It’s easy to forget that Skyrim, with its massive popularity and numerous ports, wasn’t the first Elder Scrolls game. It’s only the latest in a long line of huge roleplaying adventures, some of which feature worlds many times its size. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, originally released in 1996, is one of Skyrim’s big brothers in terms of both age and scope. One developer is currently undertaking the monumental task of remaking it in the Unity game engine.
For years, the only way to play The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall on a modern PC has been through DOSBox, a program that emulates the pre-Windows MS-DOS operating system. It’s generally pretty easy to set up thanks to Bethesda providing a free download since 2009, but Daggerfall itself, with its mouse-controlled movement and antiquated graphics, is certainly starting to show its age.
That said, the game is still a technical marvel due to the immensity of its 161,600 square kilometre game world, which dwarfs Skyrim and takes over 60 hours to cross on foot.
Work on the Unity remake, Daggerfall Unity, began back in 2014, but developer Gavin “Interkarma” Clayton first started experimenting with the old-school game over a decade prior, “picking apart the Daggerfall files and rendering them in a 3D engine” before moving on to various other projects.
In 2015, Clayton released Daggerfall Tools for Unity, a collection of development tools that allowed users to tinker around with Daggerfall assets in a Unity environment. These were very much just “raw building blocks,” but Clayton soon started on a real deal Daggerfall remake.
Although Daggerfall Unity has been in a playable state since October 2015, yesterday Clayton released the first alpha build, which makes Daggerfall playable from start to finish in Unity. Apart from graphical improvements like widescreen and high-resolution textures, Daggerfall Unity also includes quite a few gameplay enhancements.
Movement, which was once handled entirely by the mouse, is now attached to the more intuitive WASD control scheme, freeing up the mouse for looking around with the camera. Where players once attacked by swinging the mouse as if it was the sword or axe in the character’s hand, there’s now an option where a single click of the right mouse button initiates an attack instead.
Additional quality of life changes include options to switch the colours of the health and stamina bars — green and red, respectively — to match modern sensibilities and the ability to skip the starting tutorial dungeon. These changes provide an experience that is both nostalgic for the original Daggerfall and refreshing in the way they rejuvenate an ageing favourite.
“In some ways alpha doesn’t feel like a big deal,” Clayton wrote on the Daggerfall Unity blog. “We were almost there in June with only a single enchantment effect and a couple of artifact effects remaining. But emotionally I feel that reaching this point really is a huge milestone. It represents the final stages of development are here at long last.”
Daggerfall Unity will remain in alpha as Clayton continues “patching logic errors, polishing systems, and gradually iterating over the game,” but players can check out his progress in the meantime.