Review: The Elder Scrolls III – Morrowind

It’s been a little over a year since I played and reviewed The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Since that time I have been eagerly awaiting my chance to check out the next installment in the series. Last month I finally reached that point in my backlog and I’ve spent the last thirty days playing nothing but the third installment in the Elder Scrolls series, Morrowind. After an entire month of being completely immersed in this game, I have a lot of thoughts to share. But before we go any further, I’d highly recommend that you take a moment to read my reviews for the first two entries in the Elder Scrolls series; Arena and Daggerfall. I’m going to be making quite a few comparisons to those older games in this review and it would probably benefit you to hear my thoughts on those two titles before we dive in to this new entry,

As always, before I get into the details of the game itself, I want to take a moment to discuss a little bit about the original release of the game and the best way to enjoy this title today. Morrowind was originally released in 2002 for the PC. An Xbox release followed shortly thereafter. The Xbox release is important because it introduced console players to an entirely new genre of RPG. Up this point, most console RPGs had either been JRPG-style games or cheap ports of classic dungeon-crawlers that usually lacked the quality found in their original PC versions. This time however, the native console version of Morrowind felt almost on par with the PC release of the game. Yes, there were some limitations brought on by the Xbox hardware. But by and large the experience between the Xbox and the PC were very similar in terms of quality. Morrowind spawned two expansion packs, Tribunal and Bloodmoon. These expansions added new playable areas and a number of new storylines/quests to Morrowind. Once installed, they integrate into the main game so their inclusion is seamless. Xbox players were quick to complain when it came to these expansions because they were initially only available to PC users. However, a little over a year after Morrowind’s initial release, The Elder Scrolls III: MorrowindGame of the Year Edition was released for both the PC and Xbox. This version of the game included Morrowind, both expansions, and a number of updates and fixes.

Needless to say, the GotY version is the best way to enjoy the game regardless of platform. However, when deciding between the PC release or the Xbox version of the game, I have to firmly recommend the PC as the best Morrowind experience. I make this claim for a number of reasons. For starters, once you get it all set up, the PC version looks better and plays smoother. On top of that, the PC version also offers support for mods and a number of these enhance the game significantly. But, if you’re going to take my advice and play Morrowind on a modern PC, there’s still a few hoops to jump through if you want to best experience.

Once you’ve installed the game, there’s two third-party patches that no Morrowind player should go without; the Morrowind Optimization Patch and the Patch for Purists. These two patches provide a number of a fixes to the game itself without making any changes to the original content. There’s also a handful of official plugins for the game that were developed by Bethesda and made available for free to PC players. These plugins add items and quests to the main game and are available for download here: Official Plugins. I consider these mods and plugins to be essential since they only provide fixes or add features created by the original developers. However, there are tons of other mods available for this game that do everything from improving the game’s graphics to adding entirely new questlines. Some are better than others and there’s no way I could cover all of them in a single review. But I will mention a few that I personally use and can highly recommend:

Cutting Room Floor – This mod re-enables some official content that was cut out of the game for various reasons (NPCs, items, questlines)

Dubdilla Location Fix – This mod moves the location of a specific area so that it matches up with the location provided by the game’s actual text (considered an oversight by the game’s developers)

Expansion Delay – This mod delays the start of the Tribunal expansion until after the main Morrowind questline.

Finally, there’s one other crucial component that I want to mention if you plan on enjoying this game with modern hardware: OpenMW. This piece of software serves as both a launcher and an engine replacement for the original game. It enables support for modern resolutions and makes the game completely compatible with modern machines. Many players will recommend other alternatives such as script extenders and various plugins to the base game. But after extensive testing, I can tell you that OpenMW is by far the easiest and best way to run Morrowind on modern PCs. Plus, when using the OpenMW launcher, you are able to toggle various mods on and off with the click of a button.

I know all of that seems tedious when compared with simply downloading the Xbox version via Gamepass. But trust me when I say that the gameplay experience on the PC is vastly superior.

Now that all the technical stuff is out of the way, let’s talk a bit about the setting for the game. Morrowind takes place about twenty years after the events of Daggerfall. The story is set on the island of Vvardenfall in the providence of Morrowind. This is a pretty big change from what was seen in the first Elder Scrolls titles as these two games allowed players to explore much larger areas. However, just because the size of the game map is significantly smaller in Morrowind, that doesn’t mean there’s less to explore. If you remember my review for Arena, you may recall that I mentioned the majority of the game’s world was procedurally generated. This means that most elements on the overworld map were completely random. This is a pretty neat concept on the surface, but in reality it typically results in boring and uneventful exploration. On the other hand, every location in Morrowind was created and designed by the game’s developers. This means that the people and places you encounter as you explore typically have something of interest for players to discover.

