Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition

Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition

Written by Ben Zackheim on 1/7/2004 for Xbox  

How does one review a game that potentially has no end? I’m not talking about an MMO here. I’m talking about a single player role playing game that just keeps on going for as long as I want it to. And I want it to, believe me. If I could just plug myself in to the computer and wander the world of Morrowind forever I might seriously consider the idea. Morrowind Game of the Year Edition is a collection of all the Morrowind releases we’ve seen in the last couple of years. The regular game is complemented by the expansion packs, Tribunal and Bloodmoon. In the end Morrowind GOTY is not as much a game as it is an experience that any role playing fan has to have for their Xbox.

For those of you old enough to remember 1994’s Elder Scrolls: Arena you know how out-of-control the people at Bethesda can get when it comes to designing HUGE worlds. They practically invented the idea that a virtual reality can be so large that you’ll never have a chance to even see half of it. Arena wasn’t a graphics powerhouse but it allowed you to walk and walk and walk forever. It gave you hundreds of towns and characters to interact with and endless quests to keep you occupied. Morrowind offers the same open-ended feeling but this time the graphics are astounding.

Morrowind plops you down in a ship on its way to the port town of Seydan Neen, where you’re left to fend for yourself. Some water and a simple quest is all you get to start with. The perfect launching point for any adventure, right? The game goes open-ended from the moment you register yourself with the local authorities. The registration is where you create your character, in one of three ways. You can just choose the class and skill set that you want from a list, fill out a form or you can answer a series of questions and have your character’s specifics laid out for you. I prefer this method since the designers do a good job of gathering the complex data and recommending the kind of character I like to play, but with small tweaks that I wouldn’t have thought of by myself. There are 10 races in the original game: Brentons, Imperials, Nords, Redguards, Argonians Dark Elves, High Elves, Wood Elves, Orcs, and Khajiits. Each race interacts with other races with your standard distrust and fear (of course) to add that spice of reality that you need to make the game feel real. Once freed from the registrar you can do whatever you damn well please. Kind of like an MMO -- except without the interaction with real people and the 14 buck subscription fee.You’ll find Seydan Neen teeming with people who are willing to talk with you. They have rumors, advice and secrets that usually go a long way toward clarifying the world around you, hinting at where you can find quests to go on and generally making you feel more at home. I’ll say this right up front, if you don’t like to read your games you should go elsewhere. While there’s a good amount of speech in MGOTY around 90% of the interactions you’ll have with hundreds of NPCs will be text based.

There’s a main quest to follow in the game as you try to find out who you are and what your connection to this land truly is. But, in my opinion what makes Morrowind great is the number of paths you can take to get there. Wandering the world is just fun. You can accept and reject quests based on your mood or you can have some method to the madness. You can shack up in other people’s homes, pick fights, build a reputation (good or bad) as a thief, hired killer delivery boy and just live a whole other life. It’s a rich experience that Bethesda has spent many years (and sequels) perfecting. If you chose to you could just play the game to build your character, complete short quests and look for hidden caves.

You get all of the above with the original Morrowind game. But the GOTY edition of Morrowind also gives you the added benefits of two expansion packs.

The expansion packs continue the story told in the original game – but it feels more epic than anything Bethesda has done for their Elder Scrolls series. A nasty new king has taken control of Morrowind. Tribunal has you travel to the capital city of Morrowind, Mournhold, where you’ll try to wrest power away from the bastid. The main quest will eventually lead you to dungeons much larger than what you saw in the original and a city so huge and complex it’ll make your head spin. The story is linear which makes it my least favorite of the bunch but it could appeal to people who actually like to get a sense of overall progress in the games they play.The other expansion pack, Bloodmoon, finds you on the frozen Island of Solstheim. The graphics in this expansion show some shine with snow capped rock formations and thick forests all around you. New enemies include the nasty weather and monsters like spriggans (who need to be knocked down three times to be killed) and frost trolls. You’ll also come across wolves -- and this is where things get interesting. You have the choice to fight the wolves and defend a colony from their attacks or become one of them. Just as the original Morrowind allowed you to be a vampire, Bloodmoon allows you to be a werewolf. I would recommend at least trying out the path of the werewolf since it’s a major selling-point for the game. But may I suggest you do it with a secondary saved character? You don’t want to change the guy you’ve been working on for a year only to find that you don’t particularly enjoy the curse. As it is in your standard lore, you become a werewolf when the moon rises. You move like a wolf and have the same hunger for blood as a wolf. This means you’re considered a scourge on the land by the other races so you should do everything you can to avoid being seen transforming into a beast. You’ll be hunted down if your secret is sprung. My preference was to avoid the werewolf route only because I’m not too fond of their weaknesses – namely they die easily. They might be fast but that speed comes at the expense of durability. On the plus side, Bethesda finally heeded the complaints of many fans and gave us a health bar for the enemy. Now you can actually tell if you’re winning a fight! There also seem to be some tweaks to the graphics engine. I would swear the game looks even better than it first did, though I see no claims to back this up on the Bethesda site.

