The Elder Scrolls: Arena

Most RPG developers have their flagship series; Square-Enix has Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts, Capcom has Breath of Fire, Konami has Suikoden, and so forth. Bethesda Softworks isn't exactly a household name when it comes to video games, although they're responsible for the Elder Scrolls series, which got its start back in 1994 with The Elder Scrolls: Arena. There are many video game series that get off to rocky starts, and others that are solid from the beginning; Arena falls into the former class.

Interestingly, unlike many RPGs that feature a top-down perspective, Arena is played from a first-person perspective in towns and dungeons. Upon starting a new game, the player can choose from a myriad of character classes or answer a series of personality questions that determines their class. The player has no allies of whom to speak, with the player going at it alone with their created character. Pressing the A key brings up the player's equipped weapon, and the player performs attacks by holding down the right mouse button and moving the cursor across the enemy, which results in a few slashes in the directions in which the player moves the cursor.

If the player's class allows, they can use magic by cycling through a menu, clicking the spell to use, and then selecting the target on-screen, although this can make playing as a magic-using character quite difficult. The biggest fault of the game is its tendency to be unforgiving to new players, with even the lead designer of one of the later games in the series acknowledging that he started the game at least twenty times and only got out of the beginning dungeon once. If low on life, the player can camp until their character's life is full, even in dungeons, although doing so may cause enemies to rush the player. The player can also rest in inns in towns, although doing so costs money, which can become somewhat scarce as the game drags on. Ultimately, combat has some good ideas albeit poor execution.

Controls are okay, with an easy menu system and the ability to save anywhere, although Arena does a poor job telling the player how to advance the main storyline, and finding certain facilities in towns is a matter of looking around and asking NPCs where exactly they are. However, one nice thing is that the player can make notes on town maps on where facilities are, with some NPCs even being kind enough to mark facilities on the player's map. Another nice thing is the ability to travel instantly between towns and dungeons marked on the player's maps simply by cycling through the menu and selecting the location. Ultimately, Interaction is okay, but could have certainly been better.

As with most RPGs, the story is mostly barebones and largely consists of okay backstory, with the poor direction on how to advance not helping the game, with little to no character development, at that.

The soundtrack actually has some nice tracks, such as the town theme, although dungeons rely mostly on ambience, and the sound effects aren't exactly superb.

The graphics, as was the case with most first-person games at the time, are hideous, with perhaps the only real high points being the woman that occasionally appears in your dreams when sleeping at inns and perhaps the title screen.

In the end, The Elder Scrolls: Arena is the first of its series, and it definitely shows, what particularly with unbalanced combat, poor direction on how to advance, a barebones plot, its over-ambient soundtrack, and especially the ugly graphics. It does have some redeeming aspects such as some of the music and the okay control scheme, although these hardly compensate for its other shortcomings, which nonetheless wouldn't prevent the game from receiving several sequels.

This review is based on a playthrough of about three hours with the DOSBox emulator.

The Good:
+Some decent music.

The Bad:
-Unbalanced gameplay.
-Poor direction on how to advance.
-Little story.
-Soundtrack relies too much on ambience.
-Ugly graphics.

The Bottom Line:
The first Elder Scrolls game, and it shows.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 4/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 3/10
Music/Sound: 5/10
Graphics: 2/10
Lasting Appeal: 2/10
Difficulty: Unbalanced
Playing Time: Unknown

Overall: 3/10

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