It’s been four years since Bethesda teased The Elder Scrolls VI. How time flies when you’re waiting for a game supposedly designed to be “played for a decade.” Of course, if you’re looking for a way to pass some of that time (and Starfield doesn’t look like it’s going to be for you), then you can always spend a few weeks trying to make sense of The Elder Scrolls timeline.
If there’s any franchise timeline that can tell The Legend of Zelda to hold its beer, it’s The Elder Scrolls. A big part of the reason why the series’ timeline is so difficult to keep track of is the fact that all games in it are fairly disconnected. Sure, every Elder Scrolls game features recurring ideas such as the races, guilds, and demonic Daedra, but other than that, there are not many obvious links between them. Recurring characters are few and far between, and, since the franchise lets players make countless choices to affect the stories, the events of one game almost never factor into subsequent entries. In fact, many parts of the franchise’s timeline revolve around the “Dragon Break,” a rare space-time anomaly that essentially makes the endings of every Elder Scrolls game canon, regardless of their contradictory natures.
Despite all of that, there is technically an Elder Scrolls timeline that allows us to list the games in chronological order. Whether or not you’ll be able to cleanly follow that order without breaking your brain is another story.
The Elder Scrolls Online
Release Date: April 4th, 2014
Timeline Date: 2E 582
Even though The Elder Scrolls Online is the latest entry in the franchise, it takes place before any other entry in the franchise. And unlike other Elder Scrolls games, it allows players to team up with friends and allies around the world.
The events of The Elder Scrolls Online occur a good thousand years before previous entries, including The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The game starts off with the player’s “create-a-character” soul being stolen by the Daedric Prince Molag Bal as part of his attempt to combine Tamriel with his own plane of Coldharbour. As the game progresses, players also vie for control of the throne of Tamriel.
As is the case with most MMOs, Bethesda expanded on The Elder Scrolls Online with extra chapters and DLC. The main attractions of these expansion packs are new classes and old locations ripped from previous Elder Scrolls games. What veteran of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind wouldn’t want to visit the immortal Vivec in his prime and help him create the iconic floating island of Baar Dau? Even though the expansions take players all across Tamriel, they effectively take place at the same time.
The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard
Release Date: October 31, 1998
Timeline Date: 2E 864
Most Elder Scrolls games let players create their own character from a myriad of races, but this game serves as a notable exception to that rule. Not only does this game force players into the shoes of a predetermined character, but for a time, it was the earliest game in the franchise until The Elder Scrolls Online stole that crown.
The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard was the first in a planned series of action adventure-oriented spin-offs. The game stars the Redguard Cyrus as he explores the island of Stros M’Kai (which sits off the coast of Hammerfell) He initially visited the island to search for his sister, but as is Elder Scrolls tradition, he quickly finds himself wrapped up in an ongoing civil war.
While much of Redguard’s events are forgotten as time goes by, players get to meet one character of note: Tiber Septim. Throughout Elder Scrolls, players either meet or hear about the various emperors and emperesses who bear that surname. The main character of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is saved by Uriel Septim VII, and the Dragonborn finds Pelagius Septim III (aka. Septim the Mad) entertaining Sheogorath in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. That once-proud line of rulers was kicked off by Tiber Septim, as he became not only the First Emperor of the Septim Empire but was also canonized as Talos: God of War and Governance. After all, he did unite Tamriel, and anyone who played The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard got to see it happen.
The Elder Scrolls: Arena
Release Date: Released March 25, 1994
Timeline Date: 3E 389 – 3E 399
While the spin-offs land all over the place in the Elder Scrolls timeline, the main line entries are fairly linear in their chronological positions. This means that the first Elder Scrolls game, The Elder Scrolls: Arena was also the first in the franchise’s timeline before ESO and Redguard were released.
The Elder Scrolls: Arena revolves around Emperor Uriel Septim VII (the very same Uriel Septim VII players meet in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), who is betrayed by his advisor, Jagar Tharn. Tharn imprisons the emperor in a pocket dimension and takes his place. The only way to defeat Tharn is with the Staff of Chaos, and it’s up to players to travel Tamriel and reassemble its many pieces.
