Despite being a multiplatform hit, Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series is rightly considered a cornerstone of PC gaming. Sprawling open-world RPGs built for freedom of choice, full of expressive systems of play and intricate character customization. No two players have the exact same experience, and everyone has stories to tell.
However, it wasn't until Morrowind that modding became a key feature. The earlier, less customizable games have been left to languish, frozen in DOS-emulated time. Rough and clunky, Daggerfall in particular was a game of seemingly boundless ambition and scale (including the largest world map in the series by far), but held back by bugs, broken systems and DOS-era limitations that were only slightly mitigated by valiant fan-patching efforts (opens in new tab).
Thanks to the herculean efforts of independent developer Gavin 'Interkarma' Clayton (opens in new tab), Daggerfall has been fully reverse-engineered and ported to the Unity engine (opens in new tab). While there's still the occasional rough edge, it's already more polished, stable and playable than the DOS version ever was, packed with quality-of-life improvements and fixes for ancient bugs. Even better, it’s hugely moddable, and new user-made content for it pops up every day.
Now is the best time to play The Elder Scrolls Chapter 2: Daggerfall, and it won't cost you a penny. Let's get cracking.
What's the best version of Daggerfall?
You could snag The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall for free on either Steam (opens in new tab) or GOG (opens in new tab), but unless you want to experience the game in its original, clunky DOS incarnation, you'll want to skip straight to Daggerfall Unity (opens in new tab) instead. Installing it is a surprisingly simple process that doesn't even require a full copy of the game.
You can follow the instructions on the Daggerfall Unity forums (opens in new tab), but I'll be reiterating it here for the sake of consistency:
- Step 1: Download the essential Daggerfall game files (opens in new tab) and unzip them to a directory of your choice. C:\Games\Daggerfall, for instance.
- Step 2: Download the latest version of Daggerfall Unity (opens in new tab). There are Linux, Mac, and Windows builds (in both 32- and 64-bit flavors), but if in doubt, get the 64-bit Windows version. Unzip the file's contents to your Daggerfall directory.
- Step 3: Run DaggerfallUnity.exe, and you're good to go.
Before you venture forth
Before you go too far, it might be worth familiarizing yourself with the extensive options menu Daggerfall Unity presents you with. Tons of new graphical options are available, as well as mountains of quality-of-life improvements, and even a toggle to disable nudity, if you'd prefer your character to pack clean underwear on their quest. You'll also want to rebind those controls, which are a little archaic in their default layout.
As with modern Elder Scrolls games, Daggerfall Unity supports easy plug-and-play modding for most mods. Just download, unzip, and drop neatly packaged .dfmod files into your Daggerfall\DaggerfallUnity_Data\StreamingAssets\Mods directory, and then pick which to activate (and in which order) via the game's launcher. Some mods do require manually placing files or overwriting data, so it might be worth making a backup of your Daggerfall directory before you mod anything.
The relative ease and modularity of modding Daggerfall now means you're largely free to pick and choose what you want to add to your game. A comprehensive list of what's available on the Daggerfall Nexus (opens in new tab) would be a fool's errand, and probably out of date in six months. Instead, here's a handful of key recommendations to tune up Daggerfall's aesthetics, gameplay and content.
For a sharper Daggerfall
D.R.E.A.M. (opens in new tab) by King of Worms
The single biggest Daggerfall mod you can get. The Daggerfall Remaster Enchanted Art Mod is a clumsily acronymed but comprehensive visual overhaul, featuring 12 separate modules you can toggle on and off at will, plus several extra options and features.
Every single audiovisual file has been given a complete remaster. From fully parallax-mapped modern dungeon textures to AI-upscaled sprites, touched-up character portraits and more. It also includes a full remaster of the original soundtrack, re-recorded sounds, and even upscaled cutscenes.
While it's a bit of a mixed bag (I feel the character sprites look a little smeary), its modular nature makes this an easy recommendation. I also highly recommend using the graphics options recommended on its page (opens in new tab), along with many of the suggested mods. The one big tradeoff of using D.R.E.A.M. is that older PCs may creak a little running it, and load times are significantly increased, thanks to the pack weighing in at nearly 6gb of assets for a game that was barely 600mb to begin with.
