The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Now That Oblivion's out and soaking up so much criticism that it makes squelchy noises when it walks, Morrowind's asking price has come right down to $4.99 - that's about one-third of the price of a ticket to London Zoo if you donate money to tlie monkeys.
Even if you've already played (or are still playing) Oblivion, its predecessor isn't without its advantages. Look past the dated graphics and pretend swordfighting style and this game remains every bit as expansive and opportunistic as its prettier offspring. A better levelling system, an actual sense of danger when walking in the wilderness, a bigger wilderness and a crab which bought things off you - any Elder Scrolls fan will tell you exactly what Morrowind has over its more widely received successor.
Of course, if you haven't played an Elder Scrolls game, then this little budget bundle of joy is an essential purchase. It might not be the better game, but it's worth far more than $4.99.
Download The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Ooh, aren't we controversial? Yes, but constant bickering among the team has left the Vvardenfell lobby victorious. The argument runs thusly: Motrowind is a better game than Oblivion, if only for the things that Bethesda sacrificed in their pursuit of making the latter that bit more action-orientated. Consider that moment three hours into the game when you realise you've covered only a minute fraction of the map - the sheer scope of Moirowind's world is breathtaking even by today's standards. It focused on creating a rich, deep back-story for every faction and race, and its lore and fantastically varied environments were more enjoyable to delve into than Oblivion's. You were also more attached to your character and his role in the story. More practically, the taxi-like Silt Striders were infinitely better for RPG gameplay than the adventure-impeding Fast Travel feature, while the levelling system made you feel like you were actually getting progressively stronger and pushing further into the game's wilderness. The absence of voice-acting allowed characters to move beyond the somewhat restrictive vocal talents of Oblivion's actors. In retrospect, the combat was pretty crap, but hell, we stuck with it regardless, and if that's not a measure of this game's brilliance we don't know what is.
If You've never played Daggerfall, consider yourself lucky. It was a sprawling mess full of randomly generated quests that were terminally dull and a huge gameworld that had virtually nothing of interest in it. The one thing that was interesting about Daggerfall however, was that it was hugely ambitious. Bethesda tried to create a huge world that was perfect for random exploration but unfortunately, they failed. They haven't this time. Even from the time I've spent playing the preview code thus far, I can tell you now that Morrowind is so much better than Daggerfall in every way that comparisons between the two are pointless. The concept is the same: a huge gameworld with many NPCs and quests and freedom to explore, but this time round the graphics are beautiful (this is now officially the bestlooking role-playing game ever), the quests are not only well-designed but they play a part in how your role in the game develops, and the character development system is hugely flexible to the point where you can literally design your own class if you put enough time into it.
As you can see from the screenshots here, the game looks absolutely stunning. Gorgeous landscapes appear literally everywhere you go, and every town in the game has its own unique theme with artwork and atmosphere to match. The attention to detail is literally stunning. Of course, it remains to be seen how Morrowind holds up over extended playing periods. I've been playing for two days and haven't even got into the main plot yet because there's so much to see and do everywhere I go, but you can rest assured that the signs are very good indeed that we have a very special game on our hands. If, however, the main theme of the game doesn't grab you, you can always redesign it with the help of the TES Construction Kit.
Anything They Can Do...
Bethesda is planning to give away the tools they used to create Morrowind with the game. Create your own armour designs, mess about with the towns and NPCs, give them new dialogue, make new quests, you name it, you can (probably) do it with the TES design tools. This goes a long way to making up for the fact there is no multiplayer option in the game. With a gameworld as attractive and full of character as this one, you can fully expect people to spend a long time creating their own versions of Morrowind, and of course they'll put them straight up on the Net as soon as they've finished.
The future looks very bright for Morrowind - tune in next issue for a full in-depth review. You know it's going to be good, but how good? Well, you'll just have to wait and see.
Along With hex-based strat 'em ups and those soulless management sims our German cousins seem to adore so much, RPGs used to be one of the ugliest gaming genres around. While the likes of Baldur's Gate and Diablo looked presentable enough in their day, such games were kept grovelling in the shade by the gloriously-lovely likes of Unreal, Half-Life et al. This was the unwritten rule until spring 2002, when PC roleplayers got their first real taste of succulent eye candy with the release of Morrowind, the long-awaited third instalment of Bethesda Softworks' Elder Scrolls series.
