So. I’m a huge Elder Scrolls lore nerd. But I have an issue, and that issue is I find the games themselves somewhere between dull and frustrating. I played Oblivion when it came out for both PC and Xbox 360, got half way in, became bored out of my mind and used console commands to finish it. Or at least to finish exploring. I did, however, absolutely adore the Shivering Isles expansion and have replayed it several times.
Then Skyrim came out and once again, I got it, played it for PC, and became completely and utterly bored out of my mind by the civil war plotline considering there’s so much more interesting things in the world. Which I did dabble in. I liked a lot of the sidequests and the game was pretty to look at, but I still haven’t finished the main plotline to this day.
So when I thought about playing Morrowind, a game I knew a lot about plot and lorewise in theory, I figured I would absolutely hate it, too. And in practice… I kind of did? But in a way that I enjoyed? It’s a weird relationship that I want to talk about.
I played Morrowind with no mods, as I do for my first run through (or attempt of a runthrough) of any Elder Scrolls. I have a thing about needing to play games in their purest form before I mess with them, to get an idea of what they are. And so I made my khajiit, whom I called Nyarevar, and set off. Now, this is a game that originally saw its release in 2002. So I expected a little wonkiness, but I also expected something playable.
I encountered a mud crab. Ah, I thought. My first kill. I died! Very quickly, unfortunately. Morrowind seems to think that despite being an action based game, it’s still an old school RPG, and old school RPG’s use dice rolls. This works great in turn based or tactics style games, but in action games? Not so much! I don’t understand how I can be right in front of something, swing a sword 10 times and hit it once, if I’m lucky.
After another attempt and looking into the combat system more, I emerge victorious and decide to walk to the nearest city to continue the main quest. Ah, says Morrowind, you want to get there? You’re low level. You have barely any athletics. As a result you are going to move very slowly and it is going to take you 20 minutes. Again, good old fashioned RPG thinking, not so great in an action game setting.
Eventually though, the more I played, the more I began to appreciate all this in a weird way. Because Morrowind goes out of its way to try and feel like a real, fleshed out world. The RPG mechanics are part of that, but also to try and create some sort of ‘realism’. You don’t walk so fast you can reach a city with ease. You can’t just jump everywhere. I still don’t get the missing 9 times out of 10 thing, but hey. I’d be bad at using a sword too until I’d used it a bunch and then got better at it by using it.
Morrowind is a game that likes to play with RPG ideas, tropes and cliches as much as it partakes in them. Nyaravar is the chosen one, yes, but he’s not the first and in some circumstances might not even be the last. To be the chosen one, he has to go through a heap of mundane tasks and earn the title, which could probably be earned by anyone if they did the same thing, just so they could go beat up a false God and partake in some political drama.
Did I mention the political drama? There’s a lot of that here, too. Various houses against each other, petty undermining, murder, there’s not a lot of voice acting in Morrowind and as a result there’s just a lot of text. Which means there can be a lot of incredibly in depth politics, petty squabbles and the like. It’s a real Game of Thrones kind of thing, if I had to compare it to something.
So anyway. I decide, maybe I’ll be a mage! I’ll go join the mages guild. And I’m promptly given all the absolute worst tasks which makes sense. Because I’m the newbie. It’s not like Oblivion and Skyrim where you’re very quickly elevated to chosen one status in that particular guild, you have to work for it.
And ‘you have to work for it’ sums up Morrowind entirely, I think. You have to earn being good at the game, you have to earn your place in the story, in a particular house or guild, you have to earn your skills. And it’s difficult, but so is life. Although having to console command an NPC who mysteriously went missing in is not real life. Neither are the occasional crashes. But that’s just Bethesda for you, I suppose.
It absolutely has its flaws, it’s not entirely ‘fun’ to play unless you’re the kind of person who likes to sit with a notebook and spending 20 minutes finding which rock to turn left at because an NPC told you to turn left at a specific rock. Also, cliff racers. Those are the absolute worst.
But it’s charming. And honestly one of the best looking games of its era, it still looks beautiful today. Wonky, full of pointy polygons and whatnot, but beautiful because of the art direction.
I’m glad I played it, and even finished it, but I will admit I only did so with console commands to make myself faster and stronger because I am not patient.
Good game. Wish I could have a pet guar.