Far and away my favorite PC game, even several years and several generations of games after its release.
What first drew me into this game was the way that characters develop their skills. I had come from playing the original Neverwinter Nights, and one thing that bugged me about that game was that you only gained experience by killing enemies. Gaining levels allowed you to increase other skills, like disarming traps, but no matter how many traps you disarmed you gained no credit for it. Didn't it make more sense that traps would give you experience as well? Or at least make you better at disarming other traps? That's what excited me about Morrowind, it has a character development system that is unlike any other game I've played. Experience points are a thing of the past. If you want to get better in a skill, you'd better practice, just like in real life. And just like in real life, learning to pick locks makes you better at picking locks, not casting magic, or blocking attacks. In fact, every action that you can take in Morrowind has its own specific skill. These skills are divided into three main categories: Combat, Magic, and Stealth. When you first create your character you'll also select one of these specialties. Skills in your specialty will be learned quicker than others, but any skill can be learned with enough practice. Proficiency in a skill is measured on a scale from one to one hundred. The base for any skill is five, but the character that you create will start out with some talent in at least a few actions. The first decision you face is choosing your race. Morrowind is a diverse place, with nine different races: you can be a Romanesque Imperial, a dark-skinned warrior Redguard, a lizard-like Argonian, a cat-like Khajiit, a native Dark Elf, a High Elf skilled in a magic, a monkish Breton, a brutish Orc, or an agile Wood Elf. Each race comes with their own specific skill bonuses, reflecting their unique nature. Each race also has specific skills, for example a Khajiit can see in the dark for a period of time, an Argonian can temporarily breathe underwater, and a Dark Elf can summon a ghost of their ancestors to fight by their side.
The next step is choosing your character class. Morrowind provides something like twenty different classes to choose from, and even offers a custom class, where you can choose your own set of skills. Class is determined by your choice of five major skills and five minor skills. Each skill you select will receive a bonus, in addition to racial bonuses, with major skill obviously receiving a greater bonus than minor skills. With nine races and twenty-seven skills to fill ten slots, Morrowind offers almost countless opportunities even from the start.
Choose your skills carefully, because that's how you will gain levels. Every ten increase in your ten major and minor skills causes your character to level up, and every time you level up you get the chance to increase three of your ten attributes, such as strength, agility, intelligence, and luck. Each skill is governed by a specific attribute, which means that increases in that skill will produce greater gains in that attribute when you level up.
Once your character's been created, you'll be pushed out into the world... and from there you're entirely on your own. Spend an hour or more wandering the first major town you find, Balmora, and when you discover that you've only scratched the bare surface of your map, you'll realize just how huge this game is. An entire world has been created, and you've been dropped in the middle of it. And it's not just the size that makes this world so special, it's the amazing detail. There is nothing left to chance here, no randomly generated scenery. Every hill, every rock, every ruin is intentionally placed. While it may sounds like this could become repetitively, the sheer scope of the world allows for hours upon hours of exploring new territory. Even the files into which I've poured hundreds of hours, I still haven't seen all there is to see, or located every dungeon. And make no mistake, there's plenty of reward in exploring the countryside. Some of the most lucrative dungeons are in out of the way places, even NPC's will offer you quests even in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, the bulk of you time will be spent in towns. It's there that you'll find most of your quest-givers and objectives. Even the quests you choose will add to the uniqueness of your character. You can join three different guilds; Mage's, Fighter's and the less official Thieves Guild. You can also join the Imperial Legion, the Temple, the Imperial Cult, even the Morag Tong, an assassin's guild. Each faction provides it's own quest tree, with multiple quest-givers and several hours of gameplay. One of the more important decisions will be which Great House you choose to join. There's House Redoran, House Telvanni, and House Hlaalu (which are roughly combat, magic, and stealth in nature, respectively.) You can only join one, though, so choose carefully. As you progress in rank in each house, you'll earn the ability to build a stronghold, which you can use to store your loot, and hire your own NPC's to provide services such as bartering and repairing your equipment. Everyone of these factions exists independent of the main quest, and with many, many miscellaneous quests beside, I can assure you that you'll never stop playing for want of tasks or objectives.
So what are the drawbacks of this game? Well the combat system could have used some work. Stealth characters will make use of sneaking and ranged weapons, magic users will cast a wide array of spells, but your basic brawler is awfully, well, basic. Essentially you'll walk right up to any enemy you face, click the left button repeatedly, and hope that his life runs out before yours. You'll have potions that you can drink at any time, but there's little strategy beyond simply building your stats up so that you'll last longer in combat. I probably could have taken points away in gameplay for this, but I feel the enormous possibility that Morrowind offers makes up for that shortcoming.
Of course, the world being as huge as it is leads to another grievance. Traveling can often times be a pain. There are some options for getting around quickly. You can travel by boat to many ports, take giant creatures called silt striders for a ride, or even have a mage teleport you from guild hall to guild hall. But sometimes you aren't so lucky, and sometimes you'll be given quests that force you to hoof it across the landscape to find someone in an obscure location. Even worse is when you get stuck having to lead an NPC to these obscure locations, especially when they walk significantly slower than your character, and you have to wait for them to catch up. This becomes awfully tedious, I won't deny it, but with so many countless quests offered, there are plenty more to make up for those. The appeal of Morrowind is in the detail. You can immerse yourself in this world, exploring it in any way you want, and playing the game in any way you want. You can breeze through the main quest, rise to power in one of the Great Houses, become an abolitionist by freeing slaves from their shackles, or just live off the land, hunting for pearls and wild game to sell in town. So many RPGs create a character for you, and then give you a script to follow. Morrowind gives you a world, completely open-ended, and invites you to play as you please. The graphics and sound are now at least a generation behind, but deserve 10's for the marvelous way in which they support the gameplay. The replay value of this game is incredible, and the more you put into the game, the more you'll get out of it. It remains easily my favorite game, and I couldn't possibly recommend it more.