You’ve experienced the Elder Scrolls Series in your own way, but want to learn more about its story. Well, to get to the heart of the story- you have to go back to the beginning… Ladies. Gentlemen. I have some good news, and some bad news. The bad news is there won’t be the usual TES lore episode this week. Yes, it is a sad sad occasion. All the people who would normally bring you another Elder Scrolls Lore episode have taken a holiday to celebrate the release of the Elder Scrolls Online, so instead, and this is the good news, you’ve got ME! Josh! Filling in.
By myself. Anyway, I’m kind of glad we have an off week this week because I’ve been looking to produce a special episode for you guys and girls that focuses on the Lore of the Elder Scrolls Online. Ever since ESO was initially announced, there has been a lot of confusion and general questions about how ESO fits into the big picture. This MMO is a prequel to the events in Skyrim, so it can be hard to pinpoint where on the timeline ESO stands. As a lore whore myself, I firmly believe anyone playing the Elder Scrolls Online would make their experience that much better if they only knew where on the vast timeline of Tamriel the Elder Scrolls Online takes place in. Remember, Lore gives context, and what better way to get immersed in ESO than to know where your hero fits in on the grand stage of Tamriel’s history. I’d like to take you on a journey. A journey to get to the heart of the story of ESO. But to get to the heart of this story- we’ll have to go back to the ending.
It’s only logical we start at the end of the timeline, with the Elder Scrolls game most people will be familiar with. Skyrim. Being the most recent story in the Elder Scrolls universe, Skyrim takes place in the 4th Era year 201. This is the year of the Last Dragonborn, the Dovakiin who would stop Alduin and his deadly host of fire breathing dragons. Everything you ever accomplished in Skyrim’s main story is said to have happened in this one year. Go back 200 years earlier and you’ll find a time of equal turmoil. The Oblivion Crisis. It is now the 3rd Era, year 433, and a Daedric Prince named Mehrunes Dagon, has breached the mortal realm. In his conquest of Tamriel he litters the land with terrible portals called Oblivion gates that connect his plane of Oblivion with Mundus. Out of these hellish gates pour all sorts of Daedric enemies, and our hero is charged with taking them out. Sounds awfully familiar doesn’t? Sure, they might have changed a few things up, but Zenimax Online Studios ripped their story straight from the pages of Elder Scrolls IV: OBLIVION.
Now, go back a mere 6 years, to a land that threatens to rip your heart out with its nostalgia. It is the 3rd Era year 427, and you’re alone. A prisoner on a ship bound for places unknown. You arrive in a world very unlike your own, and to make matters worse, you’re labeled an outcast, a stranger, an outlander. You are birthed into Vvardenfell kicking and screaming, and you know what else? You’re given no direction… The land, is yours to explore in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
Earlier in the 3rd Era we saw the events of Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, and even earlier still, Elder Scrolls I: Arena, where these legendary games all got started. By looking at this timeline we can see that most of our adventures in Tamriel have taken place during the 3rd Era, but did you know that the 3rd Era is the shortest of the previous eras? The 2nd Era, lasted twice as long as the 3rd Era. And this is the Era in which the Elder Scrolls MMO takes place. Approximately 948 years before the events of Skyrim, we have the events of the Elder Scrolls Online. To get some perspective, the beginning of the 2nd Era was marked with the assassination of Emperor Reman III. The Reman Dynasty had ushered in the Second Empire of Men, and now the Empire was in turmoil, with no legitimate heir to rule over it. The Emperor’s councilor, The Akaviri Potentate would rule Tamriel for the first 430 years of the 2nd Era. We look at this 430 year period, and what we see is the setup for the Elder Scrolls Online.
During this period of unstable rulership, two guilds were formed that would outlast the Empire who charted them. These two guilds have very prominent roles in ESO. The first, was the Mages Guild founded in the year 230. This guild of mystics was formed by none other than Vanus Galerion. Galerion was one of the most famous magic users in Tamriel’s history. He was the first mage to propose that magical items, potions, and even spells be available to any member of the general public, who could afford to pay. Because of the Mage’s Guild, the study of magic was no longer out of reach for the common man.
Thanks to Galerion, you will find many magic users in the Elder Scrolls Online. Some people have even said that Zenimax Online Studios had no choice but to make ESO take place after Vanus Galerion formed his Mages Guild, otherwise it wouldn’t have made much sense for there to be thousands of players running around casting spells. Oh, and one final note about Vanus Galerion. As a young mystic he studied magic alongside another High Elf. Mannimarco, the King of Worms, and antagonist in the Elder Scrolls Online. Needless to say, Galerion didn’t get along well with Mannimarco, and while Galerion looked to bring the gift of magic to the world, Mannimarco made plans to enslave it.
The second guild that was formed nearly a century later was the Fighter Guild. A guild born out of necessity. The reign of the Akaviri Potentate was a turbulent one. The citizens of Tamriel needed an organization to manage the hire of mercenaries and bodyguards, to protect their way of life in these uncertain times. The Fighters Guild would accept almost any contract, and it is no surprise that this guild of brutish killers flourished well during the 2nd Era. The Fighters Guild is yet another guild that is widespread at the time of the Elder Scrolls Online. The reign of the Akaviri Potentates ended brutally in the year 430 of the 2nd Era, and without a centralized authority ruling over Cyrodiil, the Ruby Throne sat empty- and the power vacuum left behind was enough to swallow Tamriel whole, and cast it into its very own Dark Ages. Many rulers would rise and fall during this time, but none would establish any sort of lasting empire. This time period is referred to as the “Interregnum”. “Inter” meaning “between” and “regnum” meaning “reigns”.
