The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Xbox)

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Written by  :  Entorphane (366)
Written on  :  Jan 25, 2003
Platform  :  Xbox
Rating  :  4.17 Stars4.17 Stars4.17 Stars4.17 Stars4.17 Stars

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Although flawed, still one of the best console RPGs to date.

The Good

The first thing that strikes you about Morrowind after a few hours of play is the sheer enormity of the game world. There is a LOT to do, but the game starts you off with very little clue about what to do. For some gamers (like myself) this may be a dream come true in gaming: a huge world to explore and complete freedom to do as you please. For other gamers (like a few friends of mine), this is a complete gaming nightmare. "You mean I have to wander around for hours and explore and talk to people just to figure out what the point of the game is?!?!?" Yes, you do, but if you can appreciate that sort of depth in an RPG, it is truly a wonderous thing to behold.

Let us talk about the degree of that depth for a moment. When I say you can do as you please, you really can. Feel an item at a shop is too expensive? Steal it (if you can get away with it). Don't want to help the arrogant noble woman find her way across the mountians? Don't bother. In fact, you can just kill her and steal her clothes if it strikes your fancy. Don't feel like coughing up a handfull of gold every time you want to stay at your favorite inn? Murder the innkeeper and his guard, and stay there free of charge as often as you please. All these actions, of course, have consequences. You have a reputation rating, based upon your actions, and that rating affects how NPCs in the game will react to you. Most people won't want to talk to 'Entorphane the notorious outlaw', but will be much friendlier to you if you don't make a habit of running around killing people and generally wreaking havoc.

So what is the point of this game, you ask? Well, you are a stranger in a strange land; a prisoner granted an unexplained and unexpected pardon from the Emperor himself. Soon you find yourself working for the Blades, the Imperial spy network, and the story unfolds from there. In addition to the Blades (the so-called 'Main Quest') there are a large number of other factions, guilds, and mafia-style family houses you can join the ranks of. All of these other factions have a fairly large number of missions to perform, given to you by various faction leaders scattered all around the map. You can do them or not, the choice is up to you, but as you complete missions for the various factions, your rank in those factions rises, eventually allowing you to vie for their leadership. By the end of my game I was the head of the Mages and Fighters guild, and ranked very high in a family house and several other groups.

A wonderful and somewhat unique feature of 'Morrowind' is the ability to create custom magic spells and magic items. You can enchant almost any item you find with any spell you know (if you have a high enough enchatment skill), allowing for the creation of just about any custom magic item you feel you may need. The process is somewhat confusing at first (thanks to the somewhat lacking manual), but once you figure out what is going on, it's awesome. Want a ring that allows you to breathe and see clearly underwater while you are wearing it? That's cool, just make one, or go to an enchanter and pay (a LOT) to have one made. It's a marvelous feature, that later in the game especially, allows you to create a wealth of magic armor, weapons, and so forth, all with precisely the effects you wish them to have.

The skills system in this game is great as well. It's very simple, and very effective. You have a skill list and all characters have the same skills. The difference lies in what you choose for your primary and secondary skills (which level up faster) and your tertiary skills. Every time you use a given skill (hit an enemy with a sword, cast a spell, pick a lock, etc.) your skill goes up a bit, eventually rising to it's next level. When you raise 10 primary or secondary skills by one level, your character's overall level increases, bringing along with it the usual upgrade in hit points, magic points, and so forth. It's a very well thought out system, that ends up allowing you a tremendous amount of freedom to mold your character into precisely what you want him or her to be.

It must be said also that graphically this game is most impressive. Look at the water. It looks freakin' real, I tell ya! The sheer amount of detail in the game is amazing. Everywhere there are plants and fungi you can gather (for alchemical purposes, if you want to make potions). There are dozens of caves, tombs, and ruins scattered all over the map to explore and loot for treasure. The weather and time of day changes gradually and you make your way around. Sunsets and sunrises are truly beautiful, sandstorms are amazing to look at, and rain storms look and sound like real freakin' rainstorms.

The Bad

The game is not without flaws, some of them glaring. The worst offense is the journal that you keep. It is cluttered, disorganized, and confusing. When you are running missions for the Theives guild, the Fighters guild, the Morag Tong, House Hlladu, the Mages guild, the Blades, the Imperial Cult, the Temple... whew, you get the idea... things can become confusing. All of the relevant information is there in your journal, but it may as well not be. The journal is organized chronologically... period. There is no option to sort between quests completed and quests outstanding, no way to separate Mage Guild quests from tribal quests, or what have you. If there is a mission that you received a long while ago, and you need to look it up for the details, you will sometimes (especially late in the game) have to flip through literally hundreds of pages of the journal to find the relevant information. I have to give a big 'boo' to that tremendous lack of foresight by the developers, who obviously knew the depth of the game they were creating, yet failed to devise a method to effectively sort through that depth.

Another complaint has to be the spell/magic items list. Much like the poorly organzied journal, these important spells and items are placed on one very long list that you have to scroll though every time you want to select a different magical effect. It's tedious and irritating, and should have been made easier.

It must also be said that the combat system leaves a lot to be desired. By default you press the attack button and will swing your weapon in a manner that is dependent upon how you are moving your analogue stick. There is a most powerful attack for each type of weapon, but attacking this way feels awkward (to say the least), uncomfortable, and frustrating. I opted to select in the options menu to 'always use best attack', which always attacks in the most powerful style for any given weapon. Sadly, this greatly simplifies the animations for each weapon, as you will ONLY attack in one specific way (i.e. your dagger will always thrust, your hammer will always strike downward, etc.) The other problem with combat is the complete lack of feedback regarding enemy damage. You can hack away at a guy (or monster, or what not) for days, and see no change in his appearance, no indication of how badly he is injured. This diminishes the ability to use strategy in battle, because if my character is badly injured I need to know how the other guy is doing before deciding if I should finish him off or run away. One may argue that hit points are not displayed in real-life combat, but you can tell by how much the other guy is bleeding and missing limbs how well (or poorly) things are going.

There are a few other minor gripes I have about the game. NPCs are almost always in the same spot, standing around, night or day. It is as if you are the only person in Morrowind who moves around much. There are also a few bugs relating to event timing and NPCs that can cause them to disappear entirely and permanently. There is no abilty to annotate the map, which is unfortunate considering the size of the map, and the HUGE number of places you need to find and remember the locations of. Having to walk all over a virtual world can kinda suck at times, especially early on when a few cliff racers can send you to your death over and over and over and over again, when all you want to do is get from point 'A' to point 'B'. There are modes of quick transportation available, but you can't get everywhere from anywhere, and you'll have to 'change busses' quite a bit. The final complaint I have would be that your character can become immensly powerful relatively quickly, making killing most enemies a matter of a few sword swipes (especially if you have created a really powerful magic sword). Oh, and pop-up can be distracting, considering the games otherwise top-notch graphics, but that is really just a minor complaint.

The Bottom Line

'The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind' is a game I would consider a must buy for any gamer who prefers a PC-style RPG over the turn based Final Fantasy style crap that keeps being turned out for consoles. It's a very deep and satisfying RPG, if you can get into it, and are willing to spend some time with it. It can probably be completed in about 40 or 50 hours if you rush through, but it took me probably closer to 200, and that is where the real pleasure in this game lies. There is so much to do, so much to explore, and so much to learn about the virtual world that you are inhabiting, that taking your time and taking it all in is the best way to approach it. If you are looking for a unique roleplaying experience, this is your game.