Released by Bethesda Softworks in 2002, Morrowind is the third game in The Elder Scrolls series (the first two were Arena and Daggerfall). It is available for both the Microsoft Xbox and PC. There are two expansion packs available for the game, Tribunal and Bloodmoon, which are avilable for the Xbox in a "Game of the Year" edition. The PC version offers some extremely sophisticated mod support (through a "plug-in" system) and a very powerful set of modding tools.

The game is a non-linear role-playing game (RPG). The game mechanics are a little different from most RPG titles in a few important respects. The first, and most noticable of these, is the first-person perspective. (I should mention that I have never played Arena and have only played Daggerfall a little bit. Thus, I can say that Daggerfall also featured a first-person perspective, but I don't know about Arena. Tabs informs me that Arena was, indeed, first-person as well.) Secondly, the player's skills simply improve through use (jumping a lot will improve the applicable skill, as will sneaking improve sneaking, using weapons will improve that weapon's associated skill, etc). Dungeon Siege boasts a similiar system, but Morrowind has these two very important differences: the improvement is much more linear (gaining each point is almost as easy as gaining the last), and the skills affect things other than weapon and spell use (things like wearing armor, stealing, creating potions, etc). Most other RPG's improve the player's skills through a standard experience system (killing bad guys nets experience points, which eventually allow the player to rise in levels). Morrowind does have player levels, but leveling up simply occurs every time you gain 10 of your major or minor skill points.

The third major difference from most other RPG's is the freedom granted to the player to do whatever they like. The game world of Morrowind is an island called Vvardenfell in the province of Morrowind in a vast Empire (simply called "the Empire"). Let me say this again: the game world is a 1:1 scale model of a fictional island large enough to boast about half a dozen major cities and a couple dozen small villages, with space left over for a wasteland and countless ruins, tombs, and dungeons. Oh, and there are also hundreds of tiny little islands surrounding the main one. In addition to this, there are several major factions (of various levels of power and approaches to life) vying for control of the island, and you can choose to side with any of them.

You can simply walk anywhere. Or, if you're lazy, you can hire a boat (or other available means of transportation) to take you between cities. There is no limit to your exploration of the game world. The level of detail borders on obsession on the part of the game makers. Pick a random point on the map (the game comes with a fairly detailed printed map a little under 2.5' square) and there's probably something there.

Sure, there's an element of repitition, but you learn to ignore the certain parts that repeat the most (the generic town guard types, for instance). From what I've heard, it's much better about this than Daggerfall was.

The PC version, out of the box, has a couple bugs (suprisingly few on my system configuration), but the most recent patch seems to have squashed these (for me, at least). The game does not offer multiplayer; how on earth would it? The game would turn into a MMORPG. The plug-in system is amazing. A plug-in can introduce anything new: new weapons, new items, new geographical features, anything. These new things can then be inserted into the game and loaded, even by an existing savegame. Want a new island, somewhere in the southwest ocean? Go for it! Want a new, super-powerful set of armor, with its parts strewn across the island? Sure, no problem (just be careful to not displace existing things; the game supports doing this, but it might not be a good idea to do so intentionally).

I was telling my dad about this game, and he asked "What's the point? What do you do?" Anything you like, I replied, what's the point of real life?


Update 9/30/02

The webcomic Mac Hall has posted an epic comic following the artist's adventures through the game of Morrowind. It can be found at http://www.machall.com/morrowind, and I think it presents the game exceedingly well.


Update 1/19/09

The above comic is no longer available.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind


Unlimited non-linearity, gorgeous graphics and a storyline to die for, but when is it all too much?

Not now, that's for sure. If anything, its not enough! Irregardless, Morrowind, developed by Bethesda Software and released in 2002, is a revolutionary game bringing almost unlimited possibilities. Want to be a chivalric knight and save the world? No problems. A psychopathic mass murderer whose name is known and feared at the far corners of the land? No worries. A savvy politician weaving ones way to the top of the political ladder? Can deal with that too.