This. This is the setting of the Elder Scrolls Online. Cyrodiil is weak, but the bordering nations are strong. Cyrodiil, and more specifically, the Imperial City, has been the seat of power in Tamriel for millennia- meaning anyone with the means to conquer it, would try to do so. Each of the three factions vying for control of Cyrodiil have their own reasons and motivations for trying to capture the throne. But honestly, I don’t really feel like exploring these reasons and motivations. Because, let’s face it, lore-wise, these three factions are kinda bullshit. I’ll briefly touch up on this issue here, because I can’t in good faith make a lore episode about ESO without addressing the lore plot holes and inconsistencies it presents. So, if you’re a fanboy. Tune out now. You have been warned. Anyone who follows TES lore closely knows that Zenimax Online Studios has broken more than their fair share of canon lore in the pursuit of their MMO. Many of the races that have banded together to form the 3 Alliances, have really no business being allied together due to long standing grudges.
ZoS has tried their best to explain away why the Orcs would be allied with the Bretons, and why the Argonians would be allied with the Dark Elves who have enslaved the Argonians for generations. Now I don’t want anyone to mistake my dismissal of these three factions and their set-up as some sort of misguided nerd rage. This might come as a surprise to you, but personally, I am okay with the 3 faction set-up in this MMO. I’m a firm believer that lore exists to serve the game and its mechanics, not the other way around.
If Zenimax wants to artificially combine the mortal races into 3 fractions for the sake of a better PvP experience, more power to them- I think we can all agree though, it could have been done more eloquently. My problem with Zenimax doesn’t extend from their habit of breaking lore for the sake of a better game, it comes from their habit of breaking lore for no good reason. There are two cases of this I would like to briefly highlight here, then we can move on: 1. The Jungles of Cyrodiil. In the Elder Scrolls Online you will walk across the forests and plains of Cyrodiil, but just know that they weren’t supposed to be that way in this time period. Cyrodiil was originally a jungle Province, which has been confirmed time and time again in many in-game books and even by in-game characters. It wasn’t until Talos Stormcrown remade Cyrodiil through CHIM that Cyrodiil became the Province we knew in Oblivion. Zenimax has explained away this mistake by trying to convince the lore community that those in-game books were subject to “transcription error”, it is basically their way of covering it up, but not many people are buying it.
2. Any race. Any alliance. No matter your position on Zenimax’s pre-order bonuses, you should know this, they shot themselves in the foot lore-wise when they introduced it. When Zenimax first featured the 3 Alliances on their website, they included a document for each alliance convincing people to join up. The Aldmeri Dominion decree, written by Queen Ayrenn: “Your Queen Commands… I have no hatred for the races of Man, but they are young. Like all children, they are driven by emotion. They lack the wisdom that comes with age. I would sooner place an Altmer infant on the Ruby Throne than surrender Tamriel to their capricious whims.” Clearly, by this text, Queen Ayrenn doesn’t want to see a human Man sitting upon the Ruby Throne. Then, pre-order bonuses are announced, and suddenly you can join the Aldmeri Dominion as an Imperial or Nord. Now, the Aldmeri Dominion are crowning human Emperors left and right. Elven cities are packed with the races of Men, and the Aldmeri Dominion has lost all identity, and for me, all credibility. What are they fighting for? No one knows. So when I say that I don’t want to talk about the lore of the factions in ESO you know why.
It’s kind of a mess. Okay, moving on from that depressing note, there is one more thing on the Elder Scrolls timeline I would like to highlight. One more thing that will give us complete perspective on the time period ESO takes place in. 248 years after the events of the Elder Scrolls Online a child is born who will bring about the end of the Interregnum. The Nords called him Talos, and it was only with his arrival on Tamriel that the mortal races were brought to heel. Elves, Men, and Beast- none were spared his unification of Tamriel. Regardless of the victories or losses you will experience in ESO, it all ends when Talos Stormcrown names himself Emperor Tiber Septim, declaring the end of the 2nd Era and the dawn of his 3rd Era.
The Imperials become the authors of history, and the alliances of Pact, Dominion, and Daggerfall fall into obscurity, which begs an interesting question. If the events of the Elder Scrolls Online takes place before titles such as Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim- how do we go about explaining the fact that the faction wars and Molag Bal’s invasion of Tamriel, is inexplicably missing from the written history books? So the question is this; will Elder Scrolls VI embrace ESO and add new books into their game detailing the heroics of the factions wars? This would surely be fairly easy to do, but I think Bethesda has another option, or another direction they could take it in. Let’s go back in time to The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. In this game Bethesda wanted to give the player the option for multiple endings. Rather than choose one specific ending as “canon”, Bethesda canonized all the endings and made them all valid by introducing the concept of the Dragon Break. A Dragon Break, for those who aren’t familiar, is a massive event that involves breaking time itself. It splits the natural timeline which results in branching parallel realities. A Dragon Break could explain why the First Aldmeri Dominion was formed centuries before we originally thought.
It could explain why we see no mention of a Ebonheart Pact or Daggerfall Covenant in the history books. A Dragon Break has the power to make events occur differently, or not at all, and it could give Zenimax a license to do whatever the hell they want with ESO without screwing with The Elder Scrolls VI. Needless to say, I’m an advocate of the Dragon Break theory, but I’m interested in hearing what you guys think, especially you lore buffs out there. Ladies and gentlemen I would like to leave you with this. My best wishes for all your adventures in the Elder Scrolls Online. But remember. Whether you pledge your allegiance to the Pact, Dominion, or Covenant- look to history. The Aldmeri Dominion is the only faction that stands the test of time.
Yes, Skyrim takes place in the 4th Era and those Elven supremacists are still kicking. Seriously though, don’t forget to tune back in in two weeks when the rest of the team is back and we explore the story of Molag Bal. Until next time, I’ve been Josh- we’ll catch you later..
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