Ever since the release of Arena in 1994, the Elder Scrolls action/RPG video game franchise has consistently delivered gamers the most immersive open world fantasy experience imaginable. Interestingly, a key way in which Bethesda Game Studios has crafted the illusion where players enter into a living, breathing reality is by not signposting all the content each game has to offer.
That’s why– just like in real life– some of your objectives are made clear to you, and others you need to discover for yourself. This is particularly the case where the more recent entries in the series are concerned. Indeed, many of the best (and worst) side quests in Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls Online are effectively secret content when you factor in the extra effort players need to undertake in order to access them.
As we’ve already hinted at above, some of these clandestine missions are more worthwhile than others. In yet another instance of the Elder Scrolls’ digital world emulating our own, some of these side quests acknowledge players’ efforts to find them with decent loot, breathtaking vistas, or both.
Conversely, other covert peripheral adventures come to a close without yielding anything to recommend them. In these situations, it’s only true completionists who can honestly claim that they’re glad they expended the elbow-grease involved– while the rest of us are left shaking our fists at our screens.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled this list of 10 Hidden Side Quests Worth Finding (And 10 That Are A Waste Of Time) – hopefully it’ll ensure that wherever you are in Tamriel, you’re spending your time there wisely!
20 Worth Finding – Goblin Trouble (Oblivion)
If there’s anything worse than getting tangled up with goblins, it’s getting tangled up in a feud between rival goblin factions! Nevertheless, “Goblin Trouble”– which those playing Oblivion can participate in when they encounter Barthel Gernand in Crestbridge Camp– somehow makes being caught in the middle of dispute between these two clans seem appealing.
What could possibly make that so? Certainly, it’s not the actual reward for finishing the mission– a meagre +1 Fame and a money chest. But the funny thing about that chest is that it inexplicably refills itself periodically. That means you’ll know the whereabouts of an unguarded, limitless supply of free cash for the rest of your days in Cyrodiil– pretty awesome, no?
19 Waste Of Time – The Ghost Of Old Hroldan (Skyrim)
So many Elder Scrolls side quests are concealed from players simply because the criteria you need to meet in order to unlock them are so gosh darn specific! Take “The Ghost of Old Hroldan” in Skyrim– this expedition can only be launched by sleeping in Tiber Septim’s room in the Old Hroldan Inn on the shores of the Karth River post-1am.
This, in turn, kicks off a fetch quest which demands that the player schleps off to one of eight possible locations to retrieve a sword for the titular spook. So not only do you need to meet multiple annoying requirements, but then you’ve got to play errand boy (or girl) as well– which doesn’t really tally with the stingy skill bump it provides in return.
18 Worth Finding – A Web Of Troubles (The Elder Scrolls Online)
The Elder Scrolls Online might represent a first for this hitherto offline franchise, but at its core, it’s little more than a reworking of the series’ existing, non-linear gameplay formula. This extends to the many unmarked locations that litter the game world, which encourage players to seek out additional adventures that aren’t readily apparent.
Bal Fell is one such place, situated in the Vvardenfell region of the Morrowind expansion. Here, players can embark upon the “Web of Troubles” side quest which they would otherwise miss out on by sticking to the map. That said, whether this is a worthy pursuit hinges on your stomach for exploration (and facing down man-eating spiders!)– although successful completion does bring with it a nice little pile of gold and a new weapon, Griskild's Tenderizer.
17 Waste Of Time – Hircine (Oblivion)
On the face of it, “Hircine” is hands-down the most interesting hidden side quest on this entire list. After all, it’s a rare occasion that you’re offered the chance to tame a unicorn, even in a fantasy-based RPG like Oblivion. So what makes this entry such a dud? Well, frankly, the unicorns depicted in the Elder Scrolls canon kind of blow... a lot.
We’re not kidding: for all their impressive magical qualities, these gorgeous horned horses come saddled (no pun intended) with a laundry list of drawbacks. Chief among these is their infuriating penchant for attacking their own masters the second they engage a hostile NPC in combat! So despite the unicorn’s unmatched speed, most players quickly return to riding regular horses, instead.
16 Worth Finding – Nord Burial (Morrowind)
For this entry, we’re casting our gaze back nearly 20 years to evaluate “Nord Burial”, a hidden quest in Morrowind (not to be confused with the Elder Scrolls Online expansion of the same name). There’s two reasons for this: not only is Morrowind still a great game, but it also runs on modern systems without any real trouble– so younger gamers eager to test this one out themselves can theoretically do so.
All that aside, “Nord Burial” is a commendable undertaking largely because of its favorable cost/benefit ratio. In exchange for buying terminally-ill Nord Ennbjof a brew in Vivic City, players learn the location of a Unique Weapon, enchanted axe Stormkiss. They can then put that information to good use by setting off on an “unofficial” quest to retrieve said axe, which ain’t bad for the cost of one drink!
15 Waste Of Time – A Night To Remember (Skyrim)
In fairness, the premise of “A Night to Remember” is undeniably fun, as it essentially amounts to your typical “drinking contest gone wrong” scenario, only set in Skyrim. However, as with most binges, the novelty quickly wears off and you're left with little to show for your efforts.
