Fallout Is a Hit on Amazon, but Don’t Hold Your Breath for Skyrim

Don’t look for Tamriel on your TV.

key art from The Elder Scrolls Online
ZeniMax Media

Amazon’s Fallout TV show premiered on Wednesday, after the company’s unorthodox decision to shift its debut up by two days. That seems to be working out for Prime Video, as the show’s first season immediately reached critical acclaim. That’s naturally led some to ask whether Bethesda, developer of the Fallout games, will cash in on this opportunity by licensing out the rights to its other most popular titles. Yet somewhat surprisingly, studio director Todd Howard shot down any notion that the developer’s other massively popular RPG series is getting an adaptation of its own.

“There's nothing in the works,” Todd Howard told IGN when asked whether Bethesda’s other games could get TV adaptations. “Everybody asks about Elder Scrolls, and I keep saying no.”

Amazon’s Fallout TV series is a hit, but it may not lead to more Bethesda adaptations.


Granted, that answer could change at any moment. “This is something that I said no to for like, a decade,” Howard said about the Fallout show, but he changed his mind upon meeting writer and director Jonathan Nolan, known for his work on sci-fi TV series Westworld and writing for his brother, Christopher Nolan, on films like The Dark Knight. Howard described it to Inverse’s Shannon Liao as, “It was like I had known him my whole life.” But until Howard meets the right creative partner to bring another adaptation to life, we’re in agreement — an Elder Scrolls TV show would be a terrible idea.

The Fallout games tell a series of disconnected stories set around the post-apocalyptic U.S., but despite focuses on different characters and locations, there’s still a consistent narrative running through them. The history of the Vault-Tec corporation, the true nature of the vaults, and the rise and fall of various societies in the wasteland form a thread linking each disparate entry of the series and provide a fertile background for the TV series to expand on.

That’s not the case with The Elder Scrolls. Where Fallout spans decades, The Elder Scrolls spans centuries. Rather than a parody of retrofuturism, its setting is high fantasy, with prophecies, the lives of gods, and the fate of an empire as the only narrative elements that remain consistent throughout each entry. Even before its release, it wasn’t hard to imagine what a Fallout series would look like. Vast deserts, mutated ghouls, the iconic blue-and-yellow vaulter suit, a pitch-black sense of humor — these are the building blocks of Fallout. But what does an Elder Scrolls series look like?

The best parts of The Elder Scrolls are too weird and player-driven for a TV show to capture.


From one entry to another, the Elder Scrolls games change drastically. One is about a prisoner fulfilling a prophecy to slay a god, another about a wanderer inheriting the power of dragons. They may all be set on the continent of Tamriel, but even the region changes every time, from the forests of giant mushrooms in Morrowind to the snowy peaks of Skyrim. Compared to Fallout, The Elder Scrolls is just too vast and varied to have a single visual or narrative style that’s easily translated to TV.

Elder Scrolls’ lore is a mess. Important elements of the setting — from the history of its various intelligence species to the nature of reality itself — changes from game to game. That’s partly by design, showing how contradictory accounts feed into different groups’ perception of the world, and partly because keeping a coherent story intact over decades and multiple development teams is just hard. But Elder Scrolls fans embrace that chaos in the form of voluminous fan fiction and theories attempting to tie everything together. The most concrete knowledge that exists in the setting comes from the many hundreds of readable books scattered throughout the games, but even they contradict each other. There are fascinating stories to be found everywhere throughout Tamriel. Tracking them down and piecing together a personal understanding is one of the series’ main appeals.

But that wouldn’t work in a TV show. Or at least, it likely wouldn’t survive into a show being distributed by a major network for a mass audience. Viewers without years of familiarity with The Elder Scrolls would understandably want to know what the hell is going on in the big-picture sense, and that’s just not something that the games deliver.

Even the most recognizable Elder Scrolls game doesn’t have a TV-ready plot.


What would almost certainly be left over once TV writers consolidated The Elder Scrolls lore into a consistent, digestible format would be a fairly generic fantasy show. We’d get a few lizard-folk and cat people as visible symbols, and probably a few scenes amongst the bogs of Morrowind with the towering insectoid silt striders roaming past for flavor. There would be a reference to the Dovahkiin (or perhaps the show would be based on Skyrim, the series’ most popular entry), but otherwise, we would very likely be left with a Game of Thrones imitator.

The biggest problem, though, is that where Fallout is a series about the societies that rise in the wasteland and the interesting characters who inhabit them, The Elder Scrolls is mostly about a one wanderer on a journey of discovery. The joy of spending time in Tamriel isn’t getting to know the various factions and people that populate it, it’s walking the continent from end to end, discovering caves and treasures along the way. It’s also about crafting broken spells that let you run amok in towns and juicing your stats enough to fight dragons with your bare fists. Everything that makes The Elder Scrolls a great game series emerges from play, and that’s something that only an interactive medium can offer.

At least in the short term, we don’t need to worry about a mediocre Elder Scrolls TV adaptation. The success of Fallout is extremely lucky to result in a second season rather than the far more expensive and complicated prospect of a whole new show. And with even Game of Thrones spin-offs failing to take hold, TV producers may be weary of taking on another dense fantasy world just yet. Our next look at Tamriel is probably going to be The Elder Scrolls 6 — a game with a release window so vague I’m only somewhat confident it will launch within my lifetime. But just to be safe, let’s try to keep Todd Howard from meeting any more TV writers for now.

Related Tags