"Not often does a game come along that simply knocks you off your feet. A game so massive and involved that it hooks you from the word go. A game that you can't get enough of, one that makes you sit back and just go 'whoa'. "
Not often does a game come along that simply knocks you off your feet. A game so massive and involved that it hooks you from the word go. A game that you can't get enough of, one that makes you sit back and just go 'whoa'.
But The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is one of these games. One that clearly deserves its Game Of The Year title.
'But it's just another RPG!', you cry. Ah, you obviously have not played this game yet. Let's start the discussion of the game's brilliance by discussing the main character, i.e. you, and the beginnings of the story. In Morrowind, you can be... literally anyone you want to be. The open-ness and vastness of choice in even creating a character is just amazing, and this is only the beginning! You can choose the race of your character, each race having its own skill bonuses and special powers. You can choose a job class for your character, listing the major and minor skills that your character will specialize in. Don't like the dozens that are available? Make your own! You can choose the birth sign of your character, again granting special skills or stat bonuses.
Want to make a mage character? Done, just create a job class with a lot of the different schools of magicka in the skills, or use the predetermined Mage class. Want a mage that can brandish an axe menacingly? Simple, just add the Axe skill into the minor or major category. Want an axe-wielding mage that can pick locks and disarm traps with ease? You can do that too. The only limit is your imagination, in terms of the number of different combinations you can have, in terms of what type of character you want to create. If you want a thief who can steal items while hiding behind a pillar six feet away, you can make it.
Once you've got your fighter/mage/battlescout/ULTIMATE HAVOC WREAKER created, the real fun begins. Did I mention your character has just been released from prison? Well, they have, and the only clue you are given to any sort of purpose in the game and in life is a package and a suggestion to find a man named Caius Cosades, in a place called Balmora.
So whatever shall your innocent new little character do now? Whatever the hell you like! Here's where the sheer openness of everything comes into play again. You can spend your days wandering mindlessly around the world, doing odd jobs for people. You can follow the main quest of the game. You can become a master thief, killing everyone and stealing everything in sight. And none of these paths will lead you to boredom. There are literally endless things to do in this game, but more on that later.
After the processization of the paperwork for your release, and before you decide your character's path in life, let us stop and admire the scenery in the first town you will see, Seyda Neen. Very rarely have I seen graphics so beautiful on the PC. My personal favourite sight, and one that has to be seen to be believed, is the effect of the water. Gazing into a sunset, out over the ocean, you can see the reflection of the sun, yet see the transparency where a hill creates a shadow. See the ripples and the swells when it rains, or when your character moves through the water. It's really breathtaking, and I'm not usually a graphics fangirl.
Character graphics are great, especially when you consider that there's over 3000 non-playable characters to create images for - they're not all unique by any means, as that would be quite a stretch, but with ten races to choose from, there are certainly a wide variety of characters and looks around the place. From the menacing feline Khajiit race, to the reptilian Argonian race, to the fair-skinned humanoid Nords... there's something for everyone.
All of the locations are spectacular as well. Even after all I've played of this game, I haven't come close to seeing them all, and it seems every time I turn around I find something new and amazing. Each town, each tomb, each valley, each mountain retains a special uniqueness, which is incredible seeing as how vast the island of Morrowind is. And it all looks real. I can't stress how lifelike the graphics of the locations are, from an abandoned mine, to a sleepy swamp town, to a bustling city. I love the looks of the forests, the trees, wandering around from town to town, I can literally spend hours doing it just to admire the countryside. I must be the only person who directs their character to travel by foot, even though it can take days of in-game time.
Interiors are great too - somehow even each house in a town looks individual. Be it the slightly-sinister appearance of an assassin's hall, or the sparse home of a single woman, or the crowded shelves of a merchant's shop. (As you can tell, I love providing examples.) And the great thing about interiors is, everything around, every cup on a table, every book on a shelf, every mysterious crate and box kept in a corner, can be examined, searched. And taken. But more on that later as well.
Sound is perhaps not such a great point, in terms of voice acting. I do love the music in the game, though. It's probably a bad comparison to make, but a lot of the music sounds to me like it could fit straight in a Lord of the Rings movie, it has that sort of effect. It's that sort of epic. That sort of brilliant, that can convey expressions, emotions, feelings, moods. From the sweet sounds of nature while dawdling in the countryside, to the frenzied tune of battle, that really puts you on edge and hypes you up. And hey, if you don't like it (the sacrilege!), you can always replace it with your own music, if you've got some good MP3s laying around.
Each NPC you meet around Vvardenfell will greet you with one spoken line, which is about the extent of the voice acting. Each race does have its own set of voices, but after a while they all just blend in together because the lines are so generic. 'What can I do for you, Bosmer?' 'Pleased to meet you, Dunmer.' 'What can Khajiit do for you?' Below average points for that one, but frankly, it makes no difference because everything else is just so spectacular. Like the sound effects. When I was playing this game yesterday, a thunderstorm struck for the first time. It was night, the sound was up, and I practically jumped out of my skin every time thunder struck, it was just that realistic. Combat also has some great effects - the clash of blades, metal upon metal; the burning and crackling of a fire spell; the furious shouting/squealing of your opponent as you pound him into the ground. Great stuff right there. I also like nice things, like the hoot of an owl in the forest at night. The slamming of a door as you exit a building. The humming of a NPC as they go about their business, unaware of you standing behind them pilfering their house.