Pixel shading, now almost as much a PC gaming staple as WASD keyboard controls, was but a twinkle in some crazy coder's eye until Morrowind amved on the scene, wowing all and sundry with its eyepopping water effects. But the game was to prove far more than a mere visual feast for graphics-starved RPGers. It happened to be one of the most ambitious, wide-ranging titles ever to appear on a home computer, giving you the freedom, as Bethsoft's motto has it, to live another life in another world".
Creating this feeling of liberty was a core part of the previous Elder Scrolls games, Arena and Daggerfall, and it was always going to figure in the series' third title. In fact, as project leader Todd Howard points out, Morrowind was originally planned to be extremely similar to its predecessor. We first came up with the idea around 1996, during Daggerfall's final days. The initial concept was to build on the Daggerfall codebase and do it like that, but in high resolution.'' This was not to be: the project was put on hold while Bethsoft worked on the Elder Scrolls spin-off Redguard, and it was to be three long years until the team returned to the drawing board. We then realised we needed to start from the ground up, continues Howard, building a new game for a new generation of RPG players.
Ken Rolston, Morrowind's lead designer and the man tasked with shaping its story and setting, had come to the company during the game's three-year hiatus. "I inherited the basic idea from (Bethsoft senior developers) Kurt Kuhlmann and Michael Kirkbride, he says. ' Tribunal was the original title, and its basic concept - a culture shaped by its peculiar relationship with its three-gods-who-had-been-mortals -was always at the core of the tone and theme of Morrowind. The game has a strange and alien setting; its people and culture are dark and distinctive. All the other narratives and conflicts grew out of this exotic setting."
All The Small Things
While Howard knew the game had to be huge in scale, he also wanted to fill it with tiny, intricate details at the very lowest of levels. In this respect, the team took their inspiration from the Ultima series. "Ultima VII in particular was a key influence for me, in how open the world could be," Howard recalls. "We wanted to model and manipulate every object in the world: every bowl, every spoon, that kind of stuff.
Realising the magnitude of such a task, the team developed the Morrowind Construction Set, a surprisingly simple editing tool that enabled them to assemble the game world - from the top right down to the smallest of minutiae - at a faster pace. The game just seemed to grow and grow, grins Howard. "We kept honing our toolset so we could manipulate the enormous amount of data we were creating.
With the tools in place, the team could begin crafting the game's world: the gigantic island of Vvardenfell. Naturally, this produced problems of its own. Where do you start, for instance, when you've got to create a continent from scratch? At the design level, the first step was to create regions with distinctive features and themes, like the rock-and-marsh of the south-west coast, and the wide grasslands of the east," says Rolston.
The remarkable part of that creation is at the artist-landscape designer's detail level - the shaping of landscape, the selection of rock texture, the placement of plants, rocks, fungi and flowers. Morrowind also has an exceptional sense of routes and pathfinding; the land forces you away from the straight path, and in doing so it slyly reveals ruins just out of reach on the slopes of a mountain, or a citadel glimpsed from a high prospect. The landscape constantly presents you with new, distant or hard to reach features that suck you into the exploring experience."
A Cast Of Thousands
In addition to a stimulating physical environment, Morrowind required inhabitants, a culture and some form of social framework. Ken Rolston's extensive background in the pen-and-paper RPG industry made him the ideal man to flesh out the world. Sandy Petersen (veteran tabletop RPG author) has always said that the worst pen-and-paper RPG session he'd ever seen was still way better than the best computer RPG play experience, and I agree totally. Nonetheless, the PnP RPGs have provided the universities where us designers have learned the trade of setting and theme development. Morrowind's settings and themes are wide and deep because I learned to appreciate and create those features in my PnP game designs."
The Vvardenfell that Rolston helped to build is populated by 2,500-odd NPCs, plus a raft of ferocious wildlife and demonic deadra. It's also home to several villages, towns and one large city, along with numerous subterranean caves, mines and tombs, each home to someone - or something. It's a location that Rolston remains proud of to this day. I love its sense of place, its other-worldliness. That sense is present in the landscape, the architecture, the clothing, the religions, the Great Houses and the individual themes and stories of the characters."
