By ahoodedfigure 16 Comments
So, I beat the main quest for Morrowind and its two expansions. I loved it when it let me, but there were still setbacks and broken quest fragments lying everywhere. Thankfully, the main quests, though still frustrating in places, became relatively straightforward toward the end, reducing the chance for irritation.
One thing I've noticed more and more is that Morrowind is exceedingly bad at giving directions. I and others like ArbitraryWater have talked about this before, where they give you a long list of turn-right-at-the-burnt-logs, and they all sound reasonable enough when you read them, but then you reach a crossroads that splits northwest/southwest and you're supposed to go west. If you go as the crow (or cliff racer, I guess) flies, you may find what you're looking for, or you may not. It has become clear to me that there were actually a lot of different writers working on the different quests, and even within their own work there are inconsistencies in the way quests are handled, but you get the feeling that the quest writers had a better view of the landscape than the player does, and that some of them, testers or the writers themselves, never bothered to follow the directions given and see how quickly they could find the place when the map hadn't been uncovered, and there was a bit of a foggy gloom cutting down the already low visibility, plodding along at 40 Speed, getting pecked by cliff racers, and, oh why not, escorting a hapless NPC that you have to lead all the way back to Ebonheart from a distant foyada.
You already know a good deal of the problems if you've played the game, but man did I have my share. The game's crashes became more frequent the further I got, but those crashes sort of accelerated a bit toward the end. Made me a bit worried that the XBox itself might be dying, but our games of Gladius have been fine, and I started up a new game with an Orc, and the game runs and saves smoothly, suggesting it's just a huge buildup of errors.
I really enjoyed the main quest in Morrowind, though. I wouldn't have gone through all this if I didn't. And Tribunal had a nice moment of ugliness toward the end that reminded me why I still put so much time into ES games despite all the pain I go through. Bloodmoon had some well-written moments too, but the tone was different enough that I felt like it was a vacation spot. Going there for a few hours would usually freshen up my perception of the strangeness of the main island. Werewolves seem to have gotten a bit more attention than vampires did, although it still boils down to what seems to be a fun minigame rather than a way to play the game long-term and get much out of it. I like those things for novelty's sake, but I don't mind if they're not there for sequels since it seems like this sort of stuff was a lot easier to implement in Daggerfall.
Many of the expansions had features that were mutually exclusive. Bloodmoon often featured choices that were largely absent in the other two expansions, with some minor but permanent changes to the landscape depending on what you decided. Morrowind had pack animals, persistent hirelings, and plenty of high-class loot. They felt in turn like they were testing the water, trying things out for the Elder Scrolls formula.
I think that's where some of the cynicism toward Elder Scrolls comes from. We often get a huge selection of things, a bewilderingly large world to play around in, so when we set out it feels new again. Yet the further one plays one can almost trace how things were corrected over time to get rid of things that didn't work, which sometimes created new problems. Daggerfall made dungeons 3D, and made them very hard to navigate. Morrowind went full 3D, reducing the amount of times you fall into the abyss, but not eliminating them. Oblivion paid closer attention to quest structure to help make them less likely to break, yet social interaction got a bit too close to uncanny valley for some, while others noted that making quests and leveling safe sort of defeated the magic of breaking the game's sequence, something open world games sometimes allow.
I'm tempted to review Morrowind, Bloodmoon, and Tribunal, despite them being old, because I have managed to actually beat the main quest lines. I think it would benefit folks like me, since up until now I was the kind of person who would get lost in the world and then give up, rather than try to follow the trail of breadcrumbs. Finishing these reminded me that Bethesda actually puts enough care into their main quests that they should at least be attempted. Even back in Arena, the real strong dungeon variation came from the main quest dungeons, which were designed and not procedurally generated. I think procedural generation will eventually reach a point where we'll have some stunning, organic places to explore. You see hints of that in popular games now, but I imagine it will become even more expansive and fascinating down the road, if we let computers compute a bit more.
One day, assuming civilization doesn't collapse, I imagine I'll be playing a game that lets me explore, say, a Von Neumann Probe like the one painted by Don Lawrence as part of my background graphic on my page.
The promise of the unexplored is why so many of us still play Elder Scrolls games even when they burn us.
Since then, other than revisiting my Gladius game from a long time ago, I've been pondering the possibilities of Inform 7 a little more in-depth than usual. I'll let you know if anything comes from that; otherwise, you know, there'll be complete silence until I have something I want to talk about.