Can you truly have too much of a good thing? I suppose an ice-cream taster eventually gets sick of even the sweetest chocolate ripple, but for gaming geeks like yours truly, just keep the crack coming. You want to put out a new GTA game every year? Go for it. I'll play the hell out of it each and every time.
But even someone with my kind of endless lust for gaming stimulation knows where to draw the line, an action I found most difficult when reviewing the original Morrowind back in 2002. It wasn't just a big RPG – it was a massive RPG. Enormous. Titanic, one might say, and even after logging over 45 hours for the review, I had barely cracked the surface.
So I greeted Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition with equal parts shock, thrill and horror. I was shocked to see a console game being re-released with all the extra content the PC version has enjoyed over the past year. I was thrilled to dive back into the mystifyingly open-ended world of Vvardenfell and revive my once proud Dark Elf. And it was with absolute horror that I popped this life-drainer into my Xbox, because I knew that this immense game was about to get even bigger.
Morrowind: GOTY is a strange beast for a reviewer who has already covered the original. The game is essentially identical, featuring enhancements on top of the exact same game. However, the one area in which Morrowind had no problems whatsoever – namely, size – has been beefed up to preposterous proportions. Morrowind: GOTY includes the original game – all 300 hours or so of it – plus the two PC expansions Tribunal and Bloodmoon, all crammed into one disc that astonishingly is not the size of a Krispy Kreme doughnut. All told, there's enough RPG gaming in here to last you several Xboxes.
For those who never played Morrowind, surf on over to my original review and give it a good read. You lazy bastards who are still here only get the summation. The game is a first/third person RPG that plops you down as a nameless newcomer in the middle of the monstrous land mass known as Vvardenfell, a region in Morrowind, which itself is just one province in the Tamrielic Empire. There is a plot, but you don't have to follow it, and chances are you won't. You spend most of your time wandering around getting into trouble, or saving people's lives, or ending people's lives, or killing monsters, or turning into monsters, or picking flowers, or building spells, or even rotting in prison. The defining word here is 'open-ended' and there simply isn't any game like it on the consoles.
Now, newbies can start from scratch and hack through it just fine, but vets will be pleased to know that the game fully supports your old saves. Just pop this version in and whammo, your old Nord with the sweet Frost Sword is back in business.
But now your warrior will finally be able to see how much damage he's doing, because Morrowind: GOTY fixes the original's lack of an enemy health meter, a fact that was addressed almost immediately in a patch for the PC game. You'll now know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a vampire. Sweet.
Licking that vampire, though, is done in much the same way as it was before. The combat and spellcasting are the same, the control is the same, and the graphics are the same. They all hold up pretty well, though the combat is still at times awkward and the game is not without its glitches. Don't be surprised to see a Greater Bonewalker poke his head right through a door while plundering one of the hundred or so tombs.
Also, the framerate does chug a bit more than in the original game due to the increased amount of info on the disc. That also means the load times are substantially longer, especially after dying or right when starting up. However, considering the size of the land and the fact you can technically run from one end to the other with small load hiccups dotted throughout, it's a relatively small price to pay.
And now, that land is even bigger. Two entirely new areas have been added by way of the two expansions. Access to Tribunal will start to pop up by the time you're level 6 or so, when you're suddenly attacked while resting by a none-to-happy assassin. If you follow the clues, you'll eventually wind up in Mournhold, the capital city of Morrowind that can only be accessed magically. The Tribunal missions are more complex and varied than those in standard Morrowind and offer a nice, difficult change of pace if you have a good character. For instance, one side quest has you memorizing dialogue from a play, then tosses you onstage where you have to recall your lines. Biff too often and, well, let's just say the audience gives new meaning to the term "break a leg."
The other new area is the island of Solstheim, the site of the Bloodmoon expansion. This can be accessed fairly early on, but the creatures and missions tend to be far too tough for any characters under level 20 or so. The region is snowy, which leads to some interesting monsters and towns, but the main point is the presence of werewolves. Play your cards right (or wrong, I guess) and you too can pick up a healthy case of lycanthropy.
Playing as a werewolf is a bit like playing as a vampire (a feature in the original Morrowind) in that it's hard, yet ultimately rewarding. You zap into a wolf between 9pm and 6am, effectively losing all your gear (don't worry, it comes back when you return to human form) but gaining big claws, outrageous speed and a bloodlust rivaling Jeffery Dahmer's. If you don't feed, you lose health, but if you're caught turning into a werewolf at any point, the entire world will attack you on sight regardless of your form. Tupac never had it this bad.
And Morrowind fans never had it this good, really. Those who have cultivated their characters to god-like status will welcome the new challenges, while new players will sleep well knowing that the whole package is in here. Both Tribunal and Bloodmoon areas feature plenty of new monsters, items and weapons, along with the ability to hire some help in the form of a mercenary or pack animal. While they tend to do stupid things, at least they keep you company in an otherwise lonely game.
Despite the new bits, the core gameplay of Morrowind is totally unchanged, so if you didn't like it before, you won't now. It's still supremely hard to navigate through your journal entries without losing your mind. I hadn't used my old character in over 9 months when reviving him for the GOTY version, and it took literally an hour to go back through my entries to figure out what quests I had going and which I had completed. The absence of a "Quest Log" or something similar is maddening. You can sort by topic, but that's almost useless if you're not sure what you're looking for… and in a game this big, uncertainty is an inevitable by-product.
But in the grand scheme of things – the very grandest indeed – Morrowind: GOTY is terrific. It takes the most open-ended game around and adds more open AND more end, effectively turning a delicious double-scoop into a triple-decker. Even ice-cream tasters don't get sick of those, do they?