Indeed, one of the things that strikes you about Morrowind is the oddness and peculiarity of its setting; it has all the ingredients of a familiar, generic fantasy world - elves, dwarves, monsters, swords and sorcery - and yet doesn't feel familiar or generic. This was Rolston's intention: From Glorantha (PnP RPG), I took inspiration from a resolutely nothing-like-Tolkien set of cultural and religious conflicts in the fantasy setting. And then from LARP (live action roleplay) game design, I took the fundamental underpinnings of social, religious and political faction conflicts that give depth to the stories and characters in Morrowind."
We're always trying to create that PnP experience with the Elder Scrolls," adds Todd Howard. So Ken was instrumental in how we set up and executed this freeform game where you could really roleplay, while also being challenged and entertained. He's brilliant and insane at the same time.
Nod Nod, Wink Wink
Bearing in mind that final comment, one suspects that Rolston may have been behind some of Morrowind's quirkier aspects. The man himself remains tight-lipped when it comes to this subject. There's a wealthy, alcoholic talking mudcrab in the islands on the south-east coast. What's more, many people have savoured the whimsical allusion to Icarus that plunges from the skies and crashes to the ground in front of you. I absolutely forbid our designers to allow any humorous nonsense like that into the final version of the game, he says with a wry smile. I have no idea how it got past my ever-vigilant editorial delete key."
While Ken Rolston was instrumental in providing the themes and backgrounds, the visual side of things was Todd Howard's domain. I hold Todd completely responsible for our pioneering forays into cutting-edge visuals, attests Rolston. "I would have been content to make evolutionary advances in the genre, focusing on content, setting and theme, character, plot and exploration. Todd wanted revolutionary advances in graphics and revolutionary advances in console design and interface. We designers were the lucky ones, working mostly with familiar narrative technologies. Todd and the artists and programmers were marching courageously into the unknown. Combine our ambitions to achieve new levels of graphical splendour m with our ambitions to make the 'Biggest Game Of All Time', and we E were confronting terrible risks. The H team successfully managed those W risks, bringing Morrowind in at the E exact sweet spot of achievable "graphic distinction.
Getting it right was very important to me, Howard adds. I'm the graphics whore and SBiw Ken is the text whore, and Bgus think that Morrowind really represented a coming together of those two disciplines. In this day and age most of the audience is enticed by sexy graphics, but they stay for the deep gameplay.
The Smell Of Success
Enticed the gamers were, and stay they did. Morrowind was a huge commercial success upon its release, both on PC and, somewhat surprisingly for Howard, on Xbox. I thought it would be successful, but I think I underestimated how many people wanted a game like that and how long it would be successful. I really underestimated how popular it would be on Xbox.
Ken Rolston was less shocked by the enthusiastic response. "I have very serious ego needs," he chuckles. "I've also had many satisfying, successful designs in the past. So it would have killed me if it hadn't been a success.
Morrowind also garnered a warm reaction from the gaming press, who heaped praise on its visuals, scope and freeform gameplay style; we gave it a stellar 94 per cent in issue 116. But not everyone loved it. A quick scout online reveals a slew of recurring criticisms: a lack of direction; too slow-paced; characters that were impassive and dull.
The perceived lack of direction can be put down to Morrowind's open-endedness (a big plus in most reviewers' and fans' eyes). The pacing depends on personal preference, but Howard agrees there's some truth in the third point.
If I could go back, I'd spend more time on the dialogue and general characters in the game to add more life -they do feel very stale, he admits. I know it's a desolate world, but at times it came across as too lifeless. It seems that Bethsoft is spending a lot of time ensuring that such a criticism won't be levelled at Morrowind's follow-up, the forthcoming Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (see The Future', opposite page).
Following its release, Morrowind's lifespan was bolstered by two successful expansions, Tribunal and Bloodmoon, not to mention Bethsoft's decision to ship the Construction Set -the selfsame toolset that had been so invaluable during development - with the finished product. This gave fans the means to build and modify content for the game.
The number of plug-ins created and downloaded is staggering, says Howard. I think the big fan site is over five million downloads and growing rapidly. That's a big number. One of my favourites was created by Brian Robb; you can run around, do Matrix-style combat and lop people's heads off. We eventually hired him full-time.