The game begins with a cutscene detailing a dream had by the main character. Once the dream ends, the player awakens in the cargo hold of a ship. It is soon revealed the player is a prisoner who being transported to a local Imperial office for release by order of the Emperor. The reason behind this order is initially a mystery. But as the player progresses in the game, it becomes clear that they may actually be a hero foretold by prophecy. The player is provided with a letter and instructions to report to a local operative. From here, the player is free to go as they please.

During this introduction to game players are able to create their character by answering simple questions provided by NPCs. The answers provided will determine their character’s name, race, and class. As was the case with the first two games in the series, players can select their class by either allowing the game to make a suggestion or by simply picking one from a list. A number of the classes from Daggerfall are still present in this game, but there’s also a handful of new options as well. The option to create a custom class is still present in Morrowind also. The class you choose will have a big impact on the way the game is played.

Even though it follows in the footsteps of both Arena and Daggerfall, Morrowind is famous for being one of the first real open-world RPGs. The fact that nothing in this game is randomly generated means that the world you are exploring always has something interesting to see. With that in mind, it’s entirely up to players how they want to proceed. The game gives you breadcrumbs to follow, sure. And following them is probably a pretty good idea if you want to get the most out of the game. But, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from disregarding any suggestions and just going off on your own.

Assuming you do follow the game’s lead and make your way to your contact, the main storyline will start to unfold at a fairly rapid pace. Essentially, once you meet with the Imperial operative, you will given a task to perform. While undertaking this quest, you will likely stumble across other tasks or areas of interest. The more you explore and the more rabbit holes you go down, the deeper the game’s story and lore will seem. For everything that Morrowind spells out for you in terms of lore, there’s also many implications and mysteries left for players to discover and piece together on their own. To me, that’s part of the magic this game has to offer.

Aside from the main storyline quest, there’s also a number of guilds and various noble houses of influence in the world of Morrowind. Each of these often have their own separate questlines. Players who feel compelled to try to experience everything will be in for a surprise as more often than not, certain alliances will impact the ability to progress in rival storylines. For example, when joining the Thieves Guild, the player makes an oath to never steal from other members of the guild. If you later decide to join the Fighter’s Guild, you will eventually be given a task that involves either stealing from, or slaying a Thieves’ Guild member, thus making progression in both questlines virtually impossible. The game is filled with things like this and it really makes the player pause and think about how they want to proceed.

Aside from these original storylines, the expansions also add tons of new content to the game. The Tribunal expansion adds a new city to explore with a whole new questline that involves the new area. Compared with the main game, the content in Tribunal does feel a bit self contained. But it does a pretty good job of expanding on the lore presented by base game. Bloodmoon adds a new island to the original game as well as the ability to be cursed as a werewolf. This may sound trivial at first, but it really does make for some pretty interesting experiences. The quests and storylines included with these expansions are designed to especially challenging and are intended to be played after the completion of the game’s main storyline.

If you played Daggerfall then you will feel right at home with Morrowind. Morrowind takes all of the basic gameplay elements from the previous game and improves on them significantly. Skills level up regularly as they are used in the game. The more you jump and climb, the faster your athletics score will improve. The more you use a particular weapon, the more proficient you become in that weapon category. The same is true for other skills as well. Magic, Speechcraft, etc. All these skills improve the more you use them. After so many skill improvements, your character will gain a level. This increases the character’s hit points and various other stats. Players are also able to select certain skill categories for an additional increase. Skill categories that saw frequent improvement before the level-up occurred will have bonus multipliers attached to them. This makes character customization extremely easy. Even though your character is tied to specific class, you have the flexibility to branch out and improve pretty much any skill you see fit.

But it’s not just the skill system from the previous game that will feel familiar to fans. Conversing with NPCs still works essentially the same way. However, the new journal system makes it much easier to keep track of various quests and rumors provided during these encounters. Fans of Daggerfall’s various books and manuscripts will be pleased to learn that Morrowind also contains readable books scattered throughout the various locales of the game. These books often contain useful lore (and sometimes reading them can also improve skills), but there’s also plenty of silly and nonsensical books to read as well.

I bring up the comparison to Daggerfall only to illustrate how close this game aligns with its predecessors even though it manages to completely revolutionize the genre in its own way.

