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The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Windows)

89
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Happy Rabbi (1305)
Written on  :  Sep 01, 2006
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars

13 out of 19 people found this review helpful

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Summary

Sigh...

The Good

Well, Morrowind.....here goes. Even thinking about this game makes me tired. It never ends. Taught me a lot about that I don`t necessarily have to finish something I don´t like. Well, the graphics are nice, especially compared to Neverwinter Nights which came out the same year. Each location really does feel real and new...almost. Was kinda nice to explore. The books, oh the books were excellent...the background for this game was brilliant. It seems that the Bethesda designers really aren`t stupid (like I sometimes like to think) but instead have a huge amount of knowledge about how the real world works; the geography, history, Rennes-le-Chaeteu style historical mysticism... I mean everything that I can think from our world was in some form or another there. The world of Morrowind seems logical thanks to the background information. This was the only time when I felt that a fantasy world really could work.

And it`s world. Most fantasy games use just Ye Olde England for inspiration for their worlds. Well Morrowind... The Empire is Roma with a touch of baroque, and Morrowind (the nation, not the game) has a lot of similarities with occupied Israel with a touch of Mongolia, completed with the Temple and longing for the Messiah stuff. I loved the small details. Like looting corpses gives you stuff what you saw them carry when they were alive and what they logically would carry. You will not find a Sword of Ultimate Destruction on some beggars corpse, or in the booksellers chest. I also loved it that you don`t gain experience from killing but from practicing your skills.

Art Design... Sadrith Mora, Ascadian Isles, Vivec...beautiful locations, just beautiful. I like mushroom buildings.

The Bad

Art Design....the world was mostly brown. I can`t stand brown, it makes me feel horrible. I even can`t really stand games that are brown when they have good storytelling like Arcanum or Ultima 6. Morrowind boasts itself as the most open-ended and complex cRPG before Oblivion. The truth is that none of the Elder Scrolls games are really open-ended. (Bob the imaginary gaming friend : "Hey now, that`s quite a statement considering the fact that Elder Scrolls are known for their open-ended gameplay.")

Wait let me explain, true, you can go anywhere you want to and do any quest you want to (Bob: "Ain`t that what open-ended gameplay is all about?"), but... for example, in Arcanum if you killed an plot-critical character the game was designed so that you could still continue... in Morrowind if you kill a plot-critical character the game ends with a message that you can no longer complete the main story (Bob: "That`s what some would call choice and consequence.").

And the quests are pretty generic. I mean, there were basically like 3 different quests (get me that item, kill that man, go to a place called Abu Dhabi) in the game and 1000 variations of them. That`s not what I would call open-ended. It`s just bad design. And having a different character does not change anything; I mean in 2002 when Morrowind came out the gaming world had already experienced Fallouts and Arcanum where the game responded and commented on your choices in character design(even Ultima`s did that). Morrowind does not to that. There isn`t really any difference being a female or male, Orc or Nord, Mage or Fighter.

You can`t make any choices in the game, it all comes down to this: accept or decline quest (Hey, wtf I am talking about! There were only like 10 incidents when you even had the choice to decline the quest, you mostly accept them), and when you accept the quest there really is only one way to solve the quest. When they tell you to kill, you kill; when they tell you to fetch, you fetch; when they tell you to bark, you bark or kill them, loot them and then get another quest. Sometimes you can even give people money (or admire them) so that they would not kill you. Yeah it is kinda like persuading, but doesn`t feel as cool (Troika did persuading and seducing best). One of the problems is that the dialogue is boring, dull, horrible, disastrous, catastrophic, apocalyptic, you name it - it is just so nonliving and unreal. I played Arena just for seeing if designers at Bethesda have somehow evolved and... they haven`t. It is still the same boring stuff without any distinctive characteristics.

Here is an example:

NPC: "Hi, I am mister Sinuele Musiala and I am commoner."

PC: Commoner

NPC: "Commoners work."

PC: Molag Amur

NPC: "Molag Amur is the lava-region in the Vardenfall district of Morrowind in the Empire of Tamriel."

PC: Ring

NPC: "My ring was stolen and I heard that Lukipikidikus Mahaberallus last saw it in the other side of the world."

PC: World

NPC: "Yes."

*journal entry added*

I swear I saw the same kind of dialogue in Arena, just without the extra detail like commoners work. Now to the main quest. Been there, than that. Doesn`t Bethesda have any talented writers (hard to believe considering the quality of the in-game books) or they just think that good writing is unnecessary.

Bob: "Actually, many of the in-game books were just crappy pulp novels."

