The Elder Scrolls series is pretty big. Scale, ambition, sales, ports and rereleases of Skyrim... there really is a lot to dive headfirst into, but I didn't really know anything about this vast fantasy world until the fourth numbered release, Oblivion. I liked it quite a bit but was in no position to look backwards to the games that came before it.
All I ever heard about the earlier games was that they were unfathomably big and far too involved - their formula would have to be dumbed down for us console gamers to wrap our little heads around. If that's the case, then The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind serves as a bridge between the earlier and later titles. It is dense and detailed, but manageable and nice to look at. You'll find familiarities in the way it plays, but differences to what you're used to - assuming I can remember what Elder Scrolls games are like, having not played any for a few years now.
Let's see how far we get before becoming Troll food.
A short sequence I can't make sense of snaps into reality as we find ourselves a prisoner on a ship. Yes, I know, another game opening with us as a prisoner. I'm sure back in the early 2000s this intro had the same effect on players as Oblivion's intro had on me: "we're jumping straight into this thing, are we? Ok."
Our release has been ordered on the authority of the Emperor himself. We must be special, but nobody here knows who we are yet, or even what we look like. Thus, character creation takes place within the world itself, as guards and authority figures write down our information for their records.
There are several ways to create a character, but I elect the twenty questions approach, where this guy asks for my response to some specific situations.
They're all over the place and go on for a short while, but result in my character class: Archer. I'll take it. I'm not really bothered what I am in Morrowind, but if you are, you can customise all kinds of stuff, from the skills you use to the stars you were born under.
After character creation, the guardpost serves as a tiny tutorial area, taking us through some basic actions. Moving and interacting with the environment doesn't take too much effort, and engaging in conversation just requires us to walk up to someone and hit the spacebar.
I don't know whether frustration is the best word for the character dialogue windows in Morrowind. Everyone seems capable of blurting out a few sentences of voiced dialogue to entice you into a chat, but as soon as you do, a Wikipedia page pops up and dumps paragraphs of lore upon you, often with jumping-off points to more and more and more information still.
On the one hand, it can be as deep a conversation as you want it to be. If you want to ask someone about everything under the sun, you can. They're going to have stock answers for more general questions, like where to buy supplies and so on, but ask the right person the right question, and you've just opened up a questline to pursue.
As expected, your quests and their associated notes can be found in your journal. Where to look in your journal is the question, however. It appears to record your life as a diary, with entries being written as you encounter them, regardless of what quest you were doing. There is a way to narrow down these entries so you can see only those that talk about the quest you want to refresh your memory on, but then you're faced with potential problems that modern games just don't bother with: immersion.
To find my destination of Balmora, I'd have to get some information from the locals, or the environment. While there are a world and local map available at the click of a button, marking them with useful information doesn't tend to happen until you directly discover it. There are no in-game compasses or waypoints to follow - you're left to remember what people have said, or to explore the signposts, hopefully pointing you in the right direction.
I took a taxi to Balmora, where I needed to find a pub, if I recall, to find someone who knew the whereabouts of my contact. I must have walked up to every door in this drenched city before I found the right one, but while it was a slog to see where I was going, I at least filled in the map for future travels.
Further Fun Times
Things were looking up for me in Balmora. I was on the right track for my quest, and I was making friends in the Thieve's Guild without having to lift a finger. I need to lift some diamonds to please them, but joining the guild itself was as easy as answering a single question. Maybe I'm not in the guild at all... Can this cat be trusted?
After finding the owner of this establishment, I'm pointed in the direction of yet another house to further my quest. It's a lot of travelling and navigating text boxes, is Morrowind. I'm sure there will be many situations to stumble upon on the way, but right now, it's a little uninspiring.
Delivering the package, I am welcomed into the Blades, a group of protectors of the Emperor if Oblivion memory serves. Just like the Thieve's Guild, I had to do nothing to join up, but I will need to do something to increase my skill set before becoming a useful Blade.
