How many times do you recall when you've recommended a game and said it required "Patience?" Or, even better yet, had to attach the word "but?" Fallout New Vegas is great, BUT it plays like Fallout 3. Deus ex is great, BUT it has dated combat. And I can't think of a game with a bigger butt than Eye Divine Cybermancy. We can all acknowledge these games faults, but they manage to get away with them in so many people's minds because it's the special stuff that make up for the sum of their parts. Well, Morrowind is another game to add to that pile. In fact it's probably one of the harder games to recommend in 2017. It doesn't have fast travel, quest markers or extensive voice overs, BUT it ends up being a more meaningful experience for it.
Starting off a new character in Morrowind is a brisk procedure, and this works to the games favor and detriment. In the beginning you get off a boat and pick your character's race, pick a class or create one yourself, and choose a birthsign. Little do you know, this is the most important part of your whole playthrough, and it's the easiest way to **** it all over because you're not going to know which of these skills are functionally important in game or not. You pick 5 major and minor skills to get boosts at the start, but these skills are also important to level as they're the only way to level your character up period. If you look here I made some truly awful decisions at the start with my end game character, but this can also be evidence that it shouldn't affect your enjoyment of the game terribly much either I guess.
As an RPG though, it isn't the numbers that make this intro so great, it's that the developers left so much ambiguous about it that the player can make up almost anything they want surrounding it and their character's origins. Once you leave that census office, that's when the game truly lets you off the leash, and it doesn't waste any time getting you to what matters.
I'm almost positive that after this point, a large portion of players tried to either kill or steal something, and then realize that they're not fucking hitting anything. In fact, my first memory of the game was me trying to kill an old lady with a dagger at the start and getting my *** kicked, which I've recreated here for your viewing pleasure. Each time you swing your weapon In Morrowind, the game rolls an invisible dice that's affected by your and enemies stats to determine if you will hit or not. I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, I think that rolling dice to hit your enemy does not belong in a real time game like this where you're SUPPOSED to be in the heat of the action. If I had done it differently, I would have it that your proficiency effects the amount of damage you do with a weapon, not your chance to hit.
On the other hand, I tend to think of Morrowind as an RPG first and everything else second. I can respect that Morrowind is so dead serious about stats affecting every little facet of the game because it makes picking the right skills at the start and leveling them crucial. The game pays attention to **** like armor rating, various effects of enchantments and spells, your skills and etc. It doesn't just apply to you, but your enemies as well, and eventually you'll get good enough defenses that soon everyone else will be the ones missing, not you. Again, this plays into the whole idea of overcoming diversity through character progression. So while it is obviously weakest part of the game, it still packs as much depth as the stronger parts that are integral to the role playing experience.
Let me put it this way. I can look back on this footage and laugh, because I took a character like that and made them into someone 100 times better. Starting off on a low point is important because it gives you a frame of reference for when your character eventually gets better.
What can also **** up a lot of people's day, including mine, is the journal system. Rather than keeping each piece of information nice and organized, your character will continually insist on jotting down SELECT events, chronologically, with no sense of order what-so-ever. The Tribunal expansion introduced a quest tab to try and remedy this, but this was still imperfect as some quests wouldn't update with a conclusion and many journal entries wouldn't come off as coherent read back to back. I've found that the best way to make use of the journal is just clicking the blue key words and phrases that show up on journal entries, as the game likes to convulsively categorize info on every little piece of **** subject it can and these can end up being more informative than the journal entries themselves.
And so, it's when you can get past the game's antiquated graphics and combat systems, and all it's fucking incessant crashing, that you can bite into what this game is about. Morrowind came out during a time when the whole idea of "go anywhere, do anything" was starting to truly blossom in 3D gaming with the advent of the bargain bin "GTA clones," but The Elder Scrolls had already been pulling the idea off for a while. Morrowind isn't free in the same way that you can kill hookers or rampage through the town in a tank, but rather in the way that you can manipulate each one of the game's systems to your whim and even completely derail the game's intended story.
And that's what's seriously important here. As I said earlier, Morrowind is an RPG first and everything else second. At no point does Morrowind stop everything you're doing to try and preserve it's story. If at any point you decide to kill a major NPC, the game respects that decision. Maybe you've decided you aren't the big hero and want to be an unstoppable warlord who's on a mission to kill the God's of Morrowind: you can do that. You are role playing.
Morrowind's leaning toward player freedom is also respected almost wholeheartedly in it's mechanics, outside of it's obvious open world nature. For every little interaction you or some other NPC or monster has, there's some kind of way for you to alter it with magic, potions, enchantments and etc. What this allows for is unrestricted creativity in how you can use, combine and exploit the games tools to your disposal in ways that can lead to being almost downright emergent or even game breaking.
There are many different examples I can give for this. Before player households were common in Bethesda's games, players would just come up of the idea of killing an NPC and taking their house over for themself, like I've done here. Sure you can cast a normal fireball, but you could also cast a spell that permanently damages your opponent's strength to the point that they can't move with their stuff anymore. You could use public transportation, but could also devise a spell that lets you jump hundreds of feet in the air to cross the island quickly. Some quests require you to kill someone in public, so you could come up with a spell to **** the person off so you can kill them in self defense.
If you wanted to get really ridiculous, you could boost your alchemy skills with a spell, then make insanely overpowered potions that significantly boost your skills for a long *** time. Even if you're breaking the game, it can still be fun because you're being rewarded for testing the games boundaries. You can also just, not do that, it's your choice how you play.
