"A prisoner released from his shackles by order of the emperor, tossed beneath the decks of a rickety wooden vessel embarking towards the faraway outskirts of the dominion, the self-named, self-designed protagonist of Morrowind starts with little more than a clouded past and the clothes on his back. Noticeably absent however are the flashbacks of his foggy history and the destinies fatherly figures envision us fulfilling -- the trademarks countless adventures have conditioned us into expec..."
A prisoner released from his shackles by order of the emperor, tossed beneath the decks of a rickety wooden vessel embarking towards the faraway outskirts of the dominion, the self-named, self-designed protagonist of Morrowind starts with little more than a clouded past and the clothes on his back. Noticeably absent however are the flashbacks of his foggy history and the destinies fatherly figures envision us fulfilling -- the trademarks countless adventures have conditioned us into expecting. In their stead we're simply let loose into an immense, imposing, epic landscape with only the vaguest of guidance, forced to make friends and learn the ropes of this life on the fly. You'll find no handholding tutorial here.
What we are told is to leave the seaside town of Seyda Neen, its cozy cottages and 'one guard per two resident' population, and seek out the city of Balmora, in particular a fellow by name of Caius Cosades, and deliver a package. But we're a free man in a vast country! We're a commoner, a nameless face among the crowded masses, able to take on any identity we're so inclined! There's no bird looking over our shoulder making sure we stay on track, no faerie chiming in with reminders of advice, no questions giving us the illusion of decision-making before our main character decides, "I'd better not…" Morrowind simply lets you do as you please, and hopes you figure out how to have fun doing it; these creators were not pretentious enough to design a "right" way to play their game.
Go to Balmora and walk the cobblestone streets, conversing with the townspeople on the local gossip and browsing the shops for handy items. Find odd jobs that citizens need done -- one particular resident has a rat infestation in her attic and needs the pests disposed of, handsomely rewarding you should you solve her problem (or you could loot her for all she's worth and handsomely reward yourself). Join the thieves guild and be given the assignment of stealing a diamond from the alchemist of the town, having to stealthily rob the jewel sitting in plain site of her counter. Whether you aspire for your character to be a stalwart warrior, a skilled magic wielder, an underhanded crook or a multifarious everyman, you can create him and lead that life in the vast, medieval world the game lays out for us.
There are grander tasks than menial labor and petty theft however. Morrowind is a landscape covered in ancient ruins, forgotten caverns, ancestral tombs and abandoned mines, each holding treasures that make their exploration worthwhile. Vampires, necromancers, bandits and various monsters hide in the wilderness, and the imperial guards won't mind in the slightest should we take the initiative and eliminate these nuisances of the kingdom. Objectives will have us hunting down criminals, recovering lost possessions and going on various fact-finding and house-cleaning missions, though at no point should we feel obligated to accomplish our duties within a set timeframe. We can prance through swampy marshes and trek up mountainsides without the dulling feeling that we're missing out on something important.
It is in completing these objectives though that we notice one of the faults of this title: combat starts out imprecise with our character poorly adept at battling, and even as we gain experience, upgrade our weaponry and increase our statistics in numerous categories, it never reaches the point where clashing with enemies is actually fun. Whether we approach battles from the first or third person view, the game allowing us to switch between the two at any time, the action never reaches an exciting, fluid Ocarina of Time or Chaos Legion state where dueling with beasts and rivals become the highlight of our adventure. While Morrowind aims to achieve a more realistic mode of combat, all too often our hero seems to be flailing wildly, jutting his sword forward with his eyes closed, rather than gracefully slaying monsters with his trusted blade.
But the key focus is exploration, and Morrowind manages to succeed from every respect from this vantage point. This is a living, breathing world no matter how we look at it. There are tens of dungeons to explore, hundreds of countrymen to interact with, thousands of items to collect and put to use, whether bartering them for money or equipping them on our hero. We're given the option of living the life of a noble and just warrior risking life and limb to keep the kingdom from evil, or taking on a criminal persona, able to walk into any shop and barbarously slaughter the owner, taking his inventory to the next town to be sold, assuming we can avoid those after the bounty on our head. This is a world so deep it even has its own literature -- numerous books, many of them spanning several pages, sketchily detail the legends and lore of this realm. So venture off into the sprawling, captivating land of Morrowind, outlander, and live a life however you see fit.
Community review by drella (September 12, 2007)
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