Three's a charm
Bethesda spent upwards of five years making this game and, unlike most games with a delayed schedule, it doesn't suck.
Morrowind is the third in the Elder Scrolls series. The first appeared way back in 1994 or so and I paid AUD$80 for it back then. I loved The Elder Scrolls: Arena, no morality, no ethics, and an open ended do it the way you want type play-style. The main quest was hard; some of the dungeons within were mind-bendingly difficult. Labyrinthian and the Mines of Khuras, just to name a couple. The gameworld of Tamriel was enormous, if randomly generated, and travelling about was a blast.
Bethesda narrowed things down to parts of two provinces of Tamriel with the next in the series, The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall. The southern part of High Rock, and the northern part of Hammerfell. It sold a whole bunch and remains one of the biggest selling CRPG's of all time.
Alas, it's open ended style meant a glut of open-ended bugs too; the most notorious IMHO, was the game crashing leaving a dungeon if you had a horse or a cart waiting for you. Still, it was patched frequently and ended up being eminently playable.
Narrowing it down
Bethesda narrowed the world even more with Morrowind. It's confined to the island of Vvardenfell in the province of Morrowind, the home of the Dunmer or Dark Elves.
I must digress here and say, if you're expecting a nation of Drizzts or Everquest "inkies" then you're out of luck. The game has a huge history contained within it, through events and books, and the Dunmer are unlike anything else in the fantasy world of literature or games. And so are the other races in the game.
They are a distinct creation, a work of cultural originality, and Bethesda deserves profound respect for that. Each race has racial advantages like an innate immunity to cold or disease. In addition, you can choose a star sign to be born under, which grants additional advantages and disadvantages. You can select from a myriad of classes or you can create your own custom one.
There are no restrictions on what race can be what class. Some classes have a more natural affinity for certain skills and abilities than others, which offsets the uber-mage wearing full daedric syndrome in other games that have this setup.
The gameworld is large; it's full 3D with a first-person perspective like the first two. It is drop-dead gorgeous to boot; the water effects are jaw-dropping, the duststorms look decidedly real and the night sky in on par with Anarchy Online's.
The only hang-up I have is some of the character animations are a bit stiff, especially the way the Khajiit and Argonian races walk about. The towns, dungeons and landscapes are well-made. The city of Vivec is superb, and the barrier of the Ghostfence is a wonder to look at. Lots of architectural eye-candy everywhere.
Spellcasting and combat are handled fairly well. Combat with a weapon is the left-click and move your mouse in the direction you want to swing, slash or bash. The prior two instalments used this mechanism as well. That is, click and move your mouse left and your fellow will attempt a left slash or bash, depending on your combat style.
It's fairly intuitive and easy to pick up. I didn't really play a magic-using character much, but casting spells isn't rocket science. Select the spell, right click and blammo. What is annoying is picking locks or disarming traps. It involves you having to equip the requisite tool and use it in the manner of a weapon. You'll see what I mean. It, too, gets old really fast.
Morrowind has a main quest involving the Daedra lords Dagoth Ur and Vivec and the lost Dwemer (Dwarven) race, which you're free to take up on at any time, but my suggestion is that you go upon the missions the various guilds assign to you first. The town of Balmora is central to all paces in Morrowind, so it's a good place to base yourself.
Balmora isn't too far from the town you start the game in Seyda Neen on Vvardenfell's west coast. Roads are sign-posted, so getting places on foot is never too much of a drama. I stress never too much. While not Vvardenfell's largest city, Balmora is the hub of all that goes on in the game and you'll find yourself coming back to Balmora frequently.
I made mention of the game's story. Put it this way - it's encyclopaedic. Through dialogue and reading the countless books and scrolls in this game, you'll learn that Morrowind, and Tamriel itself, is a place of rich culture, legend and history. Nothing about any of the NPC's or the places in the game are cookie-cutter.
What you do in this game has repercussions with certain groups and people too. Although the game doesn't railroad you along any good guy path, random hacking and slashing does have side-effects...like bounty-hunters disturbing you from your rest to kill you...
You can't not help but to get involved with the big picture of Morrowind and Tamriel itself in this game. There's a lot going on, and a lot of history to support the numerous story threads. Some of it deals with Morrowind's uneasy relationship with the Empire as a whole; the xenophobia of the Dunmer in general, their "right" to keep slaves in spite of Imperial edict.
The social issues at play in this game are many; the oppression of the native races of Black Marsh and Elsweyr and their servitude as slaves to the Dunmer. Their ancestral feud with the Nords of Skyrim, their funerary traditions and spirit lore.
There are a lot of political factions in Morrowind, a lot of forces at work to aid or hinder you. The game ranks ten out of ten for its portrayal of a living and breathing nation, seemingly under the unwilling yoke of the Tamriel empire. All of Tamriel's races are represented here, both as playable characters and as NPC's.
The Imperials maintain garrisons on Vvardenfell, operate covert actions through their Intelligence Service. The Imperial Cult religion has a presence here too. The Altmer and Bosmer (high elf and wood elf) dwell here too, usually as merchants or drifters. The complex relationship between the disparate elven races is given coverage, biased in the favor of the teller obviously.
The Dunmer's relationship with the Daedra is explained through book and dialogue too. Daedric ruins are everywhere on Vvardenfell and their weird architecture is a landmark. Dwarven ruins are everywhere as well, and one of your first missions from Balmora involves a nearby Dwarven ruin.
If you follow the main story, it'll take you 30-40 hours to complete the game. Keep in mind that it's open ended, and finishing the game may be a subjective thing. The game comes bundled with The Elder Scroll: Construction Kit. It's a game editor and most everything in the game can be edited, or created.
New armour types, spells, dungeons, cities, silt-striders, books, weapons, the whole 9 yards. It gives Morrowind a huge replayability factor and within days of release, people had made stuff like Mandalorian armour (think Boba Fett), new dungeons, vendors who had more gold to buy stuff, etc.
I'm sure that in the years since Morrowind has been released, you'll find more than you can you shake a stick at. Someone is even using the TES: Construction Kit and game world to remake Ultima 9.
Irks and Quirks
However, not all is perfect on the island of Vvardenfell. The fishes and the bat-like flying monsters known as cliff-racers will get on your nerves in no time. Even after you've progressed to the stage where you can kill them in one hit, they'll still aggro you. Some of the dungeons, in fact most of them, are too small for my liking.
There's a lot of "Fed-Exing" around for various people too, especially after you've started the main quest. The music, by Jeremy Soule is spell-bindingly awesome, but there's not enough of it and it repeats at random. The game is divided into zones (cells) as well and you'll find yourself pausing every 100 virtual yards while the games loads up the new area. This can be abated with a patch to a degree.
All in all, it is a great game and the release of the Tribunal and Bloodmoon add-ons recently have added more to what is already a vast world. There is a hell of a lot to do in Morrowind, but beware the annoying aggressive weak monsters and what can be serious information overload in places, especially if you try and get involved in the deep history of Bethesda's world.
The game isn't really tolerant of you doing things out of order as well, and you could well find yourself hosing the main mission by visiting certain folk out of order. Shades of Ultima 9 there.
I had a bunch of external links here to good sites, but I guess the old maxim of good URLs don't change hasn't sunk in with some people. (Including me).
- Annotated map of Morrowind
- Another annotated map
- The Elder Scrolls Wiki -- The final word for this game and the Elder Scrolls series as a whole.
- Oblivion screenshots - A few screenies from Oblivion. I'll have more and do a proper write-up of this game in the future.
- Morrowind screenshots