Revisiting Morrowind

Written by Craig Lager

May 10, 2011 | 07:57

Tags: #elder-scrolls #morrowind #oblivion #open-world #rpg #skyrim

Companies: #bethesda #bethesda-softworks

Morrowind Retrospective

Back in the Census and Excise office, a gaunt man stands before you. He’s worked here forever, his name is Socucius Ergalla and he wants to know all about you.

Ah yes, we’ve been expecting you. You’ll have to be recorded before you’re officially released.

Class selection in RPGs is a staple, but in Morrowind class means more than how you’re going to 'win'. As with your name, it defines who you are and how you’re going to handle not just the quests, but also the world. You can pick a pre-defined class from Socucius, or you can make up one from scratch - selecting which weapons or magics you’re going to be good with, or setting up your class to be good at pickpocketing and trap disarming. Or, you can tell him how you feel and he’ll suggest something.

Entering town you find that you are witness to a very well-dressed man running from a crowd. He screams to you for help. The crowd behind him seem very angry. What do you do?

Your mother sends you to the market with a list of goods to buy. After you finish you find that by mistake a shopkeeper has given you too much money back in exchange for one of the items

Revisiting Morrowind Morrowind Retrospective
Spiderman, spiderman; eats whatever spiders he can

When you’ve answered all his questions, Socucius gives you a package and asks you to take it to an old man in a nearby town. Then he boots you out the door, casting you into a world with nought but a map that needs filling in, a couple of skills and a tiny bit of cash. Off you go. It’s a game of exploration and experimentation, and each person's path through it will be personal. You can sell that package, throw it into the sea or dump it into a barrel and never worry about it again. You can do whatever you like.

There are seemingly endless quests and places to find and explore. You can join the Fighters guild, Mages guild, Assassins guild, Temple guild, Imperial Guard or Spy Guild. You can join one of three noble factions that constantly war with each other, and complete hundreds of side quests as you stumble upon them. And this is discounting the plethora of incidental quests and details and lore to discover. It’s huge, but it’s all so intricate and embedded into the world that it’s a path of endless discovery, rather than a checklist of tasks.

Crucially, everything you discover is interesting and presented within the world. There aren’t any codex entries or an encyclopedia of everything - there are books. You read them. Properly. Some are short stories, hundreds of words long, others small descriptions. Some form a series of books, creating an anthology of history. They describe the background of Morrowind, sharing its tales that people on the streets talk about in detail. Some books are hidden, of course. If a subject is controversial, such as the ways to learn Necromancy, you’re only going to find books on it with Necromancers. It’s this level of world detail and subtlety that sets Morrowind apart.

Revisiting Morrowind Morrowind Retrospective
The right mods can upgrade Morrowind's visuals significantly

It’s 2011. I’m sat at my desk listening to the Morrowind soundtrack, writing about Morrowind again and wanting to load it up for yet another visit. My writer friends tell me I’m having 'another Morrow**k', which I tend to do every so often. It’s for a very good reason.

Morrowind is a bit ugly now, and the interface is a little clunky and the combat isn’t great. But, this is a properly open RPG with actually interesting places to visit to and interesting events occurring. If you go the right way from the opening town, a mage falls from the sky and dies after a spell gone awry. An old woman goes insane and incessantly talks about the smells of Ash yams, which if you follow up on a couple of other clues, leads you to a legendary bow. A man stands naked on a mountain after a Witch stole his clothes and rooted him to the spot. In the expansion, you watch a city get built up then sacked by Werewolves and half destroyed. And none of this is part of the expansive main quest.

When Oblivion was released it was prettier and fully voiced and had better combat - but it was at the great cost of being as interesting. It had some good quests, it was a great game, but its world wasn’t nearly as detailed a world as Morrowind. I can only hope Skyrim is a step backwards, rather than forwards.
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