Handpainted Model Replacements (opens in new tab) by AlexanderSig
In order to not strain mid-90s PCs, Daggerfall used chunky sprites for a lot of its generic props. This mod replaces most of them with 3D models, and it makes a shocking amount of difference when paired with the new lighting engine.
Enhanced Sky (opens in new tab) by Nystul, Lypyl, and Interkarma
A small but impactful mod that replaces Daggerfall's static, simple backdrops with a modern-style skybox. Combined with the more hilly and interesting terrain in Daggerfall Unity and the vastly extended view distance, it all adds up to some surprisingly classy landscapes, in an old-school kinda way.
Transparent Windows (opens in new tab) by Macadaynu
Feel a little claustrophobic when you head indoors in Daggerfall? It's probably because the windows are just opaque slabs of glass. While this clever little mod doesn't let you peek into buildings through their windows, it does make them feel much more part of the world when you're under someone’s roof.
Fixed Dungeon Exteriors (opens in new tab) by Cliffworms
One of the most disappointing aspects of vanilla Daggerfall is traveling to a notorious dungeon named something like CASTLE HELLMURDER only to find nothing but an empty field, populated solely by a small mound with a wooden door on it leading to the dungeon. This mod makes them live up to their name, giving 670 dungeon locations physical models to match their theme.
Re-learn the fundamentals
Roleplay & Realism (opens in new tab) + Roleplay & Realism Items (opens in new tab) by Hazelnut
One of the most comprehensive overhauls for Daggerfall. Between the two halves, there's 30 modules here, changing everything from beds being made usable to human enemy sprites matching their classes, all the way up to adding entirely new armor sets and rebalancing all the loot.
This pack also adds some nice new features, like better horse-riding, bandages usable for emergency healing and even a new finale to cap off the Fighter's Guild quest-line. You can enable or disable these modules as you see fit using the Settings option in the Mods menu before game start.
Uncanny's Always Hit (opens in new tab) by Uncanny
A small but satisfying mod that makes even a missed swing do at least 1hp of damage. It also makes hitting an enemy with an 'ineffective' material or damage type do at least 1 damage as well, so you'll never be stuck flailing helplessly at an enemy you just can't hurt.
Physical Combat & Armor Overhaul (opens in new tab) by Kirk O
Another fundamental change to how Daggerfall calculates damage. Normally, armor largely determines whether an attack hits or not. With this mod, character skills (attack, dodge, etc.) determine the base chance to hit, but the damage will be reduced by your armor and shield material.
Classic Exploits (opens in new tab) by Kirk O
Daggerfall Unity fixes a lot of old, long-standing bugs, including ones that worked in the player's favor. If you want to completely break Daggerfall over your knee once more and render yourself immune to half the threats in the game, here's your mod.
Meet new people (and stab them)
Dynamically Progressing Main Quest (opens in new tab) by Cliffworms & Jehuty
Being the hero is overrated. Sometimes, you just want to let someone else handle the world-saving stuff. This mod lets you do just that, leaving you free to loot n' scoot at your own pace while an unseen (but much-rumored) imperial agent does all the heavy lifting. You can even set how fast they get the job done. Either three years of in-game time (a reasonable pace for a human player), or the canonical 12-year mission defined by the lore.
Immersion Roles (opens in new tab) by JayH2971
If you're not the hero, then who are you? This is a handful of alternate starting quests arcs that'll give you some starting equipment to help you through that (surprisingly mean) opening dungeon and guidance and context through your first few levels in Daggerfall. Pick one from the Nexus page and unpack it to your Daggerfall\DaggerfallUnity_Data\StreamingAssets directory, then start a new character.
Vanilla Quests Reranked (opens in new tab) by Jay_H
While Daggerfall's world scales its hazards to your level, the quest system didn't quite get the memo. Guilds often send players out on suicide missions, making the early game meaner than it should be. This little mod sorts that out, only giving you easier jobs at the start, at the cost of perhaps limiting your options. Note that this mod doesn't use the DFU framework. Back up your Questlist-Classic.txt file in Daggerfall\DaggerfallUnity_Data\StreamingAssets\Tables and overwrite it with the one from this mod.
