SummaryBites more than it can chew
The GoodI have to admit I'm only barely acquainted with the previous Elder Scrolls titles, having played Arena ages ago and skimmed past Daggerfall but pretty much missing out on it when it got released. Still I knew enough of what was in store for me when I installed Morrowind, and in some aspects I am happy to say I got what I wanted.
For starters Morrowind delivers on what it was it's most hyped feature: the sheer size, detail and freedom of it's game world. So far this is THE game as far as expansive "sand box simulators" go. Ultima Ascension, Baldur's Gate 2, GTA, etc. etc. Nothing comes close to the sheer size of Morrowinds gameworld. And the amount of npcs populating it, quests to do, dungeons, items and assorted stuff is second to none. I played the game for months as far as I can recall and while I didn't log any "official" gaming hours I must have played three times the lenght of Baldur's Gate 2, and a quick look at my world map by the endgame only showed about 75% of it as explored...
For as extensive as it is, Morrowind's gameworld is also very detailed, with five distinct architectural styles (the classic "ye olde medieval" castles and keeps, the bizarre, organic dwellings of the elf mages, the indigenous villages of the local dark elves, the stylized settlements of the deserts, and the gargantuan leftovers of a long-forgotten civilization). These styles are applied to lots of cities and locations, some small enough to explore in 10 minutes or so, and some others sprawling over 5 loading zones and needing a transportation system of it's own like Vivec. Thriving in these locations are dozens of underground societies, guilds and mob families, each having their collection of quests, sideplots and characters for you to explore with total freedom of action (Want to become a slaver and aid hunting raids? Want to oppose slaving and go across the land aiding a Greenpeace-like society that liberates slaves? No problem either way).
Of course, handling such a gameworld would be a nightmare through the classic sprite 2.5D engine of the previous games, so for the first time the Elder Scrolls goes 3D, and the results are nothing short of amazing. The graphics engine manages to render the entire gameworld with smooth, detailed textures and models, as well as special effects that help create incredible foggy swamps, blinding sand storms, stormy weather, cool magic effects and one of the most amazing water effects conceived to it's date. Make no mistake, you do need one badass machine to run this one, specially since you are going to want to crank up the resolution to take in all the detail in the game, which includes unique models for each item and armor piece as well as for those tiny forks, plates, and decorations that fill each house.... amazing doesn't even begin to describe it. And then there's the complementing music and effects, which fits the game perfectly thanks to some stellar orchestrations and moody tunes.
As for the story, the game falls for the typical "legendary prophecy" stuff, but manages to inject some interesting twists on it by including government conspiracies, and generally playing around with the "requirements" you need to meet to fulfill said prophecy. Basically there's this ancient evil god sealed behind a magic wall at the center of the isle of Morrowind, the ancient god is awakening and threatens the known world and whatever, with only the help of another reincarnated god as the last hope.... at least that's what the natives of Morrowind believe, and knowing this, the government across the sea sends you, a former prisoner, as the reincarnated deity, tasking you with fulfilling this "prophecy", and aiding you along the way, but with their objective being getting a key person inside the reclusive Morrowind society and messing around with the local government. As expected both plotline share their place in the spotlight and intersect many times, generally making for a pleasant, if not extremely original, storyline.
All that plus diseases, the ability to become a vampire (and boy does that open up a whole new set of rules), fly around, make your own spells, potions and enchanted items, and fool around with an editor!
The BadUnfortunately this extremely ambitious title reached it's goal but disregarded some elements that can only be described as really hardcore design flaws, poor balancing and lame gameplay.
The design of the game was to make a massive, all-encompassing rpg, so it's a priority to have functional elements to help you keep track of what you are doing and what's going on around you. As in every other rpg out there this translates into a journal, however rarely has an rpg had such a poor excuse for a journal as this. Suffice to say that only the useless journal in Ultima Ascension is worse than this piece of crap. Well, actually they are pretty much the same! They both just write down whatever happens cronologically. Yes, Morrowind adds an hypertext linking system for easier navigation, and separates completed quests from the rest... but that's it! I can't even begin to recount the amount of quests I lost because I forgot about them and/or couldn't find their information in this godawful excuse for a journal.
