The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon
Bloodmoon is the second expansion for The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, the first being Tribunal. This first release offered a more focused adventure than the one found in Morrowind but, despite being enjoyable, many were disappointed due to its linear nature and departure from Morrowind's open-ended gameplay, leaving players with nothing to do after the main quest. Fortunately, Bethesda Softworks have once again listened to their fans and Bloodmoon has almost everything fans of the Elder Scrolls series could want.
Bloodmoon takes place on the recently settled island of Solstheim, located northwest of Vvanderfell. Virtually every NPC will suddenly become aware of the settlement and gladly divulge how to get there, which involves simply catching a ship, or if you're daring (and patient enough), swim across the ocean yourself.
On arrival you're dropped in front of the new Imperial Fort and reporting to the captain will begin the main quest with a series of menial tasks designed to introduce you to the island and its inhabitants. Naturally, it's not long before the fort is attacked and you need the help of the native Skaal tribe who are worried about something even bigger... fire has been emerging from the middle of a frozen lake, werewolves have been seen walking the land and the moon has turned a blood red... all signs foretold in the Bloodmoon Prophecies.
The world of Bloodmoon is quite detached from Morrowind, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The tribal influences and arctic environments are refreshing and the story, while short, is entertaining. My only gripe is how the Imperials send you as a representative to the Skaal, when you're really still just a stranger to them. This is after you find their liquor, however, which may explain their decision if you catch my drift.
Adding to the main quest, when you become infected by a werewolf you have two choices. Either cure yourself before it takes control and continue to fight by the side of the Skaal, or succumb to the shadow of the beast and work for a Daedric lord against the Skaal. While at first it may seem like a gimmick as some missions are strikingly similar on both sides, each has a different feel and rewards.
Playing as a werewolf is quite a fun gameplay twist, unlike the rather pointless vampire possibilities in Morrowind. Every night you will transform and lose access to your inventory (I guess it all becomes stored in your stomach since it returns in the morning) requiring you to kill an NPC in order to survive. The perks are excellent hand-to-hand ability, increased agility and a wider field of vision. Just don't let anyone see you transform. Running through the forest on all fours at night is quite an exhilarating experience and it really feels like you're a predator on the prowl.
Quests are thankfully varied and range from good ol' fashioned tomb raiding to rescuing a bear and healing its wounds. There is custom armour to order and numerous side-quests to keep players busy after the main quest. Of particular note is the huge Raven Rock quest, which allows you to make important decisions as to the development of an up and coming mining colony. Important moral decisions are also to be made quite often, as a number of situations will place someone's fate in your hands.
One of the obvious things you'll notice about Solstheim is how drastically different its environment is to Vvanderfell. Ranging from green forests and plains to snow covered mountains and frozen lakes, Solstheim is an absolute pleasure on your eyes as you travel through light snow or harsh blizzards. Cavern design and appearance is also improved over Morrowind, boasting much more variety.
Naturally, with these new environments come new enemies. Wild animals such as bears and wolves roam the outdoors while more sinister enemies dwell in the caverns such as the goblin-like Draugr, the giant Grahl and, obviously, werewolves. Many of the animals will be found in groups so while a wolf isn't much trouble on its own, three of them and a few bears sure are. I find it odd how the animals will work together and never attack each other, but it's a different world after all.
Combat is slightly more frequent than in Morrowind, but attacks can be avoided with care. Players can hop on over to Solstheim at any point, but it would be best to have a character at least level 20 to tackle the challenges thrown at you, and you'll need a fairly powerful character to conquer the main quest. Overall, Bloodmoon adds another 20 to 40 hours of gameplay
The majority of sounds from Morrowind are reused here, with a number of new ones with mixed results. While the squealing of the Bristleback is one of the most irritating sounds I've heard, approaching many characters will cause them to say a unique line, often in context with how you relate to them which is a great touch. Many of the characters have strong personalities, with the Skaal living by their tribal beliefs making them believable, and you can feel Falco's frustration as he faces constant trouble setting up the colony. It's doubtful you'll relate to any on a personal level, but they are well done.
Some more ambient sound would have enhanced the game's atmosphere, however. For example, I would have liked to hear the crunching of snow beneath my feet while walking over it, but the standard dirt treading is used no matter which terrain you may be traversing.
As this is an expansion, it is virtually identical to Morrowind technically and in playability so it shares the same flaws and quirks. A Bloodmoon specific note concerns the blizzards which look nice, yet they can really slow down your computer even more so than Ash storms, so be warned. Bloodmoon also includes the new journal format and map annotation in case you missed their inclusion in Tribunal, but I still believe these are functions that should be provided in a patch for the original.
These days it's not often that developers listen to their fans, which is enough to give Bethesda credit on its own. But Bloodmoon is a quality product that is anything but a way to milk more money from a popular franchise and gives a little more of everything you loved about Morrowind in a new world that deserves to be on any Elder Scroll fan's shelf.
Copyright © Andrew Gray 2003.
All rights reserved.
Windows ME/98 with 128 MB RAM; Windows XP/2000 with 256 MB RAM; 500 MHz Intel Pentium III, Celeron, or AMD Athlon processor; 8x CD/DVD-ROM Drive; 1GB 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.
Note: You also need a copy of the original Morrowind to play this expansion.