That said, we fully expect that there are some gamers out there who can’t help but be baited by Sam Guevenne’s childish taunts when he randomly spawns in one of the many inns in Skyrim. All we’ll say is this: be prepared to deal with an aggrieved priestess, an incensed goat herder, a jilted bride, and an obnoxious Daedric prince– with only a middle-of-the-road enchanted rose as compensation!
14 Worth Finding – Repairing The Orrery (Oblivion)
Full disclosure: “Repairing the Orrery” is only available when Oblivion’s aptly-named “Orrery” plug-in is installed. As this plug-in is no longer sold separately on Bethesda's website, only gamers who've forked out for the “Game of the Year” edition (which incorporates all of the expansion content) can participate in this side quest.
If you happen to be one of those lucky souls who owns the “Game of the Year” edition, you’re missing a trick if you don’t complete this mission. All you need to do is hunt down the Dwarven artefacts listed in the note automatically added to your inventory, which can then be combined to fix the fabled Orrery of the Mage’s Guild. Once this is done, you’ll have unlimited access to this clockwork solar system, which can be activated in order to bestow a Greater Power on your character.
13 Waste Of Time – The Sea Tub Clarabella (Oblivion)
Some players very much embrace the call to heroism presented in Oblivion, whereas just as many will be inclined to walk a less virtuous path. For the former, the prospect of breaking up an illegal livestock trading operation is its own reward, while, for the latter, it’s only worth doing if there’s some serious remuneration involved.
Unfortunately for those who land in the more… pragmatic category, running afoul of a sheep smuggling ring aboard “The Sea Tub Clarabella” docked in Anvil doesn’t bring with it any riches. Nope– wiping out the ship’s unsavory crew only grants access to the captain’s treasure chest, the contents of which are nothing to write home about. As such, for less altruistic players, this is very much a"take it or leave it" quasi-quest.
12 Worth Finding – Rise In The East (Skyrim)
Sometimes, the full benefits of completing a quest don’t become immediately clear until long after the deed is done. Skyrim’s “Rise in the East” secret side quest is a perfect illustration of this concept– although that’s not to say that it doesn’t cough up the goods up front, too.
Swing by the East Empire Company offices at the Windhelm Docks and, provided you time your run with Orthus Endario's business schedule, you’ll soon be whisked away to an exclusive location. That’s right: you get to visit an environment that’s otherwise inaccessible through exploration alone.
Upon arriving, all you need to do is help Endario out with his pirate problem. In return, not only will he write you a sizeable paycheck, but you’ll be able to drag him along to watch your back during the “Diplomatic Immunity” quest later on!
11 Waste Of Time – The Book Of Love (Skyrim)
It’s true that “The Book of Love” is far from the hardest Skyrim side quest to finish– indeed, you can complete it without a single swing of your sword. On that basis, it’s arguably not too much of a hassle to cross this one off the ol’ Elder Scrolls covert content bucket list.
At the same time, we’re pretty confident that the majority of gamers don’t sign-up for an action RPG like Skyrim just to play cupid for one of Tamriel’s less “hands-on” deities. Toss in the fact that knocking over this toothless task yields only a mystic blessing and amulet, and the initial aimless trek in search of the Temple of Mara begins to look a lot less attractive!
10 Worth Finding – Knights Of The White Stallion 2.0 (Oblivion)
Although the hidden side quests scattered throughout the Elder Scrolls series tend to be standalone affairs, a few will only reveal themselves once players have achieved certain objectives. For instance, before you can indulge in a bit of bounty hunting work for Mazoga the Orc, you’ll need to make it through Oblivion’s “Knights of the White Stallion” quest first.
After this condition has been met, those who catch up with Mazoga again in the right place at the right time can team up with her to rid the area in question of its Black Bow Bandit infestation. As this unofficial side quest repeats itself endlessly– and given each bandit you bump off nets you 1,000 gold– this can turn out to be a nice little money spinner over the long term!
9 Waste Of Time – Zero Visibility (Oblivion)
You’d think reversing a spell so powerful that it has rendered an entire town invisible would be worth a substantial reward, right? Apparently, that’s not a view shared by the townsfolk of Aleswell, who find themselves in just such a predicament in Oblivion. It can’t be, seeing as all players get for lifting the enchantment is a lifetime free bed at the local inn!
Frankly, this is a huge slap in the face. For starters, the magic involved with undoing an invisibility spell is known to cause side effects for those who cast it. Then there’s what it takes to trigger the “Zero Visibility” quest: you have to either wander into the town and figure out what’s wrong or chat to locals at the Roxey Inn up the road to get up to speed– legwork not to be sneezed at.
8 Worth Finding – The Fetish (The Elder Scrolls Online)
“The Fetish” is arguably the most well-hid side quest in The Elder Scrolls Online– if not the entire Elder Scrolls franchise! That might sound like a bold claim, but when we lay out everything you need to do to launch it, we’re positive you’ll agree.
First thing's first, pin down a merchant named Zahshur who’s camped out near Softloam Cavern. Then, out of all his wares, you have to settle on the weird statue– far from a commonly purchased item.
