septim VII hands the Amulet of Kings to the player and orders you to take it to a man named Jauffre, the grandmaster of the order of the Blades. The death of the emperor and his lack of an heir    broke an ancient covenant preventing the gates of Oblivion from opening in Tamriel. With the seals broken, the invasion of Tamriel commences and mystical creatures called Daedra come pouring out of the gates, annihilating everything in sight. Luckily, you come across the knowledge that the late emperor has an illegitimate son, meaning there's still hope for the world if you successfully find him.

THE GOOD

With tons of quests in store, it easily chips your day away with over a hundred hours of gameplay. The main story now has a better pace, throwing players right into the middle of things without beating around the bush. The DLCs were also excellently written, adding more flavor to the already rich content of the main game.

Oblivion utilized the Havok Physics Engine – used in popular titles like Bioshock and Assassin’s Creed – to great extent, allowing sophisticated collision detection, ‘rag-doll physics’, and motion dynamics for an enhanced life-like experience. Combining it with detailed artwork, it resulted in an outstanding eye stunner, outdoing competitors of its generation. You’d be tempted to stop, pan the camera around, and simply take the scenery in for all its glory and beauty.

The use of Radiant AI decently improved the quality of intelligence the dummies have. The ability to build your own magic skills and the option to join guilds are still intact and bettered. Things like guild ranks and how NPCs interact with you make you feel like you are actually accomplishing something. There's also the addition of a gladiatorial Arena in the Imperial City where you can engage in mortal combat with one, two or even three enemies at a time for cash rewards.

THE BAD

With great graphics, comes great spending. All the enriched visuals Oblivion brought to the table required tremendous amounts of computing power to run smoothly. Even on high-end PCs, the game crashes or freezes at times, with the most reported problem being the slow frame rates.

Due to the vast area covered and the extravagant visuals, frequent loading times happen which can be annoying even if they’re just fairly quick. There’s also no multiplayer content which fans have been missing for a long time.

Taking in the scenery. Oblivion was highly-praised for its carefully detailed, picturesque environment.

RATING

The game has high replay value due to its richly written and extensive quests. Add to that the astounding, mouth-watering graphics, and innovative gameplay, you can never go wrong in adding this to your list of must-play PC games. Oblivion’s critical success made the franchise soar to new heights of popularity and anticipation from gamers and critics alike.

5. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

Arachnid boss. Tell me if those pointy, venomous-looking legs aren’t trouble.

The emperor personally requested you to do two things for him: free the ghost of the late King Lysandus, and investigate what happened to the letter he sent to the Blades spy in the court of Daggerfall. Reading the contents of the letter, it reveals the plans of the emperor to rebuild the Numidium, a colossal iron golem of unimaginable power. The Mantella, the key to resurrecting the golem, and the totem of Tiber Septim are the key pieces needed by the emperor to make the iron golem do his bidding.

THE GOOD

With over 18 classes to choose from, players went gaga over the number of choices they’re given. Knight, warrior, healer, assassin, sorcerer – choose your poison. Choice is still none of the above? Design your own with a specialized character creation system. Daggerfall introduced freedom in character class creation and development, allowing players to even choose their own face, distribute skills and statistics points.

Building its reputation as an RPG with a wide array of quests to offer, it’s an excellent choice for adventurers always willing to veer away from the straight path to explore more of what the world has to offer. With vast area to cover (over twice the size of Great Britain, the largest in all Elder Scrolls game), multitude of people to interact with, the sheer number of weapons and spells that can be combined to use in combat, and the incredible addition of allowing players to join guilds, it’s the greatest example of freedom in a game.

THE BAD

Again, with the typical plot, it made the game somewhat shallow and unabsorbing; good thing there are a number of side quests to distract you from the main storyline.

Because of its sheer size, players already anticipated they’ll be playing with a number of bugs and glitches, and they weren’t wrong. You might encounter untested areas in the game where you can get stuck between geometric figures, helpless and without a choice left but death as the only escape route. Another way around is to load a previously saved game. But, Surprise! Wild bug appears! It corrupted your save game files. With nothing left to do but start over, you select new game only to have the application crash without any warning. It’s that many, those annoying bugs.

Dungeon creeps. Quickly press the button if you don’t want to get eaten!

RATING

Probably only the hardest hardcore gamers and fans of RPG will appreciate the beauty that is Daggerfall. Despite it being as buggy as the 2nd level of hell, it made the game and the franchise even more popular among gamers. The extent of freedom.

Daggerfall intro. The great machine awakens.

6. The Elder Scrolls: Arena

Skeletons in the closet. You’ll encounter lost so better befriend them early in the game.

The Imperial Battlemage Jagar Tharn plans to usurp the throne from emperor Uriel Septim VII, after trapping the emperor in another dimension and impersonating him to command the army at his whim. However, he's unable to corrupt his apprentice Ria Silmane of his devious plans, leaving him no choice but to kill her. Barely able to hold herself together, her last will is passed on to you: obtain the missing artifacts of the Staff of Chaos, use it to rescue the real emperor, and ultimately put an end to Tharn's reign.

