The black sheep of an otherwise phenomenal series of RPGs

User Rating: 6 | The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition PC

Morrowind is one of the highest-praised games in the Elder Scrolls series, for reasons that elude me. The game is functional (with the Morrowind Patch Project), and there's a lot of potential, to be sure, but that potential is largely wasted by a number of poor design choices that really can't be excused. I could go on about all the little things, like the one song on endless repeat or the stupid bartering/persuasion mechanics (or the futility of being able to make poisons when you can't actually poison weapons. Or the needlessly-restrictive and limited crafting system. You get the idea), but there are really 3 main problems that kill the experience.

1. The Quests

The story is interesting, sure. I would even go so far as to say it's the most interesting main quest out of the three newer TES games. Unfortunately, the guild quests and side quests are boring and rote. Instead of grappling with a rival Fighters' Guild like in Oblivion or plotting the assassination of the Emperor like in Skyrim, we have "Walk for 20 minutes (not an exaggeration) to a dungeon where you'll spend 3 minutes killing monsters, then walk back for another 20 minutes." Daggerfall's guild quests could get away with not being intricate because the game was a dungeon crawler, and navigating through the dungeon to the target was the point of the game. Here, there isn't even an overarching plot for any of the guilds, so I don't feel invested in doing the quests at all. After a while, I ignored everything but the main quest, since that was the only thing worth doing.

2. Travel

I've seen a lot of fanboys criticize Oblivion and Skyrim for their fast travel systems, which lets you travel anywhere you've been to instantly. When they're reminded that you don't have to fast travel if you don't want to, they often reply with some vague hand-waving about how the games were designed to use the fast travel system because the overworld is empty. They usually praise Morrowind's travel system in the same breath, which is ironic considering that it's by far the worst of the three. In Morrowind, there's no fast travel; instead, there are a number of taxi services which can transport you to other towns, for a price. This wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that these services only exist in larger cities, so if you want to get to a smaller town or a remote cave in the wilderness (as MANY quests require you to do), you have to walk all the way there, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour (these aren't exaggerations, it actually takes that long in real time), depending on your character's speed attribute. The nice thing about the fast travel of later games is that you COULD use it to skip around if you wanted, but in doing so, you would miss out on finding dungeons with useful treasure, or random encounters that really add to the immersion and the joy of traversing an open world. The dungeons in Morrowind can barely even be called that, as most of them consist of 2 to 4 small, copy-pasted rooms with no useful treasure in any of them, and the overworld is bland and featureless, which makes the journey feel twice as long. If you're not going to implement fast travel, at least give us enough taxi routes to get around the world, or do SOMETHING other than making us walk.

3. The Combat

I won't mince words here, the combat is god awful. Not because it's possible to miss with your weapon strikes, that's a valid choice of combat mechanics. Daggerfall did that, and it worked really well. But Daggerfall also had multiple methods of attack; you could swing your weapon 4 or 5 different ways, and each method of attack had a different damage output and chance to hit. In Morrowind, it's pretty much just "swing sword until enemy dies". Different weapons will do different amounts of damage depending on whether you swing it sideways, downwards, or thrust, but it doesn't make fights any less mechanical (there's even an option to automatically have your character use whichever method does the most damage, in case you felt you had too much control over the game). But the real problem is the complete lack of difficulty scaling. Unlike all the other TES games, where monsters got stronger as you did, the monsters in Morrowind always stay the same level. Now this wouldn't be a problem, except the only monsters you'll encounter 90% of the time are wild animals and zombies, which cease to be threatening to anyone with a halfway competent build beyond level 10. The 10% of monsters that are slightly more threatening can only be found in a few types of dungeons, and even those stop being challenging after level 16 or so, by which point you will have found at least one of the extremely-overpowered pieces of unique equipment. Of course, you can increase the difficulty setting in the options menu, but all that does is make you weaker and the enemies stronger (i.e., makes combat last longer), and I for one think combat is tedious enough as is.

To summarize, Morrowind is ultimately a tedious, uninteresting game with a few good plot elements scattered here and there. In terms of gameplay mechanics, it can best be described as a dumbed-down version of Daggerfall, which is inexcusable considering the fact that it came out roughly a decade later. If you want a good, old-fashioned western RPG, I would highly recommend Daggerfall, which is more polished in every way (and can also be downloaded for free from Bethesda's website).