The first Elder Scrolls game I played was Oblivion, and I played it years after it had already come out, so I had no knowledge of what it would be like and had absolutely no hype. I loved it. However, I was still in school and always had something to do, but I can assure you that every moment of free time I had was spent in Oblivion.
I played Oblivion non-stop for at least a month, neglecting all of my other games. My first impression was that it was just another generic fantasy world that I could stomp around in, and while that initially didn't seem appealing, I soon realized that there was a massive amount of content to make up for that. I played through the few guilds there were, raided every dungeon, found every book, and had, to put it simply, a genuine adventure. Then I hit the wall.
Oblivion was like a car that could travel faster than any other, offering a thrill for the passenger that really no other car could. The downside was that sooner or later, you would get over the novelty of speed and look out the window, only to realize that you were on the same track you'd been on since you started driving. The car was so fast that you could only ever drive it on that one specially made track, and couldn't really go anywhere with it.
I basically got to the end of Oblivion, and any Elder Scrolls fans reading this know that i'm not talking about beating the final boss. I am talking about the real end, the moment when you have done literally everything there is to do, and are forced to look at the uninspired world and realize that nothing has changed. You saved the world, and nobody cares. You spent hours collecting pieces of daedric armor, and now every bandit is wearing some.
Oblivion had no world, no atmosphere. It existed for the journey, the ride, which was exentuated by the leveling system. This is not a bad thing, it only means that it appeals to certain people more so than others. It did not appeal to me. You could do anything, but it all meant nothing. After reaching "the end", I couldn't play Oblivion anymore without realizing how fenced in and rushed everything was.
I can't remember where I got my copy of Morrowind, because it didn't really seem important at the time. I had to admit that I had fun with Oblivion while it lasted, and so I bought the game before it expecting more mindless fun for awhile. I put Morrowind in, started it up, suffered the loading screens, and immediately hated everything about it. I hated the graphics, I hated the sound, and I absolutely loathed the combat. I sped through the tutorial like I did with Oblivion and walked up to a mudcrab, expecting to slaughter it like I did with everything in Cyrodil. It destroyed me. This little mudcrab ripped me apart, a Nord with a two handed hammer and potions, and I couldn't land a single hit. I turned the game off and forgot about Morrowind.
Much later, I tried it again. I still hated that awful Seyda Neen and everyone in it, but I was bored and decided to give it another go. This time, I had a mission; to kill that mudcrab. I decided to make a mage, something that was rediculously overpowered in Oblivion, knowing that I would absolutely mangle that crab. It killed me without even breaking a sweat.
Later still, I gave it one last try, opting to go with a Nord berserker again. This time I looked at the skills and star signs and actually bothered to understand what they were and what they meant. I got to Agility and just smiled... This was the magical skill that had screwed me over before. If I wanted to hit things and avoid being hit, I needed more of this. This time, I actually listened to the NPCs because I really needed to kill that crab, and any edge would help. They mentioned the Emperor, Balmora, Silt Strider, yeah yeah, why should I care? Tell me more about Agility!
While the guard was yammering on about Morrowind, I noticed something on the shelf behind him... A key. I got him to turn around and managed to swipe it, and hurried out to find what door it unlocked. Turns out it unlocks the door right in front of you when you leave the tutorial, and it was filled with awesome weapons...
I thought things through this time. I stole a nice hammer, scrounged up some potions, saved up some money by selling things to the merchant in town. I fought the crab... And finally killed it. As I walked back into town liked a hero, someone started saying something. It was an elf standing near me named Fargoth. I gave him his ring and he told me that the merchant was his friend, and that he would put in a good word for me. Lo and behold, I went to the merchant and he had a massive increase in disposition. Interesting. It was small, but I affected the world.
I decided to play for awhile longer, and finally saw what a Silt Strider was. A giant bug? Seriously? And you cut into their brains to control them so you can ride on them? I nevertheless rode on it, and ended up in Balmora, and later on visited Gnisis and Ald'Ruhn. This is when I fell in love with Morrowind. The houses actually looked unique and... Well, strange and new. I had never seen anything like that gigantic crab shell that the Redoran live under in any movie, book or video game. Imagine my surprise when I visited the Telvanni mushroom tower-cities in the east and cities like Peligiad that actually had unique looks to them.
