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TES: Morrowind Review

tes_iii__morrowind___dock_icon_by_blakegedye-d3idnnwThe Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind I see as the true launch of the Elder Scrolls Franchise. For me, it’s where it really began and without a such a huge success, we would never have had Oblivion or Skyrim, much less other great releaeses from Bethesda like the Fallout Series. This far-reaching open world RPG set the tone for all future RPGs, it is believed to have influenced soon-to-be MMOs with it’s broad scope, and I believe we’ll never see it’s like again.

Now to back up for a minute, this game is old. It released in 2002… I played it with one of those old, massive original Xbox controllers! But I’m going through a number of reviews so I thought it would be fun to go back to a classic, something I revere as possibly the greatest video game of all time, and see how it stacks up against my current reviews. I played this a lot, and replayed it a lot when I found out there was still a mod called Morrowind Rebirth keeping this alive and (somewhat) updated as far as graphics and gameplay is concerned.

I mentioned that Morrowind is partially credited with the shift to MMORPGs and their popularity, because the scope of the game was so vast that normal RPGs just could not compare. An open world game the like of Morrowind was a first, with its deep world with many quests and hidden locations. This made exploration a true, challenging yet fun task that you spent hours and hours on. The plethora of weapons and armor, to say nothing of the artifacts that you could earn and find kept you engaged and always on the look out for more. The game world was incredibly profound and complex, with a record breaking amount of text in game (whether through dialog or books you could pick up and read) that kept you engaged for days.

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The game takes place on the island of Vvardenfell, which with its centrally located volcano, isn’t the most scenic province of Tamriel. With a setting that is a vast departure from the previous (and future) Elder Scrolls games, not to mention most fantasy games, it marks itself as a unique anomoly. The Dunmer (dark elf) province has it’s own legacy, it’s own stlying and breadth of life that makes it fresh and special, in the series and as a whole. A nearly uncountable variety of diverse plant and animal life (whether friend or foe) along with it’s own signature architecture and styling help shape it’s one-of-a-kind world.

As a prisonor arrived from somewhere in Tamriel via a ship, the player starts of in the quaint town of Seyda Neen, establishing their character in what was an incredibly unique, highly praised way. The level of cusomization open to the new player was astounding, and finally, after beaurcratically being released as a free person to the Dark Elves’ land, you begin your journey into the world. A world where blight storms plague the lands, warring houses and factions fracture the island and the deity Dagoth Ur seeks to become immortal and all powerful and destroy everything. You learn that you may be the prophetic incarnation of Nerevar, and as The Nerevarine, you learn you must unite the island and their quarrelling houses and save the world.

Gameplay – 20/20
While the action RPG wasn’t exactly a new concept, Bethesda nailed it here. The great depth of skills really meant you could take any path you wanted, be it a hard-hitting Redguard with a massive hammer or claymore, a sneaky thief of a Wood Elf, a skilled High Elf Mage, or any combination in between. The combination of the different races, classes and skills meant a million different possibilities. There always were bonuses and drawbacks; perhaps not being able to repairs arms and armor, or the inability to cast decent spells. Unlike in future TES games, magicka doesn’t regen as quickly so it required careful thought as to how you’d deal with foes.

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First, the incredible amount of weapons, armor and spells does nothing but amaze. Especially as you look forward in the series, you see everything get simpler and simpler. You don’t see claymores or other specialized weapons as much if at all, the armor gets extremely simplified and lots of interesting spells dissapear entirely. In Morrowind, you need to armor your character with a cuirass, helm, left and right pauldrons, left and right gauntlets / bracers, greaves and boots (as well as shields). In Oblivion, pauldrons are eliminated and gauntlets are simplified (into a set of two, rather than indiviually). In Skyrim, armor is further dumbed-down to elimnate greaves so you’re left with “armor”, helmet, shields, gauntlets and boots. Then to speak of all the spells (custom or otherwise) that never saw the light of day in future games like levitate.

As I said the sheer amount of possibilities is staggering. But all of it wouldn’t be possible with a rich gameworld with plenty to do. With all the quests (which I’ll go into detail about later) and factions ensure there’s always something to do and somewhere to go. Ranking up and being promoted through each faction is an Elder Scrolls staple, and Morrowind is certainly no exception.

I will say that combat is a bit one-dimensional, a bit more of a hack-and-slash style than future games but for it’s time it was great so it’s hard to detract from this. I say the same thing about the lockpicking, as a tumbler-system introduced in Oblivion was not yet heard of.

With novels and novels worth of text to read through, you do spend a lot of time reading. The dialog isn’t voiced so be prepared for that. Nonetheless it doesn’t leave you wanting. Between dialog options, books and your own journal you have many options to go through.

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The huge game world is probably one of the biggest contributors to it’s high score, and it doesn’t feel tightly packed like newer games where you can easily walk from one marker to the next nearby within a minute. There are tons of interesting things to see and visit and plenty of secrets to uncover. Morrowind’s fast travel system, which does not feature direct fast travel but rather a few systems that allow you to travel between cities or other established points of interest (for example, via boat between coastal cities, or teleportation pads, between mage guilds). In my opinion this is absoltely perfect and something we’ll never see again in RPG games of this era. I’ll touch more on this and a few other similar things below in Challenge Level.

Last I’ll touch on a few things that really (unfortunetly) dropped off in later TES games. The repair system of maintaining arms and armor was never to be seen again,

Graphics & Sound – 18/20
The graphics were, for the time, one of the best. Although there were stunning visuals, one of the distingishing features is the draw distance. Being atop a mountain or a large building and being able to make out vast stretches of land really made you feel even more on a huge island.

