Many distinct races & classes
Magic, items & weaponry
Arena is the first game in the Elder Scrolls series (TES). If that doesn't ring a bell, read on.
Arena takes place on a planet called Nirn (sounds cheesy, doesn't it?) in the empire of Tamriel. Uriel Septim, emperor of Tamriel, allies himself with the battlemage Jagar Tharn in order to unify the whole of Nirn under the Imperial flag. Of course, Tharn is intent on stealing the Emperor's power (ALL battle mages, advisors and viziers have the same plan, it's tradition). He does this by imprisoning the Emperor in another dimension using an artifact called 'The Staff of Chaos'. After zapping the Emperor away he kills Ria Silmane, a close ally of the Emperor, and locks you up inside a dungeon under the imperial city. After this he disguises himself as the Emperor, and summons a legion of demons which he transforms into imperial guards. With the help of Ria Silmane's ghost you escape the dungeon. Another bad guy tradition in early RPGs is to cut the artifact into several pieces and scatter the pieces around the empire in dungeons. Jagar Tharn does this and it is up to you to reassemble the artifact, kill Jagar Tharn and free the Emperor.
The plot won't win any prizes (the plot of Arena becomes a lot thicker in TES 2 and TES 3 where you can read up on Jagar Tharn, the Staff of Chaos and Uriel Septim's conquests) but that's where the beauty of the TES games lies; the plot can easily be forgotten. It can be picked up at any moment the player wishes to. The player is basically free to explore the entire world, raid huge dungeons, accept quests from townsfolk in the cities or accept high-level quests from the provincial rulers.
Arena was initially intended as an arena-game, a game in which you would set up a team of warriors and mages and fight other teams in different arenas in Tamriel. But soon the developers wanted to add cities in which you could buy equipment, and dungeons to raid for equipment and to train the skills of your teammates. Eventually Arena became a singleplayer RPG game (thus no teammates) in which the player could be anybody, go anywhere and basically kill anyone.
Sadly, the player was only able to join guilds in the second instalment in the TES series (TES 2: Daggerfall), however in Arena the player is still able to accept quests from people in taverns and inns and provincial rulers as mentioned earlier. The landscape is generated each time the player begins a new game, so it is impossible to walk from one city to the other (for this the player must use fast travel) - however it is possible to venture outside the city walls and enter any tomb or dark temple the player stumbles upon. The player will also find some randomly generated villages outside the city walls, or perhaps some farmland. These remote generated villages are useful for players who want to become a successful thief (because there aren't many guards in these villages).
The graphics in the game are okay. The buildings aren't very impressive (basically just blocks with textures applied to them) but there certainly is atmosphere. Seamless day/night transitions and windows lighting up, illuminating the dark and dangerous streets of a city at night, add to the atmosphere. Some cities will have oriental architecture while others have a more imperial or Nordic style applied to them. There are different types of weather including snow and rain, so during winters the streets and landscapes will be covered in snow. There are some nice graphical effects, like during and after a storm you will find puddles of water reflecting the surroundings.
Lastly, the player may also decide in which province he wishes to start the game after escaping the minimum-security underground dungeon Jagar Tharn 'locks' you up in. You choose your province of birth before you start the game (during characer creation). This also affects what your character looks like. For example, if you choose to play as someone born in the province of Morrowind, you will be a dark-elf and the face-selection will thus be limited to dark-elf heads.
If you have reached this sentence you are probably interested, in which case I suggest you give the game a try. A note of warning though: while a lot of people love this classic game, there is an equal number who loathe it for its thin plotline and lack of boundaries. I, being a fan of the third installment (TES 3: Morrowind), think Arena is an okay game. If you are into RPG's where you can do whatever you want, there are other games that are better than Arena (like TES 2: Daggerfall, although that game is a minefield of bugs). All in all, Arena is a nice game to play in-between games, or if you're bored, or if you are a TES fan who has exhausted Oblivion (surely not!) and wants to see how it all started.
Review by: Stroggy
Safe for ages: 13+
DOS 6.0 or above