THE ELDER SCROLLS: ARENA / Bethesda / PC

It may seem a little strange to call The Elder Scrolls: Arena a dungeon crawl, when the vast majority of the game takes place in a massive overworld map that was tremendously bigger and more complex than anything that came before it. The game's focus is dungeons, however; specifically, eight mega-dungeons that you are tasked with locating and exploring to reconstruct a Magical Staff of Powars that must then be used to kill the Evil Foozle. The majority of the game's quests also involve finding and exploring dungeons; and even moving about and navigating the world above ground functions in a way that's much like a dungeon. Not to mention that the game starts you off in a fairly large and challenging dungeon; if you can't work your way out of it, as many players couldn't, that's just a shame for you and maybe we'll see you in another game.


Unless you like prowling dungeons for lewts and EXP, there's ultimately not a whole lot to find here. The towns are architecturally huge and complex, but you soon find that all they contain is typical Dungeon Crawlin' Adventurer services, and a shit ton of people that exist solely to point you to the next quest that takes you into a dungeon somewhere.


Now, if you DO like dungeon crawls, you owe it to yourself to check this game out. It basically runs down a pre-1994 list of daydreams that gamers had about PC RPGs, and seeks to make quite a few of those daydreams real. There's the sheer scope of the world, and how aside from the major cities and the eight main dungeons, everything else is completely randomized between games using a clever system of procedural generation. There's a very robust system of class and race, with about twenty different classes available, and home/nationality affecting both statistics and how some people in the game interact with you. To cover aforementioned massive terrain without dying of old age, you can ride a horse. There's a system by which you can create your own spells. You can actually swim and knock down/walk through walls.

The issue with the game is ultimately that it gives you a massive area to play in, but little to do except the same repetitive tasks over and over again. The only real activity besides Dungeon Crawling is to do boring fetch/delivery quests in town for tiny rewards. The story is about as threadbare as it gets. Your main character is very customizable, but has no personality whatsoever. There's no real major secondary characters except Magical Dead Chick, who only pops into your dreams to point you towards the next Staff peice when you obtain a new one, and Bad Foozle who camps out in his fortified palace the whole game with no pro-active activity against you at all.


The control system is also a bit cumbersome. The basic interface is well thought out and advanced in design for 1994, but combat is a little frustrating. The game attempts to give you a range of attacks by having you sweep and thrust using mouse motions, but it's a bit clunky and small enemies like rats are easy to lose track of underfoot. The game is also massively slow; it required an absolute beast of a PC back when it came out, and even on DOSBox on modern systems you have to spam Ctrl-F12 a dozen or so times to pump the CPU cycles up enough to make it playable.

Ultimately I felt it was a game that you want to like more than you actually do. You appreciate all the boundaries it pushes, and the neat things that it does right, but it still just doesn't have enough to offer unless you're already an established dungeon fiend. The giant universe built for this game just feels largely empty; you wish more human activity would be going on in it.


Links :

* Download link

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
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