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!
I would just like to note
a few changes I would make to the game to make it all that more realistic:
- Less generic guard types.
- More elaborate speech interaction. Dialogue can be quite limited, such as when you happen to run into an NPC in a strange ruin in the middle of nowhere, and not being able to ask simple questions such as, "What is this place, what are you doing here and why the hell are all these creatures attacking me and not you?"
- A "this is what happened last week" somwewhere in the game, or the manual. For those of us who have not played Arena or Daggerfall the numerous theme undertones and abandoned Dwemer (Dwarven) ruins are utterly confusing.
- Some more mundane interactions. For example, being able to purchase a plot of land and build a house (this can be done very late in the game when joining the Houses, however is still limited), being able to become a merchant etc.
- A more intuitive NPC system. NPCs can always be found in the same general location, which is a bit of a let down. Would you expect a person to be wandering about outside his house at all hours of the morning? It would be nice if NPCs moved around, or at least went inside to sleep at night
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.