I was sucked in. I wanted to talk to everyone, because everyone had something to say. I wanted to do everything, because it was all so new and exciting. I wanted to master the spear, but also learn to use the warhammer that had served me well, and magic seemed very cool. And Guess what? I did all of those things, entirely at my own pace, without worrying about becoming underpowered becuase I decided to dabble in Alchemism every now and then. Levels were already set in Vvardenfell. Here was this new and incredibly dangerous world, and it was up to you to find a place in it. This wasn't like the hand-holding of Cyrodil, where you could turn the difficulty down and immediately be capable of killing Mannimarco. I know this because I actually treid killing a Telvanni wizard with the difficulty set to the lowest setting. He set me on fire, froze me, electrocuted me, and summoned some atronachs to dog-pile on my corpse. I wasn't mad, though. I was happy, because I knew that I was going to have to work if I wanted to steal a fancy tower from the Telvanni to call my own (I didn't know at the time that you could just join them and build a tower of your own...).
I picked a Nord, but I soon learned that race means absolutely nothing. If you want to be an Orc mage, you can. If you want to be a Wood Elf knight, there is nothing stopping you. As long as you are willing to work hard, literally anything is possible, and at that point you realize that race means nothing at all. Everyone has the potential, and the right, to be whatever they believe they ought to be. Interpret this as a meaningful commentary if you like.
Morowind is the first game that actually made me feel like I was in a unique and dangerous world, and one of the few games that actually made me care about it. I loved the amount of living lore in Morrowind, all of the factions and forces with unique histories. For some reason, I couldn't believe that this was the same world that Oblivion took place in. I had piles of books in Oblivion, but only in Morrowind did I actually read any, which is very strange when you realize that many books in Oblivion actually came from Morrowind.
I love Morrowind. I love how you have to actually work hard to rise in the ranks of the factions that dominate Vvardenfell, how the music and the places and people all melt together into the most inspired game world I have ever seen. In time, I even grew to love the graphics and the combat. I fell for the graphics because... Well, it was like hearing an old and expirienced storyteller as opposed to watching a movie. It was archaic, it was slow, it was entirely unnessecary and inefficiant, and yet it was utterly enchanting. The story of Morrowind is told in an archaic fashion, and to me that has just become apart of what the game is. It made everything feel even stranger and confusing, and it is one of the reasons that I always come back to Morrwind. It wasn't about the graphics. A good story, no matter how it is told, no matter how much time passes, always finds a way to reach you and always has relevance. Morrowind is such a story, a story that begins with five friends that fight alongside each other in their nation's bloodiest war, and ultimately ends with them destroying the very nation they sought to protect. Not only that, but it offers different ways on interpreting itself. It offers the idea that Dagoth Ur is evil and the forces of good must defeat him. It offers the idea that the very enemy of Morrowind, Dagoth Ur, can be construed as the hero of the story, with Azura as the villain and the Nerevarine as her tool of vengeance. It even offers the view that there are no heros or villains, that there are really no individuals at all, just the same essence that has flown through the world since it's beginning in different shapes and proportions, that ultimately the world will return to singularity.
My favorite point of interpretation is that Vvardenfell is metaphoircal for individuals. The daedra are their tempations and distractions, and the nine divines are their guardians. Or maybe the divines and all of the world they rule are just distractions as well, if Vivec's Sermons are to be believed.
Morrowind is the greatest video game I have ever played. Because of it, I can no longer look at true video games as "wastes of time", not when they have the potential to reach you just like any book or movie. Every year, even when I am incredibly busy with college, I find time to read some new books, watch some new movies, and play a few new games. The games might entertain me for a few days, or maybe they'll even teach me a lesson or two, but it always ends the same way. I finish the game, think on it for some time, and then go back to playing Morrowind.
(I know that nobody will read this, but I just wanted to have one last hurrah on a dying thread about a dying game. And before someone yells about me not mentioning Skyrim at all, I did. Read what I said about all other games in the last paragraph.)