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The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

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Overview

Daggerfall is a computer RPG released by Bethesda Softworks in 1996. It was followed by two spin-offs; An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire and The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard, and eventually a sequel in May 2002, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion followed in 2006. The most recent game in the series, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, was released in November 2011. It received many awards including several Game of the Year awards.

The World

Daggerfall features the largest game world to date, containing 161,600 square kilometers (40,400,000 acres) of explorabale land and over 15,000 towns, cities and villages. According to Todd Howard, Morrowind’s land area is 0.01% the size of Daggerfall. This was down to an algorithm that generated terrain, which led to possibly the largest game world created. The design of the following Elder Scrolls games has been to move away from this technique and emphasis in size and instead to concentrate on detail.

The size of the world is so large that it merited a place in the Games edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, stating that the world has an estimated 63,125 square miles of land.

Features

To alleviate long wait times to travel from destination to destination in the large game world the game employs various forms of fast-travel in the game. Ships allow for free transport by sea, and ship can be accessed at any time in the inventory menu, transporting the player into the middle of the huge ocean aboard their craft. The player may also use horses, which are also accessible from the inventory menu.

Unlike in the later games, gold in Daggerfall has weight, which necessitates that players use the banking system in order to prevent their holdings from weighing them down. The bank charges 1% to take in this money, and issues letters of credit, which have negligible weight. Banks also allow the player the chance to buy property in the towns in which that particular bank is located as well as buy ships or take out loans.

Also unlike its sequel Morrowind, Daggerfall had a wall-climbing system whereby if the player was skilled enough they could scale flat mountainous surfaces. This lead to great ways to circumvent obstacles, but also could get the player stuck way too high to jump down, and it would sometimes lead to them being stuck outside of the games’ geometry. Fans of the game colloquially call this area “The Void.”

When dungeon crawling, the player is treated to large dungeons like the game world. Dungeons tend to have a certain type of enemy spawned in them, for example one place might be a den of vampires, while another will have large natural critters. As these dungeons are procedurally generated it can extended periods of time to fully explore them. Because of their procedural nature dungeons can sometimes employ a strange combination dungeon elements as they are randomly combined from various designer parts. Dungeons can have entire underwater areas, and usually have special passageways as well as secret panels that lead the player to something interesting. For some of these dungeons there is a three-dimensional dungeon auto-map built-in to assist the players.

There are several dungeons which were hand-made to provide specific traps, treasures, and encounters in service of the game’s plot. Also there are several endings based on how the player attacks the problems facing the empire.

Bugs

Adventuring on horseback.
Adventuring on horseback.

Daggerfall was infamous for its proliferation of major bugs and glitches, usually attributed to a rush to bring the game to shelves. Incredibly, there was a bug evident in the release version of the game which prevented the player from finishing the main questline. The majority of these bugs have been fixed with the final patch as well as sequential patches. However the ability to randomly fall through the floor and the occasional risk of having a save becoming corrupted still exists. There are also other bugs and exploits which still exist despite the final patch being issued, although some in the homebrew community have managed to address certain issues with later, non-official fixes.

Generally speaking, the most ruinous of bugs was the dreaded Void. Diagonal surfaces, stairs, and certain other terrain forms had clipping problems which would cause a character to fall through solid surfaces, plummeting them to their death far below in the box-like playing field that a dungeon or building resided. Players could survive this in various ways, but it was often impossible to return to a dungeon without teleportation or levitation spells.

Since the re-release of the free version no new bugs have been fixed, with the last official patch being frozen at “213.” Players are thus encouraged to save often, and in different save slots. Players can export their save folders to accommodate for new ones should they decide they want to use more than the six provided.

While not a bug, there are certain ways to ruin any chance of finishing the main quest of the game, so it’s advisable not to talk to anyone in the three main castles so as not to accidentally refuse a quest which would be necessary for the game’s completion.

Availability

Daggerfall can be acquired for free from the official Bethesda website as of 2009, along with its predecessor. It requires DOSBox to run properly on non-DOS machines, though Bethesda has included a handy install guide for those who use Windows XP and DOSBox, downloadable from the same page as their release of Daggerfall.

Gameplay

Privateer’s Hold

Priaveteer’s Hold is the beginning dungeon, and has the same layout every time one begins a game. It is considered to be a brutal starting location, especially for non-combat classes, but meta-gaming it will allow players some experimentation for character balance that will result in a much more viable character should they emerge unscathed.

