The Elder Scrolls: Arena

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The Elder Scrolls: Arena
Elder Scrolls Arena Cover.jpg
Elder Scrolls: Arena cover
Developer(s) Bethesda Softworks
Publisher(s) Bethesda Softworks
Series The Elder Scrolls
Platform(s) MS-DOS
Release date(s) 1994
Genre(s) First person Action Role-Playing
Mode(s) Single player
Rating(s) ESRB: T
Media Floppy disk, CD-ROM, download

The Elder Scrolls: Arena is the first game in the Elder Scrolls series. It is a first-person computer role-playing game for MS-DOS, developed by Bethesda Softworks and released in 1994. In 2004, a downloadable version of the game was made available free of charge as part of the 10th anniversary of The Elder Scrolls series, but newer systems may require an emulator such as DOSBox to run it, as Arena is a DOS-based program.

Like its sequels, Arena takes place in the continent of Tamriel, complete with wilderness, dungeons, and a spell creation system that allows players to mix various spell effects into a new spell as long as they have the money to pay for it.

Another notable part of Arena is its tendency to be unforgiving towards newer players. It is easy to die in the starting dungeon, as powerful enemies can be encountered if the player lingers too long. However, this effect slowly withers away as the player becomes more powerful and more aware of the threats that loom everywhere. Even Ken Rolston, lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, says he started the game at least twenty times and only got out of the beginning dungeon once.


See also: Gameplay of The Elder Scrolls series

The game is played from a first-person perspective. Combat is performed by using the mouse and dragging the cursor across the screen to attack if a melee weapon is used. Magic is used by cycling through a magic menu found by clicking the appropriate button on the main game screen, then clicking the spell to be used and its target. This makes playing as a mainly magic-using character quite difficult. The whole of Tamriel is available if travelling on foot (as in going into the wild) however due to the enormity of the game and the dangerous enemies that roam the wild, players will often be fast travelling (it is also required if the player wishes to cross a body of water). Several hundred towns, dungeons and NPCs are available.


The Emperor, Uriel Septim VII has been imprisoned in another dimension (in a copy of the Black Horse Courier in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, this dimension is revealed to be Oblivion) and impersonated by Imperial Battlemage Jagar Tharn. The only way to bring him back is to find the eight pieces of the Staff of Chaos. After the pieces have been collected, the hero battles with Tharn in the Imperial city. Ria Silmane, just prior to the start of the game, is apprentice to Jagar Tharn. During his usurpation of the throne, Tharn is unable to corrupt his apprentice and so he murders her. She is able to hold herself together long enough to direct the player's character how to escape from slow death in the dungeons through a teleportation device called a shift gate. Past that point she lacks the power to manifest physically and appears to the player in dreams. The central quest requires the player to obtain various artifacts. Each time such an item is found, Silmane appears the next time the player rests to provide the general location of the next such item.

Part of this story is found in Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion within the book series "The Real Barenziah".

The next game in the series is The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, released in 1996.


See also: Development history of The Elder Scrolls series

Bethesda's history as a sport and port game developer did not help it when it began its first action-RPG venture. Designer Ted Peterson recalls the experience: "I remember talking to the guys at SirTech who were doing Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant at the time, and they literally laughing at us for thinking we could do it." Ted Peterson worked alongside Vijay Lakshman as one of the two designers of what was then simply Arena, a "medieval-style gladiator game". Peterson, Lakshman and Julian LeFay were those who, in Peterson's opinion, "really spear-headed the initial development of the series". Blancato, though, credits Weaver with the development: "If Weaver had a baby, Arena was it, and it showed." During the development of Arena, Todd Howard, later Executive Producer of Oblivion, joined Bethesda, and saw testing the CD-ROM version of Arena as his first assignment.

Initially, Arena was not to be an RPG at all. The player, and a team of his fighters, would travel about a world fighting other teams in their arenas until the player became "grand champion" in the world's capital, the Imperial City. Along the way, side quests of a more role-playing nature could be completed. As the process of development progressed, however, the tournaments became less important and the side quests more. RPG elements were added to the game, as the game expanded to include the cities outside the arenas, and dungeons beyond the cities. Eventually it was decided to drop the idea of tournaments altogether, and focus on quests and dungeons, on making the game a "full-blown RPG". The original concept of arena combat had never made it to the coding stage, and so few artifacts from that era of development remain: the game's title, and a text file with the names of fighting teams from every large city in Tamriel, and a brief introduction for them. The concept of traveling teams was eventually left aside as well, because the team's decision to produce a first-person RPG had made the system somewhat less fun.

Although the team had dropped all arena combat from the end game, because all the material had already been printed up with the title, the game went to market as The Elder Scrolls: Arena. The team retconned the idea that, because the Empire of Tamriel was so violent, it had been nicknamed the Arena. It was Lakshman who came up with the idea of "The Elder Scrolls", and though, in the words of Ted Peterson, "I don't think he knew what the hell it meant any more than we did", the words eventually came to mean "Tamriel's mystical tomes of knowledge that told of its past, present, and future." The game's initial voice-over was changed in response, beginning: "It has been foretold in the Elder Scrolls ..."

Ted Peterson had joined the company in 1992, working assignments on Terminator: 2029, Terminator Rampage, and Terminator Future Shock, as well as other "fairly forgettable titles". Peterson, Lakshman and LeFay were longtime aficionados of pencil and paper role-playing games, and it is from these games that the world of Tamriel was created. They were also fans of Looking Glass Studios' Ultima Underworld series, which became their main inspiration for Arena. The influence of Legends of Valour, a game Ted Peterson describes as a "free-form first-person perspective game that took place in a single city", has also been noted. Peterson, asked for his overall comment on the game, replied "It was certainly derivative...". Aside from the fact that Bethesda had made Arena "Much, much bigger" than other titles on the market, Peterson held that the team "[wasn't] doing anything too new" in Arena.

The game's release was disastrous. Bethesda missed their Christmas 1993 deadline, and was forced to release the game in the "doldrums" of March 1994, "really serious for a small developer/publisher like Bethesda Softworks." The misleading packaging further contributed to distributor distaste for the game, leading to an initial distribution of only 3,000 units—a smaller number even, recalls Peterson, than the sales for his Terminator: 2028 add-on. "We were sure we had screwed the company and we'd go out of business." Nonetheless, sales continued, month after month, passed on by word-of-mouth. Soon, despite harsh reviews, general bugginess, and the formidable demands the game made on player's machines, the game became a cult hit. Evaluations of the game's success vary from "minor" to "modest" to "wild", but are unvarying in presenting the game as a success. Game historian Matt Barton concludes that, in any case, "the game set a new standard for this type of CRPG, and demonstrated just how much room was left for innovation."

Floppy disk, CD-ROM and Deluxe editions

Arena was originally released on CD-ROM and 3.5" floppy disk. The CD-ROM edition is the more advanced, featuring enhanced speech for some characters and CGI video sequences.

In late 1994, Arena was re-released in a special "Deluxe Edition" package, containing the CD-ROM patched to the latest version, a mousepad with the map of Tamriel printed on it, and the "Codex Scientia"; an in-depth hint book.

The version that was released as freeware by Bethesda Softworks in 2004 is the 3.5" floppy disk version, not the CD-ROM edition.