Many of the best RPG quests in gaming belong to the Elder Scrolls series. Yes, we love Fallout, Knights of the Old Republic, The Witcher, and lots other entries in the genre, but there is something special about the quests in the Elder Scrolls games.
Long ago, Bethesda’s creative team decided that it was time to abandon the tried and true nature of “go here, get this, bring it back” RPG quests in favor of open-world opportunities that offer something a little bit…different. Since then, each Elder Scrolls game has featured at least one assignment that is so fully-realized and inventive that you’d almost swear the entire game was made just to feature this one storyline. That is until you run into the next great quest and discover that it is even better.
But what are the greatest quests of them all? Which are the assignments that made us drop the infinite pleasures of an open-world RPG in order to focus on one impossibly compelling story?
The best quests in Elder Scrolls history have to be more than epic, more than clever, and more than memorable. They have to feature some indescribable quality of excellence that solely justifies the dozens of hours you’ve poured into this universe.
With due respect to Arena and Daggerfall, these are the best quests in Elders Scrolls history.
25. The Purification – Oblivion
Lucien Lachance, Speaker for the Dark Brotherhood, has a favor to ask. It seems that the highest ranking members of the Brotherhood suspect that someone in the order is a spy. Because you were recruited after they became aware of this, they do not suspect you. Actually, they trust you to eliminate all of your fellow assassins and remove any possibility for the spy to succeed.
Honestly, this entire list could be filled with Dark Brotherhood missions from Oblivion. This one stands out, though, not just because it makes you eliminate the people you’ve been working for and with up to this point, but because it offers you so many ways to kill the Brotherhood members based on how you’ve built your character to this point.
Go in fists swinging, use poisoned apples, summon dark creatures, kill everyone one by one – this quest captures the variety that makes the best Brotherhood assignments so special and represents a shocking turning point for this incredible storyline.
24. Remove the Heads of the Thieves Guild/Kill the Master Thief – Morrowind
The quests in Morrowind aren’t the best the Elder Scrolls series has to offer, but this classic RPG does have some hidden gems. Few, though, are as fascinating as what happens when the head of the Fighter’s Guild asks you to kill the heads of the Thieves Guild.
What makes this quest so memorable is that it’s entirely possible to be a member of the Thieves Guild when you receive this assignment. It’s so rare that we see Elder Scrolls games actually portray the guilds as being in direct conflict, even when it makes sense to do so. Such conflicts make the world of the games much richer and force players to make dramatic decisions that help define who their characters are.
This quest – and the various ways it can be approached based on your allegiances and preferences – should absolutely be explored again in some form in a future Elder Scrolls game.
23. Ushnar’s Terror – Shivering Isles
Ushnar gro-Shadborgob is an Orc with a problem. He’s absolutely terrified of cats, and there’s a Khajiit beggar named Bhisha who won’t stop following him. Ushnar requests that you do whatever it takes to make Bhisha go away. As for Bhisha…well, it turns out Bhisha just really likes the dogs that Ushnar keeps around him to scare cats away.
Shivering Isles infamously harbors some of the most creative quests in Elder Scrolls history, and this seemingly simple side mission is a perfect example of its personality depth. You can easily “solve” this problem by killing the beggar, but take the time to examine this bizarre scenario, and you’ll find that there are quite a few creative ways to help either man – or neither man – achieve his desired end.
The best Elder Scrolls side quests intrigue you with their premise and surprise you with their payoff. In that sense, this is about as good as minor side quests get.
22. Innocence Lost – Skyrim
A very young boy is attempting to use the Dark Ritual to get the Dark Brotherhood to kill someone for him. What initially seems to be a childish misunderstanding of the nature of the ritual turns out to be something far more troubling.
Innocence Lost is a simple quest so far as its step-by-step requirements are concerned, but the brilliance of this one has to do with the subtle moral implications of your actions. Once you begin investigating the supposedly abusive head of an orphanage and decide how you will address the issues this mission presents, you might start questioning just what the role of the Dark Brotherhood is in this world.
Are you a righteous bringer of death, or are you merely a murderer who occasionally stumbles upon a target that may be something worse?
21. Sheogorath’s Shrine – Oblivion
Offer a spool of yarn, a piece of lettuce, and a soul gem to the statue of Sheogorath, the Prince of Madness, and he’ll ask you to convince a small town that an apocalyptic prophecy is coming to fruition. Why? Because it would be a good bit of fun, that’s why.
Sheogorath has long been one of the best parts of the Elder Scrolls mythology, and this quest cemented his status as the source of the franchise’s most amusing assignments. From cooking a piece of rare cheese to attract a swarm of rats to taking care of the local sheep population, this quest turns you into the accidental bringer of the end times.
Just be sure to stick around for the fiery finale.