Other holes in the design come in the form of zero damage feedback for combat, do you want to know how hard you are hitting your enemy? Or if this weapon is really better than that other one against that type of baddie? Well wait and see how long it takes for it to drop down, as there's no other way of telling... And I just loooooove the psychic police forces of Morrowind. Picture this situation: you (a thief) pull out a major heist in a mansion and leave town with dozens of unique and valuable items, right? Now in a city that's in the other side of the island you get caught pick-pocketing. And guess what? After paying the customary fine the cop takes what you stole that time, the loot you got from that amazing heist and every item you ever acquired by thievery, no matter if you have been using it from the beginning of the game! That is a real encouragement for thief characters, isn't it? And every time you run into the law it's the same... lovely. Thankfully if you dump everything you have on the floor right next to you the cops do nothing and leave, but it's still pathetic. Maybe even more so.
Moving on, the rpg mechanics are handled by a sturdy skill system similar to the previous Elder Scrolls games which improves not by the acquisition of generic experience points, but thanks to it's actual use and/or paid training. In other words: jump around a lot and your athletics skill increases, sneak around successfully and so does your sneak skill, bash lots of heads and you get better at handling that particular weapon, etc. I've always liked this type of systems, but whenever done correctly they would become extremely challenging and slow paced... fortunately that's not the case here, as the poor balance means you can max out most skills in no time and the "no classes" approach to gaming means even a thief can be a mage-slaying powerhouse and a giant barbarian can sneak around and steal like a pro thief... so much for specializing.
As for the gameplay and the many quests that populate Morrowind, they are completely filler material, with really uninspired quests that call for you to get this or that item and deliver it to X character and on and on and on. To be fair most of the main plot quests are cool and there are many sideplots worth exploring, but they are lost in a sea of mundane and stupid quests. Quest which would still be worth doing if at least you met interesting characters to interact with. However save for a couple of key characters in the game the rest are soulless drones. It really puzzles me the way Bethesda handled npc interaction... talking to a character opens up a dialogue window from which you pick up the desired topics of conversation as hypertext links... (Hi! I would like to ask you about....*monsters*,*you*,*this city*, etc...) The resulting conversations unfortunately are all generic lines blurted out on and on and on in the same way all over the island. Should you ask a key warrior character why is he a fighter he would suddenly abandon whatever demeanor he had previously and blurt out the same generic, resume-like explanation of what a fighter is and does as every other character in the rest of the island and the same with everything else (but those class descriptions really are the pits, really, whoever wrote that deserves to be shot on sight). It really is mind-boggling how could Bethesda waste so much time populating this gigantic gameworld with drones and think they had done a good job... Congratulations Bethesda: you officially have the game with the worst case ever of "signposts npcs", not even japanese rpgs match up to your title! And you know what? This takes it's toll on the game's freedom of action. After all, what's the point of straddling morally bleak lines if you get the same reaction from everyone either way?
Aside from that there are lackluster character animations (everyone moves as if they had the proverbial stick up their asses), so little monster variations that you'll think you are in a pterodactyl-only sequel of Carnivores and assorted problems with game balance and combat that make it significantly less of what it could have been (just whack away!!).
Also the ending SUCKS ASS. After the countless hours I spent in the game I get a half a second cutscene and that's it??? Damn you Bethesda!!
And where the hell are the horses? One of the coolest things in Daggerfall was having one and casting a levitation spell!! Ride of the Valkyries baby!!
The Bottom LineAn extremely ambitious title that achieved it's giant scope at the expense of some critical design elements that kills it in the minds of many gamers, or just make it less than perfect to others. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, as I think the game is horribly flawed, but also has a lot going for it and it's achievements deserve recognition.
Make your own mind about it, two things are sure about it: It's the biggest most gigantic crpg experience ever (and that's without taking into account the expansions) and it's almost equally annoying in it's problems.