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I touched a bit on the art style and how it’s big change contributed to the nostalgia I feel today when I play. Too many fantasy games to count, including just about every other TES game have that familiar European-style to it. This exception cements the gameworld with unforgettable and unmistakable character. This applies from the architecture of the large manors and floating cantons of Vivec trickling all the way down to the beastly-looking armor and weapons.

I took some points off here mainly due to the sound. The music is as unforgettable as the aforementioned graphical styling, however the ambient sounds, especially spells and miscellanious combat sounds don’t do the game justice and are a bit flat.

Controls & UI – 13/15
This also gets a bit off the score because the controls aren’t anything groundbreaking. Hack and slash style, with only a few ways to strike an opponent, and a block, don’t really do the game justice. The UI is good but hard to manage on a console. For it’s time the UI is great, as you’ll see games of it’s time period with much bigger, clunkier UIs. That being said, inventory management can be a pain and downright awful when it comes to potions.

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Replayability – 13/15
I’m a testament to the game’s replayability but I’m probably not the norm, as I love the game so much. The game has very memorable quests. Unfortunetly it came before the concept of dynamic, different endings that were featured in games like Fallout: New Vegas as I would die to be able to see differing endings and being able to side with different factions. The fact that you’ll get bad standing with some factions ensures it will require you to think carefully about whose side you choose.

Immersion – 10/10
Probably one of the best sense of immersion I’ve ever felt in a game. The game world feels extremely complete and fleshed out. So many places to explore, so much to do, so many things to collect. It’s very rare I feel like I’m tediously playing a video game, aside from managing inventory and loading screens.

I spoke to the sheer amount of plant, animal life. The game world is full of it. So many things you can make from it, as it all has a use. The larger cities feel like they’re larger cities, something that is hard to really hit home, and really missed the mark in Oblivion and sometimes Skyrim. A major or somewhat major city might only actually feature 3-4 buildings.

Challenge Level – 10/10
This is where Morrowind shines. I love the open world and everything in it, but it would be nothing without the challenge that Morrowind presents you with. I’ll give you the reasons what puts this game over the top and they are what you’ll likely never see in video games again.

No Hold-your-hand Quest System – The biggest factor for in me in my opinion. There’s no quest marker on your map telling you where to go. There’s no simplified walkthrough of quests. In order to finish them, you need to work through them and use your *gasp* brain. You take notes in your journal to relevant quests. And when you have the classic “go find this in this cave” quest, guess what, you have to walk there and actually LOOK. In new RPGs, despite being told to FIND an item, all you have to do is travel to the cave then the quest marker will take you RIGHT to it. You don’t even really need to look, you just follow the compass. This easy-mode, dumbing down of video games is an extreme shame and something I’ve harped on for years. You just don’t see it anymore. Morrowind quests are challenging and offer a true test to you as a character.
Lack of Modern-type Fast Travel – Touched on this just above. This system is perfect and allows you to get to the major points of interest fast. There’s also a set and recall type option (a spell) that allows you to cast a set spell and then you can use recall to fast travel back to that spot. That’s it; that’s the only methods of fast travel. Otherwise you have to hoof it. And why would you want to fast travel and miss the wonderful game world?
Secrets of the world – There are a lot of worldly secrets that are very tough to find. I distictly recall a shrine that lays pretty far off the coast that is completely submerged, not a few feet deep but at least thirty foot deep. It was far from easy to get to, let alone how you found it…
Map – This goes somewhat alongside the previous point. But the overworld map in Skyrim, I’m sure you all recall, is extremely detailed. It’s hard to get lost. You could almost see NPCs from your god-like view. With Morrowind though you had a very vague map… extremely vague. The only real help came from a poster that shipped with the game, which was a true work of art.
Enemy Scaling – This (and the following point) are big things that you probably won’t see again either. There was NO ememy scaling in Morrowind. If you happened to stumble upon someone (or something) you could not beat, tough luck for you. In Skyrim (and even worse in Oblivion) enemies scaled with you, so you’d never see difficult enemies at the beginning, nor easy ones near the end of your leveling.
Item Scaling – Related to the above, except with items and loot. In Morrowind, if you knew where certain items were, you could go get them straight away. Random loot did level, which I think works well.
Crime & Bounty – The whole system is a lot more realistic than future itereations of TES. Stolen items are not marked as such so it’s up to you to remember which you’ve swiped. When you commit an act, you aren’t informed of such. In Skyrim, you can look in an NPC’s inventory (pickpocket them, but not take anything) without committing a crime!
Mods & Modability – 9/10
Morrowind has some great mods and the one that stands out the most is the one that is still being worked on. Morrowind Rebirth has added loads to the game. Cities have been expanded and are larger with more shops, npcs and more. There’s new weapons and armor. Graphics has been given a boost. It’s a great all-in-one mod that helps keep Morrowind somewhat up to date.

There’s more than a fair share of other graphics and sounds overhaul mods, not to mention complete game overhauls, balance fixes and more. Even one that allows you to grow your own Telvanni Towers.
OVERALL SCORE – 93
You can tell this game holds a special place in my heart. I mark it as one of the last in an era where games have been simplified and less challenging before, making overall sacrifices for the sake of a broader-reaching fanbase. I hate to admit it, because I love Bethesda, but their latest games, Skyrim and Fallout 4, are obviously examples of this.

From lore to the spanning game world that is unforgettable, Morrowind is a classic game that will stand the test of time, especially as it is continually updated with fresh mods. Unforunetly it has been pushed aside and almost forgotten by most, and newcomers to TEs might disregard it as antiquited, but what a mistake it would be.

Has anyone had a great experience playing this game? Remember it well? Was there another game that you feel like is something you won’t see another game like it again? Discuss it here on this thread: http://bandofothersgaming.com/forum/showthread.php/2616-Morrowind-Review?p=25838#post25838

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