The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Review

Ben Silverman
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Info


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Size matters…as does stability.

I can still remember how blown away I was by the game Daggerfall.

Despite its clunky graphics, this was a game that totally revolutionized single-player

role-playing by presenting a massive world that allowed you to do just about anything.

I even watched with glee as a friend got bit by a vampire…only to turn into

one himself, taking on the powerful abilities and unfortunate detriments to being


It has been a long time since Daggerfall came out, and I’ve tried to

wait patiently for a follow-up (the forgettable Battlespire

doesn’t count). And after seeing The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind demoed

at two E3 trade shows, I knew that the minds behind one of the most important

RPGs ever were determined to update their series with style.


the most part, they nailed it. At its core, Morrowind is a terrific game,

one that really shows off the power of an astoundingly huge, nearly limitless

game world and the freedom it gives the gamer. But I didn’t figure this out

for quite some time, as the game is plagued with a slew of compatibility bugs

that made it all but impossible to play on my machine of choice.

Morrowind is the third in the Elder Scrolls series, following the ancient

Arena and the classic Daggerfall. It’s very much in the tradition

of these games in terms of programming, freedom and open-ended gameplay, though

it ups the ante in terms of delivery.

I think the best way to describe Morrowind is that it’s really built

for you to explore, not for you to complete. The start of the game is great.

You arrive in the land of Vvardenfell by ship, a lowly outlander just trying

to survive. At this point, you don’t know who you are at all. Soon enough, you’ll

have to check in at the Census office and by way of seamlessly interwoven question

and answer, pick your race, gender, class and birth sign.

You’ll know that things are different here when you consider the whopping

10 races to choose from, each with distinct abilities and attributes. That’s

further specialized when you pick a class. Morrowind gets brownie points

for including a very clever option that has you answering a list of moral questions

in order to determine what class best suits you. Alternately, you can pick your

own or mix and match, a daunting task for any but the most hardcore gamer.

However, you can’t really choose incorrectly, as the game breaks down the

confinements of the class system by rewarding repetition, much in the same way

as Ultima Online. With practice,

a mage can learn to use an axe. A thief can learn to cast fireballs. It won’t

be easy (though you can probably find someone willing to train you for some

coin), but any type of race or class can master any skill set in the game.

To counter this, Morrowind features a trillion skills, ranging from

the obvious like ‘Long Sword’ and ‘Destruction Spells’ to obscure abilities

like ‘Mercantile’ (haggling) and ‘Alchemy.’ Take some mushrooms, buy (or steal)

a mortar and pestle, and try making some potions. Drinks are on the house!

Once you’re set with your character, you’re on your own. Literally. You’re swept out into the street with a note to deliver to a guy in a town far away, which does give you some direction, but you don’t remotely have to follow it.

In fact, you don’t have to do anything. Want to stroll around the countryside

picking mushrooms? Go ahead. Want to take a swim? Have a blast. Feel like stealing

a sword from a shopkeeper? Feel free! Er, provided you’re willing to pay the

consequences should you fail, which means either paying off your sin in gold

or spending some time in lockup, which degrades your skills a tad.


that’s right. Jail. You can be a bad guy if you want, robbing and maiming the

innocent. The game is geared to just allow you to exist however you see fit,

and though there are obvious benefits to being good over being evil, you can

be either and succeed all the same. The point here is that you do not have to

follow any specific path in this game. You can pretty much take any road you

wish… and Morrowind will fill it with things for you to do.

Speaking of roads, there are lots of them. Vvardenfell is simply gigantic,

featuring literally hundreds of towns, cities, farms, caves, forts, tombs, dungeons

and more. To give you a sense of the size and scope of this game, I spent well

over 40 hours playing Morrowind, only actually seeing about 6 cities

spanning areas covering roughly one quarter of the game world. I’ve done a lot,

for sure – my Dark Elf will kick your ass – but at the same time I have hardly

scratched the surface.

Every single city is populated with unique characters with unique stories, names and looks. Though obviously there’s some repetition here, there are enough quests in the game to make every area feel different and important.

And you can be sure that you’ll undertake plenty of quests, but not all of

them will have to do with the Main Story. Actually, very few of them have anything

to do with the plot (yes, there is a plot tucked away here somewhere). You might

join a guild (Mage’s, Fighter’s, Thieves) and run errands to increase your rank.

