Hands-on: Morrowind

We've been playing Bethesda's newly released fully 3D role-playing game. Read our impressions and check out a number of new gameplay movies.

Bethesda Softworks' highly anticipated role-playing game The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind hit store shelves earlier this week, and we've already managed to log a considerable amount of time in the imaginative world of this sprawling game. Morrowind has been years in the making, and it offers what's by all accounts a huge single-player gaming experience in which you'll travel across countless miles of detailed scenery while undertaking quests, fighting villains, and generally exploring everything.

We've been having a good time with the game thus far. Although Morrowind is definitely resource-intensive due to its big, complex environments, we've experienced relatively smooth gameplay without any technical issues whatsoever on two different test systems, each sporting 1.4GHz Athlon processors and GeForce4 Ti 4600 graphics cards. Needless to say, we're still relatively early in the adventure, but thus far, we've observed that the game succeeds at being as open-ended as we expected, but it's also quite focused. Thanks to the game's journal feature, we were always well aware of the numerous places we could go or the quests we could undertake. At various points, we found ourselves trying to decide what to do next, but we were never merely wondering what to do.

In the first 10 minutes of the game, Morrowind players will not only decide which sort of character they'll play as, but they'll also learn all about how to actually play. Though Morrowind is for the most part a traditional role-playing game, it features an intuitive default control scheme that employs a keyboard-and-mouse combination, much like what you'd find in a first-person shooter. Creating your character is similarly intuitive--at its core, Morrowind uses a stats-driven, skill-based system that's completely open-ended, like most of the game. Though you can choose from a wide variety of premade character classes, you can also create your own. You simply choose a specialization--combat, magic, or stealth--and then your major and minor skills, as well as your character's race and a couple of other details. We opted to create our own character class: the sword saint, a master of bladed combat who is also skilled in the use of destructive and regenerative magic but isn't lacking in social graces. As an alternative to creating your own class or choosing a prefabricated one, you can also elect to answer a series of moral questions--much like in some of the classic Ultima games--and based on your responses, the game will recommend a character class for you.

Early on, players will have the opportunity to embark on the game's main quest, in which they'll need to investigate a mysterious plague that's sweeping the land. However, rather than go straight off on the main quest, we decided to look around for a while. What we found were a number of other perplexing quests waiting to be undertaken. For example, we were charged with spying on a particular townsperson so we could find his hidden stash of ill-gotten gains. To do this, we needed to carefully observe his actions in the dead of night, from atop a lighthouse. Then we retraced his footsteps and recovered the loot, returning it to its supposedly rightful owner. We later decided to confront the townsperson about the whole incident. Just as Morrowind itself is a nonlinear game, its quests also seem to have various outcomes and solutions.

We're busy playing the game itself, so we haven't spent as much time with the Morrowind construction set, which comes included. This toolset lets players build their very own Morrowind scenarios, as if the game itself weren't big enough. We'll have a full review of Morrowind in the days to come. For now, check out these gameplay movies of some of the early scenes from Morrowind, and stay tuned for more media updates next week.

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