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Platform

PC

 

Genre

RPG

 

Publisher

Bethesda

 

Developer

Bethesda

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

May 2002

 

 

- Wonderful, deep story

- Stunning Graphics

- Open-ended game play

- Great Score

 

 

- Buggy, at least until first patch is released

- Story builds slowly

- Doesn’t seem optimized for high end machines

 

 

Review: The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal (PC)
Review: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (XBox)
Review: Diablo II: Lord of Destruction (PC)

 

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The Elder Scrolls III:  Morrowind

Score: 9.4 / 10

 

The Elder Scrolls III:  Morrowind (Morrowind) is the best role-playing game I have played in years.  It features wonderful graphics, a compelling main plot, an immense number of subplots, and all the micro-management a pen-and-paper role-playing game (RPG) geek could ever want.  It is infinitely customizable and flexible beyond belief.  Just about any positive modifier that I could come up with could be accurately applied to Morrowind.  The one exception being “perfect”, for, as good as it is, Morrowind has flaws that keep it from living up to my high (perhaps too high) expectations for the sequel to the Arena and Daggerfall, two of the best RPG’s ever made.

 

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Morrowind is a beautiful game.  Part of the game’s beauty is certainly attributable to a marvelous game engine that seems to allow the game designers tremendous amounts of freedom, but, at this point in PC game development, technical prowess can only take a game so far.  Art design has become the element graphically (for me at least) that separates the wheat from the chaff.  Happily, the art design of Morrowind is unmatched by any current or past RPG.  Each town features buildings based on a different architectural style with only the constant predominance of earth tones providing a common graphical thread from town to town.  The creature design is equally varied and highly original.  Sure, players will encounter some standard D&D style monsters—skeletons, ghosts, rats, etc, but Morrowind features many creatures that seem pulled from the nightmares of H.P. Lovecraft, Machen, and the rest of the gaslight Weird Tales writers.  They are an odd fit at first for a sword-and-sorcery RPG, but as I wandered the detailed world of Morrowind reading from hundreds of well-written, literate texts, the creatures began to feel more and more natural.  Traveling in Morrowind is like experiencing lucid dreaming.  You know that it isn’t reality, but it feels like it for the hundred or so hours you are immersed in it.  (One caveat:  You are going to need a pretty solid machine to run this game.  It ran fine on my P4 1.6 GHz pc with a Geforce 3 Ti 200, but it ran poorly on my secondary system which only features a Geforce 2 card and 700 MHz of processing power.)  

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Morrowind sounds even better than it looks.  The towns and roads of Morrowind are alive with men and beasts.  Environmental noises seem to engulf the players as he or she travels across the land.  The screeches of wild beasts are enough to send chills down a player’s spine, especially when trying to make it to town to heal after barely surviving a quest.  The voice acting is top notch, though I would have liked to have had more of it as most of the character interaction is handled 

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through text boxes only.  On top of the excellent ambient sound and voice acting, the score is simply beautiful.  I have never had the urge to have a videogame score on CD, but I could easily imagine myself plunking down the dough for Morrowind’s score.  It is easily a match for the score of any modern fantasy film, even the fine, Oscar nominated score of The Fellowship of the Rings.  It is simply that good.

 

Perhaps no element of game design helps or hinders an RPG more than its character advancement system.  Luckily, Morrowind features an excellent interface for the character management tasks that are the core of a good RPG.  In Morrowind’s case, character advancement is slightly different than that in most RPG's.  The typical RPG will have the player building experience points until they advance in level and then training to raise certain skills.  The system in Morrowind is nearly the inverse of that model.  As players make their way through the missions and side quests of Morrowind, they will see their skills increase with use.  When enough of the skills have improved, the character raises to the next level (after a bit of rest and meditation).  At that point the player is given the choice to improve three of the character’s attributes.  To my mind, this system is far more intuitive than the D&D type system used by most RPG’s because the character is advancing in the field during the action not in between scenarios at some training facility.  Of course, players can also advance their skills through training at guilds or by acquiring training from many of the hundreds of NPC’s that wander the world of Morrowind.

 

Morrowind is played in first person with the characters hands visible on screen to show what item, if any, the character is carrying.  As opposed to the turn-based fighting of many PC RPG’s, Morrowind combat is handled in real time.  But, this is not Unreal Tournament.  The pace of combat is slow enough to allow the player to switch weapons, drink potions, and cast spells without constantly being killed in the middle of the action.  Though the game features a tremendous amount of combat, completing the main quest requires equal amounts of stealth and problem solving.  In fact, the best weapon in the game is often the player’s brain, as each mission can be completed in a nearly infinite number of ways.  The Quests involved in the main plot are standard fair – catch a thief, return stolen goods, steal some goods, kill some criminals, find an item, deliver a message…etc.  Despite the familiar nature of all of the quest types, the individual quests remain compelling because of how they advance what is a compelling story.  The side quests are slightly less compelling usually because they lack the emotional core of the main quest, but there are exceptions.  The quests for the guilds and the councils gave you a good sense of the politics of Morrowind and placing the side quests with the context of the overall political situation added some weight to the quests.  Still, the overall quality of the graphics and sound in the game gives even the most mundane missions the sheen of something new and exciting.  

 

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If you are a fan of RPG’s and have a PC capable of running it, Morrowind is a must-buy game.  The story is compelling, the graphics are stunning, and the sheer length of the game is daunting.  With as many as 300 hours needed to complete all of the quests, Morrowind is an incredible value (the main quest alone should take most players sixty hours assuming they spend some time “leveling up” in dungeons and tombs).

 

All is not well with Morrowind, however.  Running it on the aforementioned system in Windows XP, I had a number of occasions that the game shut down and kicked me back to the desktop.  Worse, on three occasions, my system totally locked up.  It is only fair to note that I was using the most recent (beta) detonator drivers for the Geforce card, not the official release when half of these errors occurred and those could be part of the problem, though I’ve never have had trouble with the beta leaks from NVIDIA before.  Regardless, most players will find that despite the beauty of the game, Morrowind just doesn’t seem tweaked for optimal performance on any of the three systems I was able to play it on.  I expect a patch will clear up some of the performance issues and honestly none of the quirks caused me to become any less enthralled with the game over the past few weeks.  In fact, even after putting in sixty-some hours with the game over the past two weeks, I find myself nearly salivating at the prospect of getting the Xbox version of the game, so I can go after it again with a different character type and race and in my much more comfortable lounge chair.

 

- Tolen Dante

(June 2, 2002)

 

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