Speaking of graphics, they hold up very well. Character animations are stiff for the most part but the settings are just so lovely that you probably won’t notice. Water looks like water, mist looks like mist and odd shapes always wait for you on the horizon. The feeling of the game reminds me of Asherons Call 2, with its long distance draw and a world that always feels like its hiding a secret right around the bend. The sound is also a strength of Morrowind. The soundtrack is repetitive but good. I never shut it off so that should say a thing or too about how well it fits the game. Sound effects are nothing spectacular but they also add more than they subtract so I’d say they’re a success. If there’s one area I would love to see some improvement for the next Elder Scrolls game it would be in the battle sounds. They’re just not very inspired.The game has some issues that plagued the original release of the Xbox version. Long load times are common (unlike the PC version where they’re surprisingly spry), there’s still no good way to keep track of all of your correspondences in the game, attacking airborn enemies is like stringing a needle and, last but not least, a multitude of bugs still pop up at the worst times. Monsters embedded in the hillside, stuttering transitions, unexplained deaths – they all make a comeback. You should also be aware that some people are complaining of problems with loading the game on their Xbox. Bethesda might address this problem with the Xbox Live service at a future date. I didn’t come across the problem.

Another low point (though understandable) is the lack of an editor. I would have loved to see the Morrowind construction set as a part of the X-box package. The construction set lets players design their own quests. The X-box’s hard drive would probably allow you to have the editor but the transition may have been too difficult. There might also be security issues at stake since Microsoft would probably rather not give the end user any backdoors to the development tools. Still I was sorry to see the editor was absent since a console mod community would be awesome.

Removing the nitpicky cap…

But in the final analysis this trio of games in one package is the deal of the year, bar none. The original game is good enough to overlook its weaknesses and bugs, but when you add two well-done expansion sets to the mix you just can’t go wrong. Honestly, I have no idea how many hours of gameplay Morrowind has. I hear 100-200 hours -- but that sounds to me like numbers that are pulled from the air. I lost track after 30. All I know is Morrowind is endlessly fun and will satisfy any role playing fan or anyone who suspects large fantasy worlds can be fun but haven’t found the right MMO to plunk down 14 bucks a month for.

Morrowind’s open-endedness will not appeal to everyone. It’s not slowly paced, it’s just differently paced and anyone buying the game should know that this is a unique experience in gaming. You make your own experience. If you don’t have the patience to feel out the game then you shouldn’t buy it. But if you’ve yearned for an offline fantasy experience that is immersive and seemingly endless then Morrowind: Game of the Year is in your future.
This game is not for everyone but for those who wish there was an immersive offline fantasy world to get lost in, you’ve found it. Bugs aside this isn’t only the game of the year, this is the deal of the year.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Ben Zackheim was born Ben Zackheim sometime before 1980 and after 1960 which characterizes him not at all. He's a writer of reviews, comics and screenplays, but aren't we all? Luxuries like food and shoes mean nothing to him. He's married to the most beautiful woman in the world, Robin, who reads all his reviews before he sends them in and says "Are you really going to write that for the public to read?" But I assure her no one reads my reviews anyway, only Charlie's, so it's kind of like a tree in the forest (without the cute little fuzzy things who smell their own poop - wait, then again there is Charlie...) She's a cross between Gillian Anderson and Hillary Clinton, which is a monster I'd love to play in Monster Rancher Advance 2. Photos are available upon request for a small fee. I'm currently writing this bio but have no plans beyond that. View Profile

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