As the first entry in the franchise, The Elder Scrolls: Arena introduces audiences to the land of Tamriel, its many races, and many recurring elements. Ever wonder why The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim both start with the main character as a prisoner? That’s a proud Elder Scrolls tradition that started in Arena.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey
Release Date: November 11, 2004
Timeline Date: 3E 397
The Elder Scrolls franchise has lived most of its life as a PC-oriented experience. Even when the games have made their way to other platforms, they’ve typically been limited to the most popular platforms. However, there is a very good reason why you’ve probably never heard of the Elder Scrolls Travels spin-offs.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey was developed exclusively for the Nokia N-Gage (aka. The phone that looked like a taco). In the game, players control an unnamed character who has to defeat the Umbra’Keth: a spectral creature that formed thanks to a war between Skyrim, Hammerfell, and High Rock. The only way to defeat the creature is with special crystals called Star Teeth.
Very little of Shadowkey connects the game with the larger Elder Scrolls lore. While much of the game takes place in Hammerfell (which appears in multiple franchise entries), Shadowkey’s beginning location of Azra’s Crossing does not. In fact, one of the only elements that connect the game to other Elder Scrolls games, and give it a definite place in the timeline, is the Umbra’Keth (which the main antagonist of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, Jagar Tharn, wants to control). If it wasn’t for Tharn, The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey could take place at any time in Tamriel’s history and few would be the wiser.
An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire
Release Date: November 30, 1997
Timeline Date: Between 3E 398 and 405
While The Elder Scrolls Online is the current go-to title to experience for Elder Scrolls multiplayer action, it is far from the only game in town. Long before that MMO was released (and even before gamers learned how to mod The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and insert multiplayer), Bethesda created another Elder Scrolls game with multiplayer functionality
In An Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire (yes, this is the only entry to ditch the traditional naming convention), players control a fledgling battlemage. Instead of trying to save Tamriel from someone or something, though, their goal is to escape back to Tamriel. Turns out the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon is keeping the player hostage, and the only way to escape is to travel through various Daedric realms and defeat him.
An Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire marks the first time Mehrunes Dagon tried to invade Tamriel, predating the events of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion by several decades. Although, Mehrunes Dagon didn’t actually take the area by force. Jagar Tharn handed over control of Battlespire in 3E 396, and then an undisclosed amount of time passed before the aforementioned invasion. As a side note, Battlespire was originally conceived as DLC for The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall before it was transformed into a standalone title.
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
Release Date: Released September 20, 1996
Timeline Date: 3E 405 – 3E 417
After the success of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, Bethesda tried to one-up its previous effort. The result, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, is technically the largest Elder Scrolls game to date (though the game does employ a few short technical shortcuts to earn that honor).
In Daggerfall, players are sent on a quest by Emperor Uriel Septim VII to free the ghost of King Lysandrus and resurrect a giant golem known as the Numidium. Unlike Arena, which only features one ending, Daggerfall is far more open-ended and features five possible outcomes. All of those endings are decided by player choices, and all of those endings revolve around the Numidium.
The events of Daggerfall are one of the first examples, albeit not chronologically, of the Dragon Break. Essentially, when the Numidium activates, the golem is so powerful that it breaks time apart and lets all the choices players could make occur simultaneously, resulting in a gargantuan war between multiple armies (each with a Numidium to call their own). This is why subsequent games are full of contradictory histories (such as the necromancer Mannimarco showing up in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion despite ascending to godhood in Daggerfall).
Confusingly, Mehrunes Dagon was supposed to begin his first incursion into Tamriel after the events of Daggerfall, which is basically when he attacked Battlespire and took the sole remaining battlemage hostage. And yet Battlespire is supposed to take place before Daggerfall. Welcome to the weird world of Elder Scrolls lore.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Release Date: Released May 1, 2002
Timeline Date: 3E 427
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was the first entry in the series to utilize 3D graphics and is arguably still the best overall game in the franchise. It’s also filled with tons of incredible lore.
The game’s story revolves around the Tribunal (the “living Gods” of Morrowind), and their war with Dagoth Ur. The main character is suspected to be the reincarnation of an ancient Dark Elf hero, the Nerevarine, and it is up to them to defeat Dagoth Ur and fulfill several other prophecies. Other than that, players are free to explore the game world as they see fit.
