Whilst many know the Elder Scrolls series from the recent MMO, the beloved Skyrim and the popular Oblivion, its roots go much further back. The story truly began with Arena but the world-building and lore wasn’t properly introduced until the cult-hit that is Daggerfall. However, I would argue that the series hit its peak with Morrowind, a game that is treasured by its fans but sorely overlooked by the masses.
The winning charm of Morrowind by far is that it doesn’t draw inspiration from the generic Medieval Western European setting but instead from various Asian cultures. This lends its hand rather nicely into creating a completely alien world but, beyond the political climate, culture and aesthetic of the cities, the nature and wildlife of Morrowind is also vastly alien with gigantic mushrooms and floating sea-life creatures above ground.
The armour of certain guards is crafted by enlarged bugs; the people are at each other’s throats and have a lofty sense of elitism in their little slice of dystopian paradise; there’s a volcano with a gigantic forcefield wrapped around it housing the ultimate evil and there’s ash polluting the air. To say that Morrowind’s world is excitingly refreshing would be an understatement. It’s truly sublime and, all these years later, it still serves to impress.
The gameplay has not held up well and, even at the time, it was questionable. Hits are based on a dice-rolling system meaning that you can swing your sword endlessly at an enemy but, if your skill and stamina are too low, you’ll continuously miss. Whilst your stamina is low, you’ll also find yourself getting knocked over repeatedly which makes combat a bit of a drag and not all that fun. However, once you figure out how to design a character right out of the gate, fights are much less frustrating. What this means, though, is that Morrowind is far from intuitive and incredibly off-putting to new players.
Despite the flaws of the combat, it still excels with its magic system. There are so many fantastic spells on offer that are perfectly woven into the games’ design. For example, there’s no fast travel and so being able to create portals is a brilliant skill which makes being a mage feel all that more useful but in following one particular playstyle, you end up neglecting other skills. This makes it nearly impossible to be a jack-of-all-trades but I would argue this is a much better path for an RPG as it pushes you to truly roleplay.
You have to design your character carefully and hone their capabilities depending on what you want to do and use. When you first get into the game, you pick key skills that will level up faster, building a custom class, but if that’s too complicated, you can choose from a list of pre-made ones. In designing your own, you get to pick your own name and write a description which is something that I adore as I truly feel a part of this world with my own creativity allowed to flourish. I can create a rich backstory for a group my character may come from or I can take the piss and say I’m a serial killer chef.
In Morrowind, you can also craft your own custom spells which is incredibly broken but unbelievably fun. To go with the absolutely amazing magic system are two great guilds that I personally adore. They are at odds with another so you find yourself deciding which is best for you; are you more in-line with the academics of the Mages’ Guild or the elitists of House Telvanni?
To be a member of the Telvanni, you have to commit to magic unlike in the College of Winterhold in Skyrim. If you want to continue in the story, you’ll need the ability to cast ‘levitate’ so that you can fly up to the floating wizards’ houses. If you can’t, you’re left on the ground as a poor muggle who is clearly not up to the task and that is as far as you will progress. This means that guilds are more in-tune with your build and, in spite of this complexity, there are a lot of them to choose from. You can join the Fighter’s Guild and be at odds with the Thieves Guild, take part in house politics, join the Imperial army or be a member of the temple.
Morrowind is a great RPG with lots of choice, customisation and a brilliantly unique world ready for exploration. The story is fantastic and most of the drawbacks are built into the combat which is a common staple for Elder Scrolls anyway. It may be old, it may be hard to get into, but its worth fighting through those difficulties as, once you become more familiar with this entry, you can lose hundreds of hours in the wastelands of the Dunmer people.