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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Morrowind

Morrowind (Game release date: 2002)
If you can get past the painfully slow early game, Morrowind is chock full of CRPG goodness.

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Highlights: Fun character creation and advancement, nonlinearity, many quests, good graphics Lowlights: Aimless early game, lots of uninteresting filler, unpleasant combat interface

Morrowind stumbles out of the starting block. There's a long, frustrating, unskippable tutorial. You can't talk back to the first NPC you meet; you can't even see what your avatar looks like until a good 10 minutes after you've chosen it, and then if you don't like it (or the class you've chosen), you'll have to go through the tutorial all over again. Then you receive the quest that is supposed to suck you into this epic, and it's--delivering a letter to some guy. Once you've done that, he'll reward you with the task of gaining some levels, at the end of which maybe you'll be worthy of another important errand. You can be twenty or thirty game-hours into Morrowind before the first even vaguely compelling thing happens in this plot.

Don't give up. The game's not even 1/5 over.

Morrowind is a huge game, one of the longest I've ever played, and it does suffer from pacing problems throughout. But if you can make it through the painfully slow early game-- and there are pretty graphics, cool looking objects, and endless opportunities for larceny to help keep you distracted--Morrowind has a wealth of role-playing goodness to offer. There are lots of quests and side plots, some with more than one possible ending. There's a terrific character development system that lets you pick and choose your own way to superheroism. There are unique monsters, and you can design your own custom spells and magic items. The plot even starts being relevant.

If only this game hadn't gotten so caught up in trying to be so darn big. There's enough cool stuff in Morrowind for 60-80 hours of fun gameplay, but it's embedded in 150-200 hours of game. And when things are stretched out so much you can't help but notice a game's flaws: that the NPCs all mindlessly repeat the same paragraph of information, for example, or that the combat interface is stupid and makes your wrist hurt, or that the hour of your life you spent pressing the "jump" button over and over to get your character's acrobatics skill to improve could have been better spent degrouting the bathroom. I might not have cared about these things so much if the game hadn't forced me to attend to them so repeatedly and so long.

Still, though, 60 hours of top-quality CRPG fun. How often can you get THAT for $20?

Style: Morrowind is a 1st-person hack-and-slash-style CRPG. You control and develop one character. The plot is a role-playing adventure and there are fantasy themes. Combat is realtime.

Series: Morrowind has had two expansion packs, Tribunal and Bloodmoon. I haven't played them, but friends tell me they're similar in quality and feel to the original. Morrowind is also the third in a trilogy of "Elder Scrolls" CRPG's by game developer Bethesda Softworks. I believe the original adventure, Arena, was the very first first-person CRPG, though it wasn't memorable for anything besides that. The second game, Daggerfall, had a few intriguing moments but was crippled by poor navigation, excessive computer-generation, and so many bugs it was rendered nearly unplayable. There's no interdependency between these games, no reason why playing Arena or Daggerfall would improve anyone's enjoyment of Morrowind. I would definitely recommend playing Morrowind and its expansions first and then, if your heart has truly been won, considering going back for the old DOS prequels.

Finding Morrowind: Morrowind is a recent game and you can find it in most software stores. Here it is for sale online for PC or XBox, bundled together with both its expansion packs.

Getting Morrowind to Work: Morrowind doesn't work well with most audio cards, and it tends to crash a lot. Bethesda Softworks is still actively supporting this game, so be sure you have their latest patch installed and contact their customer support line if you need to. One thing they suggest is lowering the hardware acceleration on your computer if you're experiencing a lot of crashing. (Make sure you turn on subtitles if you do this, because you won't be able to hear things people say when you're not facing them without the hardware acceleration.) Be sure to save often and keep backup savegames as you play.

Hints For Morrowind: I do have a page of low-spoiler hints and walkthrough for Morrowind, but it is unfinished and probably will be for a while (since I'll have to finish replaying the entire game, and as I've said, it's a huge one!) There is a terrific hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on. You could also buy a Morrowind Hint Book, if you prefer.

Pitfalls In Morrowind: The audio in this game is not very reliable. (On several occasions I had problems with the "fade" effect occurring at the wrong time, when I was simply standing still trying to listen to somebody.) It's best to always play this game with the subtitles turned on. Combat is realtime and some of the action requires a modest amount of manual dexterity. If you play as a female character, you will miss out on many quests.