Since Morrowind focuses heavily on prophecy and destiny, the game doesn’t feature multiple endings. In fact, the game can only end one of two ways. Players can either kill Dagoth Ur and destroy his second Numidium, or players can kill a crucial NPC, sever the thread of prophecy, and doom the world (and then reload an old save to reset their destiny). One of the only connections that set Morrowind in a definitive time is the influence of Emperor Uriel Septim VII. Turns out he was the one who suspected the main character’s resurrected origins. This game also marks the first appearance of the fan-favorite character M’aiq the Liar, who shows up in subsequent games. He really gets around.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind also has two expansions: Bloodmoon and Tribunal. Bloodmoon isn’t a continuation of the game’s story but more of a supplementary DLC pack that adds new areas and quests separate from the main story. Tribunal, however, canonically takes place after the Heart of Lorkhan is destroyed in Morrowind and continues the Nerevarine Prophecy that says the main character must kill Morrowind’s Tribunal
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Release Date: March 20, 2006
Timeline Date: 3E 433
While the Elder Scrolls had been fairly popular throughout its lifecycle, the franchise never achieved true mainstream success until its fourth entry.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, quite fittingly, tells the story of a prisoner who is recruited by Emperor Uriel Septim VII to save the land of Tamriel. This setup is as much of a recurring theme as it is a running gag, but this time around, players have to save Tamriel from the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon. Nothing quite like avoiding a demon-fueled apocalypse to get the RPG juices flowing.
Canonically, Oblivion takes place six years after the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and the game starts off with a bang by having Emperor Septim VII (this time voiced by Patrick Stewart) rescue the main character…and dye in the process. This might be one of the most important events in Elder Scrolls history, as the Emperor has been one of the only recurring faces throughout the franchise until that point. He was always either showing up in-game or setting off events from the shadows. Not only does this loss remove one of the franchise’s few strands of canon, but it also forces his illegitimate son, Martin Septim, to become the new emperor. Unfortunately, as subsequent titles demonstrate, he will also become the last emperor of Tamriel.
Like Morrowind before it, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion features two DLC packs: Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine, both of which take place during the main game’s events. Shivering Isles is set in the Daedric realm of the Shivering Isles and revolves around the ever-quotable Daedric Prince Sheogorath. While that expansion introduces a new story, location, and enemies, it is also noteworthy for bringing back long-forgotten Daedra such as Dark Seducers and Golden Saints. Knights of the Nine, meanwhile, tells a new story about the ancient sorcerer Umaril and how the main character must collect relics needed to defeat him.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends
Release Date: March 9, 2017
Timeline Date: 4E 175
Few expect a card game to have a plot, let alone one that takes place in the larger Elder Scrolls canon, but The Elder Scrolls: Legends offers just that and much more.
In The Elder Scrolls: Legends, players create and control a character called “The Forgotten Hero.” The story revolves around the High Elf Naarifin, who wants to fulfill a prophecy known as the Culling by releasing Daedra
Since Legends is a card game, it is full of items that reference previous Elder Scrolls titles (mostly based on more recent entries). Although, since most cards are just generic abilities, creatures, and items, nothing outside of the game’s basic story nearly places The Elder Scrolls: Legends in the greater franchise timeline.
The Elder Scrolls: Blades
Release Date: May 12, 2020
Timeline Date: 4E 180
The problem with large franchises is that not all entries are made equal. Some are inevitably worse than others, which can cause problems with canonicity (or at least following the canon by playing the games). Of course, those bad games are often still a part of the franchise.
The Elder Scrolls: Blades was an…attempt to squeeze the classic Elder Scrolls experience into something fit for mobile devices. The game starts with the main character’s town being ransacked. As they work to rebuild their home, they soon discover the tomb of an ancient sorcerer. In Elder Scrolls tradition, catastrophe spirals out of control from there.
Blades takes its name from the franchise favorite Blades: the organization that served the empire during the rule of the Septims. However, now the Blades have been outlawed and are being hunted down (which places the game long after the Great War that occurred in the aftermath of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion). Without the Septims to rule, the empire became weak and lost ground to the Thalmor elves. Interestingly, that plot point helps explain one of the bigger side conflicts in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends – Fall of the Dark Brotherhood and Return to Clockwork City
Release Date: April 5, 2017 (Fall of the Dark Brotherhood), November 30, 2017 (Return to Clockwork City)
Timeline Date: 4E 188 (Fall of the Dark Brotherhood) and 4E 201 (Return to Clockwork City)
Like many online collectible card games, Bethesda updated The Elder Scrolls: Legends with several expansions that added new cards and strategies. The developers also added new story packs to the game that, unlike other Elder Scrolls games expansions, feature notable time skips.
