The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Review
It's a beautiful, sprawling, and open-ended game that lets you play pretty much however you like as long as you're willing to fill in a few blanks using your imagination.
If you're familiar with previous Elder Scrolls games, namely Arena and Daggerfall, or if you've heard anything in particular about The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind over the past several years, then you'll be expecting the game to be as big as it is open-ended. It is, and very much so in both those respects. As its developers promised all along, Morrowind does feature an enormous, detailed 3D world filled with thousands of different characters. It does offer such a large number of optional side quests that it's unlikely you'd ever see them all, even if you tried. And it's true that you could spend close to a hundred hours solving whichever ones you happen upon during the course of spending about as much time finishing the main quest. For all these reasons, and because of its superlative visuals, Morrowind is an undeniably impressive game. It does have shortcomings, and at times they seem to outnumber its strong points, but in general Morrowind's praiseworthy qualities tend to far outweigh its relatively minor problems. That's putting it broadly, because clearly there's a lot to be said about the game.
For the most part, Morrowind carries on many of the proudest traditions of computer role-playing. If you've been playing fantasy role-playing games for a while, then you'll find yourself in familiar territory here, at least figuratively speaking. The actual world of Morrowind is original. The game's main plot, though it's presented mostly in writing, is quite engaging, and it involves first uncovering why your emperor has ordered you to the island province of Morrowind and then fulfilling your destiny there. The characters you'll meet along the way aren't all completely unique, but there's enough difference between them that they help give you a distinct sense of the setting and even the culture of Morrowind. It's a place with a surprising amount of political intrigue and a long history, and that history is described thoroughly in the dozens of different books you can pick up and read in the game. You're on your own through most of Morrowind, which makes you feel adventurous, but sometimes lonely. That's also in part because interacting with characters is a pretty detached process that boils down to clicking through a list of available topics of conversation. You'll also notice how non-player characters in Morrowind generally just stand there, doing nothing. Even when you come visit them in a cornerclub or in their homes, you'll never see them engaging in any activities whatsoever, which makes the world seem less alive than it could have. Some hidden gags provide a refreshing bit of comic relief, but these moments are perhaps too few and far between.
The characters you meet will respond to you differently depending on who you are, and who you are is entirely up to you thanks to the great deal of flexibility you get in creating your own persona. There are more than 20 different character classes to choose from, including choices like barbarian, spellsword, and assassin. You can either pick one of these or, in a nod to the classic Ultima series, you can answer a series of moral questions and the game will choose a class for you based on your decisions. The third option is to create your own class, and that's the best of the three. After all, the premade classes are really just templates rather than truly distinctive character types. They're examples of what can be done with Morrowind's character generation system, in which each character class has five major skills, five secondary skills, and a core specialization: combat, magic, or stealth. Your specialization determines which skills your character will initially be strongest in and can improve in the fastest. There are nearly 30 different skills overall, and even those that don't fall under your major or secondary skills are still available to you, though your character will be slower to hone them.
You could go out of your way to make a purely combat-focused, magic-focused, or stealth-focused character, but in reality you'll probably use skills from all three categories. That's because some of the skills are pretty basic. For instance, the fancily named "acrobatics" only governs your jumping ability and how much damage you absorb from falling. Using various weapons or wearing various types of armor gradually improves your skills in using those types of equipment, and that is also the case with using the various schools of magic. Whenever your character runs, you're using "athletics," which is classified as a combat skill. The walking speed in Morrowind realistically represents a leisurely pace, but unfortunately, it seems terribly slow in game terms, even if you're accustomed to the slow pace of other 3D role-playing games. So you'll learn to run all the time, just as soon as you pick up on Morrowind's simple controls.
The most interesting thing about Morrowind's skill system is that it's tied in with how you gain experience levels. In most role-playing games, you gain experience (and thus improve your abilities) mostly by killing stuff or solving quests. In Morrowind, you gain levels by practicing your character's main skills. Other RPGs tend to cripple non-fighter characters by still forcing them to fight to gain levels. But in Morrowind, if you play as a thief, then you gain levels by thieving. If you play as a magic user, you gain levels by using magic, and so on. This is a clever system that makes perfect sense.
However, it does have some problems, insofar as certain skills are much easier to improve than others. The playing field is leveled somewhat since skill improvement (through training) can simply be bought. Sadly, you might not realize until after many hours of play that some of your character's skills just aren't cutting it. Your options are to suck it up or start over. Some of the skills aren't ineffective so much as they're underdeveloped. Speechcraft, a seemingly sophisticated ability, is simplistic in practice. You have the option to try to flatter, intimidate, taunt, or bribe any of the NPCs in the game. But in reality, these are just thinly veiled dice rolls based on your speechcraft skill rating. If you fail, the other character loses affinity for you, but you can just keep trying until you succeed several times in a row. It's as pointless (and can be as pointlessly addictive) as a virtual slot machine. It's also rather ridiculous, since when you repeatedly try to bribe the same character, he or she will alternate between being insulted by your intentions and gladly accepting your money.
- Player Reviews: 394
- Game Universe:
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (XBOX, PC),
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC, X360, MOBILE, PS3, PSP),
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine (PC, X360),
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (PC, X360, PS3),
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition (X360, PC, PS3),
- BioShock & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Bundle (PC, X360),
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Mehrunes' Razor (PC, X360),
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - The Fighter's Stronghold (PC, X360),
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - The Orrery (PC, X360),
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - The Vile Lair (PC, X360)
- Number of Players: