The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is the 2002 entry in the eponymous series of games created by legendary RPG developers, Bethesda Game Studios. A breathtakingly complex offering, Morrowind is as deep as it is ambitious, single-handedly transcending the genre and managing an immersive and indulgently fun gameplay experience, becoming one of the finest RPG games in recent memory. The initial planning for Morrowind began during the development of the second major instalment in the series, Daggerfall. Bethesda’s initial vision for Morrowind was so vast that the game had to be scaled back twice before a realistic product could even be contemplated.
Morrowind was to be hand crafted, meaning a smaller game world than Daggerfall but one that was infinitely more detailed, varied and rich in lore and history. With goals set higher than ever before seen and a team of RPG veterans dedicated to their craft behind the game, Morrowind certainly promises a lot, but how does this game stack up?
Named after the province of Morrowind, the game only actually takes place on the large island of Vvardenfell. Nevertheless the landscape is more than big enough for the amount of content on offer.
You start, as per Elder Scrolls tradition, as a prisoner aboard a ship bound for the village of Seyda Neen. Here you are to be released under special order from the Emperor himself. This peculiar circumstance isn’t the only oddity of your characters beginnings; you are also troubled by worrying dreams and talk of a ‘chosen one’. Your character’s release serves as the games tutorial and it is a fitting introduction to the world you are destined to spend so many hours roaming. You leave the ship under guard and proceed to the Census and Excise Offices, this section functions as a unique character creation system. You choose a name, select a race out of ten available options, create or choose a pre-made class and you’re set.
This fat guy IS at tough as he looks.
There is a deep level of customization here; the ten races are all different with each being better at select aspects of play. The Imperials for example are based off of the Roman Empire and are skilled at the skills of Mercantile and Speechcraft, skills which allow you to get better deals in shops and coerce NPCs respectively. The High Elves, or Altmer, are skilled Magic users, making them the perfect choice if you wish to play as a spell caster. You can also choose from some basic physical appearance options for your character, although these only consist of a handful of preset face and hair types, you will rarely see your character in third person anyway.
The meat and bones of how you play is conducted through which class you choose at the beginning of the game. A wrong decision here can put you at a disadvantage later on, often leading to ‘Restartitis’, a uniquely Elder Scrolls term for creating new characters almost incessantly due to the wide options available to you. When you select a class you assign major and minor skills (ranging from Long and Short Swords, Armourer and Blocking, to Alchemy, Destruction magic and a whole lot in-between) and choose two main attributes, such as strength or intelligence. The whole affair is complex and could serve as a discouragement to new players if it weren’t for the ability to choose pre-made classes, such as ‘Warrior’, ‘Thief’ or ‘Mage’. The benefit of such choice is that the game contains so many facets of play that, whilst overwhelming at first, simply mean that the game has so much for the player to experience. Choices and options in this regard are definitely not a bad thing.
Morrowind is at once beautiful and alien.
After this brief introduction to the game’s basic mechanics (and I mean basic mechanics, expect to blindly fumble your way through lots more things later on), you are given a package and told to deliver it to a man in the city of Balmora. Yep, that’s it. That is how the main quest starts, one which you are perfectly able and often encouraged to ignore. What Morrowind does right, compared to other games, is that it doesn’t hold your hand; you have to put in the effort. To deliver the package to Balmora you will first have to read the directions given to you, and then choose to take the long road there and risk death due to wildlife or use all your gold on a fast travel service there. All the quests are like this, you are given text instructions that are vague enough so that you have to do a little thinking. Instructions like ‘East of that funny looking rock, then north for a bit until you see the naked Nord’ are common place. This isn’t frustrating by any stretch of the imagination; it is rewarding and gives the world incredible depth as you’ll spend so much time simply exploring it getting to where you have to go.
This depth and complexity is evident in every facet of the game. The combat for example, is less visceral and bloody and more based upon die rolls and the three same animations. Sure, it isn’t as satisfying, but by it does ensure that this game remains an RPG. There’s no holding back here, if you equip an axe and expect to start killing enemies with it then you’ll have to make sure of a number of things. Firstly, that your axe wielding skill is high enough to allow you to hit anything in the first place and secondly that you won’t be better of with a long sword because of your race’s predetermined racial bonuses. This leads to scenarios in which new players find themselves fresh off the prison boat and decide to wade straight into the swampy undergrowth from the get go, failing to kill mud crabs with a fire spell because their character is a big brawny Orc who is only good at using blunt weapons and grunting. This, in my opinion, is all welcome. It is an RPG game, so if you expect different why not play a hack and slash?
That guy looks seriously angry.
Combat isn’t the only gameplay mechanic you’ll be using; there are several ways of interacting with things in the world. First of all there is a complex magic system whereby players can create their own spells by first buying different effects. For example, you could buy a fire and a shock based spells plus a stunning spell, then combine the effects together for some truly epic magic. This system is rewarding and allows plenty of experimentation with a large possibility of outcomes. Of course, you’ll have to make sure that you don’t create a spell well out of your league first. There is also alchemy, which falls under the magic specialisation. This allows you to combine ingredients and plants that you find whilst adventuring and make potions of varying effects. You could make your own health potions instead of buying them, or more complex ones which boost certain stats. But don’t think this will be easier than buying them outright from a shop, as with everything else in Morrowind, if your alchemy skill is low, your potions will be of less quality and subsequently be worth less and give you less of a boost. But with practise, this skill could be raised to allow you to become a master potion-brewer; you could then sell your creations to shops for a tidy profit.
- Content in abundance: Content, content and more content. So much to do, so little time.
- Great world and story: A deep and varied world full of intrigue with a captivating story.
- Fun mechanics: Combat, spell crafting and simply exploring the world is fun.
- Loot galore: A huge number of weapons, armour and other items are available, good luck collecting them all.
- Choice and freedom: Astounding player freedom, do what you want, where you want.
- Quest tracking difficulties: The journal is horrible in the base game, you’ll be better off writing down the quests you receive yourself.
- A tad buggy: A few bugs here and there as well as some crashes mar the experience somewhat, but quick save saves the day here.