The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
|The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall|
North American cover art by Louise Sandoval
|Artist(s)||Mark K. Jones|
|Series||The Elder Scrolls|
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is an open-world action role-playing video game developed and published by Bethesda Softworks. The sequel to The Elder Scrolls: Arena and the second installment in the Elder Scrolls series, it was released on September 20, 1996 for MS-DOS. On July 9, 2009, the game was made available as a free, legal download on Bethesda's website to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of The Elder Scrolls franchise.
In Daggerfall, as in all The Elder Scrolls games, players are not required to follow questlines or fill specific character types. Bethesda Softworks claims that the scale of the game is the size of Great Britain: around 229,848 square kilometers (88,745 square miles), though the actual size of the map is 161,600 km² (62,394 mi²). The game world features over 15,000 towns, cities, villages, and dungeons for the player's character to explore. According to Todd Howard, game director and executive producer for Bethesda, the game's sequel, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, is 0.01% the size of Daggerfall, but some aspects of Daggerfall's terrain were randomly generated, like the wilderness and some building interiors. The explorable part of Morrowind, Vvardenfell, is 24 km² (9.3 mi²). There are 750,000+ non-player characters (NPCs) for the player to interact with.
Daggerfall features a spell-creation system where, through the Mages Guild, players can create custom spells with several different effects. The game will then automatically generate the magicka cost of the spell based on the power of the effects chosen. Other features include an equipment enchantment system (similar in concept to the spell creation system); the ability to buy houses and ships; a variety of clothing and equipment; dynamic political relationships between kingdoms; the ability to become a vampire, werewolf, or wereboar; and the combat system, which uses mouse movement to determine the direction and effect of weapon swings in melee combat.
The political system is supported by a net of guilds, orders, and religions, all with unique tasks and quests. Joining and contributing to these organizations allow the player to raise ranks and gain a reputation in the game world, which affects how NPCs and other factions view the player. Daggerfall has genre-typical gore elements and some sexual topics. It displays cartoonish nudity including male and female genital areas when all equipment is removed. The game installer includes a password-protected childgard feature that hides blood and corpses (instead showing just the skeleton of the corpse), disables sexual topics (though not removing all nudity), and ensures the character portrait is wearing underwear at all times.
Daggerfall, like the other games in The Elder Scrolls series, takes place on the fictional continent of Tamriel. In Daggerfall, the player may travel within the High Rock and Hammerfell provinces of Tamriel. A wide range of formidable enemies, the strongest of which are the demonic Daedra, make the journey through these realms difficult. An automap was implemented to help players navigate through the lengthy tombs and ancient underground fortresses. Players have to visit approximately 6-8 areas in order to finish the game, although a total of 47 areas are present. A limited array of building blocks were used to build the towns and dungeons, causing some reviewers to complain about the game's monotony. In 2002, Morrowind, the third game in the series, responded to this issue with a smaller, more detailed world containing unique-looking cities and NPCs with greater individuality.
Daggerfall is set in the Iliac Bay, between the provinces of High Rock and Hammerfell. The player is sent here at the personal request of the Emperor. He wants the player to do two things: First, the player must free the ghost of King Lysandus from his earthly shackles; Second, the player must discover what happened to a letter from the Emperor to the former queen of Daggerfall. The letter reveals that Lysandus's mother, Nulfaga, knows the location of the Mantella, the key to resurrecting the first Numidium, a powerful brass golem. The emperor wants his spy to force Nulfaga into revealing the location of the Mantella so that the Blades can finish the reconstruction of the Numidium. Through a series of mishaps and confusions the letter fell into the hands of an orc by the name of Gortworg. Not knowing what the Mantella is, Gortworg consults Mannimarco, the King of Worms (the leader of the Necromancers). During this time the Underking, who originally destroyed the first Numidium because of its misuse by Tiber Septim, is recuperating deep within a tomb of High Rock after expending so much energy destroying it the first time. In order for the player to give the Mantella to anyone, the player must kill King Lysandus's murderer and put his ghost to rest. After accomplishing this, the player must steal the totem of Tiber Septim from King Gothryd of Daggerfall, and free the Mantella from its prison in Aetherius. Following this the player has six choices of how to deal with the Mantella.
Daggerfall has six endings:
- If the player activates the Mantella himself while in possession of the totem (the controlling device of the Numidium), the Numidium will slay the player, go out of control, and be destroyed by Imperial forces. Although this was listed as a possible ending on the Elder Scrolls official website during the 10th anniversary of the series, there doesn't appear to be any possible way to achieve this ending because the player cannot retrieve the Mantella without giving the totem to one of the major powers first. This ending is possibly just a rumor which even staff of Bethesda that did not work on the development of Daggerfall were led to believe was true. It is possible to achieve this ending through hacking of game files. However, the end result is unfinished and nearly unplayable due to bugs.
