The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was undoubtedly the greatest RPG of its time. Released in 2002 for Windows and Xbox, Morrowind is a 3D open-world RPG with countless hours of content, set in Tamriel’s most diverse continent, Vvardenfell.
Many Elder Scrolls fans regard it as the finest title in the series. However, 17 years after its debut, it’s unfortunately outclassed by just about everything else.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. Morrowind’s combat system is very poorly designed. Those that have played newer Elder Scrolls games are likely familiar with what to expect. Both Oblivion and Skyrim feature action-heavy, now standard first-person melee combat. You left-click a lot, occasionally heal, and things will eventually die. Not overly engaging but certainly functional.
This is not the system Morrowind implements. Instead, combat is purely based on RNG calculation using various stats from your skills and weapons. Think about how Dungeon and Dragons dice rolls determine every action. This means that if you have a low level in a specific combat skill, you just won’t hit your target. In fact, you won’t hit anything. Of course, going away and training skills will technically make this more tolerable.
Progression in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is not fast. Since leveling through combat is out of the question, as you aren’t going to hit anything, you need to use Trainers instead. These NPCs will train up your skills for a price. The cost per level to train skills is impacted by how high your next level is, your personality level, and your disposition.
The beginning of the game is a colossal grind fest in order to make combat segments playable. You need to train combat skills to actually hit things. That requires money, though. To keep prices down, you should be training support skills, too. This process is monotonous and slow.
Trying to play without doing all this first is even worse. You just won’t be able to do anything without hitting several progression walls. In most games, you begin as a capable but underpowered individual and eventually become powerful. In Morrowind, you are an inept individual who might eventually become competent. That’s not a fun concept to roleplay.
It’s a shame that Morrowind puts so many barriers up to prevent the player from exploring. If you manage to stomach through all the grinding and learn to deal with the hilariously slow movement speed, the narrative awaits. Seriously, what a narrative it is. Morrowind is a huge and beautiful world with interesting questlines and scenarios everywhere you look.
Quests are not hand-held whatsoever. While the journal will give you a rough guide on what to do, you are free to ignore it. Take the Thieves’ Guild quests, for example. I really enjoyed these. On the surface, they seem to be simple fetch quests. “I need a diamond,” or “This legendary helmet should be mine.”
Yet, how you choose to obtain these items is on you. The journal told me to get the diamond from the hidden chest upstairs. That needed a lockpick, though, and I couldn’t be bothered with that. Instead, I spent five minutes trying to get the A.I. to turn around by talking to her, quick-saving, and rushing to steal a nearby diamond. It was fun to find non-conforming methods to ticking off my quest list.
Lore-wise, Morrowind might be a little much for some, but I loved it. Almost every NPC in the game has unique bits of lore to tell you. The lore isn’t limited to in-your-face objectives, either. Bethesda has hidden away plenty of interesting archives.
For example, take the dungeon in Tel Vos that contains several journal entries detailing the miners’ misery. Putting these entries together tells a story of arrogance turning to fear. More importantly, it adds that little extra layer of detail to the world of Morrowind. You’ll discover plenty of this during a playthrough, and most of it is truly fascinating.
Surprisingly enough, vanilla Morrowind isn’t that bad looking a game. Of course, being 17 years old, many textures are low-res and characters models can look a little odd in places. Generally, once you maximize the draw distance, everything looks relatively good given the game’s age. For a better experience, PC players should look into Morrowind’s blessed modding community.
Visual overhauls, sound fixes, bug fixes, and huge content expansions are all out there for the taking. Many of these mods also add useful PC standard features like a field of view slider and modern resolution support.
Even if you don’t want the content-focused mods, core options such as Code Patch and Graphics Extender XE should be considered must-haves. You can even work around Morrowind’s combat issues with the Accurate Attack mod.
Be aware, though, that doing so will destroy any fragment of game balance. Enemies aren’t designed to be hit every time, so doing so will just result in easy kills on most NPCs. Also, some of these visual mods aren’t overly well-optimized and can make even the best PCs drop frames on large draw distances.
Without significant modding, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind isn’t worth playing in 2019. The combat is poorly designed, moving around takes too long, and the overall progression system is fundamentally flawed. If you can ignore these core faults, then maybe there’s some value deep down for you.
After all, the world itself, the narrative being told, and Morrowind’s lore are all wonderful. Even visually, Morrowind has a decent amount to offer with mods even making it look pretty nice in specific areas.
If there’s one real saving grace, it’s the price. Morrowind is dirt cheap. Steam sales often bring the Game of the Year edition as low as $5. It’s much the same story with GOG too, although prices are currently too steep to recommend.
Considering Morrowind’s value is primarily in its story though, it’s debatable if you need to buy it at all. Watching a high-quality YouTube walkthrough will deliver a similar experience without the frustrating gameplay. Perhaps that in itself highlights Morrowind’s biggest problem. It just isn’t that fun to play anymore.