Individual And Proud
Despite Morrowind's resounding success, there have been very few imitators or even strongly influenced titles released since. Ken Rolston believes he knows why. It's just too difficult. MMORPGs can provide vast landscapes and epic scope, but they lack the narrative depth to make those settings more than entertaining loot-and-advancement treadmills. Singleplayer games can spend more energy on character and story, but they generally don't have the time or resources to build such wide and deep settings."
In fact, it's likely that in this 30-centric age of games development, no company will ever again attempt to create a game offering such breadth and freedom as Morrowind. Even Bethsoft seems to be narrowing the scope or altering the focus with Oblivion, which will feature less NPCs and fewer quests, with much of the emphasis on recreating convincing emotions and reactions in the game's inhabitants rather than on building the largest world possible.
So Morrowind may well turn out to be one of a kind, which suits its creators. I loved it," says Rolston. For all its flaws and blemishes, it's a classic monster whose like shall never be seen again. It was too big, too grand In conception, too overwhelming in scope to ever be produced. It was a miracle. And sometimes, thankfully for the game's legions of fans, miracles do happen.
Living In Oblivion
While we may not see other developers working on Morrowind-esque titles, Bethsoft is currently working on its follow-up, Oblivion. Currently scheduled to appear before the end of the year, Oblivion is set in another part of the Elder Scrolls world - the Imperial capital, no less - and its plot revolves around the assassination of the Emperor and the opening of a portal to Oblivion, a hellish underworld populated by legions of demonic nasties.
If the screenshots are any indication, we're in for another visual feast, while Bethsoft is promising to inject far more life into the realm's inhabitants. Improved Al gives the NPCs daily cycles, needs and desires, while combat will be far more visceral and dynamic than that of Morrowind. Gameplaywise, you can expect another freeform approach, giving you the opportunity to again join various different factions or simply do your own thing and ignore the main quest. We can't wait.
The mother lode has been struck, and you, my fellow RPG lover, are about to become wealthy. Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has been unleashed on a very deserving people and if you've got the mettle, then I have got arguably one of the finest RPGs ever made.
Morrowind is a classic RPG with uncommon realism and staggering replay ability. A single player game that is viewed in the first person, Morrowind has you select what race, class, birth sign (yes, it affects the game) along with attributes and skills that let you know you are in for a long, long ride.
Once the game begins and you have created your character, it's off you go, into a massive gaming environment that breaks all the rules of traditional RPGs. Do you choose to start your quest, or do you choose to start robbing people and drinking in the local bar? Will you travel the main road, or prowl through the forest in search of villains and their treasure. The game's choices are literally endless and you could arguably play for as little as 100 hours or for as many as 300, maybe even more! Yes, this is the closest thing to an alternate reality I have ever had the pleasure of playing. What makes it even scarier is the game also includes a construction set to make your own quests. But let the numbers do the talking:
- Over 3200 NPC in the game.
- 316,042 hand placed object found in the game.
- More then 300 dungeons to explore and conquer.
- Over 480 Billion different character you can create and play as.
This game IS the game to play, but only for serious RPG players. Casual players and peasants will get the holy living bejeebers slapped out of them. The challenge has been issued, do you dare venture forth?
As an RPG lover, I have been waiting for this game to arrive on the XBOX for months. At last, I have finally got my hands on Morrowind. Questions raced through my mind, can this game possibly live up to all the hype, will it be buggy, and could we finally have a decent RPG out on the XBOX? Let me tell you what I found.
Morrowind is a hugely ambitious game. Everything about it makes us RPGers salivate: non-linear game play, huge variety of character classes, countless NPCs to interact with, completely immersive interactive environments, an engaging plotline, as well as a seemingly endless number of quests, dungeons and lands to explore. You have complete control over whom your character will be which is where the replay value really shines. You can choose to be play a good character, helping those around you in need, or you can play as a self-seeking rogue looking to enhance his wealth and power, stealing items when others aren't looking. It's your decision. It's your life.