At least the amount of side-quests allows you to choose which House to join (gives you a different looking stronghold), or which dungeon to go (although after visiting 3, they all look the same. There´s hundreds of them in Morrowind. How did Ultima`s manage with only 8?). The main quest allows no choice in affecting it. It`s static. I think this is very bad, especially in a cRPG made in the new millennium. You might say, hey you mentioned Ultimas and I see that they are in your favorite game list, but in them you could not affect the main plot either, so shut the f*ck up and praise Morrowind as the god that came before Oblivion.

Bob: "Actually, I wanted to say that..."

Well, my imaginary gaming friend, I got news for you Ultima 5-7 were made in 88-92 ,14-10 years before Morrowind. What they had were NPC schedules, npc-s lived lives, and then in Ultima 7 each NPC was an individual with his/her own fears, interests, life; they were real (as real as one gets in cRPG made in 92). There were no Lukipikidukus Mahaberraluses who say that commoners work.

Bob: "Hey, I even don`t like RPG-s, so..."

And then, my imaginary gaming friend, you might say: "What about Planescape or Baldurs Gate, they didn`t have these things you talk about."

Bob: "Will you stop putting words into my mouth!"

Well, my answer is, they had GOOD writing and in Planescape you could make choices inside the storyline. What my point is, is that games should evolve, not take a step back in design. Morrowind for all its prettiness and background world detail feels older than Ultima 5 (not to mention that U5 had more interesting characters).

Bob: "Great. There`s just no reasoning with you."

I mentioned that the background world detailing was excellent, but it is done in a encyclopedia-boring kinda way. It really is not in the real game-world. In theory Morrowind`s world is rich with conflict - two different religions, conflict between the occupied and the occupiers, dissidents and the official doctrine, secret cults, smuggling, slavery, racism, drugs, clash of cultures, everyday life and the supernatural, true history and false history, colonialism, etc. - but in reality all that represents these things are the variations of the "three quests" I mentioned earlier. Only books and some wiser characters (characters that come with more generic topics than others) try to add something to the world. Well Bethesda, less tell, more show next time (unfortunately you did the same thing with Oblivion).

Yet another thing. Jeremy Soule. I loved Icewind Dale`s soundtrack, but the guy is just rearranging his old stuff. If you compare the soundtracks of Neverwinter Nights, Morrowind and Dungeon Siege (which all came out the same year and all were made by Soule) you can`t really tell that they come from different games.

Bob: "Well I don`t know about that. Dungeon Siege`s soundtrack was pretty catchy and more cheerful than the others."

And Morrowind`s soundtrack is probably the worst that Soule has ever done. All the battle themes and explorations tunes are just variations of the main theme, which itself is quite a nice melancholic little tune, but in a big game like Morrowind it gets really tiring and old fast. Considering the fact that Morrowind`s world is more original than Siege`s or Night`s, he could have created something more closer with the game`s world - a mix between baroque, roman and asiatic. That generic fantasy soundtrack, that can be easily used in another game, is really a disappointment for me.

I still remember midnight meetings with Katrina in Shadows of Darkness and talking with wisps in Ultima or Gabriel getting into trouble, even feeding the eagle in King`s Quest 5 thanks to the excellent music that fitted and made these particular moments even more beautiful. Sometimes Soule creates the same kind of music, that feels so right for the game, and enchances and enriches it making it alive. This time he did not.

I remember these moments from games that I played many years ago, I wonder if I remember anything from Morrowind after 4 years. KQ 5 was also pretty bad on the writing department, but it`s music burned it into my memory. Morrowind is generic both in writing and music. And it had so much potential. The creative ideas behind it`s world are so refreshing after yet another Forgotten Realms game. But Morrowind fails as an open-ended game because of the boring quests, lifeless world and lack of human element in its writing.

Bob: "Perhaps the game was intended to be as such."

What do you mean?

Bob: "Elder Scrolls series are one of the most well-sold RPG series ever. I am fairly sure that the "lack of human element in its writing" and the bestseller status are somehow related. I guess most people like "boring quests" and big lifeless worlds. Not all people are pseudo-intellectual geeks like you. It`s simple really, the game is fun because it`s not deep."

I see. Well... most people are stupid anyway.

The Bottom Line

Despite overall negative attitude of my review, I did enjoy some moments of the game. I like exploring and meeting new people and see how they live. Morrowind got only the exploring part right (if you ignore cliff racers - those things make combat even more annoying than it is in JRPGs; yeah, it`s possible for combat to be more annoying than in Final Fantasy).

But still, Morrowind has one great value. It looks pretty.