The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall (1996)


If there's ever been a game I've felt intimidated by, it's the second entry in the Elder Scrolls saga. There where Arena was huge, Daggerfall flies past it by being gargantuan in every way possible: it just simply has more of everything. The province of Daggerfall alone is speckled with hundreds of locations to visit. In fact, Daggerfall might be, even today, the biggest game that has ever been made, not counting space sims like Elite, as Bethesda claims that the land mass alone covers around the size of Great Britain and it has over 15 000 towns, cities, villages and dungeons. To fill that space Daggerfall also has over 200 different kinds of mission types for you to tackle. You can get missions from the guilds, shopkeepers, innkeepers and what not.

World map of Daggerfall. Each of those areas border lined in yellow can be opened up to reveal a lot more locations you can visit.
In a word, Daggerfall has so much stuff that, if not counting the main plot, your way through the game will be reasonably unique. But that size is also daunting. While I like Daggerfall more than I like Arena, as it's technically a far better game, every time I start playing it I feel a bit crushed by it. As much as I want to play it, I just stop, as the scale of it feels too much.

What nicely emphasizes this more, is the dungeons system, or better yet the maps of the dungeons. This time around the dungeons really sprawl up and down. There's no special staircase that takes you to a next level: you physically walk stairs and slopes that take you to different levels, but this also makes getting lost easy, as the dungeon map isn't the easiest thing in the world to read.  Luckily this time around, unlike Arena, the game has a teleport spell that can be used to get out quick. Small blessings and all that.

On the left: a city map, which is easy enough to read. On the right a 3D dungeon map, which gets more and more complex the further you explore a dungeon.
But then again, the dungeons are big. And every time you exit them, the monsters respawn. And to add insult to injury, you also lose the map progression you've made, so you'll need to remap every square inch of the dungeon again. All things considering though, that would be just stupid, so each dungeon is best treated as quick in-out adventures, if possible.

Both Arena and Daggerfall, are interesting examples of how ambitious Bethesda was with Elder Scrolls series right from the start. Or perhaps it's a good example of how you can get hungrier while eating. That hunger culminated with Daggerfall and its own kind of insanity with areas filled with locations no player could ever hope to visit even if they'd spent their time doing nothing else but playing Daggerfall. And even if they'd be able to do so, there's no snowball chance in hell that they would be able to actually explore every nook and cranny of the world.

This monstrosity is just one little area of the main map, the Daggerfall province itself. Each of those little dots is a location you can visit: towns, cities, dungeons, temples and homes. I'd guess Daggerfall would a nightmare for anyone with OCD regarding trying to see all there's to see in a game.
People sometimes get carried away with open world games and they start wishing, that the game just would have more of everything. And Daggerfall just is a far too good example of a game that has far too much of everything. It has so much stuff in it, that to actually play it feels like an insurmountable task.  When you look at the game map and the locations it has, and it actually has even more than you can see in the first place, as it has hidden locations you can reach only if you locate map or get the location info from someone, it just starts to feel like a game that would be too much like work to play instead of fun.

Granted, at least as far I can tell from walkthroughs and FAQ's, the actual main plot missions for the game are relatively few, considering a number of locations in the game. But just as it is easy to forget the game objective for hours on end in the more modest sized Skyrim or Oblivion, it's positively easy to just let the main plot drown in Daggerfall.  As such Daggerfall is a game that is not only suggesting that you keep game notes outside the in-game notebook, but be methodical with them as well. The games own log gets just far too messy far too quickly and as it has no search functions, finding the right info from there is just yet another hassle.

Dungeon crawling. While the dungeons do have different kinds of wall textures, something like this is a pretty common sight.
I'm sure that Daggerfall is a fitting game for a very specific type of gamers, who revel in the fact that there's a possibility to get lost in the game world. Someone could even call that being immersed inside the game. But personally, I know I'm not that guy. In fact, I can with certainty say, that Daggerfall will always be a game that I won't be completing, ever. Not only is the scale of it far too much for me, it has design issues that greatly diminish the appeal of it in my eyes.

Not only is there the mapping issues with disappearing map data, but also the way the maps have been constructed. On many dungeons, the sloping pathways to different levels blend far too much to walls, as they seem to be almost 90-degree pathways, which you can for some reason scale upwards.  Also, and this is a given considering how old the game is, the dungeons themselves have a fairly sparse amount of landmarks. There are some objects here and there, but nothing major that would really aid the navigation.

City in the rain and a wilderness by day.
As I said though, the biggest issue I really have with the game is its size. It is atmospheric enough and for an old 3D game it also plays well enough, especially if you bother to re-bind the keys. I think as a game Arena is easier to approach, as despite it at first looks complex, it really is not that at all. Daggerfall, on the other hand, drowns in its own complexity and it really does bring far too much everything to the table, be it randomly generated missions or just the sheer scope of the world. And let's be honest here, most of that world is pretty boring, as it is procedurally generated in most cases.

Daggerfall is more interesting as an old tech demo, a bit like Arena is as well. With them, Bethesda did interesting experimentation with open world games and really pushed what was possible with the tech of the era. But it really isn't the easiest game to approach.

If you want Daggerfall you can get it free from Bethesda or if you buy their games from GOG, it's included as a freebie.

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