Game Length: 150-200 hours, plus there are two commercial add-ons and many good mods available online for free if you want more. Unfortunately much of the play time is taken up by uninteresting filler, but even if you don't count that stuff Morrowind still has more gaming content than most CRPG's out there.

Age-Appropriateness: Morrowind is rated T (for 13 years old and up) due to mild animated violence. Unlike in Daggerfall, there is no nudity or X-rated reading materials.

Lora's Morrowind Review: (Very Good)

Plot and Quests: The plot is decent overall but gets off to a very slow start. Some of the subplots are quite interesting. There are tons of quests, most of which are unfortunately of the rote delivery-boy variety, but some of them are unique and can even be handled in more than one way. Only male characters get a romantic subplot.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: This is a long game, but a very easy one. There are few puzzles and none are very difficult. Dungeons are not that devilish. The hardest part was locating individual buildings and people on the immense map to complete deliveries. Several of the subplots are more fun if you use deductive reasoning, but it's not strictly necessary.
Characters: You get one character in this game who is wonderfully customizable both in terms of skills and appearance; your responses to quests and game events help to shape his or her personality. On the other hand, it's kind of a lonely epic, with only one person in the party, no NPC followers, and few NPCs that have a personal reaction to your character. Most of them say the same exact thing, as a matter of fact. Even the ones that have unique comments rarely betray much of a personality.
Gameworld: Morrowind offers a large gameworld with uncommon attention to detail (there are 18 different styles of shirts your character can wear!) The game designers have put a lot of thought into what kind of things a player might try to do and providing real-world consequences (yes, climbing in the window and going to sleep in a townsperson's bed will get you arrested, if you were wondering.) Some of the creatures inhabiting the world are very evocative, too. On the downside, there's little rhyme or reason to any of it. People wander the same aimless paths when it's pouring rain out that they do when the sun is shining, yelling "Keep moving!" or "What do you want, outlander?" out loud every single time you walk past them (easily the most annoying quirk of the game). There's little sense that this is a real world in which real people live their lives regardless of what you are personally up to. I'll never forget the first day I played Ultima VII, which came out 10 years before Morrowind; when night started falling, a woman went up to a streetlamp, stood on tiptoes, and turned it on. I can still remember the little tingle that went up my spine, seeing that. No one notices night falling in Morrowind. No one notices much of anything at all, really. A shame.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): Character creation and skill development are a treat, offering many more character options than most CRPG's. The need to press a button around 500 times in order to improve at a skill does get aggravating after awhile--unlike Wizardry 8 (which used a similar practice-makes-perfect system), just going about your usual adventuring business will rarely result in an increase, you have to run around town jumping like a lunatic if you expect to improve your scores. The magic system is pretty good, and item enchantment is a lot of fun.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): Morrowind's interface leaves a lot to be desired. Navigation is adequate, but movement is far too slow even at the fastest speed; and there are no navigation shortcuts. Combat consists of holding down the mouse button and swishing your mouse hand back and forth, which gets very old very fast. The magic interface is aggravating and time-consuming, and the quests journal is not very intuitive.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The graphics look very good; people and monsters, in particular, look less blocky and angular than in many games (though they don't map very well onto the environment--seems like they're always floating an inch above the terrain of putting a foot through a hill or something.) The music is atmospheric, and some of the game design (the buildings, the monsters, the silt striders) can really capture your imagination. My main problems on a mood level were the terrible writing--"Now you are my favorite friend!" a stranger will declare when his opinion of you goes up--and the unrealistic, robotic behavior of people in the game.

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend Morrowind to anyone who's already a fan of computer RPG's. Even if you tire of it before the end, you'll have gotten more than your money's worth out of this cleverly crafted, open-ended epic. If you're new to the genre, on the other hand, this is a bad game to start with because of its very slow beginning and aimless feel; Baldur's Gate 2 or Wizardry 8 make better starting points.

If You Loved Morrowind: Then you should try its expansion packs if you haven't yet, Tribunal and Bloodmoon. Other excellent CRPGs you may enjoy include Baldur's Gate 2, a 3rd-person (Ultima-style) adventure with an even better array of quests to be solved than Morrowind; Wizardry 8, a delightful old-school 6-character CRPG with a smoothly updated 3D interface; or Arcanum, a glitchy but highly original steampunk adventure fusing magic and technology.

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