The next Elder Scrolls series game—The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall—was published in 1996. Fueled by the modest success of Arena, Daggerfall was even more ambitious than its predecessor. Daggerfall attempted to create a game world twice the size of Great Britain, rendered in a truly 3D engine, and build a skill-system that revolved around skill building rather than experience gains. Daggerfall suffered from that very ambition: Daggerfall, rushed to publication, was found "tortuously buggy," and prohibitively hardware-intensive. In the opinion of one commentator, despite Daggerfall's commercial success, "the game still bears the mark of bad code".
Following Daggerfall's release, Bethesda ceased any development on any numbered series title until 1998, developing in the interim The Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire, released in 1997, and The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard, released in 1998. Both games had a smaller focus than the numbered series titles: Battlespire was a linear action RPG; Redguard was a slightly less linear third-person action-adventure game. The games sold poorly, and Bethesda flirted with bankruptcy. Only with the cash influx brought by Bethesda's acquisition by the well-funded Zenimax in 1999, did Bethesda return to the fore.
With The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Bethesda tripled their staff and pushed again towards hardware-intensive gaming. Morrowind saw a return to the old-style expansive and non-linear gameplay, but also a shift towards individually detailed landscapes and items, and a smaller game-world than past titles. Morrowind was released on both the Xbox and the PC, and saw popular and critical success on both, selling upwards of 4 million units by mid 2005. Two expansions were quickly released for Morrowind between late 2002 and early 2003: The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal, and The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon.
Work began on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2002, immediately after Morrowind's publication. Oblivion focused on providing a tighter storyline; improved AI, courtesy of Bethesda's proprietary Radiant AI; improved physics, courtesy of the Havok engine (used in Half-Life 2); and impressive graphics. The game was released, following much press coverage, on the PC and Xbox 360 in early 2006, and the PlayStation 3 in early 2007. Bethesda released one content collection and one expansion pack for Oblivion in late 2006 and early 2007: The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine and The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (the core game) received a 9.5/10 on average from many different gaming site's reviews.
Work is rumored to begin on the fifth installment when Bethesda is done completing work on Fallout 3 .
The Elder Scrolls main series of games emphasizes different aspects of the gaming experience than most computer role-playing games. A brief by Joystiq in early November 2006 compared BioWare's creations to Bethesda's by noting a difference in emphasis. Bethesda's creations focused on "aesthetic presentation and open-ended adventuring"; BioWare's on a combat system and modular architecture. The series' overarching aim has been noted by their designers as well. Bethesda has described their motivations in creating the first series game, Arena, as those of any good pen-and-paper RPG: creating an environment in which the player could be what the player wants and do what the player wants. Daggerfall's manual begins with a sort of design manifesto, declaring the developers' intention to "create a book with blank pages", and "a game designed to encourage exploration and reward curiosity". Choices, in the form of paths taken by the player, to do good, to chase after evil, are left open to the player, "just like in real life". This design trend continued with Morrowind, following the hiatus of similarly epic games in the interim, though Joystiq's previously noted insistence on graphics came again to the fore. During the development of Morrowind, Bethesda tripled its staff, so as to perfectly color its newly hand-made world. In their own words, "We knew we had to exceed the visual polish of the other games on the market, and we made it our goal to put The Elder Scrolls back into the forefront of game innovation. The Elder Scrolls series' emphasis on freedom remained. In the words of Bethesda's Morrowind Prophecies, "Experience it as you wish.
The series' grand ambitions have put some members of the gaming press into an apparent position of subdued skepticism prior to the release of each new game, incredulous as to Bethesda's capacity to surmount its obstacles. Nonetheless, whether this is a grab for reader interest or a true sentiment on behalf of the game press, such feelings evaporate by the end of each unvaryingly warm review the series' games receive.
These mechanics exist in contrast to most RPGs, where experience points are the sole measure of a character's advancement, and leveling up drives skill increases.
Furthermore, there is no one compilation of all information pertaining to T.E.S., and, within the games, historical references are often vague or unsure. Players are encouraged to draw their own conclusions about situations and events for which the records are few and incomplete or when competing viewpoints obscure the truth. This has spawned a subculture amongst T.E.S. players of history and philosophy debaters affectionately called loremasters.
The Elder Scrolls games take place on the continent of Tamriel, a large landmass divided into nine provinces. An exception is The Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire, which takes place between a realm of Oblivion, one of several alternate dimensions ruled by immortal Daedra, and the mortal realm of Mundus. It is known that there are continents besides Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls planet known as Nirn, but there is yet to be an official game that takes place in one.
The nine provinces of Tamriel are:
While each of the ten playable races has a "home province" or province of origin, they are not limited to this province and can be found outside its borders, though they are a minority. It should also be noted that the home province of the Orcs is, in fact, a city-state called Orsinium, which lies within the borders of High Rock.
Other races included in T.E.S. lore are Ayleid, Chimer, Dwemer, Ehlnofey, Falmer, Hist, Imga, Kamal, Ka Po' Tun, Maormer, Sload, Tang Mo, Daedra and Tsaesci. The Dwemer were destroyed for unknown reasons before Arena, but this is explained in Morrowind (Elder Scrolls III).
In Oblivion, the Elder Scrolls themselves are the object of the final Thieves Guild quest, "The Ultimate Heist", where the sneaky player must steal an Elder Scroll from the Imperial Palace, located in the Imperial City, Cyrodiil. This is indeed the theft to end all thefts, as not only is it one of the most difficult and arduous quests in the game, a robbery of this kind has never even been attempted before in TES history, let alone pulled off. Though the player can pick up the scroll in question in his/her inventory, and is told that it contains prophecy, he/she cannot read it: the scroll appears as an incomprehensible chart containing glyphs transcribed upon an arrangement closely resembling the constellation known as The Thief.
The Thieves' Guild Guildmaster, the Gray Fox, uses the scroll to remove the negative effects of his Gray Cowl, by naming the original thief, lifting the curse on it, thus allowing him to be recognized after removing the Cowl. The fate of the stolen scroll, once given to the Gray Fox, is left unknown. It could be speculated that the scroll was destroyed in the process of removing the cowl. However it is no mystery that the scroll yields awesome power, and who is to say that the Gray Fox has such power (meaning Corvus, the most recent ex-Gray Fox, not the protagonist)