But as everyone knows, the core of a game is the gameplay, and how does The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind stack up in that regard? Oh, boy. Without a doubt, this is the most addictive game I have ever played. Exploring what I touched upon earlier, your role in this game is whatever you make of it. Proceeding through the game is done by completing quests, tasks given to you by any of a number of people. I already mentioned the first previously - 'Report to Caius Cosades'. The in-game journal, a handy feature, will keep track of all manner of important information you are given, including quests (if playing the official Game Of The Year version, you will also be able to see a list of your active and completed quests, and all information regarding them.) Quests can come from just about anywhere - people you see wandering the streets and decide to talk to, events you witness or have occur to you, or faction leaders you ask for work.
The main story of the game follows the story of one faction, one of the major forces in Morrowind. When you join the faction, you will be given a quest to complete, whether it be investigating some ancient ruins, retrieving certain herbs from a forest, guiding a person from point A to B. When you return with the quest completed, you will receive a reward, and may be promoted through the ranks of the faction, before being given a new quest. However, there is more than one faction to the game, and you can join any number of them. As you play The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, you will learn about the actual history and culture that has been programmed into the game, how the factions interact, react to each other. Actions you take on behalf of one faction, or guild, may have dire consequences on how a different guild sees you. It's a fine line to tread; one you'll just have to learn from experience.
Each guild in the game is it's own separate entity, each will give you quests, should you request them. You can rise through the ranks of them all, should you want to. Become the Grandmaster of one or all of them. They're all side quests, you see. The number of side-quests, things not necessary to completing the game, is astronomical. You can literally just spend hours running from place to place, doing odd jobs and favours in the forms of quests. Run from a town to the forest in search of mushrooms for the Mage's Guild. Spot an egg mine on the way, with some dangerous poachers inside. Do a favour for the Fighter's Guild and eliminate them. Collect the mushrooms on the way to visiting another town. When you arrive, ransack a locked chest as a favour for the Thieves' Guild. Take all the spoils back to their respective bases and collect your rewards, before setting off on another round of quests.
The game gives you the freedom to do this. The game gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. You can do everything, or nothing. I heard that someone set off on a personal quest to kill every NPC in the game. Sure, you can't complete the game properly if you do so, but it'll take you a long time, be a lot of fun if you're into killing and then robbing the corpses, and no-one's stopping you from doing it. No-one outside the game, that is.
Inside the game is a different story. Morrowind tries rather cleverly to emulate a real world, complete with a ruling force and its legal system. You can commit crimes in Morrowind, and these are similar to those in real life. Stealing, murder, assault, homelessness (sleeping in the street), all are illegal and carry heavy fines if you get caught. But like real life, laws are made to be broken ;) Half the fun in robbing a house in the game is doing it undetected. If you've got the right skills, you can walk into someone's house, and pickpocket their person without them even noticing. Now that's what I call cool.
If you are seen committing a crime, your crime gets reported, a bounty will go on your head, and any one of the guards walking around Morrowind will attempt to arrest you. You can pay your fines, have your stolen items repossessed, or you can actually go to jail. It's an ingenious system, and it actually allows for a lot of strategy to get away with crime, making things a lot of fun. Like I stated, skills come into play, which means it's good to design your character with your intentions in mind. Want them to be pickpockets and thieves? Give them a high Sneak stat by making it a major or minor skill, and choose a race with a Sneak bonus.
And the best part, the core idea of character development, is that your skills in Morrowind level up as you use them. If you want to be a better thief, practice sneaking around and level up your Sneak skill. If you want to just kill everything with brute force, you'll need good weapon skills, so practice them, either on NPCs or creatures in the wild. This is how you can tailor your character to your exact style of play, and also allows for limitless replay - try playing with a pure mage, or a classic fighter, or an agile pickpocket.
Combat in the game can be slow to start off with. Armed with a weapon, it's basically point and click - tap the left button to slash at whatever's in front of you, hold it then release for a more powerful stroke. However, once your skills develop, then it gets more interesting - especially if you're interested in magic. Spells in the game are purchased from mages, and there's a spell for basically anything in the game you can think of - fire damage, summoning creatures, restoring health, reducing elemental damage. And once you have a spell, you can actually use it to create a different spell with the same properties, using a spellmaker. Want a spell that combines fire damage, frost damage, poison, and damaged fatigue? It'll cost you, but you can get it. If you want to take it a step further, you can enchant your items such as clothes or armour with any spell you own. Want a necklace that can unlock any lock when you use it? Want a shield that makes you levitate? You can enchant them to do so - very costly if you visit an enchanter, but you can always try if yourself if you have a high Enchant skill.
Another interesting feature is the fact that you can use your Alchemy skill, if you have a good one, along with an Alchemy set of items such as a mortar and pestle and a calcinator, to create your own potions. Combining certain items with the desired properties, you can make potions to do whatever you like - restore health, restore fatigue, increase strength, again, the sky is the limit. Use them in battle, and watch the results. It takes a lot of training to be able to make the best items, but that's just another way the game extends its WOW factor.
All of this contributes to why I think The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is one of the best RPGs... no, scratch that, one of the best games on the market to date. If you have any interest in RPGs at all, this game is well worth a look, and I don't think you'll regret spending your money on it. I heard there's over a thousand hours of gameplay in the game. And I plan on completing every one of them, loving it every step of the way.
Still reckon it's 'just another RPG'? I don't think so.
Community review by karpah (August 27, 2004)
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