My first experience in Morrowind came sometime in 2010, during my tenth or eleventh year of high school, after years of hearing about it intermittently; spoken of in hushed tones, with a certain reverence, wistfully remembered for its bizarre and truly unique setting; I knew I had to see what this was all about.
Bethesda’s unparalleled gift for world-building had previously ensnared me in Fallout 3 – having been handed a copy by a friend in the late eighth or early ninth grade, I quickly became deeply absorbed in the vast, haunting ruins of Maryland and Virginia the game had conjured; hundreds of hours poured into the Capitol Wasteland, mastering tricks, optimizing builds, fighting and stealing and living among a cruel, vibrant, and often touching post-apocalyptic society. Xuanlong, AER9, Reilly’s Rangers – perhaps I was just young, but I doubt I’ll ever forget those trusty and dependable standbys, always there to get me through any adversity, old friends fit for the warmest nostalgia. Through necessity, I played Fallout 3 on the PlayStation 3, by every measure the worst possible platform to do such a thing, but I didn’t much care. And though the harsh and complicated land of Vvardenfell eventually supplanted them in my mind, at the time, there simply was nothing as engrossing as those dusty, sun-baked plains, those ruinous towers of glass and steel.
Fast-forward a year or so and the cycle repeated itself with Fallout 3’s Game of the Year Edition, and another hundred-odd hours sucked into the world on the TV screen. Anchorage, the Pitt, clunky ret-conning, a tedious spaceship slog, and, best of all, the murky swamplands of the Virginia coast; it was a mixed bag, but one worth seeing through if only for the material rewards. Or so I thought. Each piece of content handed my character another superpower, in the form of equipment; an everlasting, perfectly-effective stealth suit. A deadly assault rifle, quiet as a whisper. A hand cannon packed with buckshot, and a Samurai’s sword. Enough alien weaponry to outfit a small army. By the time I was rolling through the last of Broken Steel’s missions, my young Wanderer had become a god; there’s really no other way to describe it. And it would’ve been fine and dandy, except Fallout 3 set out to match him; as my character’s power escalated, so too did that of his enemies, until the Capitol Wasteland was crawling with hulking monstrosities, nigh-invulnerable ghouls, and a limitless flood of iron-clad Enclave shock troops. As I trudged through the nightmarish hordes, impressive, but hardly enjoyable, it dawned on me; this was not the Capitol Wasteland I had fallen in love with, where a desperate survivor and his trusty dog scrounged for caps and fended off drug-fiend raiders – it had become utterly foreign, and I didn’t much appreciate the change. Disillusioned, I turned my back on my former friends; stepping up to the game’s ultimate decision, I chose to annihilate the game’s cheery do-gooders with a rain of treacherous hellfire. I walked my avatar home to his ramshackle dwelling, hired his washed-up, heartless mercenary neighbor, outfitted them both in the armor of kings, and they faced the Wasteland together; then I switched off the game, navigated to the saves menu, and deleted all record of their existence. I was done.