Games are rereleased all the time. Since the average shelf life of a game is measured in weeks rather than months, game publishers find convenient ways of reissuing some of their stronger titles in order to give them more exposure throughout the year. The typical "game of the year edition" or "platinum hits" version of a game offers nothing more to those who played the original release than a discounted price and a shiny, new box. However, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Game of the Year Edition is an exceptional case. This reissued version of last year's incredibly huge Xbox role-playing game includes a ton of new content as well as a few notable gameplay tweaks, making it easily recommended for Morrowind fans. On the other hand, those who were put off by Morrowind's huge, open-ended world will find an even huger, more open-ended world to be intimidated by in Morrowind Game of the Year Edition.
Specifically, Morrowind Game of the Year Edition includes the 200-odd hours' worth of content from the mid-2002 release of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, as well as the content from the two retail PC expansion packs, Tribunal and Bloodmoon. These were both published in the past 12 months, and each in turn offered an appreciable amount of new territory to explore, new quests to undertake, new weapons and equipment to find and use, new enemies to fight, and more. The back of the box touts "100+ hours" of new gameplay, and that's an accurate assessment of what these expansions have to offer. Much of this content is marginally better than that of the original Morrowind--the quests are more complex, the dungeon crawls are longer, and so on. The new content is also more challenging, since it's intended for those who finished the main quest of the original game. As these players would expect, saved game data can be transfered over from the original game to Morrowind Game of the Year Edition.
Not that Morrowind stops you from trying to get to the new material before you're ready for it. If you want to head straight to the large, snow-covered island of Solstheim, featured in the Bloodmoon expansion, go right ahead. Or, pursue Tribunal's main quest to find yourself in Mournhold, the capital city of the land of Morrowind. Tribunal offers a fairly linear experience as compared with the rest of the game, but in the context of this otherwise highly open-ended gameplay, it can be a refreshing change of pace. But Bloodmoon is the better expansion of the two, in no small part because it lets you contract that popular disease called lycanthropy.
Becoming a werewolf is as much a curse as it is a blessing, but it certainly changes the dynamic of Morrowind. For one thing, in werewolf form, you move about much more quickly than you do normally--at times, the relatively slow standard walking speed of Morrowind can grow wearisome even for the game's devoted fans. You must kill to sustain yourself, but your razorlike claws and pounce attack enable you to do so rather efficiently. Just watch out for silver weapons, and be sure to stay out of sight when night falls or dawn breaks--if you're caught changing to or from a werewolf by any civilized creature, society won't just shun you, but will attack you on sight. However, it's not difficult to keep your new personality quirk a secret.
Morrowind Game of the Year Edition has some other, new features. The most notable of these is straightforward enough, but it makes a big difference during gameplay: You can see a health meter for the opponent you're fighting. In the original release of Morrowind, there was no good way of knowing whether you were severely damaging an enemy with your attacks or barely scratching it, but now you'll know exactly how close you are to taking down your opponent. Furthermore, Tribunal lets you fight alongside mercenaries or hire several different pack animals, a feature that isn't terribly well developed but that can alleviate some of the sense of loneliness you'll get from traveling Morrowind's huge world mostly by yourself.
A version of this release is also available for the PC, and is recommended over the Xbox version mostly because this game remains better suited on the PC. All the text is easier to read, the game runs more smoothly on today's average system than it does on the Xbox, a whole slew of downloadable user-created content is available, and the loading times are shorter. (However, if you have the combination of a good home theater and a bad PC, then this Xbox version is certainly the way to go.)
Furthermore, one important aspect of the updated PC version of Morrowind unfortunately didn't make it into the Xbox version of Morrowind Game of the Year Edition: an organized journal. In the original release of the game, one consequence of being able to travel anywhere in a huge, open-ended world and to take on countless quests from countless non-player characters was that all those quests would be annotated in chronological order in a journal that, before long, would be the size of a novel. Trying to track down the name of the character or the destination of a quest, much less remember which quests you still had pending and which quests you'd already finished, could be a real headache. This problem was addressed in a patch for the PC version of Morrowind, which allowed you to browse your journal by quest and filter out completed quests. Apparently, though, some technical issues prevented this feature from being easily imported into this Xbox rerelease. Regardless of what could have been, though, the difficulty of keeping track of your quests is still a big problem in the Xbox version of Morrowind Game of the Year Edition.
Another rather serious issue is that the loading times in Morrowind Game of the Year Edition are almost painfully long--not so much when transitioning from one area to the next, but definitely so when loading a saved game, such as after you're killed. It seems as though the addition of all the new content means there's a lot more that the game needs to keep track of, and this directly falls to the loading-time bottom line. For what it's worth, Morrowind is among the worst games imaginable for gamers seeking instant gratification, whereas more-patient gamers are the ones who tend to find its unique style of gameplay to be richly rewarding; this latter group of players shouldn't mind the loading times too much, since this isn't a fast-paced game anyway. Also, it bears mentioning that some users are experiencing crashes and dirty disc errors with Morrowind Game of the Year Edition, though we didn't encounter any such problems ourselves. Bethesda has acknowledged the issue and posted details on how to circumvent it on the game's official message boards.
The game's visuals have aged noticeably, but they still look good. The sketchy frame rate and occasionally ugly character models and animations are offset by lush, realistic-looking terrain and beautiful weather effects. The new areas of the game do boast some attractive, new scenery to explore, and fans of the original game will appreciate the contrast. Morrowind's audio remains mostly unchanged; the game's orchestral soundtrack is memorable largely because of how often it repeats, though it's certainly well done. Some speech is used for the nonplayer characters, but Morrowind relies very heavily on text-based dialogue, which can be a hard pill to swallow coming off of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its impressive use of full speech.
Knights of the Old Republic may be the premier Xbox role-playing game, but Morrowind still compares favorably to that game in many ways. It's not nearly as well paced or as focused, and its characters aren't nearly as interesting, but it's far more open-ended and encourages you to go wherever you want and try whatever you want. In fact, if you haven't played Morrowind yet but you did cut your teeth on Knights of the Old Republic, you should give Morrowind Game of the Year Edition a try. Though the individual aspects of the gameplay aren't always very satisfying in and of themselves, the sum total of all that there is to see and do in Morrowind is nothing short of remarkable.