Sunday, February 27, 2011

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Holy Shit

Oh where to begin with this all-encompassing, life devouring wonder of a game? I guess I should start by saying I thought I would never be able to get through Morrowind. I played Oblivion first and even though I knew Morrowind could offer the same 200+ hour complete infatuation like I had with it's successor, Morrowind's subpar graphics and missing upgrades/conveniences made it really difficult to get very far. I tried at least 5 times on the Xbox to go back and force myself to play Morrowind, and never once did I get past the first village following the lengthy character creation process.

Then, shortly after Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's announcement, I stumbled across this:

and instructions on how to mod the PC version of the game to make it look more modern. I had never really considered myself much of a PC gamer, mostly because I owned a mac growing up and didn't have a decent gaming rig until a few months ago. Needless to say I was intrigued, and I quickly installed the game, it's expansions, and spent a few hours upgrading my game.

About 2 or 3 weeks later I emerged from my man-cave, covered in stubble and smelling of nerdy sweat and determination. I had fulfilled an ancient prophecy, saved the world, explored every nook and cranny, risen to the top of every guild, and amassed massive stores of loot and weaponry. It's a pretty typical "After" picture for an Elder Scrolls game, one that's different for every person who plays because of the inherent freedom in the game. Oblivion left you feeling like you had made a difference in a massive world with almost all of your actions, and Morrowind succeeds just as well at this, if not better.

Unfortunately it's hard to avoid comparisons to Oblivion, especially since Oblivion was the reason I couldn't play Morrowind for all those years. Morrowind does feel like a slightly smaller game world than Oblivion but it's still pretty massive, and without Oblivion's fast travel system (there are other transport methods) the act of running around and discovering things does feel more fulfilling. Morrowind's world seems somewhat more interesting, whereas Oblivion's ruins and cities were more in-line with your typical medieval fantasy world, Morrowind has some truly fascinating sights like giant mushrooms and sandstone tombs and huge cities made of linked pyramids. I definitely feel like the world of Morrowind, although smaller and obviously less graphically attractive, ultimately feels a lot more charming because you don't know what kind of thing you're going to see next.

As far as overall gameplay goes, Morrowind is a great example of WRPGs and the Elder Scrolls series in general. After arriving at your destination of Morrowind you are essentially released into the game world with an idea of where to go next, but no real restriction on where you go and what you do. Quests are almost always open ended and can be completed at any time, and there are multiple schools of martial and magical skill as well as stealth and speechcraft leaving numerous ways of completing tasks you come across. The huge and varied game world is pretty much the hallmark of the Elder Scrolls series and Morrowind certainly doesn't disappoint, with a dozen or so towns and cities and about as many guilds you can join and rise through the ranks of. The main story can be tackled at your own pace as well, or delayed indefinitely as you explore and leave your mark on the world. Character development is also totally up to you, with each of the 30 or so skills getting better with use, and the ability to freely allocate stat points in whatever best suits your style of play.

Morrowind (like the rest of the Elder Scrolls series) is first person but can be switched into a 3rd person mode although this doesn't work as well as one would hope. Unfortunately combat is probably the game's weakest suit, with melee combat being particularly clunky, although this is vastly improved in Oblivion. Granted, the game isn't that difficult (there's a very detailed difficulty slider in the menu as well) but a player with the proper skills or magic could sneak through the entire game and avoid combat almost altogether, or in some cases even talk their way out of a fight. I played as something of a cross between a warrior and a mage, and I was able to use spells and swords together to avoid most problems. There is also a very in-depth spellcrafting and enchanting/alchemy system which can be used together to hilarious effect, essentially "breaking" the game, allowing you to brew potions that can be sold for obscene amounts of money or impart boosts to your stats and skills that make combat easier (or avoid it completely). For example, you can make a potion that allows you to fly across the world at breakneck speeds, eliminating the need for long treks through enemy territory (warning: doing this may cause you to get very lazy!).

As far as most bang for your buck goes, it doesn't get much better than the Elder Scrolls games. Completing "everything" in Oblivion and it's add-ons took me 249 hours, and although Morrowind doesn't count your playtime I am sure I spent over 150 hours doing nearly everything. There is plenty of replay value with 3 different factions to join during the main quest and different sides to take for various guilds/expansions, and even though you can probably zip through the main quest in 20 or so hours there is plenty to keep you distracted if you ever decide to stray off the beaten path.

It's hard to explain Morrowind to people because you can literally do anything, which makes it really hard to entice people into playing because you never know exactly what kind of experience you're going to have with the game. However, for those willing to take the plunge (and do a little work getting the game to look pretty), Morrowind can offer you one of the most immersive and satisfying experiences available on any platform. Personally, I'm glad I waited so long to play it so I could play with the updated graphics, although I definitely never knew just what an amazing game I was missing out on.

NOTE: Personally, I used the "Morrowind Expanded" instructions in the link above but they don't look quite as good as the video. To get the game to look as pretty as the video you'll need to google "Morrowind 2011" but it might be hard to find instructions as the person who compiled the mods got in trouble with the individual mod creators for not properly crediting them, and took the site down. If you're willing to do a little digging you can probably find it on torrent sites, though.

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