Jump through these two hoops and you’ll be on the fast track to a sweet weapon (the Great Axe of Obedience) and a tidy monetary payout. That’s a decent outcome for the price of a cheap idol and minor amount of running around.
7 Waste Of Time – Coming Of Age (Skyrim)
For our money, the sweeping vistas in Skyrim can’t be beaten by anything on display in previous installments. This is partly thanks to the superior computer graphics technology Bethesda was able to draw upon in order to realize these environments, but the sheer geographic diversity can’t be ignored either.
That said, as much as we enjoy sightseeing in this province of Tamriel, we have our limits– as “Coming of Age” proves. Trudging blindly through the frigid steppes south-east of Dawnstar just to link up with two flakey locals (one of whom later turns on you, no less) isn’t our idea of fun. Add into the mix that the reward is simply gold commensurate with your character's experience level, and you’ve got yourself a text book “dodgy side quest”.
6 Worth Finding – The Pale Lady (Skyrim)
Unique Weapons are without doubt among the coolest swag you can pick up during your travels through Tamriel. Indeed, due to their cool names and magical properties, no respectable inventory can be considered complete without one of these babies. The most straightforward way to score a Unique Weapon is by completing a quest– although as we already know, not every Elder Scrolls quest is easy to access.
And so it is with the Pale Blade, acquired by finishing Skyrim’s “The Pale Lady” side quest– a crusade only initiated by stumbling across Frostmere Crypt. That’s far from the most hospitable of spots– it’s bang in the middle of the snowy wastes south of Mzinchaleft– but a sword so awesome it literally makes your enemies flee in terror merits the trip.
5 Waste Of Time – The Potato Snatcher (Oblivion)
In the vast catalogue of fantastical riches (both real and imagined), we’d be amazed if potato bread rates a mention. So clearly, anyone who undertakes “The Potato Snatcher” side quest in Oblivion had better not be in it for the money.
An NPC called S’Jirra (based at the Faregyl Inn) enlists you to reclaim her stolen potatoes, which she needs in order to bake her “famous potato bread”. The reward? Why, a few loaves of said bread, of course! Like we said, you’d have to be incredibly altruistic to think that any amount of effort is worth expending in exchange for a starch-based staple, no matter how celebrated it allegedly is.
4 Worth Finding – Frostflow Abyss (Skyrim)
Some of the most memorable quests that the Elder Scrolls series has to offer are actually made up of several different elements that fall outside the traditional action/RPG mould. A prime example of this can be found in Skyrim, where those who seek out the Frostflow Lighthouse of Winterhold’s west coast will trigger a side quest that combines light detective work with grueling combat.
Sure, this isn’t exactly the kind of puzzle-solving that would interest the likes of Sherlock Holmes, but it’s always nice to rely on your wits (and not your weapons) for a change. Besides, completing “Frostflow Abyss” serves up a permanent boost to your healing spells’ effectiveness, which is definitely worth stepping outside your fantasy-adventure wheelhouse!
3 Waste Of Time – Fort Coldcorn (Oblivion)
Remember what we said about how great it was when quests test your mental faculties as much as your button-mashing skills? Well, forget it– at least where this “unofficial” quest (accessed by snooping around the ruins of Fort Coldcorn) is concerned. Here, the player finds a chest containing a key, as well as a cryptic note about a sword that "points the way".
Those who take note of the angle of the sword lying nearby will be led to yet another chest, containing a note of congratulations, an enchanted dagger and a few potions. Now, this brainteaser doesn’t exactly require a genius intellect to solve, but that modest haul seems bit paltry for all that sleuthing.
2 Worth Finding – A Brush With Death (Oblivion)
Admittedly, “A Brush With Death” isn’t going to appeal to players roaming Oblivion’s Cyrodiil landscapes in search of material wealth. But those of you able to appreciate beauty for beauty’s sake will want to make a beeline for this easily overlooked side quest, which serves as a gateway to the most visually stunning location in the entire game.
By following up on rumors circulating in Cheydinhal, regarding the disappearance of a renowned painter, unsuspecting players will find themselves transported inside a magical painting. Once this happens, the creative team at Bethesda really take things up a notch. Seriously: the character models and environments are all covered in visible brush strokes, and straying too far off the path leads to a textured parchment wasteland!
1 Waste Of Time – Bittneld And Emfred (Oblivion)
As with “The Book of Love” in Skyrim, unless playing matchmaker is your cup of tea, Oblivion’s “Bittneld and Emfred” side quest is best left undiscovered. If anything, this debacle is even worse– it doesn’t even stump up any form of tangible reward for your services!
That’s right: the eponymous ungrateful couple at the heart of this Chorrol-based quest do little more than blurt out a hurried “thanks” once you’ve set them up. What about the oddball author who sets the whole thing in motion? She likewise produces nothing more than a verbose “nice going” when you report back that you’ve managed to set up this lonely Captain of the Guards and barmaid. Honestly, a few coins would have been nice!
Did we miss any hidden Elder Scrolls side quests worth tracking down? Let us know in the comments!