ESO: Morrowind Review in Progress – My Return from a 3-Year Hiatus

Here I am playing The Elder Scrolls Online at a full time capacity for the first time since April 2014. I knew this day would come despite my early displeasure with the base game. At this point it’s a much more well-rounded product, one with far fewer bugs and fewer barriers between myself and enjoyment. So, I made no hesitation as I entered my game code and began downloading the game.

It’s now been three days since Early Access began. During that short period of time I’ve leveled into the teens as a Warden, and have explored roughly half of Vvardenfell. I have a lot to say about the expansion, much of which I’ll save for my full review on launch day. For now, let’s hop into some major points to help explore what The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind is and determine whether or not it’s a game suited for you.

A commitment to nostalgia. Vvardenfell has been designed in its original image, with building sized mushrooms, a potentially planet destroyed volcano at the center, and all. For Elder Scrolls fans who are familiar with Morrowind, this adherence to the original source material is a huge win. It looks and feels the part, which is quite the accomplishment when you consider The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind came out in 2002.

Fantasy land. Expanding upon the previous point, Vvardenfell is a one-of-a-kind place. You can’t define it with one biome descriptor; it’s almost like being on another planet with its mixture of swamps, volcanic regions, lakeside estates, and dark caverns, all within a relatively modest space—it’s a single zone. It’s a magical place that fully explores what fantasy means with imaginative details, and surprises at every corner.

Photo opps. ESO stands as one of the more visually striking MMOs out there. Its animations are a bit clunky, but texture quality, shadows, and shaders are all among the best that the genre has to offer. Vvardenfell is a good representative of this, with its bizarre features and incredible vistas. What’s here is photo friendly, and encourages collection of new gear, even if only for the sake of taking a timeless selfie.

Not all of Morrowind is available. The islands to the North where Raven Rock, Skaal Village, and Dagon Fel reside can’t be visited. This might prove disappointing to some fans, although at the very least the mainland has been fully designed.

I’m still not a fan of the combat system. ESO is one of my least favorite popular MMOs when it comes to combat gameplay. Attacks don’t feel impactful, and in many cases suffer from a bizarre delay that impacts immersion. Over time I’ve learned to try to speed through combat sections to get to the story and adventure, the two qualities that define ESO‘s positive experience. Sadly, this means that a sizable portion of my time played is chore-like.

A wealth of story to consume. ESO: Morrowind hasn’t forsaken its roots. I’ve found myself constantly stumbling upon quest opportunities, most of which are deeply interesting. This proves to be the greatest strength of the expansion, as it delivers dozens of hours of new narrative experiences that take influence from one of the greatest Elder Scrolls games in history.

Solid voice acting, simple interactions. In standard Elder Scrolls fashion virtually all interactions with characters are delivered using a static first-person screen with the NPC chatting to you on the left side, and dialog displayed to the right. Given the rather unimpressive visual detail of NPCs, this doesn’t do much in terms of immersion. At the very least, dialog is shared using voice overs, even in the most inconsequential of dialog exchanges. Most importantly, this voice acting is well executed in almost all cases.

Vivec is an outstanding character. Early on in the adventure I was introduced to Vivec, the Guardian of Vvardenfell. He’s a fascinating character that stands out from a sea of other NPCs in the expansion. I’ve found myself excited to interact with him during quests, knowing that he will send me on memorable adventures. On a negative note, I really don’t care for many other characters in Vvardenfell for one reason or another.

The Warden is powerful. As ESO‘s first true hybrid class, capable of serving the role of DPS, healer, and tank, the Warden is an interesting addition to the class line-up. It has some incredible build potential that can mix two or even three roles to create something tremendously powerful on its own. It goes without saying that it’s superb for soloing in PvE content with access to a wide vareity of skills.

The underwhelming Animal Companions. Although I feel that the Green Balance and Winter’s Embrace skill trees have great identities, Animal Companions feels lackluster. Its skills are like remodeled versions of Sorcerer skills, making it more of a copy-cat rather than self-substantiating. Dive is really just the same as a Mage’s Fury, and Scorch is awkward to use with its 3-second delay that summons a few beetles that somehow do damage to nearby enemies without moving. Even its ultimate, Feral Guardian, is implemented very similar to the Sorcerer’s Unstable Familiar. This tree might have great potential, but it doesn’t feel like something new or exciting.

Battlegrounds are a big boon for PvP fiends. There is a healthy population of players who enjoy PvP in ESO, and many of them argue that the lack of a faster-paced, more intimate encounters is a major shortcoming for the game. Battlegrounds addresses this with 4 v 4 v 4 matches that last around 10 minutes. I don’t really care for PvP in ESO, so this is more something that I appreciate for the sake of having more content choices than it being an attractive selling point.

One Tamriel makes this worth consideration. If you’re like me and didn’t enjoy the original ESO experience, then you may want to give this a look, if only to give yourself an excuse to experience the major improvements that the One Tamriel update ushered last year. Among its long list of features was a level scaling system, which effectively allows you to engage in just about any content you desire as its enemies will scale to your level. This makes it very easy to group up with friends and explore where you’d like without fear that you’ll get one-shot. There were some other notable features included that transformed the game in significant ways, earning praise from fans and some haters alike.

What is a chapter? Bethesda made very clear that ESO: Morrowind is a new “Chapter”, not an expansion. I can see why it said this: what’s here isn’t necessarily on the same level as something like a World of Warcraft: Legion or a Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward. However, the addition of a new class, zone, and hundreds of quests will be enough to substantiate the price of entry for many players. And, while it might be similarly priced at $39.99, there is no subscription fee. I’ve been playing without ESO Plus and have had absolutely no issues with progression.

I’ll be continuing to play The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind during the next two weeks leading to its official debut of June 6th, when it’ll arrive for everyone on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Stay tuned for the final verdict.