The Elder Scrolls universe is a large and complex thing, currently
spanning seven game titles (plus multiple expansions, plus another series
of games for mobile devices), fleshed out by a pair of "official" novels
by author Gregory Keyes. Anyone who has played an Elder Scrolls game in
the last decade knows that the world of Tamriel has a long, rich history -
much of it chronicled in the many, many books that can be found everywhere
from peasant homes to dank dungeons to fabulous Imperial libraries. The
Second Era setting of the Elder Scrolls Online,
about 900 years or so before the Fourth Era events of The Elder
Scrolls V: Skyrim, is where much of this history occurs.
The story is set during a period called the Interregnum,
a chaotic time when Tamriel's center of power - the White-Gold Tower in
Imperial City - changed hands many times. Three factions band together
against the Imperials of Cyrodiil, and against one another, in a
constantly-evolving struggle for control of the continent. This is a very
ambitious setting, as it combines elements from the previous four games
into one massive world.
missed in the first three games? Pick a book and start reading...
The relationships between the individual races has played out all through
the Elder Scrolls series, and the parts that don't happen in-game are
detailed in the in-game books. Seriously, start with any Elder Scrolls
title, wander around picking up and reading every book you encounter (and
you will encounter loads of them) and you'll be up to speed on everything
that's happened up to that point. Some of the books detail events that
occurred in previous games - for example, a book found in a dungeon in
Skyrim will tell of the exploits of the Nerevarine, the player character
of TES III: Morrowind. Another will talk of the end of the Third
Era, the glorious death of Martin and the closing of the Oblivion Gates -
the events of TES IV: Oblivion.
Daggerfall Covenant in blue,
Ebonheart Pact in red, Aldmeri Dominion in yellow. Poor Imperial Green
The playable races from previous games will be familiar to long-time fans.
Men, mer and beast-men are all banding together into factions, attempting to
sieze control of Cyrodiil, and thus all of Tamriel. Each of the factions has
one "warrior" race, one "magic-user" race and one "stealth" race, and each
has its own motives for seeking control of the Ruby Throne and the
The Daggerfall Covenant consists of:
Redguards, the dark-skinned people of
Hammerfall. These humans live a Spartan-style warrior culture, and take
great pride in their innate athletic abilities.
Bretons, the human magic-users of High Rock.
They are pasty and bookish, but bookish in the same way that Merlin or
Gandalf or Elminster might be considered bookish.
Orcs, the beastly barbarians of Orsinium. They
were once elves who were made into green-skinned outcasts after their boss
tried to throw down against a god. Now they live a warrior lifestyle and
make awesome armor and weapons.
These nations are all located in the northwest corner of Tamriel, and
Hammerfall and High Rock provinces were the setting for 1996's The Elder
Scrolls II: Daggerfall. This was the most massive of the Elder Scrolls
single-player games, with explorable land area equal to twice the size of
Great Britain (487,000 square kilometers/188,000 square miles), 15,000 towns,
cities, villages and dungeons, around 750,000 NPCs, and a complex and dynamic
political system. Most of this is randomly-generated and much less detailed
than later games, but that's still pretty darn big. It's unlikely that the
Elder Scrolls Online will incorporate the entirety of the region presented in
The Daggerfall Covenant seems to buck the trend of warrior/mage/stealth,
instead having two warrior races (Redguard and Orc) and one mage race
(Bretons). The alliance is forged around the diplomatic marriage between the
Kings of High Rock and the Redguards, who both value diplomacy, and a war
treaty with the bucolic Orcs, who just want to smash things. It is lead by High
King Emeric out of Wayrest, who gets the enviable task of planning
exactly where to direct the furious might of his berserker army.
They believe that the Ebonheart Pact is a dangerous result of Dunmer trickery
fooling the thick-skulled Nords and Argonians into their service, which can't
possibly last because all those guys traditionally hate each other. They feel
that the Aldmeri Dominion seeks to oppress Tamriel under Elven dominance and
enslave all the humans and orcs, which is actually probably true.
The Ebonheart Pact consists of:
Nords, the hardy, fair-skinned humans of Skyrim.
These tall and mighty norsemen can run around in the snow without a shirt
on, but they do have one rather famous weakness in the knee region.
Dunmer, the crafty Dark Elves of Morrowind. Be
they savage Ashlander or urbane mafioso, Dunmer are as good at using
attack-magic as they are with the stabbity-stabbity.
Argonians, the stealthy lizard-people of the
Black Marsh. These guys seem to be getting weirder and weirder as the series
continues - in Arena, they were just dudes with face paint, but by
Oblivion they started walking funny.
These provinces form almost the entire north and east coast of Tamriel, and
Skyrim and Morrowind were featured prominently in their own eponymous titles.