20. An Unexpected Voyage – Oblivion
The Bloated Float Inn is a ship turned into a hotel located in the Imperial Waterfront District. It’s an amusing but seemingly unimportant piece of the game’s largest city. However, if you decide to stay a night aboard the ship, you’ll wake up to find that the Inn has been hijacked by pirates.
That completely unexpected setup is amusing enough, but this mission’s surprising depth makes it truly great. Choose to just slaughter your captors, and you’ll miss out on a fascinating side-story involving who these pirates are and why they’ve chosen to take a hotel out to sea.
This is the one mission that will ensure you’ll never trust sleeping in an Elder Scrolls inn again.
19. Diplomatic Immunity – Skyrim
After learning that the Thalmor might be responsible for bringing dragons back to the world of Skyrim, you’re tasked with infiltrating the home of the Thalmor ambassador in order to find any incriminating evidence. Such a task would normally be impossible, but luckily for you, the ambassador is hosting a large party that might distract him long enough for you to slip in unnoticed…
While this mission is great for its use of stealth alone, its highlight is a glorious section that requires you to convince a party guest to cause a distraction. Based on your character, your allegiances, and moves you made in the game thus far, it’s entirely possible to convince almost any guest to cause the distraction. However, others will be locked to players who don’t meet certain requirements.
The whole quest is well-done, but that distraction section is a downright brilliant example of problem-solving via role-playing.
18. Final Resting – Shivering Isles
Hirrus Clutumnus is an incredibly annoying NPC who wanders the Crucible section of New Sheoth. Choose to confront him, and he will confess that he wishes to die. However, he wants the circumstances of his death to come as a surprise.
This is by far the best example of dark humor in the Elder Scrolls series. The various ways you can fulfill Clutumnus’ request are fantastic, but the real star of this show is Clutumnus’ various quips about how much he wishes to die. It’s worth keeping him alive for a while just to hear him lament how the various events of Shivering Isles‘ main quest haven’t led to his death.
Oh, and the epitaph on Clutumnus’ eventual tombstone reads: “Hirrus Clutumnus never felt like he fit in anywhere. He fits in a coffin quite nicely, now.”
17. Blood on the Ice – Skyrim
The town of Windhelm lives in fear of a serial killer who has thus far managed to evade capture. Following the discovery of the killer’s latest victim, the townspeople beg you to discover who among them has committed these heinous crimes.
While it’s easy to laughingly refer to this investigation as an attempt at a CSI: Tamriel spin-off, this actually turns out to be one of Skyrim’s most involved side quests. Identifying the killer will require much more than just the completion of a series of pre-assigned steps. Indeed, it’s entirely possible for players to blame the wrong suspect.
The worst part is that this quest has ways of making you realize the extent of your errors…
16. A Brush with Death – Oblivion
A painter in Cheydinhal has gone missing, and the painter’s wife is utterly confused as to where he could be. She says he has no vices, no secret lover, and spends all of his time locked up in his room with his paintings. A look at his paintings reveals that one of them is strangely…inviting.
A Brush with Death seems to have been designed as an excuse for Oblivion’s art team to craft a wonderfully trippy hand-painted world. So far as that goes, it’s impossible to not be impressed by the stunning beauty of this incredibly creative quest to literally rescue a painter from his obsession.
Then again, some might forever hate this quest due to its inclusion of some of Oblivion’s toughest enemies: the painted trolls.
15. The East Empire Company Colony – Bloodmoon
This is a bit of a cheat considering that this “quest” is actually made up of several smaller tasks, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the full scope of this incredible adventure.
In Morrowind’s Bloodmoon expansion, you’ll have the opportunity to help the East Empire Company build a colony around a lucrative mine. Doing so will require you to do such things as deal with corrupt suppliers, quell an elderly man who won’t stop fighting in bars, choose between the various political factions emerging in the colony, and eventually build a manor of your own.
Unlike Fallout 4’s settlement building mode, which felt almost completely detached from the game’s RPG roots, the building of this colony requires you to complete a fascinating series of quests that eventually reward you with the ability to look upon your works.
14. Order of the Virtuous Blood – Oblivion
A citizen approaches you in the Imperial City and informs you that vampires roam the world of Cyrodill. Before you can screech, she mentions that there is a local vampire hunting guild that requests your services. A brief meeting with the guild may leave you wondering if these are Cyrodill’s best and brightest. In fact, you might start to question whether their targets are really vampires at all.
This quest lovingly touches upon the long history of great vampire stories while spinning a compelling little mystery involving the nature and intentions of these vampire hunters. This mission slowly makes you question whether you should really be taking your assigned objectives at face value.
This is also the quest which alerts many Oblivion players to the fact they too can become a vampire.
