The Elder Scrolls: Arena

21Much like Origin’s Ultima Underworld, Arena is a first-person role-playing game with a heavy bent on dungeon crawls. But unlike Ultima Underworld, Arena doesn’t limit your exploration to underground dungeons. There’s an entire world to explore, with myriad villages, cities and dungeons (of course) awaiting you, all rendered in smooth-scrolling 3D. You can walk around cities during the day and chat up with the locals, ask them for directions to the nearest inn, or if they’ve heard any latest rumors.

As with all Elder Scrolls games, Arena had some of the best graphics of its time, comparable in many respects to those of Ultima Underworld (but much more diverse since it could render outdoor areas). You have a believable day-night cycle, with lamps illuminating city streets at night. Weather effects like snow, rain or fog hamper your visibility when traversing the countryside, but really they are there to give the game a nice atmospheric touch.

Arena’s storyline is good but altogether not quite on par with recent arrivals like Betrayal at Krondor or Ultima VII. The Emperor’s advisor turned traitor. Jager Tharn, has imprisoned him in another dimension and it’s up to you to stop him by finding and reassembling the fabled Staff of Chaos. The Staff has been broken up and spread all over the world, so finding the pieces is no small feat.You’re thrown into a jail cell and left to rot by this unsavory fellow, but thankfully escape and begin your very long quest to rescue the Emperor.

All of this is standard fantasy fare, but at least it’s very well implemented. Bethesda has created a unique magic system and new character classes, though you can choose your character from heroic professions like knights and rangers, you can also play an assassin and successfully complete the game. There are several classes of mages as well, like the Spellsword or Battlemage. You can buy spells or have fun creating your own at the Mage’s Guild.

0Ironically, Arena suffers the same sort of pitfalls of almost every other Elder Scrolls game – it’s just too big for its own good. After a time you just go through the motions, ransack dungeons, grab stuff and head back to town to sell them. It’s a fun process, of course, but once you’ve cleared say, 50% of the world’s dungeons, you pretty much know what to expect from the other 50%. But as a whole there’s no denying that Bethesda has created a real winner with Arena, not to mention a memorable RPG series.

System Requirements: 80486DX2 CPU, 8 MB RAM, DOS 5.0

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