Putting the Elder Scrolls Online story into context

Bethesda has revealed the story of its upcoming Massive-Multi-player game.

We’d heard little about what the new The Elder Scrolls Online would be about before last week, but now the official website is up, and the story of the highly-anticipated game has been revealed.

“It is a time of strife and unrest.” says the synopsis on the new site, “Armies of revenants and dark spirits manifest in every corner of Tamriel. Winters grow colder and crops fail. Mystics are plagued by nightmares and portents of doom.

 “Four years ago, in 2E 578, an arcane explosion of energy in the Imperial City set off mystical aftershocks that swept across Nirn. Mages died or went mad. Supernatural abominations from the plane of Oblivion, the Daedra, appeared in greater numbers than ever before. The constellation of the Serpent grew so large that it dominated the night sky.”

That date likely doesn’t mean much to a player who hasn’t steeped themselves in the lore, so let’s put it into context. The first four The Elder Scrolls adventure games all take place in the Third Era of Tamriel, an era that runs about 430 years, and is defined by a line of emperors who rule from Cyrodiil and descend from the Dragonborn Emperor, and ninth divine, Tiber “Talos” Septim. That era ends with the events in the conclusion of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Then The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim takes place about 200 years into the Fifth Era.

Meaning, The Elder Scrolls Online takes place 582 years into the Second Era, which lasted about 900 years and was defined by two periods. For the first 400 years or so Tamriel was ruled by the Akaviri Potentates, a government formed by a race of men who came to Tamriel from the same distant lands as the first men did and who had conquered the Imperials in Cyrodil, who had built and ruled from the White-Gold Tower in the Imperial City through the last part of the First Era.

After the Akaviri Potentate was brought down, there followed about 500 years of strife and frequent wars, in which the White-Gold Tower changed hands frequently, a time of chaos called the Interregnum, which only ended when Tiber Septim brought the last of Tamriel under his control beginning with the Battle of SancreTor, and soon ending the Second Era. The Elder Scrolls online takes place during that time of unrest, only a few years after the last attempt by the Akaviri to retake the continent was fended off at Red Mountain.

More clearly: the massive game will take place 800 years before the events of Skyrim. That’s about 300 years before the Battle of Sancre Tor, and 2900 years after the disappearance of the Dwemer. The closest The Elder Scrolls game to it in time is the small side-game The Elder Scrolls: Redguard Adventures, which takes place around the time Talos was born.

“The Interregnum is perfect:” says The Elder Scrolls Loremaster Lawrence Schick. “The nine classical provinces of the Empire exist as established under Reman, and the cultures of their inhabitants have evolved enough to become the ones we’re familiar with. However, in between the Second and Third Empires there’s no strong central authority in Tamriel, and each race has the freedom to choose its own destiny. The ‘Emperors’ who sit on the Ruby Throne have no power beyond the bounds of the central province of Cyrodiil, and often not even beyond the walls of the Imperial City. Most of these Emperors have reigns so brief their names aren’t even recorded in history.”

The disaster in the Imperial Province of Cyrodiil is the apparent machination of Molag Bal, the same Daedric prince who was behind much of the villainy in Oblivion. Just as he will hundreds of year later, he is trying, through his corporeal representatives, to merge the physical plane with the plane of Oblivion, bringing it under his rule.

The people of Tamriel have to rise up and fend off this menace by defeating the monsters and demons that emerge from the gates to Oblivion, but at the same time, the major powers of the land are vying to control the Empire. Three main factions have formed, The Daggerfall Covenant, The Aldmeri Dominion, and The Ebonheart Pact. Each player will have to choose one of these factions, and is then restricted to the races within that faction.

The Daggerfall Covenant comprises High Rock, Hammerfell, and Orisinium, making the racial choices Breton, Redguard, or Orc. The Ebonheart Pact comprises Black Marsh, Morrowind, and Skyrim, making the racial choices Argonian, Dunmer, and Nord. The Aldmeri Dominion comprises Valenwood, Summerset, and Elsweyr, making the racial choices Altmer, Bosmer, or Kajit. Though each race will still have its own individual strengths, it seems that each faction will have one race each that is focused on combat, one on magic, and one on stealth, the three major lines of character development in all of the single-player The Elder Scrolls games.

These factions are all fighting the forces of Molag Bal, but they are also fighting for the right to rule Tamriel, and as the game runs, the throne will change hands frequently. The entire game takes place in Cyrodiil, where the factions are battling for control of each city and fortress and the White-Gold Tower itself, though characters will begin in small areas that represent their cultural homes.

“The drums of war have reached a fever pitch, calling the warriors of Tamriel to the field of battle.  The Daggerfall Covenant, the Ebonheart Pact, and the Aldmeri Dominion will take up arms and fight for control of Cyrodiil, the Imperial City, and the throne of Tamriel,” says the official description.

The Elder Scrolls Online is currently in development, and no release date has yet been announced beyond a plan to have it ready in 2013.