The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Review

Morrowind is a game that opens with you being freed from prison, assuming that fighting a rat is a good idea because that’s what modern games have taught you, proceeding to die against the rat’s hateful attacks and then being left too traumatised to ever leave the starting town until you have bankrupted yourself trying to buy the best weapons and armour you can afford at the start of the game. Then you realise you don’t know how to use your sword because you, foolishly, tagged spears as your preferred skill, and fail to hit anything that poses a threat, leading, once again, to your death. So, you try again but by using magic. You soon also realise that, despite having good starting stats in various magical schools, you’re playing as a warrior race and haven’t specialised in the willpower attribute. Thusly, none of your spells succeed and you die. In one last ditch effort to escape the starting town, you attempt to run past everything trying to kill you but realise that you didn’t specialise in speed either and, thusly, you move slower than time itself, leading once again to your demise.

You quit the game. Look up a guide. Build a better character with a less edgy roleplaying name and try again.

This series of events might sound random but I assure you, undergoing them and afterwards deciding to still play the game is an unintentional initiation rite all players must undergo in their journey to understand just how the hell Morrowind works. And how does it work?

To understand that we need to start with the basics.

The primary attributes all characters have and can grow in Morrowind are:

Strength: Increases carry weight and weapon damage. Fun side note: Your weapons lose durability faster the higher your strength is, to represent how god damn hard you’re hitting enemies. If you chug several hundred strength potions, you would eventually get to the point where you could one-shot an enemy, but also break your weapon in a single swing.

Endurance: Affects your maximum starting health and health gained per level.

Intelligence: Affects your maximum magicka.

Willpower: Determines your chance to successfully cast spells. The game also claims that increasing your Willpower also grants you magicka resistance, but this is a stone cold lie.

Speed: Affects your movement speed.

Agility: Affects your maximum fatigue and chance to hit in melee combat. Although many attributes increase your maximum fatigue when you level them, which in of itself is beneficial to landing hits in melee combat, only Agility directly increases your chance to hit.

Personality: Affects NPC disposition towards you in conversation.

Luck: Benefits anything the player has a chance to succeed/fail at in a small way. Luck governs no skills and thus can only be increased by +1 every level.

Normally, attributes can only be progressed by +1 every level to a maximum of 100, but by increasing your proficiency in skills governed by them it is possible to get as high as +5. Most commonly, however, you will probably be seeing a lot of +2’s and +3’s. But you can only level up by progressing skills that you have tagged as your major and minor skills, which are the ones you think you’ll be making use of the most often. Levelling your other miscellaneous skills is possible, and advisable, but is also slower and doesn’t contribute towards your next level.

What turns a lot of people off from this game is that they don’t like the “chance to hit” mechanic since this is a first person game and it is silly to see your sword clearly make contact with the enemy, only for it to do absolutely nothing because you technically missed. To circumvent this, I advise choosing Agility as one of your specialised attributes, which will increase your maximum fatigue (needed to reliably hit in combat), and directly influence your chance to hit. For magic characters, Willpower acts the same for spells, but you will also need to invest in Intelligence to be able to cast anything useful in the midgame. Even so I realise it can be daunting, but with only 40-50 in an offensive skill (long blade, marksman or destruction for example) and around 60 in Agility (for melee skills) or Willpower (for spells) and you will be hitting more often than missing, and be well on your way to never missing again. Getting these numbers in your relevant skills and attributes may sound difficult at first, but most start at a base of 30 and can be boosted to be higher during character creation. There are also trainers for skills. If this isn’t enough for you, remember any items you find with a luck enchantment could further increase your ability to hit enemies, and that enchanted items that cast offensive spells can never fail. All in all, concerns about your ability to hit are easily circumvented once you understand how the skills and attributes interact with one and other, and how you can us enchanted items to save yourself in difficult scenarios.

The second crucial step to understanding how Morrowind works is knowing that Athletics and Acrobatics are amazing skills to have in your major or minor category since they can be passively levelled just by exploring. Any time you sprint, your Athletics improves and any time you jump your a Acrobatics improves. And since both of these skills contribute to helping you move faster than an elderly person, having one (or both) be a major or minor skill is very helpful.

A third step in understanding this game is figuring out that Enchanting is utterly, utterly broken to the point you can become a proficient spell caster as a character with no specialty in magic because you use your enchantments to cast spells for you. And no, I don’t just mean basic offensive skills like fire or frost but also really cool stuff like invisibility and, you know, the ability to fly! But the best way to use enchanting is to combine the Jump and Slowfall enchantments. By creating an item that allows you to jump for 400 points, you’ll effectively leap from one side of the map to the other, and by activating the Slowfall enchantment before you land you will ensure that you will take zero fall damage. Activating slowfall mid air will also kill your momentum meaning that you can check your map as you fly through the skies, activate slowfall once you’re above your target location and enjoy a slow float down to your destination.

The fourth step to understanding how this game works is realising that levelling up is pointless the moment you understand how to use the alchemy skill and what ingredients you need to obtain godhood. The reason for this being that potions in this game stack. Therefore if I drink a a fortify intelligence potion – which by extension increases my alchemy skill – and then use that buff to create another fortify intelligence potion that is stronger, I can keep doing that and stacking the potions until I can create any potion I want without fail. At my peak I was able to increase my character’s intelligence to over 200000, and then used that to create potions that would boost my other attributes to well over 10000-20000 respectively. The only reason I stopped was because I got bored, and wanted to experiment with what I could do.