You might want to become an Imperial officer, or a Knight protector, or a Temple

priest, or none of the above. Again, it’s up to you.

On the other hand, all this freedom comes at a cost – too many choices. This

is a frightening game for gamers who like direction. There will definitely be

some of you who will turn the game on, get spit out into the street, wander

around for a bit and eventually get bored because the game isn’t creating enough

drama for you on its own.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the game employs no FMV at all to flesh

out important plot points. You don’t get rewarded with cut scenes or get big

panoramic sweeps of new areas. The lack of these classic plot devices takes

away from the story of Morrowind and can lead to a game that feels a

little redundant.

This enormous world is shown to you through either a first or third person

camera, both of which are useful. The control is essentially that of a first-person

shooter and works well. You’ll run around swapping through menus with ease,

and the screen is rarely cluttered with nonsense. It’s clean and functional.


same can be said for the graphics. Morrowind looks nice and will take

advantage of your fancy 3D card…and you better make sure you have one, because

this game is a monster when it comes to resources. Gamers with mid-range rigs

might find sluggish framerates, provided they even get the thing running.

This is a real shame. I tried getting Morrowind working on my home PC,

a 1 Ghz Thunderbird with a Geforce 2 and 512 MB RAM. I’ve played countless PC

games on it and have never really had any significant problems, but Morrowind

simply refused to run at all, despite weeks of effort through the (quite pleasant)

Bethesda tech support staff. Eventually, I gave up and got it working on the

GR office rig.

I should note here that these compatibility problems aren’t found in the Xbox

of the game, which came out a few weeks after the PC version. Seems

like they took the time to iron out the bugs for the console release since they

knew they couldn’t patch it. Argh.

The entire game is real-time, so combat essentially boils down to flat out

action. This is one of the game’s poor spots. Most melee combat is easier in

first-person thanks to a targeting reticule, which means you’re moving towards

and away from your opponent just swinging like mad. There are a few different

types of swings based on how long you hold down the mouse button, but there

are no advanced moves or combos at all. This is sort of a letdown, as combat

can wind up a bit mundane and a little too much like a first-person Diablo.

The combat also brings up the game’s most irritating omission – a lack of

any sort of hit point meter for enemies. Sure, my Fiend Katana does up

to 20 points of damage, but why is that info useful if I don’t even have a little

meter to watch as I smite my foe? You’ll know you hit ’em, but you’ll have no

idea how much damage you did or how close the baddies are to dying. It gets

frustrating…and the developers knew it, since they have fixed it in this version

thanks to a patch. Unfortunately, we review games straight out of the box, not

after being patched. A little late, guys.

Though we here at GR go off all the time about the lack of voice-acting in

RPGs, it’s sort of hard holding that against Morrowind because of the

amount of information it contains. Every single character in the game – thousands,

easy – has a voiced greeting. A few of the key players have more elaborate speech,

but the bulk of the time you’ll be reading text. It can admittedly get tiresome,

but again, there’s just hours and hours of stuff to soak up. You can read every

book you might find in the game (there are a LOT of books), some of which have

close to 50 pages detailing past events in the universe that have no bearing

on gameplay at all.

The rest of the sound is fine, with epic, sweeping music and decent effects.

The PC version of Morrowind also comes packed with the TES Construction

set, which allows you to design your own areas, items, characters, etc.. It’s

very powerful, but also very clunky. You’ve got to be pretty hardcore to spend

enough time to learn how to use it efficiently. Besides, there’s so much in

the actual game to explore, it almost seems like overkill.

There’s much more to Morrowind than is covered in this review, such

as the impressive numbers of unique items, the thrill of murdering an innocent

and getting away with it, and the fact that you can even make your own spells.

If you can get it working and have a great computer, then it’s an easy recommendation.

However, be prepared for the worst, as the Elder Scrolls tech support forum

is overflowing with user complaints about compatibility issues. At any rate,

this is still the biggest, deepest, most detailed RPG to hit the PC since Daggerfall,

and for that, earns high marks.



What a world, what a world
Total freedom
You can be a jerk
Incredible depth
So many choices!
Too many choices?
Combat problems
Can feel repetitive
Just too buggy