The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is the third installment in The Elder Scrolls series developed by Bethesda. It refined and reinforced the foundation of The Elder Scrolls (TES). Because of the strides made in Morrowind, TES was able to build masterpieces like Oblivion and Skyrim. Morrowind is an epic, open-world, open-ended role playing game. Released on April 29th, 2002, Morrowind is almost 20 years old, and honestly it shows. There are several problems with the game. The graphics will immediately turn off many gamers, the map is gigantic with few fast travel options, and the early combat is just bad. Yet, with all the problems, Morrowind is still and unarguably the best and most satisfying game in the TES series. What Morrowind lacks in graphics, in offers in richness of detail, depth of story, and flexibility of experience.
The story is arguably the best thing about Morrowind. The game begins with a cinematic scene. Azura explains to Nerevarine through a dream that they have been taken from an imperial prison to Morrowind. A Dunmer prisoner awakes the adventurer from the powerful dream and there begins the character creation.
After the character creation is completed, step out into the world as an individual with a past unknown. The adventure begins in the small town of Seyda Neen on the island of Vvardenfell. Vvardenfell is a large island within the Dunmer (Dark Elf) province of Morrowind. Set out across the island province and complete the task of meeting a man named Calius Cosades. Upon meeting Calius the adventurer learns that Calius Cosades is a a member of the Emperor’s spy organization known as the Blades. After being inducted into the secret organization, set off and explore the distinctive landscape of the Dunmer region as a Emperor’s newest Blade.
The political landscape of Morrowind is complex patchwork of history, xenophobia, slavery, and religion. The races are very tribal in nature, and in response, racism is rampant throughout the world. Societal dynamics within Morrowind are storied and layered which has produced deep rooted resentments between the nation’s houses. The choices made have a large impact on the world’s denizens. Subsequently, the actions of the protagonist are so deeply felt throughout Morrowind, that even dialogue lines eventually change based upon the accrued fame of the player.
Morrowind has a tremendous amount of lore with over 300 books scattered throughout the playable world. The sheer volume of literature is indicative to value Bethesda placed on world building. Morrowind’s story is also brilliantly complimented by the island’s atmosphere. Its environment is unique and unlike any other region within Tamriel. Navigate through barren deserts, alien swamps, and lush countrysides. It is easy to admire the level of biodiversity compliments the atmosphere of Vvardenfell.
The character development section thematically fitting. Fill out papers at the the beginning of the game that will define the character’s characteristics. There are 10 playable races in Morrowind. Those races are Altmer (high elf), Argonian, Bosmer (wood elf), Breton, Dunmer (dark elf), Imperial, Khajiit, Nord, Orsimer (orc), and Redguard. Aesthetically there are not many facial variations to choose from. The player must choose which birth sign he/she was born under. Each birth sign bestows different abilities onto the character, and there are several to choose from. After choosing the race and birth-sign of the protagonist, the class can finally be chosen. There are 3 options available to help create the characters class. Answer 10 questions, select a predefined class or fill out skill forms to create a custom class.
These options allow the player to design a character suited to a particular play style. Once the character design has been completed, hand in the papers to the census office, and begin the adventure. There are no glowing icons on a map guiding the character along to the next available quest. From here on out, the story is the player’s clay mold.
Morrowind is as addictive as it is tedious, especially at the beginning. Unlike Oblivion and Skyrim, Morrowind does not coddle the adventurer. Future additions to the TES series guides the adventure at the beginning of the game and provides the player with a long-sword, bow, magic and full plate armor. Morrowind however pushes its protagonist into the fray with nothing but damp rags for clothes and a rusty iron dagger. The protagonist’s endurance suggests a period of undernourishment as the slowest jog brings on fatigue. Spells can fail, magic does not regenerate, and gear/weapons will break. The humbling beginning that this game places you in, (significantly harder start when compared to sequels Oblivion and Skyrim), creates a feeling of accomplishment when the adventure increases in ability.
Where this game is unique is how it chooses to approach interaction with the main quest line. There is not as large an emphasis on completing the main plot when compared to Morrowind’s successors. Instead, the game is geared toward and rewards exploration. Morrowind wants the protagonist to venture off the beaten trail. There are countless hidden caves, artifacts, hints, and characters littered throughout the world. The map is gigantic, which is awesome and incredibly challenging all at the same time. There is no fast travel by clicking on the world map. Instead, the fast travel relies upon boats, gondolas and giant Stilt Striders, (and potentially mage guilds) located in several towns.
TES: Morrowind has a beautiful soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule. Soule had stated in a press release by Bethesda that the “epic quality” of TES was “particularly compatible with the grand, orchestral style of music.” This statement could not be more accurate. The score enhances the adventuring experience in a palpable way.
Irrespective of weapon choice, the combat system is awfully boring at the beginning of the game. Perhaps, the worst aspect of the game is the combat, especially early on. Be prepared to click thousands of times to kill mud crabs and cliff racers. Even though Morrowind is an old game, the early combat was very tedious. With that said, the on-hit accuracy does improve over time. So the combat could be rewarding for players who truly value growing a character from zero. For those who persevere, one-hitting random foes is truly therapeutic. Stealth and sneak based combat styles are especially broken in the later stages of the game.
There is a compendium of magic spells to learn in Morrowind. The ability to create spells is a fun and creative feature to the game. There are three ways in which spells can interact with the world. Target spell which can be fired from range, touch spells require the caster to be in melee range of the target, and self spells that affect the caster. There are even spells that allow the player to levitate and breathe underwater.
As mentioned previously in the game play section, the combat is simply the worst part of the game. The faction quests are as numerous as they are monotonous. Countless faction quests that are comprised of fetch/kill/purchase tasks, that are not additive to the overall experience. This is another area that saw significant improvements in future TES games. The graphics have not aged well. There are however several texture mods that will improve the aesthetic aspects of the game. Characters are walking encyclopedias, and talk about every subject learned by the adventurer.
The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind is a masterpiece. Morrowind changed the way role playing games were designed, and allowed players to expect more from their games. Few RPG games today can compete with the likes of any TES game, and Morrowind is the greatest of them all. Morrowind is beloved and recognized for its great story and depth of content. Play Morrowind, explore Vvardenfell, and experience one of the most detailed and thoughtful games ever made.