By dankempster 7 Comments
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This blog contains some plot spoilers for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Consider yourselves warned.
For those of you who are fairly up-to-date with my game-playing habits, you'll know that I've devoted the last six weeks of my gaming life to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I picked up a copy of the Game of the Year Edition for the Xbox quite a while back, and finally decided to pour some time into it over my summer break. It rapidly took hold of all my spare time, and now, I finally feel like I've spent enough time with the game to make a well-informed judgement on its quality in blog format. So, with great reluctance, at 1am, I set down my controller and pick up the keyboard and mouse to bring you this blog chronicling my summer in Vvardenfell.
For the stat-oriented among you, here are some interesting number-related tidbits to chew on. I've been playing Morrowind pretty much exclusively for just under six weeks now. Thirty-nine days, to be exact. In that time, I've clocked up 162 days on the in-game clock. While there's no on-screen timer to keep track of the exact figure, I reckon I've easily poured somewhere between sixty and eighty hours into this monster of a game. In that time, I've ascended the ranks to reach Level 32, and amassed over 45000 Gold. My voluminous (and very poorly organised) Journal currently stands at 271 pages long. From looking at the game's world map, I'd guess I've explored around 30% of the island of Vvardenfell. Large areas in the centre and east of the island remain unexplored. Countless caverns and Daedric ruins remain unplundered, and there are probably still more than a few backwater towns I have yet to discover out in the far reaches of the island. The additional content from the Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansions, included within the Game of the Year Edition as part of the main package, remains totally untouched at the time of writing.
What I'm getting at is, Morrowind is a huge game. From right off the bat, every feasible option is available to you. There's a main quest to dive into, several factions to join and work for, hundreds of caves and ruins to explore (and strip bare of their contents)... the list is endless. After a bit of deliberation I opted to create a combat-oriented character, and I spent my first few hours with the game simply exploring part of the island, getting acquainted with the game mechanics and looting any caves I came across. After I'd amassed a bit of money and bought some better equipment, I decided to get enrol in the Fighters Guild, figuring it would suit my character's playing style. After that I enlisted in the Imperial Legion, and I'm currently rising through the ranks of House Redoran. All the while my involvement with the main quest has been fairly constant, and I've just met with Vivec in his palace to discuss what to do about the whole Dagoth Ur situation. Despite doing all this, though (and spending so much game time doing it), I know I've only scratched the surface of what Morrowind has to offer. A wealth of magic and stealth-focused content remains unexplored purely because of my character's build. Not to mention all the parts of the island that I haven't ventured into and the unaffiliated free-form quests that I haven't been fortunate enough to discover. The game really is that big.
Because of this sense of total freedom, it's also a very daunting game. Having taken a retrograde leap backwards from the comparatively patronising open-world experiences offered by Oblivion and Fallout 3, I wasn't expecting Morrowind to literally throw me out into the world to fend for myself with little preparation, but that's exactly what it did. With only a few drakes in my pocket, a rusty dagger in my sheath and an obscure set of instructions unaccompanied by any kind of helpful guiding marker, I was dropped in the middle of Seyda Neen with the whole of Vvardenfell mine to explore. It took me quite a while to overcome the stupefication that comes with such a scenario, but after I'd adjusted and spent a few hours with the game, navigating its myriad options seemed to get progressively easier. It's by no means as intuitive as the marker systems in Oblivion and Fallout 3, but it is a lot more rewarding when things do work out, because you have the added knowledge that the game wasn't holding your hand.
I know a lot of people have a hang-up with Morrowind when it comes to the game's graphics. They pose no problem to me, probably because I'm still trapped in the last gen at heart. I also have an innate ability to appreciate a game's graphics within their own timeframe, even several years later, and while Morrowind certainly makes use of this ability, it certainly doesn't exert it. As a piece of technology, I find the game a marvel to behold. The fact that this incredibly detailed gameworld could be realised on a last-gen console, with this extent of graphical polish, is mind-boggling. The graphical style is reminiscent of the PS2 port of Half-Life, which I only got around to playing last year and still found to be more than palatable from an aesthetic viewpoint. The frame rate of this Xbox version can become a little choppy at times, usually when a lot of enemies (particularlymagic-users) are on-screen, but from what I've played the game almost always runs at a playable speed. One specific area I'd really like to acknowledge is the artistic style of the game's fauna. Creatures like the Guar, the Nix Hound, the Kagouti and the Netch all look great and show some real creativity on the parts of the game's designers, as well as helping to cement the individuality of Morrowind's self-contained ecosystem.
That's not to say I don't have any criticism to offer. My main problem with the game is the lack of variety in its quests. Maybe it's because I was playing as a combat-oriented character, but all the quests I performed for the Fighters Guild and Imperial Legion seemed to be limited to a small set of instructions: "Go here", "fetch this/that", "kill him/her". I obviously can't speak for the game's magic and stealth-focused quests, but Morrowind's side-quests feel mighty shallow when compared to Oblivion and Fallout 3. There's also the Journal, which after about fifteen hours of play ends up being a disorganised mess of jumbled quest notes. I understand it was patched in the PC version, but in the Xbox version the Journal is practically useless when it comes to quickly accessing long-dormant quest information. My final major complaint is levelled at the game's level of freedom, which is a kind of double-edged sword. While it does make completing a quest more rewarding, it can also make it much more frustrating than it needs to be. I'll admit I've been so stumped that I've had to turn to the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages for assistance a few times, most notably when trying to locate that annoyingly elusive Dwemer Puzzle Box towards the start of the game's main quest.
Despite these shortcomings, though, Morrowind is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favourite games. It may not be as polished as its younger brother Oblivion and its spiritual successor Fallout 3, but in many ways it's a better game because of it. It offers more depth, more content, and more options to the player, and leaves it up to the player to decide what to do with them. In an age of quick time events, GPS mini maps and compass markers, it's almost refreshing to play a game that doesn't patronise me and instead leaves me to wander off and discover its many secrets for myself. Do I think Morrowind is a better game than Oblivion? I'm not going to even entertain the question. While I'm aware that leaning one way or the other will land me in hot water with a lot of fans, that's not the reason I'm opting to stay neutral in this argument. Morrowind is the deeper game, that much is obvious. Yet I think that without playing the more polished, player-friendly Oblivion first, I would have found Morrowind to be almost completely inaccessible because of that same depth. I guess I appreciate both games on their own merit, because of the things they do differently.
I think that about does it for now. It's 3am here now and I'm beat. Time to publish this blog and play some more Mor... I mean, turn in for the night. Thanks for reading guys, I'll see you around.
Currently playing - The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition (XBOX)