Quest Pack 1 (opens in new tab) & Quest Pack 2 (opens in new tab) by JayH2971
Both of these add a pile of new quests to every single faction in the game, and many of them are more interesting than anything in the original game, with character skill checks, multiple solutions, and conclusions. The second pack has a lot more generic 'filler' quests for people who want a slightly more vanilla experience mixed in with the newer, spicier adventures. These mods go in your Daggerfall\\DaggerfallUnity_Data\StreamingAssets\QuestPacks directory, and can be uninstalled just by deleting the files.
If you're running one or more quest packs, it's highly recommended you enable the Guild Quest Player Selection option in the startup Enhancements panel. The old UI didn't give you many options, but Daggerfall Unity gives all this new content room to breathe.
Warm Ashes (opens in new tab) by Kamer
Daggerfall's world is staggeringly huge, but a bit empty. Warm Ashes tries to spice things up a bit by randomly adding unexpected events and quests around dungeon entrances. Bandit camps, forts under siege, and even some events that happen in cities and the wilderness.
SIGIL (opens in new tab) by azimovhaas8
Does similar stuff to Warm Ashes, but SIGIL is focused more on wilderness encounters. The two mods are compatible with each other, so feel free to slap both into your QuestPacks directory for a significantly spicier tour of Iliac Bay. Some have grumbled that it adds a little too much activity to the overworld, but I still feel that's better than the default of 'almost none'.
Fantastic daedra and where to find them
🗡️Bigger isn't (always) better: Daggerfall Unity makes sure that randomly generated dungeons should be (theoretically) completable. Still, the algorithm can be a bit overzealous, generating seemingly endless mazes of caverns and tunnels where you'd just expect a few chambers full of skeletons. It's a new feature so not listed in the launcher menu yet, but if you open your DFU Settings.ini in [C:\Users\*Your Username*\AppData\LocalLow\Daggerfall Workshop\Daggerfall Unity], the solution is close at hand. Scroll down to the Experimental section and turn "SmallerDungeons = False" to True.
🗡️Classy customizations. Most of Daggerfall's pre-made classes are useless, so don't let it pick your class—make your own! While later Elder Scrolls games have you grow your character more organically, Daggerfall let you create wildly min-maxed custom builds. Pick perks or penalties to balance out your character, and keep in mind that creating something too powerful will mean it'll take longer to level up. Consult the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Wiki (opens in new tab) for specifics and ideas, and keep in mind that most of the exploitable bugs have been fixed in Daggerfall Unity.
🗡️ABS as standard. Always Be Saving. Daggerfall is from the dark days before autosaves in RPGs. This game does not care if you've just spent six hours mapping out an improbably complex dungeon only to fall in a pit and die. You WILL lose all that progress for your hubris and it will be entirely your own fault. Don't forget the binds for the Quicksave/Load keys in the Controls\Advanced page. You'll need them.
🗡️Make your own fun. Even if you're planning on doing the main quest, it's a process that's likely to be spread over a full adventuring career. The meat and potatoes of Daggerfall is taking quests from the various guilds scattered around the world, rising up their ranks, gaining access to more of their services and delving into increasingly deep and perilous dungeons.
🗡️Cart Life. While it may be a tempting option to trade your first windfall of dungeoneering loot for a horse, consider the humble cart. It costs much less, and somehow lets you travel faster overland anyway, presumably via some Flintstones-esque cartoon antics. The main reason you'd want one is that you can park it at the entrance to a dungeon and load it up with an absolutely staggering amount of loot, letting you haul back a fortune of goodies after a deep delve.
🗡️It's a kind of magic. Even if you want to play as the most thick-headed of monster-smashers possible, it's unwise to completely lock yourself out of magic in Daggerfall. By joining the Mages Guild you'll unlock the Spell Maker, probably the most entertaining and game-breaking feature of Daggerfall.
🗡️Total Recall. Another key reason to learn magic is the Recall spell. The procedurally generated dungeons in Daggerfall can be gigantic. Even with a 3D map, backtracking can be a pain. If the Recall spell doesn't save your life, it'll save you hours of wasted time and frustration. Cast it once when you enter a dungeon to flag that location, then cast it again to zip back to the beginning.
🗡️The Elder wikis. Even before you start modding in new content, Daggerfall is a dizzyingly huge game with countless systems interacting with each other, and plenty of secrets to uncover. While you could discover much of it for yourself with extensive time and effort, The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages (opens in new tab) has the answer to almost every question you could ask. Did you know you could become a wereboar? Well, now you do. Grunt at the moon and prepare to pig out.