Hardcore, But Not Like Before
Published by Bethesda
For the PC, Microsoft XBox
Morrowind has little in common with other RPGs. This game is for the patient, as it offers a lot of control and freedom not found in other games of this genre.
Morrowind uses the first few minutes of the game to make character creation easy. The player starts as a recently released prisoner. At first, the player is locked into first-person view and can’t even walk. The introductory sequence gives instructions on basic travel. It also gets to the character generator. There are several races to play, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
The real decisions arise when it’s time to choose a class. There are 21 predefined classes that range from the brutish warrior to the intelligent mage. The predefined classes get the job done, but hardcore fans use the customized class option, which sets up the character’s skills, defining how the character should play the rest of the game.
Thirty skills are divided into three categories: Strength, Magic and Stealth. Each class specializes in a particular skill category. The character places the skills into major, minor and miscellaneous categories. Improving skill is as simple as using the skill -- the more times it is used the more it improves.
The island of Vvardenfell is filled with political intrigue. The player can join the fighter, mage, and thief guilds and political houses to work for them. Each has its own jobs, pitfalls, and rewards, and as the player gains favor with one group he loses favor with another. The game is morally ambiguous, as every major player in the game has its good side and bad side, and there is no definitive “good” way.
Most of the many side quests in the game involve escorting, delivering, and searching for items. A few of them are assassinations. Regardless of the type of mission, they almost always involve some combat.
Ironically, combat is one of the most boring parts of Morrowind. While there are different ways to attack an enemy (chop, stab or slash,) they rely on clicking the mouse button while moving. This motion has to be performed several times per battle, and it gets annoying very quickly. The “Always use best attack” option takes care of this, but the battle degrades into obsessive Diablo-style clicking (not Diablo II-style; you can hold down the mouse button.)
Magic users get to choose from a variety of spells they have prepared, and have to click a lot less often. Magic guilds and temples sell spells. Once a spell is learned it can be used to create custom spells. Enchanting weapons and armor becomes possible as well, although the process is a bit expensive.
This game has some flaws, though. Not all skills are created equally, and poorly chosen skills can lead to poor characters, forcing people to restart. The conversation system with the island’s residents has problems as well. You can speak to thousands of characters, but most of what they say is the same. Trying to convince people to say more is supposed to depend on the speechcraft skill.
Those are a few of the gameplay problems. The software itself is rather buggy. Making Morrowind crash is as simple as pressing two keys at the same time. Sometimes even mouse clicks can disable the Bethesda Behemoth. Even the XBox version has problems with people and creatures slowly drifting away. On a console system these kinds of bugs are simply unacceptable. How will XBox owners get a patch? The XBox isn’t a PC (no, really, it isn’t). I hope Bethesda will have an add-on disc with the patches on it.
Morrowind requires a powerful computer to run its amazing graphics. Shadows are cast, draw distances are far, and the rain actually lands on ground, making a splash texture. But some of the character animations are stiff, and several monster models are overused (if I see another Cliff Racer...). Speaking of overused, Morrowind needs more than 2 music tracks. Regardless of how many tracks the collector edition’s music CD claims to have, only a few songs will stick in your head. It’s a good thing music can easily be imported into Morrowind.
Morrowind promises at least 100 hours of gameplay. But this is only for those who are patient enough to withstand the bugs and look over (or abuse) the broken skill system. This game is open enough to allow you to do almost whatever you want.