The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind PC Review
With the release of Oblivion, we take a look back at its chaotic yet highly engrossing predecessor.
Follow the guard off the ship. Talk to the soldier waiting for you past the landing pier. Speak with the Customs and Excise officer. The rest is up to you.
As daunting as it may seem, these few tasks are the only things you are specifically required to do whilst playing Morrowind. Afterwards, the land is yours to explore, the cities yours to visit, the people yours to meet. Feel like taking a swim in the sea? Jump right in. Fancy starting a fight in a tavern? Hack away. You see, it’s this true freedom to do literally whatever you want, whenever you feel like it (within the confines of the game world) that distinguishes this offering from most other offline games in existence.
Straight away the atmosphere encompasses you and doesn’t let go – not so much bombarding you with everything at once, but rather revealing its many exotic mysteries little by little. One of the first things you’ll notice is the luscious scenery; timbered houses with thatched roofs stand proudly amongst the foliage, whilst the sea ripples past the shore with a delicate ease. Though the graphics are somewhat outdated now, it’s a testament to Bethesda’s dedication to create a believable landscape that everything still has its own unique beauty. Admittedly, the houses are nothing special by themselves, and the trees could have seen prettier days, but as a whole everything fits together so naturally that the overall effect is quite wondrous. To top it off, a day and night cycle has been implemented to great effect, unveiling a sinister aura in the dark hours of the evening, followed by a mesmerising sunrise over the horizon.
To have created one such village is a feat in itself, but the fact that the entire island of Morrowind is as lovingly and breathtakingly realised is nothing short of incredible. Every town has its own distinctive architecture, whether it be the durable brick houses and stone forts of the Imperials along the West Coast or the twisting and spiralling towers belonging to the whimsical Telvanni wizards in the east. Fleshing out each habitat is a diverse multitude of inns, shops and guilds accompanied by numerous magnificent sculptures and other decorative embellishments that making it feel like these places really have been carefully constructed and maintained.
Adding life to the proceedings are the hundreds of inhabitants found throughout the towns and countrysides, but unfortunately it is here that the first problems present themselves. People tend to move with a mechanical mindset – offsetting the delicate natural feel that has been so carefully established – trudging from A to B with no intent or purpose other than to look like they have something to do. Talking to them doesn’t help to improve the situation; the large majority say exactly the same thing when questioned about a particular subject, bar a few small variations between the different races on matters that relate directly to them. Sadly, including something akin to the hours of voice acting present in Oblivion was obviously too technically demanding at the time of Morrowind‘s creation, leaving just a few brief spoken comments when you pass a nearby NPC. Still, some of the words muttered in your direction as you approach someone can provide a brief moment of humour, especially when you decide to remove all your clothes and cavort from guard to guard as they pronounce “Oh, you’re naked!” with a suitably unimpressed disposition.
Cavorting aside though, most people just become plain boring to converse with and sifting through page after page of identical dialogue until you find the right person to talk to about a certain topic in order to complete a quest becomes more of a chore than an adventure. It’s a shame really as amongst the multitude of pointless banter lies a truly massive amount of background information from political history and ancient battles to the current relationships between the island natives and the Imperial ‘outlanders’. This wealth of knowledge seriously enhances the playing experience if sufficient time and effort is put into seeking it out, but with the game being so big in the first place it is something that only the most dedicated players will benefit from.
Size is the key factor here; it is arguably the game’s greatest achievement, but also its biggest failure. On the plus side, the enormity of the adventure is paramount to the underlying believability of the experience, and the masses of quests will keep you occupied for months on end at least. Unfortunately, such a big venture brings with it a monumental amount of technical difficulties, and the developer’s own Herculean task of ironing out all the possible glitches has ironically been left incomplete. Moreover, it has failed miserably. The sheer number of unresolved issues still present is frankly alarming, and the fact that a number of them have a detrimental influence on the main quests is unforgivable. During my playing experience, for example, I came across a mining operation using slaves. Upon freeing them, I was told that the mining should stop for a couple of days. Thinking nothing more of it, I carried on, oblivious to the fact that I’d messed up the outcome of a main plot quest I had yet to undertake. Luckily in this case there was another way of completing the mission, albeit with a less favourable reward, but even so it caused unnecessary confusion and annoyance. Trying to keep track of the progress of at least ten different quests is hard enough on its own, but when more quests are unintentionally stumbled upon without realising what they’re about or how to finish them it only makes matters worse. Thankfully, quests are separated and ordered in your journal as you receive them – something the Xbox version is sorely lacking, but the sense of chaos and confusion is still there. Other glitches are less prominent, and only affect the game if exploited intentionally, such as the easily executable and highly amusing trick of gaining incredible strength and speed via the casting of a few spells, but the mere presence of such flaws still mars what started off so promisingly.
On the topic of shoddy workmanship, the combat and AI leave a lot to be desired. Although there’s a huge amount of customisation available with weapons ranging from swords and axes to crossbows and throwing stars, along with a large array of spells and summons, fighting in Morrowind often resorts to little more than standing still and hammering the right trigger until the foe in question has been killed. Of course, you could run around a bit to make the battle seem more interesting, but as all the computer will do is mindlessly charge after you in a straight line there seems little point. Furthermore, the actual chance of hitting your adversary depends on how good you are with the weapon you’re using, leading to many a sword swing not even touching something standing still right in front of you.
Probably the most infuriating part of the game involves combat, but more specifically combat with Cliff Racers. These flying pterosaur look-alikes can spot you from a mile off, and when they do they seem to enjoy nothing more than squawking hysterically and attempting to nod in your face like a half-crazed madman trying to agree with something you’ve said over and over again. The only thing that partially makes up for such an irritating inclusion is successfully sneaking up behind one and killing it with a well-aimed crossbow bolt to the neck. Only partially, mind. At least an enemy health bar has now been implemented, something sorely lacking in the original game.
The two expansions included with the GOTY edition, Tribunal and Bloodmoon, add an even greater amount of material to the original’s mountainous content. The back of the box estimates it at over a hundred hours, and this is probably about right. Tribunal allows you to travel to Mournhold, the capital city of Morrowind situated on the mainland, and whilst it provides a pleasant diversion from the main quest for a short period of time, it ultimately lacks the vision and grandeur evident in the rest of the game. The whole city doesn’t require much exploration and the quests are nothing spectacular, so once complete it is unlikely that you’ll have any urge to revisit any time soon.
Bloodmoon on the other hand is a different beast entirely. Indeed, the word ‘beast’ is a suitable one – you can now gain the ability to become a werewolf. Upon contracting the lycanthropy disease, heightened strength and speed are gifted to you when in your grislier form. Killing becomes an integral part of your survival, something which your newly formed razor sharp claws are particularly suited to, and the gameplay becomes a lot more fast paced and action orientated, providing a refreshing change from the staple diet of exploration and treasure hunting. A new island, Solsthiem, is also included, allowing you to explore its snow covered forests and complete the numerous new quests provided, most of which are more challenging and complex than what has come before to cater for more experienced players with higher level characters.
All in all, Morrowind will be a blessing to some and a bane to others. Those with a lot of time on their hands who relish stat-based gameplay and exploration could do much worse than invest in a copy of this game, as the things it does right are done very well indeed. However, people looking for instant satisfaction are going to be left disappointed as the long loading times and extensive periods of travelling from one place to another will soon become tiresome and repetitive. Still, no matter what your preferred play style is, few games manage to offer such a beautiful world with so much freedom, and Bethesda have done a remarkable job of bringing it to realisation.
Besides, there’s always the sequel regulating most of Morrowind‘s flaws to a state of oblivion…
Read the The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion review Here.