Morrowind: A Retrospective

Having thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the fourth installment of the Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion, I decided to try out its predecessor. Based on the above-average ratings it received on various websites, along with the fact that The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind received Game of the Year status, I decided it might be a worthy touch of nostalgia for anyone who enjoyed Oblivion.

The player begins fresh off a boat onto an island in (surprise!) Morrowind, set free from prison by the string pulling of the emperor. A tutorial of sorts begins, moving the player through the process of character creation, successively being asked questions to determine name, gender, race, and class. And so, you’ll be set off on your first quest.

At this point, the game will inform you that local transport, in the form of a giant flea, is available just across the bridge. Well, not really. You’ll have to cross the bridge turn right, turn right, and finally climb a hill. Regardless, I chose to take the “public transportation is for suckers” route and hoof it to my destination. According to the map, I was heading directly north towards the town, while the signs clearly said otherwise.

I felt that it was about time to test out the game’s combat system. To quote the Bible: “Jesus Christ!” Upon my many attempts to actually hit an opponent, I noticed that the combat in this game was obviously broken. How can anyone rationalize that attacking a stationary target at point-blank range would miss? This isn’t a turn-base combat sequence where an enemy may dodge based on chance! I honestly gave up out of disgust, something that I’ve never experienced so early in a video game before. The worst part about this is that combat is one of the primary components of the game.

Another primary component, the quest system, seems to have been equally botched. Talking to NPCs results in a list of topics, and each of these topics opens up new points of conversation. Intuitive design choice, right? Wrong! By the time you’re done talking, the screen is flooded with text, and all of these conversations occur in block text. It often feels like reading a book through a vending machine, not talking to a person. Not to worry, new information is automatically added to your journal. Pretty convenient, right? Wrong! One thing Morrowind fails to provide is proper organization of quests and complimentary information. The game does provide an appendix for searching alphabetically for topics, but this requires the player know exactly what they’re looking for. With the sheer amount of information you’ll acquire, this quickly becomes a chore and an unavoidable one at that.

As for the rest of the content of the game, I’m sure it’s what makes Morrowind such a stand-out RPG. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned factors caused me to stop playing altogether. I’m sure the story has more depth than a can of Pringles, but I simply could not bring myself to continue playing.

There’s not much good to say about the audio for this particular game. The opening screen of Morrowind treats the player to a powerful orchestral score. I hope you’ll like it, because you’ll hear it again. No, seriously, it’s quite possibly the only music track in the game, repeated over, and over again. It also seems rather disappointing that conversations have limited voice work, as most of it is, as I said, text-based. As far sound effects go, they’re hardly impressive. Hitting an opponent with a sword results in a comical “Thwak!”, and casting magic (magick?) treats you to a sound not unlike a duck being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner.

Being that I’ve already been spoiled by the newer generation of games, it’s hard to fairly assess the merits or flaws of Morrowind’s graphics. I can, however, say that for its generation, the environments are remarkably attractive. Not so attractive are the character models, often seen juttering across the landscape. To be brutally honest, I still find the NPCs from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to be more interesting.

[Final Words…]
As to how Morrowind received GOTY is beyond me. Broken gameplay seriously impedes the overall experience. If you can play The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, skip this game entirely. The content from Morrowind that is missing in Oblivion is a small concession compared to the vast improvements in almost all aspects of the game.

Recommended If: You *really* enjoy RPGs and can stomach the poor design choices and the frustrating combat mechanics.

Not Recommended If: You have no interest in RPGs. This game will most likely anger you before it ever amazes you.

1 comment:

  1. This may be a lame excuse, but maybe all Morrowind's greatness stemmed from the PC version. Though I can't imagine the Xbox port being that inaccurate.

    So final verdict: Stick with Oblivion.


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