13. Ill Met By Moonlight – Skyrim
Falkreath may be known as the location of the largest graveyard in Skyrim, but a recent death has shaken the town’s hardened residents to their core. A laborer named Sinding has ripped a little girl limb from limb, and the grieving father wants to know why. In trying to find the answer to that question, you’ll also soon discover that nothing about this murder is quite as it seems.
Ill Met By Moonlight requires Skyrim players to do a lot of navigation with their moral compass rather than solely relying on objective markers. While the mission ultimately comes down to a single choice, deciding what the “right” choice is – if there is one at all – proves to be incredibly difficult.
This quest also rewards players with one of two unique items that can drastically impact how you play the game.
12. To Kill an Empire – Skyrim
Skyrim’s Dark Brotherhood missions don’t quite compare to the creative assassinations featured in Oblivion. The latter game’s questline is just one of the best Bethesda has ever crafted. However, there are a few Dark Brotherhood quests in Skyrim that deserve to stand alongside those featured in the game’s predecessor.
This is arguably the greatest of those missions. To Kill an Empire – and the quest that precedes it – requires you to infiltrate the Emperor’s castle by posing as his cook. Once there, you get to participate in a downright hilarious poisoning sequence that sees the world’s most oblivious kitchen helper find a way to justify the addition of the strangest ingredients.
As fun as it is to discover the various ways you can kill the emperor, the best part of this mission comes when a last-minute twist completely changes the nature of your Dark Brotherhood tasks.
11. Where Spirits Have Lease – Oblivion
It’s possible to buy several homes in Oblivion, but they tend to be rather expensive for what you get. That’s why most players will jump at the opportunity to buy the stately Benirus Manor for only 5000 gold. Not long after you laugh yourself to sleep in your new home over the deal you got, you wake up to find that you’re surrounded by hostile ghosts. It appears you may have been swindled.
The resulting attempt to cleanse your home of these vengeful spirits requires you to perform a complex exorcism that sheds light on why this house is so very haunted in the first place. You might think you just have to bust a few household ghosts, but it turns out the haunted history of Benirus Manor is far too complex to be resolved via some blows from an ax.
This is a truly great ghost story in the middle of Oblivion that is as fun as it is frightening.
10. The Silent Pilgrimage – Morrowind
Two high-ranking members of the Temple Canton in Vivec want you to prove your wisdom and patience by making a pilgrimage to the Sanctus Shrine. However, they first make you take a vow of silence. If you talk to anyone during your pilgrimage – including paying for fast travel, bartering with shopkeepers, or asking for directions – you will fail.
While it’s possible to ruin the spirit of this quest via a variety of in-game exploitations, those who embark upon the Silent Pilgrimage as it was meant to be played will find that it represents the purest form of Elder Scrolls quest design brilliance. By denying you the ability to rely on the help of others to find your way to the shrine – which is an essential part of navigating through Morrowind – Bethesda forces gamers to utilize an entirely different set of skills to complete an otherwise simple task.
It’s just as satisfying to find the shrine without uttering a word as it is to take down a dragon or Daedric lord.
9. A Shadow over Hackdirt – Oblivion
A young Argonian named Dar-Ma has gone missing. The last time anyone saw her, she was making a delivery to the small town of Hackdirt. A trip to Hackdirt reveals a town in its dying days populated by oddly hostile residents. The few people who will talk to you may leave you wondering if Dar-Ma even came through here at all.
Even though this quest follows the same basic structure as the H.P. Lovecraft novella it pays tribute to – The Shadow over Innsmouth – it features enough twists and turns to ensure that even those familiar with the famous horror novella won’t be able to quite predict what’s coming next.
Pound for pound, this might just be the best horror quest in Elder Scrolls history.
8. The Forsworn Conspiracy – Skyrim
A woman is brutally attacked while wandering the streets of Markarth. It soon becomes clear that a faction known as the Forsworn are the culprits. Nobody seems especially bothered by this incident, but a mysterious man at the scene believes there may be much more to this than meets the eye.
The Elder Scrolls does investigation quests extremely well, but what makes this particular investigation so fascinating is the way that it forces you into a real Chinatown situation involving a seemingly simple incident that proves to be just the loose thread in a much grander conspiracy.
The simple attack that begins this quest triggers a series of events that will forever change the landscape of Markarth and perhaps even Skyrim.
7. Corprus Cure – Morrowind
Many Elder Scrolls games allow the player to contract a terrible disease that is incredibly difficult to cure, but none of the quests for those cures are as memorable as what happens after you contract Corprus in Morrowind.
Corprus is an incredibly deadly, seemingly incurable disease that all Morrowind players will contract during the main quest. After your diagnosis, you soon hear about an ancient wizard who may actually have found a way to cure the dreaded disease. Unfortunately, getting to him is not easy. Even if you do make it, the task he assigns you may be too great to complete.