- If the player gives the Mantella to the Underking, he absorbs its power, passes into eternal rest, and creates a large "magicka free" area around himself.
- If Gortworg is victorious, he uses the Numidium to destroy the Imperial forces and the "Bay Kings", the rulers of the several provinces of the Iliac Bay. The Underking arrives shortly thereafter to destroy the first Numidium once and for all, losing his own life in the process. Gortworg then succeeds in creating Orsinium, a kingdom of Orcs.
- If the Blades are victorious, they succeed in recreating the first Numidium and use it to defeat the Bay Kings and the Orcs as well as unite all the provinces of Tamriel under the empire once again.
- If any of the Bay Kings win, that king will use the first Numidium to defeat all the other kings just before the Underking destroys him and itself.
- If Mannimarco receives the Mantella, he uses it to make himself a god.
Work on The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall began immediately after Arena's release in March 1994. The project saw Ted Peterson assigned the role of lead game designer. Originally titled Mournhold and set in Morrowind, the game was eventually relocated to the provinces of High Rock and Hammerfell, in Tamriel's northwest.
By mid-1994 Daggerfall was the new name. Developers at first planned to connect it with Arena and one or two more games as done with Might and Magic: World of Xeen, but Arena's experience-point based system was replaced with one that rewarded the player for actually role-playing their character. Daggerfall came equipped with an improved character generation engine, one that included not only Arena's basic class choices, but also a GURPS-influenced class creation system, offering players the chance to create their own classes, and assign their own skills.
Daggerfall was initially developed with an updated 2.5D raycast engine, like the Doom engine, but it was eventually dropped in favor of XnGine, one of the first truly 3D engines. Daggerfall realized a gameworld of 160,000 square km, filled with 15,000 towns and a population of 750,000.
Daggerfall, in Peterson's opinion, was little-influenced by contemporary video games, as they simply "weren't very interesting." "I can remember playing the latest King's Quest, Doom, and Sam & Max Hit the Road while working on it, but I can't say they had any profound impact on the story or design." Daggerfall's most profound influences came from whatever analog games and literature Julian LeFay or Ted Peterson happened to be playing or reading at the time, such as Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask, which influenced "the quest where the player had to find the missing Prince of Sentinel," and Vampire: The Masquerade, which influenced "the idea of vampire tribes throughout the region."
Daggerfall was completed on August 31, 1996, almost three years after production began. It was released on September 20, within the game's intended release window. Like that of Arena, Daggerfall's release suffered from buggy code. It was patchable code, however, a fact that nonetheless left consumers disgruntled. The yearning to avoid what were, in LeFay's words, "all the stupid patches we had for Daggerfall" led to a more cautious release schedule in the future. Ted Peterson left Bethesda following Daggerfall's release and went to work for a series of companies in Los Angeles and San Francisco: Film Roman, AnyRiver Entertainment, Activision, and Savage Entertainment.
Although Daggerfall did not come with official modding tools like later The Elder Scrolls releases, enthusiasts for the game developed tools on their own to access the game's content soon after its release; as a result, a number of additional quests, graphical enhancements, and gameplay features were developed by third parties. Notable works include AndyFall and DaedraFall.
After the end of official support by Bethesda, some mod makers have repaired bugs in the latest official release of Daggerfall with community patches or engine remakes. The DFQFIX quest-fix pack and HackFall were the most recent attempts at this. DaggerfallSetup is a community-made Daggerfall installer for modern Windows versions. The aim of this project is to install and easily run a fully patched Daggerfall on a modern Windows operating system under usage of the DOSBox emulator. This game installer setup contains many official and unofficial patches and also fan translations for several languages, including French, Russian, Spanish, and German.
There are also fan-made game engine rewrite projects for Daggerfall, which aim for native compatibility with modern operating systems and hardware (as opposed to being run in DOS, or through DOSBox). The XL Engine was started in June 2009 named DaggerXL and merged in 2011 with another engine rewrite project to the XL Engine. As a result of the merger a significant amount of the project's development since 2011 has involved the refactoring of the XL Engine itself. The final goal of the XL Engine is the support of many classical 3D game engines. Additional goals – for Daggerfall specifically – include the implementation of features that were initially promised for the game, but were not included (or only partially coded in) at the time of its release in 1996. As of August 2012, DaggerXL supports character creation, the rendering of all provinces and dungeons, user-definable display resolution (including smoothed terrain and Bloom), and basic gameplay. In April 2018 the XL Engine's source code was released under MIT license on GitHub.