THE GOOD

It’s a very ambitious game for its time, offering an expansive world with over 400 locations to explore. The world is littered with abandoned castles, dungeons, crypts, and populated cities that you’ll get tired before you visit them all.

The developers used complex algorithms to enable lighting effects and shadows to simulate real-world scenarios. Lightning strikes, rainfall, snow, mist, vision-impairing fog – these natural occurrences made the game more active than anything. Sound effects were also given detail, incorporating animal sounds you naturally hear during daytime as well as nighttime.

The NPCs interact like real people; you can ask them for directions, news and gossips around town, or even what they ate for breakfast.

THE BAD

More than the new dishes the game offered on the gamer’s table, it’s remembered more for its catastrophic bugs. Aside from the heavy load it gave on computers at that time, the bugs presented great challenge to players not to give up on it. Who wants to play a very buggy game anyway?

Although the NPCs are interactive, it’s rather flat and generic. They have different professions, yes, but it feels like you’re talking to a single person wearing only different costumes.

Despite the complex natural effects, the game’s graphics lag behind Doom's although they were released in the same year. This might be caused by the huge setting of the game, with calculations adding to the already heavy burden.

The storyline is also rather shallow and cliché, borrowing from the usual formula in textbook fairy tales.

Character window. There are a lot of stats to consider in building your perfect champion.

RATING

It may not be so much for gamers of this generation, but it was a gaming milestone in its era. It is buggy as hell, but not damaging enough to ruin the fun offered by the game. Overall, the character classes, combat mechanics, and innovative gameplay of Arena sparked the fire that attracted newbies and hardcore RPG fans alike, starting a fan base of its own.

The Elder Scrolls: Arena. The beginnings of the legendary franchise.

7. An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire

Welcome hug. With its herculean physique, he means trouble.

On the day of your final test as a mage apprentice, an army of Daedra led by Mehrunes Dagon overruns Battlespire, killing nearly everyone. Your partner survives the invasion but is currently held captive by Dagon himself. To save your friend and put an end to Dagon's madness, you'll need to travel through several realms of Oblivion and defeat him.

THE GOOD

As a spinoff, Bethesda experimented with their original plan for Arena, which is to do a gladiator game. They implemented it in Battlespire with its hack-and-slash gameplay, presenting a gladiator-inspired team battle. This makes, by far, the only game in the franchise to offer multiplayer gaming, specifically a player versus player deathmatch.

THE BAD

It has minimal scope, being only a minor release after Daggerfall, and for that matter, it brought nothing new on the table. It was plagued with bugs, glitches and lots of clipping errors, probably because the original plan of Bethesda is to work simultaneously on Battlespire, Redguard, and Morrowind; it’s too much work for too few hands.

Fire and ice elementals. Alternating attacks from them will reduce you to a pulp.

RATING

Originally designed as an expansion pack to Daggerfall, it came out as a standalone game immediately released after the second installment. Its greatest contribution to the franchise is its attempt to incorporate a multiplayer content fans have been longing for in the franchise.

8.The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard

Dwemer Centurion. Guarding the secrets of the ancient race from prying hands.

The story happened 400 years prior to the events of Arena and the rest of the series in Tamriel. The player takes the role of Cyrus, a Redguard who travelled to the island of Stros M'Kai to search for his missing sister, Iszara. Tiber Septim had recently conquered Hammerfell with the help of Forebears -- the Redguards who sided with the empire -- and has instated Admiral Richton as governor of the region. Together with Dram, an ex-Morag Tong assassin, N'Gasta a vile necromancer, and Nafaalilargus, a dragon, the governor and the Empire completely puts the region under its foothold.

While learning about the whereabouts of his sister, Cyrus is thrown into the middle of the chaos. He eventually learned that his sister was part of the resistance called Restless League who aims to resurrect Prince A’tor to save the people of Hammerfell. His sister’s soul is also currently held by the Daedric Prince Clavicus Vile. Embarking on a journey to retriever her soul, he now fights not only for himself but also for the cause his sister believes in.

THE GOOD

It’s a combination of Prince of Persia and Tomb Raider, combining their strengths into one game. There are dungeons to crawl, puzzles to solve, quest items to collect, and old school jumping to get over obstacles, all presented in a nice third-person point-of-view powered by 3D graphics acceleration.

THE BAD

Since it still runs in DOS-based tech, it caused a number of problems for Windows users, numbering from keyboard misfiring to mouse freezing. The controls were generally sloppy – not good for a puzzle-centric game. The audio was bad, sounding like cavemen talking across mountains.

Pirates ahoy! Just get past this one and their loot is yours!

RATING

It’s more of an action-adventure game than a role-playing one. It was a good try for Bethesda but this installment is overshadowed by games from the same genre like Ultima.

Redguard. One man against an empire.

Which one is the best Elder Scrolls game for you? Tell us by writing your own ranking in the comment section below.

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