The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
It was a hard decision to make. When faced with the dual proposition of reviewing either the PC or Xbox version of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, I had to weigh the options. The PC version can be run at a higher resolution, is patchable, and also contains the bonus “Elder Scrolls Construction Set” disc, enabling users to create, share, and download new quests, items, dungeons, and more. However (and I know this opinion has the potential to get me lynched), the PC version is actually just another title in the seemingly endless glut of PC RPGs. Whether it is a MMORPG or not, it can be argued that the choices for PC RPGs are many. When it comes to the Xbox, however, Morrowind marks the first appearance of an RPG on Microsoft’s new console, making it a landmark title in that respect. Bearing that in mind, I decided to start with the Xbox version and take it from there.
One thing is clear in terms of the Xbox version… this title would not have been possible on any console without a hard drive.
After spending an exhaustive amount of time with the Xbox, I finally moved on to the PC version, and it can safely be said that they are identical. The only differences are the obvious ones mentioned above, and, naturally, the Xbox version does not come with the extra toolkit. Also, several patches have been released for the PC version (one of which adds the much-needed health meter for enemies during combat, as well as several other add-ons), which is also possible, yet frowned upon, for the Xbox (there have been no announced plans to deliver said fixes as of yet).
All of this having been said, the choice remains yours. Both versions deliver an unbelievably large adventure in an equally massive world, filled with literally thousands of NPCs, over four hundred quests, and hundreds of thousands of items to be collected, dropped, or otherwise dealt with in any way the player sees fit. Yes, this is the stuff of addiction, my friends, a mini-world on a console that at times seems to strive to be an offline Everquest, albeit with graphics and sound that are clearly superior in every way to that title.
Players start out as a non-descript character on a prison ship that has just made port. Gradually, the game takes you through control schemes and character creation one step at a time. There are a few different methods to character creation, but the “create from scratch” mode affords players with the most minute of details for their character, and tends to be the method of choice. Those who are in a hurry to get started can use the “answer some questions and let the machine decide the type of character that best fits your personality” feature.
This RPG is a single character game, and there will be no “parties” under your control. Also, the game is completely open-ended, so once your character is designed, you’re on your own, and that is meant in the most literal sense. You will be thrust into this living, breathing society within a box, and every move you make will be scrutinized by its inhabitants. The main means of progression throughout the game is to talk to all of the NPCs, who will offer quests, information, and invite you to join one or more guilds (thieves, warriors, mages, etc.) that will ultimately determine your character’s standing in Vvardenfell. Players can become whatever they choose (even a vampire), and they can also advance the skills that appeal the most to them (and are available to the character class). Melee combat, distance combat (with projectile weapons), and spell casting magic are all available here, and in abundance. You can traverse Vvardenfell by foot, or by hiring the locals to transport you around by way of the odd creatures they employ as beasts of burden. Traveling by foot is more dangerous, but it opens up the potential for finding the hidden dungeons that completely litter the land.
Graphically, Vvardenfell is beautiful and densely populated with characters, creatures, and organic life. It literally consists of miles and miles of land that is not to be taken lightly. It is easy to say that there is at least 100 hours of gameplay here, and even more if the player is in no real hurry. Morrowind should not be viewed as a typical RPG where the player is on a rail system heading toward a final confrontation that will end the story. This game is more like the life of a player’s alter-ego, and should be considered as such before anyone even attempts to play it. You will not get anywhere by playing this title haphazardly, for minutes at a time… this title, like EverQuest, will consume all of your time and energy.
The sound is subtle and accurate, and everything sounds the way you think it should. The music is, however, extremely repetitive… it seems that there is one main track in Morrowind that runs on repeat and picks up in tempo and volume and adds a musical “sting” at the beginning of a combat sequence.
The main flaw with Morrowind is in its gameplay. To put it bluntly, the combat system is horrible. This is another area where the developers seem to mimic EverQuest slightly, excepting in the fact that the attacks are completely controlled by the player. Weapons are swung or fired with the right trigger, and their effectiveness, naturally, is dependent upon the character’s skill levels. The whole game is done from a first-person perspective (you can change to a third person view, but it is essentially worthless in combat so odds are you will ignore it), and there is no discernable way to tell how much damage you’ve inflicted on an enemy. This has been rectified on the PC version with a patch (a health meter now appears above an enemy’s head while in battle, and then gradually disappears if one of the combatants runs away), but as stated above, there’s no such fix for the Xbox. There has been some talk about releasing an update via Xbox Magazine’s pack-in CD (the way the extras for DOA3 were delivered) and also through the future inception of the “Xbox LIVE” internet service, but that has yet to be decided. Since the whole pitch of the Xbox centered on it being a true console and not a mini-pc, it is understandable that Microsoft tends to vehemently avoid the whole patching mentality.
There is a quest of sorts at the heart of Morrowind, but you’ll spend so much time involved in the nooks and crannies of Vvardenfell, you’re bound to forget it completely. The game does record progress via the character’s “journal,” but it is kept in such a disorganized fashion that you’ll spend time leafing through the pages just trying to find out what quest you were in the middle of before you set out on one of Morrowind’s hundreds of “diversions.”
All in all, this is a landmark title. Its open-ended gameplay will appeal to those who adore a real-time RPG and its sheer size (again, this has to be the biggest world ever created for a game) will bolster that appeal. However, its size may also act as a deterrent for those who simply don’t have the time to get that deeply involved. If these words fail to convey what is in store for a potential player, just know that the official Morrowind strategy guide clocks in at 370 pages.
For those on the fence about what version to get, rest easy. They are identical games offering the same experience. The PC version requires quite the monster machine to run effectively (a 1Ghz machine with 256 Megs of RAM or better is recommended), so if your machine doesn’t meet those specs, you should take into account the fact that you could probably purchase an Xbox and Morrowind for less than what it would cost to upgrade (or replace) your PC. If you have the time, and would love to immerse yourself in another world in the most literal sense possible, this game is for you. If you’re expecting Final Fantasy type antics from this, stay far away.