Daggerfall Unity is another open-source recreation of Daggerfall using the Unity game engine with active development as of August, 2019. In July, the first Alpha release has been made available for download on the project's official website; unlike DaggerXL, Daggerfall Unity is now playable from start to finish with all the core features of the original Daggerfall.
For Daggerfall's launch on September 20, shipments of around 120,000 copies were delivered to stores. The game surpassed Bethesda's internal estimates and became an immediate hit: more than 100,000 copies were sold within two days of release. As a result, supplies were depleted at many retailers. While a second printing of Daggerfall was shipped on September 24, Next Generation reported at the time that "this shipment is expected to be considerably smaller than the first due to production limitations." In the United States, the game debuted in fourth place on PC Data's monthly computer game sales chart for September 1996. It secured sixth place the following month, before dropping to position 16 in November.
Daggerfall was met with critical acclaim, surpassing its predecessor in Game of the Year Awards. It was named the best computer role-playing game (CRPG) of 1996 by Computer Gaming World and PC Gamer US, and won the Spotlight Award for "Adventure/RPG Game of the Year" from the Game Developers Conference. It was also nominated as the year's best CRPG by GameSpot and Computer Games Strategy Plus, but lost both awards to Diablo. The editors of Computer Gaming World summarized that the game "is not perfect, but it is revolutionary."
Reviewing the game in PC Gamer US, Michael Wolf hailed it as "about as close to reality (or is that fantasy?) as you can get in a computer game". Although he criticized its bugs and writing mistakes, he summarized Daggerfall as "one of the most realistic, involved, and impressive RPGs on the market". Prior to the game's release, Computer Gaming World ranked it as the eighth top vaporware title in computer game history. The editors wrote, "Featuritis and creeping technology held up this potential jewel for far too long." Despite their frustration with the delay, the publication later awarded the game 4.5/5.
In PC Magazine, Michael E. Ryan called it "revolutionary" and wrote that it "may be the best RPG since Origin's Ultima IV". Like Wolf, he found fault with the game's bugs, the number of which he said "shocked" the magazine's staff. Despite these issues, Ryan remarked that the staff became "hopelessly addicted to Daggerfall's endless possibilities and game play." A reviewer for Next Generation wrote that Daggerfall "comes as close as anything ever has" to simulating real life, and that the long wait for the game was "hands down, worth it." James Flynn of PC Gamer UK praised the game's size, depth and role-playing mechanics, but qualified that it is "very, very slow" and "as large and detailed as a game could ever become without collapsing under its own weight." He argued that the game's biggest flaw is its visuals, and wrote, "With all the kit available to programmers and artists today, quite how they've managed to produce such an ugly grey look with Spectrumª fonts is a mystery."
Andy Backer of Computer Games Strategy Plus called Daggerfall "a flawed masterpiece", noting that bugs held it back from perfection. However, he wrote that it "may be the best CRPG of all time", as well as "the best CRPG of the year, period". In PC Zone, Charlie Brooker called the game's core concept of simulating a virtual world "a sound one", and he suggested that Daggerfall could have succeeded as a MUD. However, he believed that the game was a failed experiment, as contemporary technology could not generate a sufficiently interesting single-player world. Brooker argued, "What's the point in being able to go where you like and do what you want if none of it's as interesting as real life?"
Game Revolution's review of the game described it as "easily the RPG of the year" and "one of the BEST roleplaying games in history (so far)". Writing for GameSpot in 1996, Trent Walker opined that Bethesda "has finally returned to the RPGs of the old school and created an adventure that will take even the most experienced gamer months to unravel."  PC Gamer Magazine ranked Daggerfall among their list of 'The Most Ambitious PC Games'.
In 1997, the editors of PC Gamer US named Daggerfall the 50th best game of all time, while those of PC Gamer UK placed it a No. 33 on their list. The former publication hailed it as "a superlative RPG", but again criticized its numerous bugs; the latter called it "so vastly massive that it threatens to collapse under its own gargantuan weight".
Media Technology Limited, Bethesda Softworks' parent company, brought a libel suit against U.S. senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl for comments they made about Daggerfall's appropriateness for children. Lieberman and Kohl characterized the suit as a publicity stunt intended to boost holiday sales of Daggerfall.
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