Before stopping development, Bethesda released three story expansions for The Elder Scrolls: Legends: The Fall of the Dark Brotherhood, Return to Clockwork City, and Isle of Madness. The Fall of the Dark Brotherhood fittingly revolves around the Dark Brotherhood and the main character’s attempts to infiltrate its ranks at the request of a merchant. This quest giver wants players to find his daughter (who joined the Dark Brotherhood after killing her mother) and kill her. And yes, I am aware of the irony of infiltrating a group of assassins to assassinate one of them. Return to Clockwork City, meanwhile, involves exploring the titular Clockwork City: a location not seen since The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal.
Since the Dark Brotherhood is thriving in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and a shadow of its former self in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Fall of the Dark Brotherhood lives up to its name and chronicle’s the organization’s recession. Likewise, Return to Clockwork City clearly takes place after the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal since the fabled city has fallen into ruin since his death (players find his corpse in that expansion).
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Release Date: November 11, 2011
Timeline Date: 4E 201
As popular as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the most famous entry by far. This game catapulted the series into the limelight and properly turned the Elder Scrolls into a gaming phenomenon.
Skyrim starts with the proud Elder Scrolls tradition of placing players in the manacles of a prisoner. This time around, though, Emperor Uriel Septim VII isn’t there to save them. Instead, their execution is interrupted by a surprise dragon attack, which leads them to learn that they are the Last Dragonborn: a person gifted with dragon blood, and the only hero who can save Skyrim from a draconic apocalypse.
To date, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the latest entry in the franchise (chronologically speaking). The game takes place a good 200 years after the events of Oblivion, and the world has changed significantly. The once-strong empire has lost so much power that half of the province of Skyrim wants to secede and is embroiled in a civil war against the half that doesn’t. Needless to say, it isn’t a great time to be alive. Even Sheogorath has gone missing, and his servant, Dervenin (who last appeared in The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles) is looking for him. At least Ulfar the Unending, who showed up in The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon, is having the time of his afterlife in Sovngarde.
Like the two previous entries before it, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim received multiple pieces of DLC, two of which were story-oriented: Dawnguard and Dragonborn. In Dawnguard, the story revolves around yet another one of the Elder Scroll’s prophecies (specifically, the disappearance of the sun). Since sunlight is one of the few things that can harm vampires, an army of undead bloodsuckers wants to make that prophecy come to fruition. players can either join them or stand against them. Dragonborn, meanwhile, takes place on a nearby island that was once ruled by the First Dragonborn and involves his resurrection. While the story is mostly self-contained, players eventually encounter Falx Carius, who initially showed up in Bloodmoon. Since then, he was promoted from Captain to General, was killed, and was eventually revived as an undead soldier. Not the promotion he was looking for.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold and Dawnstar
Release Date: August 31, 2003 (Stormhold) and August 26, 2004 (Dawnstar)
Timeline Date: Unknown
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey was actually not the first in the Travels game created for phones. That game was predated by The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold and The Elder Scrolls: Dawnstar, but good luck telling those two games apart.
Stormhold and Dawnstar are first-person dungeon crawlers that take place in various tunnels in the towns of Stormhold and Dawnstar. The games mostly play the same and have little to no story. In Stormhold, players are a prisoner, and in Dawnstar, players have to root out a traitor in a team of local heroes. That’s it. To make matters worse, the dungeons are repetitive. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, even in the other Elder Scrolls Travels game.
While each Elder Scrolls game is a self-contained experience, they at least reference events in previous games and share a few NPCs, which is more than can be said for The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold and Dawnstar. Aside from the use of Elder Scrolls terminology such as “Magicka” and their settings, nothing connects these games to the larger Elder Scrolls canon. In fact, if it weren’t for these lipservice elements or the titles, you could probably play these games without ever realizing they took place in the world of Elder Scrolls, which makes it impossible to pinpoint where they land on the franchise’s timeline.