Morrowind is possibly the most anticipated game of the year. How did it do? Unlike Star Wars: Episode 2, the critics are in awe of the newest installment of the Elder Scrolls Saga. I am in complete agreement. If anything, Morrowind is almost too much of a good thing.
For quite a while, especially in the world of First Person Shooters, the biggest complaint most gamers have had is the linearity of most titles. The closest we have seen for a long time would be Deus Ex. With multiple endings and the ability to perform your objectives in a variety of ways, the game proved to be refreshing, but it was still impossible to deviate from the main story.
Enter the Elder Scrolls. Daggerfall was a nightmare. The non-linear gameplay was the first of its kind, but the game was so plagued with bugs, including a supposed nasty one that deleted system files, that it flopped. Not to mention, many just didn't think it was very good.
In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, we go back to the universe of Daggerfall. The story is centered on a small island called Vvardenfall, also called Morrowind by the locals. Vvardenfall has been under Imperial reign for 400 years. Mostly populated by the Dunmer, or Dark Elves as the humans call them, conquest of the island was achieved mostly through politics and trade instead of direct combat. The Dunmer are uneasy under the Imperial yoke, and many wait for the fruition of a prophecy that speaks of the return of the Nerevarine – an ancient leader that had united the Dumner by setting a council that controlled all the tribes and houses. His return will supposedly sweep the foreigners out of Morrowind. Long ago the Nerevarine posted his closest ally and friend, Daggoth, to protect the ruins surrounding the last of the tribes that refused to join him. Daggoth continued to do so... until now. The magic involved in keeping the area clean of the enemy had a side affect. Daggoth's mind was corrupted with power. Now the evil is spreading, and no one but the prophesied returning Nerevarine can stop it.
Enter our player. You have spent all of your life imprisoned in an Imperial cell for the simple reason that you have a birthday that fits the prophecy.
Here's the fun part. You can follow the simple plot to its easily foreseen conclusion, or you say can say "screw that" and just disappear into the wilds of Morrowind. If you choose to follow the main quest, you can still, once it's over, run wild and naked through the woods of Morrowind. The game is completely open ended. Even after all the ruins have been searched, and all the tombs have been desecrated, you can still follow many quests that have nothing to do with the story. You can join the Thief's Guild, the Fighter's Guild and the Mage's Guild – hell, join all three! You can, if you so choose, become a Vampire. Just stay out of the sunlight.
The truly amazing thing is that the game is still beautiful. It manages to have these huge expanses of terrain, yet still look good. It does chug a bit when outside, but only if you have all the eye candy turned on. I played with the default settings, even on my GeForce 4 Ti4400, the game would slow to about 15-20fps in some areas. Much of this was due not to the game, but to the copyright protection used. Safedisc2 slows down disk access enough to make the game crawl. After applying an easily acquired "patch" that removes the CD check, the game performance ran on average around 25-30fps with much more infrequent slowdowns. With a slower video card, finding and applying this "patch" is probably a must for decent play. With eye candy turned on, the game is absolutely stunning. Textures are seamless, models are realistic and move well, and the magic effects are powerful and brilliant. Sand or dust storms whip realistically (but go right through buildings, unfortunately), and the water ripples like water is supposed to ripple. One of the most interesting things is being able to watch the sea during a rainstorm. It looks pre-rendered.
Sound is another high point to the game. Bethesda chose to use high quality MP3 for the sounds. This allows a good quality sound without needing 3 CDs. The game engine flawlessly cross fades from traveling music to combat music and back again with precision. Background music is exactly what it should be, in the background. It never overwhelms, and though it is repetitive, it doesn't annoy. Creature sounds are wonderful. Probably my only complaint is the tracks used for the NPCs. From town to town, person to person, there are a surprisingly large amount of repeated greetings. They also are not indicative of the general attitude of the person being spoken to. Many times, even after helping a specific character, that character would greet me with "I haven't got all day" or something similarly rude. Guards in one city almost always say "We're watching you, Scum" even after you perform actions that make them all your friends.
Conclusion and More
Morrowind does not have multiplayer capability. Wishful thinking would have them include coop play in a future patch or even as a separate expansion, but the logistics probably make the idea impossible.
Included with Morrowind is a game editor. The Elder Scrolls Construction Set, or TES Editor is very extensive. You can create your own mods surprisingly easily. If you have never used an editor at all, there are several tutorials on the Internet. My suggestion is to swing by www.forumplanet.com and check out their TES General forum. Quite a few people are working on mods right now, and most of the standard questions have been asked, so a simple search there will yield a result that will probably give you an idea of what you need to do. The thread I found particularly useful for starting out was this one:
TES is an amazing utility, it is actually quite easy to make a small Morrowind map, or add to the real map included with the game.
It looks daunting when you first open it. There is no manual specifically for it, so be sure to hit the www.elderscrolls.com website for a bit of help. This is a complicated and extremely powerful tool. Given enough time, just about anyone with the mind to do it could easily create an expansive add-on for the main game. I applaud Bethesda for providing a rich tool that will extend the playability of this game. Already we are seeing some mod authors try their hands at creating a larger, richer world for us to get lost in.
This game is absolutely amazing. The experience leaves wives without husbands and sons without fathers for weeks at a time. I got the game reluctantly. I made the mistake of assuming that it would be yet another over hyped piece of shit. Now? I think about playing even when I'm not. It calls to me....