This could be the last game you need to buy for the year! After playing only the first several hours, I began to realize how detailed this world really was. I stumbled across a murdered tax collector (pocketed the taxes, that he no longer needed), helped bring the murder to justice at the end of my sword, assisted a guard to locate the hiding place of a stash of treasure and by then I was hooked, totally immersed in the world of Morrowind. From this point on, you only go in deeper.
I will continue to log some serious hours into this game. This game is fantastic in its detail and depth. While I love this, the level of depth may also be a discouraging factor to anyone who isn't a die-hard fan of this genre. To play this game right, you will need to interrogate the citizens of this world, join some guilds and make contacts and develop relationships with key players in each town, follows clues and wherever possibly continue to develop your skills and gain wealth. This game is not just about hacking and slashing monsters, although there is a lot of that, you have to strategize and plan your moves carefully. Above all else, save frequently! Be prepared to take some time just getting to know the controls and familiarize yourself with the world, in the starting town. There is no time limit so take your time and when you are ready, then move on to the next town, because this is when the action picks up and the real game play starts to shine, and there goes any free time you once had.
The first Xbox RPG has finally arrived, and it's a doozy. Forget what you know about console role-playing games--Morrowind changes everything. This PC interloper invades the realm of console gaming with a style of play that bears little resemblance to that of Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. You won't find any spiky-haired youths, turn-based battles or linear, one-truck storylines here. In this game, it's just you, alone in a massive fantasy world with complete freedom to do as you choose. You determine every aspect of your hero's appearance, attributes and abilities. If you're unhappy with the available character-class options, well then design your own custom class. When you want to take a break from the main storyline, embark on one of over 400 optional quests. These miscellaneous tasks will score you lots of cool items and status aides.
But sometimes you might need a respite from questing altogether. Try some sightseeing. The world of Vvardenfell provides excellent hiking grounds with 10 square miles of terrain to explore. Or maybe you're not cut out to be a heroic do-gooder. If that's the case, start systematically slaughtering townsfolk and stealing all their loot. It's all up to you, and the adventure could literally go on for months.
I'm not sure if you guys are ready for this one. I've played nearly every console RPG from the past 20 years, a few PC quests and even a multi-year live-action D&D campaign (did I just admit that?), and I was still overwhelmed by the enormous scope of Morrowind. This game thrusts you into a complex, living world that's also a bit daunting. Following the tenuous main quest can be tricky, as optional side-quests constantly lure you away from the path. It's all so open-ended and freeform that you can easily get lost in the world and forget about the "game" proper. It's enough to make your head swim, which is itself pretty impressive (and scary). At least all of this monumental adventuring looks fabulous. Traditional swamps, forests and plains look great, and the more creative areas will astound you. Exploring a Venetian-style canal town or a city filled with insectoid buildings is simply awe-inspiring. If only the gameplay could match the quality of the visuals. To put it simply, Morrowind's battle system sucks. It's slow, clunky, vague and boring. Luckily, combat isn't too terribly frequent, so the game's not completely ruined. Even so, I do think Morrowind deserves a caveat--it's so dauntingly huge that the average gamer might not have the fortitude to stick with it through the first day, much less its entirety. However, for a certain type of player...say, a bored dude with no summer job, it's a fabulous time-waster.
Holy hell, am I exhausted. Morrowind's easily the biggest, most hardcore behemoth of an RPG I've ever played. It's so open-ended that you actually feel lost right from your babe-in-the-woods beginning. Once I learned that grilling every villager for info was the key to getting jobs, joining guilds and political factions, eventually establishing an identity and reputation for myself, things came a lot more easily. But between the awkward PC-RPG combat, having to cover a veritable Nebraska of ground to complete even small jobs, and trying to absorb alt the prattling of the townsfolk, I can't imagine anyone but the hardest of hardcore appreciating Morrowind.
This is as close as a console RPG has come to pen-and-paper games like D&D: deep, non-linear and H-U-G-E, with more characters, towns and dungeons than you can imagine (all that's missing is the dice and Mountain Dew). It's way too much to go into here, and honestly at times it's overwhelming--the intricacies for the (very cool) abilities to make your own spells and magic items alone could fill a book. Combat isn't so hot, and you spend way, way too much time reading the same text talking to people. But if you have the time and are wilting to commit to a seriously in-depth RPG (Final Fantasy it ain't), the freedom Morrowind allows will astound you.
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