I've played hundreds of hours of Morrowind and it can be a little difficult explaining how it keeps its questing engaging, even for something simple like a fetch quest where in other games it would be a mundane task. The way quests worked in Morrowind was an NPC would give you an objective and a place, then give you some loose instructions on how to get there. This works for a number of reasons: number one is that it'll require you develop an idea of where everything is. Players will know where NPC's are talking about when they mention major cities like Balmora and Vivec after their second or third visit. Number two is it ties the questing straight into exploration, because you're not always going to know exactly where to go and will need to inspect the environment for yourself to find out. Sometimes a quest giver won't even know where a certain place is and tell you to ask around at a town. This opens up potential to stumble into other side quests, new people to meet and places to explore.
Number three is, let's be honest, reading is a more engaging activity than being told what to do outloud.
One example I can give was a simple fetch quest of just looking for a book for a mages guild member. If this were skyrim, our first instinct would be to bring up our map and check where the big white arrow is, then just instantly fast travel there, but Morrowind doesn't fly that way. See, the book the character needs is RARE and his only instruction he can give on how to find it is to ask around. Since I already have some knowledge of the game world, I know of rare bookseller in the city Vivec and travel there first thing. When I get there, he tells me that I can find it in a well hidden library in Vivec at a place called the "hall of justice," and that it's well guarded. The problem is, I don't where that is, and Vivec is a large city separated into a few districts.
A lot of **** follows just trying to find this place. I ran into a stash of slaves in one of the underworks of the city and freed them. I cleared out some hidden tombs that were infested with robots and ghosts. When I reached the hall of justice, one of the guards asked me to deliver a book to the Archduke of the mages guild. Except, out of no where, the Archduke challenges me to a duel to the death in the arena of the city to take his position. So now I had to do this final guild mission, then finally break into the library. All of this just to get a god damn book. For a side quest.
I've been holding off the main talking point of this game for last, and that's the game's world. Morrowind's world is fucking fantastic. Everything about it goes out of its way to shout out to you that it's fantastical. Have a simple walk down the street and you'll find giant mushrooms as common as trees, while jellyfish like creatures float peacefully in the air. Citizens ride on tall monsters with stretchy legs named silt striders for public transportation. A large portion of the center of the island is an inhospitable hellhole crawling with diseased monstrosities gated off by a magical barrier.
Each part of Morrowind feels geographically distinct from one another and this is definitely true for the game's cities. While some follow the more eastern European fantasy archetype, most feature some kind of outlandish twist or crazy layout to let you know you're somewhere different. One city in the desert has its citizens living in giant shells while another has people living in the mushrooms themselves. Vivec, the capital of the island, has its structures separated into districts built over water, and has a giant floating rock and a god chilling there.
And it's not like these places are the way they are for no reason. There are literal fucking libraries worth of information and lore that serve to flesh out the world. The game also has a **** ton of factions that have their own extreme views on one another and will treat you differently depending on who you align with. While the technology at the time was still quite limited for this game's engine, and you'll notice that NPCs will stick in the same spot for 24/7, it's these elements that make the world feel alive.
There's another way Morrowind develops it's world, and it's with it's interiors. Morrowind doesn't handle it's interiors in the same way that we would think of a traditional dungeon level, where you'd kill a bunch of guys, fight a boss and get a leveled loot chest or something. Instead, in the jump to more advanced 3D Bethesda focused their levels more around verticality. Many caves on the island are fucked out of proportion, so to help get through them they included spells like levitation and enhanced jumping, and this is where the newer games really miss out. It's not out of the normal to find NPCs stuck in places that they shouldn't be, and usually if there seems like there's more to a place, there probably is. Floating around and exploring hidden spots of an area makes for a more interesting time than just engaging in the admittedly weak combat the whole way through.
There are so many memorable interiors in this game for me. That mushroom town I mentioned has structures built in such a way that only wizards can levitate through them, so that they can do studies in peace away from simple folk. Some caverns lead to freaky statues with deadra worshipers inside doing strange things. A simple cave reveals a throne fit for a giant with skeletons chained to the walls. WHICH by the way I mentioned in my 2012 review of Skyrim on Amazon. The same game that got a DLC 11 months later that took place on Solsthiem and featured a throne where you summon a giant. Maybe that was just a happy coincidence!
Morrowind left another big impression on me, but it was in smallest little way. Morrowind is a land where slavery is 100% legal, and it's usually against beast races. You'd think that this would be a huge moral dilemma with a bunch of cutscenes and character choices dedicated to it, but here it's just more of a subtle element of the game world. What's great about it is that you see the effects of this first hand, like in mines where slaves are working with little to nothing on because of humidity, slaves working out in the fields and more being sold in pens, ETC. It's almost shocking to see how normal it seems in this world at times, but the game never shoves it in your face.
Morrowind is far from perfect. It has combat that not even mods can truly fix, a horrendous alchemy menu and in some ways the game is a step back from it's predecessor, Daggerfall. And we haven't even talked about the bugs and glitches yet. However, as I said at the start, it's the moments of player ingenuity, a true sense of adventure and discovery, and remarkable world that make up for these shortcomings. I can't blame anybody for finding these issues hard to get past, but once you do, you're in for an experience that I envy not being able to play for the first time again.