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SummaryThe third installment in the ES series is, like its predecessors, a flawed masterpiece.
The GoodMorrowind is a truly excellent title. I've been a fan of the Elder Scrolls for a long time, so I had been following the game's development for years before its release, and I was shaking with excitement when I inserted the disk into my CD-ROM drive for the first time, praying that my system stats-- which were barely over what the game required-- would make it, and a small, rebel part of my brain (the part that could admit that there was a possibility Morrowind might be a disappointing game) was praying I wouldn't be disappointed.
The game begins on a prison ship, as you may well know. You are smoothly introduced to the basic controls and interface as you design your character. The choice of races is slightly more expanded from the prequel, Daggerfall, to add Orcs (who are no longer considered vicious barbarians by all the other races) and Imperials. As in all the ES games, you have complete freedom in designing your character. No newbie to RPGs, I built myself a custom character and jumped right into the game. Beware, Morrowind World.
The graphics are stunning in Morrowind; everything, from tables to rocks, is modeled with great attention to detail. I was shocked when I turned wireframe on for the first time and really grasped the complexity of the 3d models they use. I've never seen so many polygons in an RPG before.
The sky is a real treat, and, in my opinion, the very best part of the graphics. Clouds float gently across the sky, slowing growing denser, until a steady rain begins to pour; then they part, the sun peeks out, and you have a few more hours of light before it sets... ahh, the sunset. And then the night! You can even spot constellations in the sky around the large twin moons of Nirn (The World). You have never seen such a wonderfully detailed sky before.
The creatures were well modeled and not disappointing at all, especially as you meet higher level ones. I just love how the Dremoras look. And-- thank you Bethesda-- there are no spiders in the game. +5 to gameplay on a 1-5 scale for that ;-).
The world itself is quite different from Daggerfall. It's not the same massive scope twice as big as the UK; no, it's more like, say, two miles. But unlike Daggerfall, none of this is stock terrain. Every bit of land has been custom designed, from the plants-- that you can pick-- to the creatures and the dungeons. There are around 300 dungeons to explore and 15 towns; this may sound like very little, but I have had characters get very far in this game, and they have barely scratched the surface of the world you are allowed to explore.
The NPCs are unique, too; all 3000 of them. They will each have an individual opinion of you, each have different things to discuss; you can also bribe and 'admire' them if you want to get on their good side, or taunt them if you want a fight without getting in trouble with the authorities.
The whole world is wonderfully set up and it's such a relief to have the world so ALIVE around you, such a sharp contrast to Daggerfall's everyone-comes-from-a-cookie-cutter-ness.
The game is packed with extra 'little' features, like making your own spells and trapping souls and enchanting items-- doing it yourself or having others do it for you, you choose. There are a collection of guilds to join; there are some unique to Morrowind, like the Morag Tong, and then the typical Fighters, Mages, and Thieves guilds. The quests in Morrowind are unique; you'll never be told to do the same thing twice. Side-quests included, I'd estimate there were something like 200 of them, but that is a very low estimate.
There are also three Great Houses in the game you have to join at one point or another. The conflicts between them, and the foreign Mages, Fighters and Thieves guilds, grow more obvious as you learn more about Morrowind. The whole place is veritably seething with intrigue, but if you think guild conflicts are all there is, you've got a lot to learn. Along the way, you'll find out about the (generally) hated Daedra and the Tribunal of gods, and about a prophecy that is changing the world.
The sound in the game was a bit of a disappointment for me. Each creature has 3 sounds and that's it, and some are even re-used for other creatures. This felt very cheap. NPC dialogue lines, however, are very well recorded and there are a large number of lines per Race/Sex combination.
The music is wonderful. There are only about 40 minutes of it, but it'll take your breath away the first time you hear the title theme. It grows a bit redundant, but you can add in your own fantasy themed music easily if you want too.
Then there is the Construction Set, the tool with which the entire world was made. You can make mods of all types with it-- change walk speeds, make new armor, raise a whole island, or even change the world completely. The CS deserves a review by itself, really. It's the best game editing tool I have seen-- beats the NwN toolset flat, in case you were wondering.
The BadThe NPC models were a bit of a disappointment. The graphics system had to manage NPCs so that different armor could fit over any body part, so the game had to use a clunky limb system. This isn't too bad normally, but it does look a bit blocky and subtracts from the realism.
The game isn't balanced too well. Good items are too easy to find early on. But then again, how could it be balanced perfectly, in a game where any class could go any place at any time?
Is that all? No, not really. That's not enough to call Morrowind a 'flawed masterpiece'. But there is something else about the game. It's hard to explain.
But, after playing for a while and then going back to another game for a bit, you'll realize how bland Morrowind's textures are. It's like every single texture was taken and had the contrast lowered half way to black and white; everything is nearly in shades of gray. Except the sky! You don't notice it right away, but it can really bug you after a while.
It's only part of the full effect, however. Added is the fact that you start the game as a stranger in a strange land; the world around you is alien and very *dry*. The burned lands that have been ruined by the Fire Mountain take up 3/4 of the whole island. After a while, you'll find yourself yearning for verdant forests, lush fields-- something that feels ALIVE! That is my main complaint with the game. It really does begin to trouble you after playing it for a while.