The Procedurally Generated Side-Dungeons

All other non-main dungeons are procedurally generated using elements familiar to those who know Privateer’s Hold, plus many others. These dungeons are not generated in-game, but instead stored within the software, having been pre-generated procedurally when the game was first created. These labyrinths have basic laws which help players navigate them, but part of the gameplay is that one never quite knows what one will experience when one enters one of these made tangles of corridors.

Each of these dungeons have several points of interest where a quest object, such as an item, monster or person, will be spawned. These are marked in such a way that a cheat code can allow the player to transport to each of them in order to find quest objects easily. Corridors follow their own rules based upon their corridor type, so the player will have to navigate a certain style of corridor for a certain length, which may last for thousands of game steps. The procedural generation will allow for a corridor to link to another corridor or room type which lead to many cases of user confusion.

As with the points of interest mentioned above, rooms and some corridors have points where traps, usable objects, loot, and monsters may be spawned. While the contents of these spaces may change, the types won’t. The player will find monsters in monster spaces, and loot in loot spaces, even if the loot will be randomly generated when picked up. Traps are especially devious, as they may be invisible areas that cause damage, or objects that when touched damage the player character, possibly at lethal levels. The player can also encounter random sprites that activate teleportation effects, and others (i.e. levers) can be used to open locked doors and passageways.

Teleportation effects are achieved through touching special objects, entering certain zones, or entering some red-brick doorways. These teleports are always circular, meaning enough exploration will lead the player character back to where he or she started, either through the maze or through further use of teleportation objects. This might give the player access to otherwise inaccessible loot, or even points of interest.

Finally, there are secret doors, which are sometimes obvious and sometimes cleverly hidden within the texture of a given wall. The best way to find these is by checking the automap, where one can easily see doorways within rooms and hallways. Crypts are notably minor variations of this, and have a very small amount of corridors, secrets, and loot. Crypts in certain regions often fall prey to a bug where an actual door will spawn at the entrance to a dungeon, which may cause the character to spawn outside of the dungeon upon entry, and it can create large, inaccessible areas of the crypt that are whole crypt regions in and of themselves.

Overworld Locations

Towns of four sizes, homes, crypt entry locations, dungeon entry locations, witches’ covens, temples, and hermitages dot Daggerfall’s immense landmass. All but the capital of Daggerfall itself are subject to a fairly standard encounters when not on a quest: when the player rests a monster or humanoid may be randomly generated, and when manually traversing one can occasionally run into local wildlife. One cannot have random encounters when fast-traveling.

Any location with more than one building is procedurally generated, although this is usually less dramatic than the dungeons. Players will find certain building placement behaviors, like market squares, but for the most part the buildings are fairly separate and don’t face in a certain direction except perhaps in the capital cities. Occasionally there will be errors in generation, such as buildings which are on the map but do not exist, buildings which will not label themselves or don’t act as commercial buildings when labeled as such, and other anomalies.

Different regions also generate different sprites, so the more tropical home of the Redguard will have wilder flora, and in the north it is more likely to have snowy areas. The land itself is largely flat, with some bumpy 3D surfaces that can occasionally get a bit more rocky in mountainous areas. While navigating Daggerfall on foot the player may stumble upon an undiscovered site or loot.

In addition all of these, there is a corner of the map where a ship spawns if one purchases it. This ship is teleported to and exists in the middle of the ocean. Without teleporting it would take hours, perhaps days, real-time to swim back to shore from the ship. Within the ship, like houses that one purchases from the bank, one can place one’s possessions in the ship, although they must be placed on the ground, not in containers, lest they disappear.

The Void

Outside of all buildings, when one is inside them, is a place commonly called The Void. It is a black non-play area that all buildings exist in. Buildings float in the void, and each building exists in its own void (meaning buildings that are next to each other in a city are not next to each other in the void). The void would be immaterial to the game except that during certain clipping or spawning errors, players can wind up outside of a given building. The void is lethal, as the player character will fall to their death if it is entered (one is often inexplicably paralyzed just before hitting this lethal bottom area), and it is very hard to enter back into a building once exiled, unless one cheats or teleports. Levitation allows the player to move the character about, and the player will be able to see inside building segments, and stand on top of them. Entry is possible occasionally by manipulating the same clipping weaknesses that likely got the player character into the void in the first place.

Creatures, too, can wind up in the void, causing a frustrating problem if an active quest is to destroy these creatures. Creatures in the void are nigh impossible to kill without cheating or being stuck in the void too. On top of this creatures in The Void prevent a character from sleeping or being able to rest due to their proximity to the player.

Latest On The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

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