The Elder Scrolls games are immensely popular. The most recent title, Skyrim, experienced constant re-releases over its decade-long lifespan - including a moddable VR port. There aren’t many games in the main series, but there are many spinoffs and expansions throughout. Because of this, there may be some confusion on when each title takes place.
This article will take a look at all Elder Scrolls games in order chronologically. The only games that won’t be mentioned are the Travels titles, with the exception of Shadowkey, due to their nonspecific placement in the series’ timeline. Expansions will be ignored as well, due to them mostly occurring at the same time as their respective game. Each title will also be split into their respective in-game eras, in order to offer some insight on the timeline’s scope.
As an additional note, the true canonicity of each title is very loose. With mostly self-contained plots and in-game concepts like Dragon Breaks, canonicity of any Elder Scrolls spinoff - and some mainline games - can be defined by players at their leisure.
The Elder Scrolls games are separated by Eras. Each Era surrounds a major period of time in the series’ history, starting and ending with the deaths or achievements of notable royal figures. For example, the Third Era begins with Tiber Septim uniting Tamriel under his rule.
The Elder Scrolls never had a game wholly occurring in the First Era, making Elder Scrolls Online the first title in the series chronologically. It features one of the most expansive iterations of the in-game continent of Tamriel, and is the only MMO to be released under the Elder Scrolls name. Though expansions continue to be released for the title, all major events take place in the same general period of time - 2E 582.
Shortly after this period is when The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard occurs. Taking place during 2E 864, players take control of a man on a mission to find his missing sister. This game is notable for lacking many RPG elements that the series is known for, featuring a more straightforward and action-oriented plot.
This era is when Elder Scrolls officially started. Arena was the first game to ever be released in the series, and it was incredibly ambitious; the size of the world is greater than any later title, with the possible exception of Online. The player fights through numerous arenas in an attempt to recover an ancient artifact, becoming the game’s Eternal Champion by the end of the main quest. Arena takes place in 3E 389, and its story lasts through a decade of in-game time.
Shadowkey and Battlespire are spin-off titles, taking place during 3E 397 and around 3E 400, respectively. Both games are relatively unique, with Shadowkey being an N-Gage exclusive and Battlespire featuring online co-op. Neither game was very successful or well-received, but characters and locations from both games found themselves referenced in future Elder Scrolls entries.
Daggerfall takes place during 3E 405, being the last game to occur chronologically before Morrowind. It took the massive size of Arena and added even more to it, featuring numerous endings and factions players could explore. Because of later concepts and retcons, every ending in Daggerfall is canon to the series, meaning the player’s impact will be felt in future titles no matter what.
Morrowind and Oblivion were a turning point for Elder Scrolls, setting the stage for what the series would become. Morrowind takes place in 3E 427, where players assume the role of a reincarnated hero. Their goal is to save the world from a godlike being spreading disease and death throughout the land. The title gained a massive following thanks to its updated graphics and intricate mechanics, making it one of the most beloved Elder Scrolls games to this day.
Oblivion occurs a mere 6 years after Morrowind, having players battle against the demonic Daedra. The game was more streamlined and technically impressive, featuring physics and fully-voiced dialogue. Oblivion was also the first Elder Scrolls game to introduce DLC outside of expansion packs, with the infamous Horse Armor being a prime example of it. Despite not all of its additions and changes being universally praised, Oblivion was still a widely popular title with long-lasting influences on the future of Elder Scrolls games.
Though this era began with the release of Skyrim, the later-released spinoffs Legends and Blades take place at earlier points in time. The main campaign of Legends occurs in 4E 175, and Blades occurs during 4E 180. Expansions to Legends do take place during later years - namely, 4E 188 and 4E 201 - but this doesn’t cause much conflict due to the setting of Blades being relatively self-contained.
Skyrim is the latest mainline Elder Scrolls game, taking place in 4E 201 and being the last title chronologically. It’s one of the few games to feature dragons in a major role, allowing players to absorb their powers as they explore a war-torn land. Skyrim was massively successful, both due to its highly-detailed gameplay and its dedicated modding community.
The Elder Scrolls series is well-known for its vast exploration and intricate stories. Even minor titles find themselves referenced in future entries, ensuring players are able to spread their influence throughout each game. Time will tell how the events of previous games tie in with The Elder Scrolls VI, as well as how far the fans’ choices impact the new title’s story.