The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Developer/Publisher:  Bethesda Softworks
Year Released:  2002

Review by Clint Mullins (July, 2002)
I have been waiting for Morrowind for what seems like an eternity. It is the sequel to one of my all time favourite games, Daggerfall. Morrowind is actually the third in the Elder Scrolls series if you don't count diversions such as Battlespire and Redguard.

Morrowind is a first person CRPG. It can be played in third person but the game is more difficult that way.

Bethesda Softworks have done a wonderful job creating a large world that begs to be explored. The graphics look simply amazing if you have a system to do it justice. It runs beautifully on my Athlon 1.8 with a Geforce 3 graphics card at 1600x1200 resolution but slower systems will have frame rate problems.

The Choice is Yours
Character creation in Morrowind is a joy. You can select from pre-made characters or answer a series of questions to determine your character as in the Ultima series. I chose the third option which is to custom make your own. Shortly after, Cayra my Mystic Blade was on a ship arriving at the port of Seyda Neen. At this point you are given a package to deliver which starts the main quest rolling. However, the delivery of this package can be delayed as long as you want giving you the chance to explore for yourself.

Guided Tour
I still haven't seen all of Morrowind but I did circumnavigate the whole island early on. Some of the locations are very evocative and they are significantly different in different areas. Although there doesn't seem to be the softly falling snow of Daggerfall the weather effects are amazing. Your first thunder crack will have you ducking and after admiring your first sandstorm you will soon be heading for shelter. The water effects are superb if you have a Geforce 3 or 4 graphics card. Don't be surprised to find yourself gazing into a pond as the rain falls on the surface because it looks wonderful.

Towns are nicely realized and NPCs wander the streets always ready for a chat. Entering a house or dungeon requires a quick load but for me this takes only a second or two at the most.

Walking and running in Morrowind is very slow, especially when you start. Run everywhere and your skill will improve. There are no horses this time but travel is possible between towns via ship, stilt strider (big beasties) or from the mages guild. This sort of travel just involves a quick load and you're there. If you want to see the scenery you need to walk.

Going Up
You improve your chosen skills in Morrowind by using them. As you improve your major skills you will eventually level up. You can improve all your skills but only the ones chosen at the start of the game will improve your level. When you level up you can choose to improve eight major attributes. If you continually improve the same attributes you are rewarded with bonus multipliers.

It always seemed to take me an age to reach the first level or two but seemed a little quicker after that. This is because your character will only be able to fight the humble mud crab and other lowly wildlife early on. It is possible to pay trainers to increase your skills but this can become expensive.

Hack , Slash and Zap
The armor and weapons you choose appear instantly on your character. Pressing the Tab key gives you a third person view so you can admire yourself. I have actually used armor with a poorer rating because it looked cool. Combat itself is relatively simple, just a matter of clicking the cursor on your opponent. You can vary the attack using direction keys but there is an option in the settings to always use the best attack. Holding the mouse button down longer makes you hit harder but you leave yourself open to attacks.

When the game was first released there was no indication of how much damage you were doing to your enemy but fortunately this has been rectified in the first patch which produces a health bar for the enemy just above your own.

There is a huge selection of spells in Morrowind but if there's not enough you can always make your own at the Mage guild. Alchemists can make spells from the local flora and fauna and if you learn the Enchant skill (or pay someone who knows it) you can use the captured soul of a dead enemy to enchant your weapons and armor.

The Interface
I have found Morrowind easy to use. Maps, inventory and journal all appear on your game screen when you open them and these can be resized and moved. The journal could have been better as it basically lists quests and events in chronological order and it sometimes takes a bit of searching to find an incomplete quest. There are hyperlinks in the text to descriptions and locations.

The one difficulty I still have during combat is changing between spell casting and fighting. When I need to heal, pressing the key to put away my weapon so I can cast a spell then pressing again to toggle back always takes longer than I expect. I often get caught in a loop while something pounds me to a pulp.

Conversations with NPCs also use hyperlinks. You are given a list of words to choose from and the NPC will respond. These can become very repetitive if you continually ask everyone you meet about the same topics.

Games can be saved quickly and easily. There is a quick save and autosave function and the game can be saved at any time including combat although you cannot rest around enemies.

Quests are many and varied. These are often obtained by joining Guilds and Houses. You can join more than one guild but eventually a conflict of interest will arise and you will have to decide who to support. That's what roleplaying is all about in my book.

Apart from the main one there are many side quests. A few people have remarked they have had problems by completing a quest before they were officially given it but I haven't had this issue arise.

The game world is littered with tombs and dungeons. Once I had found a nice silver sword that could damage the nasties within, I raided quite a few ancestral tombs. There are no random dungeons as in Daggerfall so all are hand made. Elements within are repeated and most of the dungeons are quite small when compared to the previous game. This works well for me as I often lure the bad guys to a door and nip out for a quick heal before resuming the fray. Having said that there are some big and very dangerous dungeons out there as well.

Infinite Possibilities
One of the genuinely exciting things about this game is the ability to download 'plug-ins'. These are extra areas, items or changes to the game play made by other players. (You can contribute your own if you like). You simply download them, put them in the correct folder and then check a box to include them in the game.

I downloaded a nice little house for myself in Balmoral, some sound effects and a teleport gem. All worked fine but when I patched the game I decided to start again. I was so happy with my little home I downloaded the house again as it's nice to have somewhere to store extra loot.

Plug-ins have been designed to make the game harder as some people have complained that once they reach level 20 there is little opposition. The patch, however, has included a difficulty slider which should keep these people happy.

I loved Daggerfall but it had more bugs than the house I shared in college. I have not encountered any in Morrowind but I do get the occasional crash straight to desktop. Other than being an inconvenience this has caused no problems.

If you enjoy genuine roleplaying games and you have the computer to cope with it I think you will thoroughly enjoy Morrowind. It really feels like another world to visit and you can play the game however you a mage, thief, acrobat, pearl diver, bodyguard or warrior. Or like myself, be a little bit of each.

Screenshots courtesy of the official Morrowind website. rating:  

Copyright © Clint Mullins 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows ME/98 with 128 MB RAM (256MB RAM recommended), Windows XP/2000 with 256 MB RAM; 500 MHz Intel Pentium III, Celeron, or AMD Athlon processor (800MHz recommended), 8x CD/DVD-ROM Drive; 1 GB free hard disk space; Windows swapfile; DirectX 8.1 (included), 32MB Direct3D Compatible video card and DirectX 8.1 compatible driver; DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card; Keyboard; Mouse.