When I sat down and started this game I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that I was sitting down to play a first-person, 3D CRPG. But I had no idea just how immersive this game was going to be. I played Daggerfall and loved every second of it. But Morrowind manages to capture the essence of a living, breathing game world so much better than anything that came before it. Once I started my journey in this game, I was completely enthralled. I stayed up late to play it. I came home and played it on my lunch break. When I wasn’t playing it, I was thinking about playing it. This level of obsession only strikes me every so often when it comes to games. It’s hard to achieve, but Morrowind managed to make it happen. In a way, Morrowind doesn’t feel like a game you play but more like a world you can live in.

I can only imagine how captivating this game must have been to console players back when it was originally released. I don’t think anything like it had ever been seen on a home console before. With this in mind, a part of me wishes I had played this game at release. But, back in 2002 I had just got married and my attention was on other things. Still, the fact that Morrowind was able to enchant me the way it did (some twenty years later), speaks volumes about how incredible this game actually is. It’s truly a timeless classic. I can’t wait to see what the next games in the Elder Scrolls series have in store.

Version Reviewed: PC

Difficulty: Medium – In terms of difficulty, the early parts of the game seem to be the hardest at times. Early in the game your character is weak and it’s pretty easy to get in over your head. Thankfully, this game allows you to save literally anywhere. So, recovering from a disaster is as simple as reloading. Still, despite the ability to save-scum your way through the game, there’s still plenty of challenging content to overcome. This is especially true if you want to experience the three main questlines of the game and its expansions.

Multiplayer: No.

Story: The whole prophesized hero thing may not seem particularly original at first. But as you play the game and learn more about the unique lore behind the game’s world the storyline quickly becomes much deeper than it first seems. Combine this with all of the other various storylines and living, breathing characters found in Morrowind and you end up with some pretty incredible storylines to discover. You get out what you put into this game when it comes to story.

Originality: Despite taking the recipe of the last two games and building upon it, there’s plenty here that’s unique and new. Everything from the gameplay to the lore feels original and awe inspiring.

Soundtrack: For the first time in the series we have a fully orchestrated soundtrack. The main theme is epic and catchy. It manages to perfectly capture the magic of this game. The rest of the games soundtrack isn’t quite as memorable, but it is all well done and captures the spirit of adventure exceptionally well.

Fun: Before I started this game, I expected that I would enjoy it. But I had no idea just how much fun was in store for me. To say that I had a blast with this game would be an understatement. Morrowind absolutely consumed me for the entire month that it took me finish it. Despite having completed all of the main storylines in the game, there’s still plenty that I have yet to experience. With this in mind, I actually found myself leaving the game installed after completion so that I can revisit in from time to time. If you ask me, that is the sign of great game.

Graphics: Games from this era typically suffer when it comes to graphics. These early 3D titles feature some silly looking textures (especially when it comes to character models). This game is no exception. Most of the character models look decent, but there are a few that end up looking like blocky monstrosities. The environmental textures on the other hand look fantastic, even today.

Playcontrol: When playing on the PC the default controls work pretty much how most modern gamers would expect. There are few exceptions to this rule (for example Jump is bound to “R” instead of the now standard “Space Bar”). Some of the hot keys do take a little getting used to, but once you’ve figured it out, it’s all very intuitive. Xbox players are bound completely to the controller. For my review, I did experience the game on the PC. But, out of curiosity, I did spend a little time with the Xbox version and for the most part, I found the default controls to be well done.

Downloadable Content: Community mods and free official add-ons.

Mature Content: Violence, fictional drug use, suggestive themes

Value:  I originally acquired this game as part of an Elder Scrolls boxed set, which if you can find it, is an incredible deal. The GotY edition sells digitally for around $15 on the PC and Xbox which is an incredible deal for the amount of content this game includes and the quality of the game itself.

Overall score (1-100): 100Morrowind is a game that surpassed my expectations. Even with all of the praise I had heard about it over the years, I didn’t expect it to live up to hype. But it did. Everything about this game (even with all of its odd quirks) is just perfect. It captured my attention and imagination in way that few games have. This is one that I highly recommend. I feel like it’s approachable both for retro gamers and modern audiences. This one will not disappoint. You have my word.

Original System: PC, Xbox

Available today on:  PC, Xbox One/X/S  – (Updated as of Spring 2024)

Best Experience: PC   – (Updated as of Spring 2024)

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Arena   –   Daggerfall   –   Morrowind   –   Oblivion   –   Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls Online  (Original Release)    –    The Elder Scrolls Online (Tamriel Unlimited)

Old Game Hermit

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