In the fifth game, Skyrim spans somewhere between 13 - 20 snowy square
kilometers (5 - 8 square miles), and the island of Vvardenfell (the explorable
part of Morrowind from the third game) covers around 26 square kilometers (10
square miles). The Black Marsh, south of these regions, is likely comparable
in size, but hasn't been featured as a major explorable region in any previous
games (except Arena).
This is the least-likely of the three alliances. The Dunmer and Nords have a
long history of mutual acrimony and antagonism, sharing a contested border
along the mountain range separating the two powers. The Argonians were once
enslaved by the Dunmer, making them unlikely allies, but the Black Marsh
shares its northern border with southern Morrowind, and their only other
neighbor is Cyrodiil to the west. Historically, this alliance came together
once before to repel an Akaviri invasion from the east, and Jorunn the
Skald-King, of Eastern Skyrim, leads this unlikely alliance once
more, and heads the triumvirate council called the Great Moot.
The Ebonhearts are too fiercely proud to allow the Aldmeri Dominion to
threaten their sovereignty and independence (and probably also frightened of
the possibility, but not a man among them would likely ever admit that). They
also worry that, since the Redguards and Bretons have somehow convinced the
fearsome Orcs to join their cause, the Daggerfall Covenent is poised to roll
over Tamriel like a military juggernaut.
The Aldmeri Dominion consists of:
Altmer, the tall, gold-skinned High Elves of
Summerset Isles. They are highly adept at magic and at being haughty and
Bosmer, the short, lithe Wood Elves of
Valenwood. These are the most elf-like of the elves - they live in the trees
and shoot bows and revere nature.
Khajiit, the nomadic, hedonistic cat-people of
Elsweyr. When they're not getting blazed on Moon Sugar or playing as
themselves in Furcadia, they make excellent thieves.
This is the only faction that hasn't been featured as the main setting for a
previous game. They were explorable in Arena but, while that game
was impressive for its time, the maps had none of the exacting detail found in
Morrowind and later games, so the physical size and specific
geographical details of the Aldmeri Dominion are essentially unknown. These
provinces lie to the south and southwest of Tamriel. Summerset is a big island
off the southwest coast and is likely loaded with all kinds of crazy
mushroom-tree towers and non-ruined Ayelid structures. Valenwood is just east
of there, on the mainland, and likely resembles the forest moon of Endor, with
great tall trees strung with ladders and walkways and nest-like houses tucked
up in the branches. Elsweyr is part desert in the north and part lush, jungly
forests in the south.
The Aldmeri Dominion believes that control of Tamriel should not fall to the
power-hungry, irresponsible humans who would only bring disaster because of
their short-sightedness. Instead, it should go to the power-hungry Altmer,
capricious tree-hugging Bosmer and Moon-Sugar-addled Khajiit thieves, who
totally won't bring disaster after using power irresponsibly... right? The
High Elves were the original settlers of the continent, they created the
common language used by everyone, and Queen Aryenn of Summerset believes that
the elves should unquestionably be in charge. The Bosmer seem to agree with
her - she probably has some good tree-based policies - and the Khajiit are
like, "Whatever, bro, that's cool..." as they bump a few more rails and ready
themselves for war.
The Aldmeri Dominion views the Daggerfall Covenant as deluded and dangerous.
Humans should clearly never be in charge of anything, especially humans who
have armies of Orcs. They view the Ebonheart Pact as unstable and
self-destructive - a loose band of mutual antagonists that will rip itself
apart from within given enough time - and do not seem to believe that they
pose all that much of a threat.
That leaves just the central province of Cyrodiil, the heart of Tamriel and
home of the Imperials, and surrounded on all sides by the other three warring
factions. Cyrodiil was the central setting for the the fourth game in the
series, the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and the Roman-influenced
Imperials played a dominant political role in all Elder Scrolls games to date.
Like Arena and Daggerfall, the Imperials are not a
playable race in TESO - they're the enemy, attempting to reclaim control of
their White-Gold Tower and exert the might of the Empire across all of
Tamriel. And while they are fighting off the three factions vying for their
political power, they must also contend with supporters of the Daedric prince,
Molag Bal, corroding their power base from within.
Cyrodiil will be the staging ground for much of TESO's conflict. The current
plan includes destructible walls, capturable towers and strongholds, and the
ability for any of the playable factions to take control of the Empire by
taking and holding the White-Gold Tower in Imperial City. The personal story,
the leveling part of the game, that all takes place in the faction-controlled
"homeland" areas. Cyrodiil will be home to massive PvP battles, possibly as
epic as the one pictured above - particularly if everyone is crammed into one
"megaserver." The Empire won't know what hit it.
Which faction are you most looking forward to playing? Let us know in our
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