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.
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 White-Gold Tower.
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 Daggerfall.
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 domineering.
- 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 comments!