This is where Morrowind opens up - if you haven't already abandoned your first quest and found something else to do, I suppose. Do you go and find a guild and pay someone to train you? Do you head out into the world and level up your skills by actively using them? The more you swing your sword, the better your sword swinging skills become, just like later Elder Scrolls titles. See, familiarities.
I decide to head to the Fighter's Guild, but get put off by the training. I'm just not sure where to put my money. I hear that, like many RPGs, you can scupper your chances considerably if you invest in the 'wrong' skills, and I just don't know about my playstyle right now to know what I'll need.
You can be any sort of character you want, but I am an archer. Without a bow. I should have bought a bow. I need something to fight, though.
The guild gives me a starting quest that anybody could have written for any RPG - kill some rats. Somehow, at the time, I was surprised that it would do such a thing, but no. Morrowind is a fantasy RPG, and fantasy RPGs have rats infestations that need dealing with. That's just how it goes.
Hhhhuh. Maybe I should have bought a bow...
As far as first deaths go, that's a little pathetic, I must admit. Funny, but it did sour the mood a little. Luckily, I had actually explored a few more quests before being killed by a rat, including trailing a suspect looking for his stash of money, telling that same suspect that I don't have his magical ring and have never seen it, despite wearing it on my finger, and meeting someone who was ambushed by a rogue who, instead of wanting justice dealt, wanted to know if he would be romantically linked with her.
These quests were interesting. They were simple, mainly involving going from point A to B to do something or other that usually involved pressing the space bar when pointing at someone, but they felt different enough from anything I can remember other RPGs doing. Unfortunately, it was all told through walls of text with little payoff. A bag of money here, a hint of a quest there. Something about this world wasn't quite coming across.
Morrowind looks impressive, even if you say that it has been scaled down from earlier Elder Scrolls titles, or streamlined for newer players. It entices you into the world and asks you to just explore it. Go where you want, do what you want to do, succeed how you want to succeed... providing you know the mechanics and put up with the systems that get in the way.
Fighting is, from what I hear, tied to a random number generator, and not based on what you see and hear. Stabbing a rat in the face doesn't matter if the underlying numbers aren't going in your favour. I've no idea what numbers you need, either. A good skill? Lots of strength? A better weapon? I'm sure all of those and more are factors, but finding that out probably involves reading even more text than an average conversation with the locals, and they can go on and on for a while.
I'm not sure where to go from here. I like Morrowind for its similarities to Oblivion and Skyrim, games I'm familiar with, but I dislike it for its differences, mainly stemming from how things were done in the genre from a time before Oblivion and Skyrim. As the gaming landscape changes, so too do the games. When the PC was the go-to platform for RPGs, they had that text-heavy, thick with lore and detail style. As things moved more and more into console territory, the gameplay had to change to accommodate them. It results in improvements to some aspects of the game and deprives players of as many more.
You can't win, you can't please everyone, but you can have fun along the way. For all its quirks, you can have fun in Morrowind. The world size may have shrunk from previous releases, and the population may stand around with seemingly nothing to do all day, but it's there to explore and will reward you for doing so. You'll get out of Morrowind what you put into it.
Will I put anything more into it? Eeehhhhh... I don't think so. I might give it another go, but without the foresight of how to best approach it, I suspect I'll get into another fight and die just as quickly, no matter what character I turn out to be.
Morrowind does look like the start of The Elder Scrolls as I know it, though, and for that, it's good to have played it. With mod support still continuing to this day, maybe there's an incentive to go back to see what the fans have done with it. Are there fixes for my gripes? Are my complaints even complaints to the community? I don't know. But there's a rat I need to sort out once and for all...
Original ideas for the game were so ambitious that Bethesda shelved it for fear of not being able to achieve their vision. After two spin-off titles that didn't live up to expectations, the team were faced with going big or going home, and Morrowind was back on the table.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, developed by Bethesda Game Studios, first released in 2002.
Version played: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Game of the Year Edition, PC, 2003.