I otherwords, what you want to do, you do it. The possibilities are limitless, with 10 very different races to choose from, and virtually unlimited class choices, each time you play the game through is guarenteed to be a completely different experience. From the native Dark Elf (Dunmer) to the Wood and High Elf, to the estranged Argonian and Khajiit; each race has unique abilities, and characters in the world respond to each race differently. For example, Dunmer are treated as many natives in real life are treated by conquering races, and Argonian and Khajiit are often slaves, and treated with such respect.

Aside from the mass complexity of the game, the first thing you will notice is the graphics - superb, fluent and stunningly beautiful. This game is the Claudia Schiffer of RPGs. Facial features are visible, expressed in anger, annoyance, glee etc. As NPCs talk you can see their skin crease, their eyes squint if they dislike you, their mouth drawn into a line etc. The scenery, however, is where it is blatantly obvious the majority of their efforts have gone into. In many games, when looking into the sun the effect produced is the same as what is seen through a video camera - not so in Morrowind, it is very difficult to differ between reality and virtuality. Similarily, the trees, swamps, oceans, sky, undergrowth etc. are brilliantly detailed and painstakingly realistic. On a closer inspection some objects look two dimensional, although this is not often, and they look brilliant from a distance regardless.

Sound is on par with graphics too, adding that finishing touch. WHen travelling through rocky wastelands the distant echo of a rock tumbling down a mountainside, or the shriek of a Cliff Racer, can be heard; through swamps the low buzz of insects and croak of frogs fills your ears. When in battle the "thwack" of fists, "schwing] of a sword being unsheathed and "chang" of metal against metal sounds better than your TV! To top it all off, the surround sound is so precise you can identify the direction of a sound almost immediately!

Now while the sound and the graphics are magical, combat can turn into a repetitive drawl with swords, spears and blunt weapons. It is simply charge the opponent and click until dead. One can overcome this dreary combat by throwing tactics into the mix, although this is not a complete solution. For the magic user, however, combat is quite the experience. Tactics is paramount for the pure spellcaster, and the excitement of casting spells makes the dreariness of hack n' slash ebb away. For those who still wish to get in on the medieval swords and shields combat, it can still be exciting with a bit of magic!

When you're not fighting, you're probably travelling or talking with NPCs. No matter what you're doing, you're going to use the menu system extensively - and it is hardly a burden. The entire menu system is completely customizable. You can drag and drop and resize all the windows, meaning that you will be comfortable with your layout and remember where everything is. This also means that the infinite number of different character classes can each have a menu layout specifically tailored to their needs.

What really delivers the brilliance of the game, however, is most definently the storyline. The island of Vvardenfell - a noticeably large island that you can go anywhere on, with absolutely no restrictions as to your level or what quests you have completed - is rife with story undertones and conflict. The downtrodden native Dunmer, who's grand civilization was conquered by the technologically superior Imperials, the massively enslavened races of Khajiit and Argonian, and the invading "outsiders", as all foreigners are labelled throughout Morrowind. The story from the previous games (as far as I can gather, as I have played neither Arena nor Daggerfall) is that the Imperial Empire spread to Morrowind, conquering it and taking it from the native Dunmer, and a powerful wizard, Dagoth Ur, brought upon plagues of undead and disease to besiege the people. This evil wizard was locked into the Red Mountain, a massive dormant volcano in the centre of Vvardenfel, by constucting a massive Ghost Gate around it. Lately, however, disease has returned to the people and strange things are occuring - you can take the bait and solve the main quest if you wish, or you can simply do what you like. Neverthless, the setting is strong and believeable, delivering that final blow of realism.

In sum, Morrowind is a brilliantly detailed game with an epic storyline. It is the only RPG to ever be completely non-linear, and could foreseeibly provide years and years of replayability. To any and all - get out there and get your hands on a copy of this game, or you'll regret playing one of the best games ever!

Final Verdict:


Graphics: 5/5
Sound: 5/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Playability: 5/5
Overall: 5/5
Golden Review
I would just like to note a few changes I would make to the game to make it all that more realistic:

Despite these faults, it is still a brilliant game. This type of non-linearity is rather revolutionary and still in its early stages, thus faults such as these must be expected and tolerated until programming becomes sophisticated enough to overcome them.

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