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The GoodDaggerfall, the predecessor of Morrowind in the Elder Scrolls series, was a very ambitious game that captured the hearts and the minds of many hardcore role-players, at the same time "scaring away" those who were overwhelmed by the size of its world and its openness. Some people felt it was too big, with too much random design, both for locations and inhabitants.
Morrowind corrects that right away by offering us what is undeniably its most valuable asset - its world. The world is the star of the game, a goal in itself; and it is quite amazing. Without doubt, it is one of the most mesmerizingly beautiful and attractive worlds ever to grace a video game.
Of course, the technical quantum leap contributed to the quality of the game's environment. The vision of Daggerfall was still slightly ahead of its graphical capacities; in Morrowind, technology caught up with imagination. No more desolate, poor sprites decorating the landscape; no more pixelation and drab textures. Morrowind is significant as one of the visually most advanced role-playing games in history; not ever since the first Ultima Underworld have we seen an RPG that challenges first-person shooters in graphical prowess. Yes, the characters could have used some more work, but both in- and outdoor areas are beyond reproach, and the water is absolutely gorgeous. I honestly can't recall another game from that time and even a few years later with such beautifully rendered water.
This world, however, becomes much more memorable thanks to its artistic side, its strong personality and sense of style. The province of Morrowind is exotic: giant mushrooms cover the lairs of strange creatures; majestic urban architecture co-exists with the native dwellings of the dark elves; twisted mountain paths, dark caves, rivers glistening under the busy sky - the world of Morrowind is a marvel, and it is worth to play this game just for its exploration.
And this exploration, like in the previous Elder Scrolls games, is absolutely unrestricted. You can go wherever you want right from the beginning. The gigantic world (yes, much smaller than in Daggerfall, but still much bigger than in most other games) is open to you, and you are free to get to know it in any order, from any side you want. It has more charisma and mysterious charm than its predecessor, and a much more logical and coherent structure. I also liked the fact that you had to physically travel to towns rather than being magically transported to them through the world map. The freedom of movement is exhilarating; it's hard to play other games after Morrowind because they feel so limited in this aspect.
The world is also meticulously detailed, with people and objects everywhere; you can talk about thousands of things and get thousands of items. There is a huge amount of quests, several large factions to join, and so many different locations that you can easily complete the game while having seen only a small fraction of what it has to offer. This kind of generosity makes role-playing particularly rewarding: you are given the freedom to be what you want to be, unbound by moral constraints (except your own) and restricted accessibility to places and quests.
I think the series' trademark system of "practicing" skills is excellent. I love this steady, focused approach to leveling up, and I love the fact that with enough patience you can get overpowered. The whole point of role-playing is to start low and then reach tremendous heights. Morrowind brilliantly conveys this feeling. You start as a nobody, with a lousy weapon and no armor, easily killed by medium-sized creatures in the wilderness. But slowly, through exploration, questing, item-gathering, and not the least practicing, you can become a mighty, feared warrior who can take on Daedric lords and other assorted creatures of darkness. This process is extremely addictive, since there is hardly any limit to what you can discover and do in this game.
The main story may be less intriguing than in Daggerfall, but it nevertheless offers some interesting missions, and is generally enveloped in an aura of mystery that fits the gameplay very well. There is little urgency in the main quest, and it differs in its format from the usual "save the world" template. This goes well with the whole idea of "making your own story", building a biography for the protagonist by yourself rather than doing exactly what the designers told you to do.
The BadThere is less randomness in Morrowind than in Daggerfall, but repetition and artificial widening of content is still evident. Yes, the world is populated by hundreds of NPCs with whom you can discuss various topics; but after a while, you begin to notice that these characters tell you the same stuff over and over again. There are no truly memorable characters in this world; 99% of the NPCs are signposts, drones devoid of personality and useful only for obtaining quest and basic info. You can try to conduct the conversation in such a way that you avoid the incessant "job description" dialogue ("I'm a thief. Thieves steal things and then sell them for profit. We also have a Guild, with branches located in the following cities... etc."), but then you may miss out some important info and will be left with pitiful one-sentence introductions that say nothing about what kind of person the character in question is. I still can't understand why the same writers who created all those wonderful books that can be found in the game world couldn't bother to write decent conversations.
The quests improve only slightly over the "I need you to kill a person. I will pay you 1437 gold pieces" of Daggerfall. With a few exceptions, the quests involve simplistic and repetitive tasks that offer no moral decisions, hence diminishing the game's value as an RPG. There is a lot of indifference in the people of Morrowind, and I couldn't help thinking sometimes that, in the long run, it didn't really matter what I did or did not in the game. The static, dry inhabitants of Morrowind form an unpleasant contrast with its beautiful art; it is as if someone put a curse on these people, making them apathetic and nearly lethargic, with intimidatingly robotic reactions to any crime the protagonist commits, and completely oblivious of anything else around them.
All this creates a feeling of emptiness, a certain coldness and loneliness that gradually creeps out and eventually takes over. Morrowind is a fascinating trip, but one that resembles an archaeological expedition more than a visit to a functioning, normal country. One may argue that this isolation is deliberate, intending to emphasize the complete freedom by eschewing any attachments to the characters; but that is a far-fetched theory. I'm sure that it was possible to populate the game's world by interesting people without harming its image as a "create your own story" experience.