Corprus Cure is arguably most notable for being the only quest in Elder Scrolls that allows players to interact with a living Dwemer. However, it’s actually the quality of the quest’s dungeons, mini-puzzles, and the implications the end result of your escapades have on the main game that make this quest one for the ages.
6. Paranoia – Oblivion
A man named Glarthir corners you on the streets of Skingrad and asks you to meet him at midnight. Do so, and you will learn that Glarthir believes he is the subject of a massive conspiracy. He begs you to investigate his list of conspirators. While Glarthir sounds crazy – and the town’s guards certainly believe he is – you’ll soon discover that the craziest person here might be yourself.
Paranoia is an incredible social experiment hidden within the code of Oblivion. This quest actually rewards those players who choose to exploit Glarthir’s beliefs while hiding the full implication of their actions. However, it also requires players to decide how far they’re willing to push this matter in order to get the biggest prize available.
Sadly, even those who try to make the right decision might find they’ve done something horrible in the process…
5. Ghosts of Vitharn – Shivering Isles
The citizens of New Sheoth are fascinated with a haunted settlement named Vitharn. A trip to Vitharn reveals that an invasion caused the deaths of many of the settlement’s residents. Sheogorath has cursed their spirits to exist in eternal torment over their inability to defend the town. Vitharn’s count begs you to find a way to correct the mistakes which bind these spirits to this world.
This quest could easily have been a game unto itself. The complexity of the tasks and the many ways in which you can resolve them lead to a fascinating series of puzzles bolstered by the deeply personal stories of the fallen.
Ghosts of Vitharn is one of the definitive examples of how great writing separates good RPGs from the truly special ones.
4. Baiting the Trap – Shivering Isles
A dungeon overlord by the name of Kiliban Nyrandil, who has an unnatural fondness for cackling madly, is disturbed to see three adventurers enter his abode. Nyrandil asks you to please help him determine the fate of these adventurers by serving as the dungeon master for their trip through various chambers.
This quest is a love letter to the Dungeons and Dragons era of role-playing that brilliantly utilizes Elder Scrolls mechanics. While your choices in each chamber are admittedly limited, watching the consequences of your decision to either physically or mentally intimidate the adventurers leads to a series of classic dungeon experiences spiced with some dark twists.
Whatever your choices, you’ll never forget this excellent piece of creative cruelty. This is the type of mission that you’ll quicksave just to play time and time again.
3. A Night to Remember – Skyrim
A man named Sam challenges you to a drinking contest at a local pub. He declares you the winner after a few drinks but wishes to continue the fun at a “place where the wine flows like water.” Shortly after, you black out and wake up in a temple surrounded by mysterious mementos of your drunken adventures. What happened, and where is Sam?
This thinly-veiled tribute to The Hangover is oddly Skyrim’s most memorable quest. You can practically hear the developers laughing as the details of your wine-fueled exploits become horribly clear in the light of a new day. While largely comedic, this quests twists really are among the game’s best. By the time you find out what happened to Sam, we guarantee that you’ll be grinning ear to ear.
2. The Ultimate Heist – Oblivion
For your final mission as a member of the Thieves Guild, the mysterious Gray Fox assigns you a job that sounds impossible. He asks you to sneak into the Imperial Palace and steal one of the Elder Scrolls.
This quest is the culmination of a series of great Thieves Guild missions that saw you collect a seemingly unrelated series of mystical items. Each of those items will be used during this lengthy and incredibly difficult heist that requires you to summon all of your stealth skills if you’re going to have a chance of making it into the most highly guarded room in Tamriel.
Not only is this quest an almost unbearable tease of what would happen if the Elder Scrolls team made a Thief game, it ends with arguably the most satisfying pay-off of any guild questline in the franchise.
1. Whodunit? – Oblivion
The Dark Brotherhood tasks you with visiting the prestigious Summitmist Manor in Skingrad. Upon arriving, an associate posing as a doorman will inform you that five guests of the Brotherhood are attending a party inside. One of the guests is a murderer…and the murderer is you. If you manage to kill everyone in the mansion without being observed or suspected, you’ll receive one of the best skill bonuses in the game.
You won’t need that incentive, though. The open-ended structure of this mission makes it impossibly fun to experiment with the various ways you can kill each guest without being identified as a murderer. You can pick them off one-by-one slasher style, you can sabotage their surroundings, or you can learn about their relationships with the other guests and actually get them to do the dirty work for you by playing off their hate and fears. Just be careful to ensure the guests that discover what’s going on don’t start to suspect you.
While it’s impossible not to love the old-school murder mystery set-up – the weather will automatically become dark and stormy when you begin the quest – it’s the sheer amount of options available to you that makes this the undisputed king of Elder Scrolls quests. This is role-playing at its finest.