What I could to was:
-Run so fast that I couldn’t reasonably control my direction or trajectory.
-One shot any enemy in the game.
-Have a health, magicka and stamina bar so large that I effectively had god mode on.
-Never miss a single weapon swing or spell cast.
-Have every character in the game, even those I had wronged, have maximum disposition towards me.
-Almost never get hit by anything because I was so good at dodging.

What I concluded was:
-This game is utterly broken.

The final step in understanding how Morrowind works is coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t work, is horrifically unbalanced and that there is no way all this stuff could have possibly existed in the game without the developers knowing. Therefore I am lead to conclude that they knew it was in there and chose to leave it in, which means that you never truly understand Morrowind until you learn it was meant to broken: Something I learned when I slew an in-game God by summoning upwards of thirty Golden Saints – the most powerful creature you can conjure – in his throne room to shank him to death.

So, while this game does have a narrative, it is a narrative that pales in comparison to the player’s journey of going from the most fragile thing in the game to the most broken thing in the game. And I don’t say that lightly, because this game’s story is truly magnificent too.

In this game you play as someone who the Emperor himself released from prison because he believes you to be the reincarnation of an ancient King of Morrowind, named Nerevar, who’s coming is prophesised to unify Morrowind and grant it independence from both the Empire and the (definetly not evil) Tribunal Government. Unlike most games with prophecies (*cough* Skyrim *cough*) what makes Morrowind so unique is that a lot of the prophecy never comes true. By the end of the game the Imperials will still have control over Morrowind, and so will the Tribunal, albeit two of the three Tribunal Gods will be dead by the end of it, along with the fourth evil god called Dagoth Ur who is the main antagonist, and the people of Morrowind will feel a little uneasy about them.

Dagoth Ur’s plan is to drive the Empire from Morrowind by holding hostage the Heart of Lorkhan – a divine artefact that gives the Tribunal Gods who rule Morrowind their power – and using it to build a gigantic robot using Dwarven technology. Oh, and also infiltrating people’s dreams and turning them into hideous slug people with magical powers who are brainwashed to lose their free will and bend to his own.

On the surface the plot feels good, but hardly as anything special. For me it was the subtext of the game’s themes that elevated it into being one of the best fantasy RPG stories ever told. At the forefront of this is the idea that the player might not actually be the reincarnation of Nerevar at all, but just some random guy who coincidentally fits the bill. One of the most compelling things done with this idea is that, after a certain point in the story, you are recognised everyone as truly being the Nerevar Incarnate and yet if you tell Dagoth Ur that you are Nerevar, he will be genuinely saddened that he has to fight you because he and Nerevar were once close friends with a strong bond. Conversely, if you tell Dagoth Ur that you are just some random adventurer doing your own thing in the world, he will (despite being more eagar to fight you) congratulate you for forging your own path instead of being the puppet of a prophecy. Throughout the game there are numerous ways to interpret your role in the story and valid arguments can be made whether you are or are not Nerevar incarnate which means that it is, ultimately, up to you to come to your own understanding of the game’s lore and story. It’s all quite existential, but very refreshing as the game’s slow pace gives you lots of time to debate the questions and ideas it throws at you.

Outside of the main quest there are countless factions to join and interact with, which offer a vast amount of re-playability since joining one faction may upset another. For example joining the Mages Guild will lower your reputation with House Telvani (a governing house of Morrowind) since the Mages Guild represents the Imperial presence in Morrowind and the Telvani would rather Morrowind be independent from Imperial rule. There are two other governing houses: The Redoran and Hlaalu, but the player can only join one of them in any given playthrough since pretty much all of them disagree with each other on almost everything, and even engage in violence with one and other regularly which, at least for me, makes me question just how well the independent Morrowind they seem to want would actually work.

Every faction in the game values certain skills and attributes, so if you think that joining the Fighters Guild as a sneaky Argonian with magic skills and your majors and minors then you will eventually hit a brick wall where you are unable to be promoted within the guild and thus unable to take on their later quests. That is of course, unless you’re willing to grind those miscellaneous skills because, while nothing is impossible in this game, a lot of it is quite difficult. For most of the early game, this means the factions you interact with will mostly be decided by what skills and attributes you prioritised during character creation. Given time, however, your character will be able to adapt and integrate with other factions too, provided you are not locked out of them or openly hostile towards them.

And you will, at some point, be forced to draw a line in the sand with what you find is acceptable within any given faction. The Tribunal Temple, for instance, heavily censors and controls what the populace of Morrowind can and can’t worship, as well as what they can and can’t read. The result is that, by siding with this faction and rising through the ranks, you’re essentially saying that your in-game character likes authoritarian censorship which can never be overthrown since they are led by three Gods who can only be harmed once you’ve become a god yourself by breaking the game. But the Temple quest line also gets you the best piece of medium armour in the game, so you bet I had fun persecuting innocent people on behalf of three divine dictators. House Telvani supports slavery and even allows you to buy slaves. House Hlaalu say that they support equality since they’re more open than any other great house to let outsiders join their ranks, but they are also secretly funding and supporting a group of radical racists who attack anyone, even fellow Dark Elves, who were not born in Morrowind.

In fact pretty much every faction in the game that isn’t representative of the Imperials or other outside forces is extremely xenophobic. Even random NPC’s you come into combat with will shout “n’wah” at you during battle, which is an in-game highly offensive racial slur referring to anyone who wasn’t born in Morrowind. Buckle up, because you will hear the word “n’wah” a lot and there is a 99% chance that it will always be directed at you by a man full of bloodlust.

Some highlights of this games quests are the Pilgrimages that the Tribunal Temple sends you on. The introductory pilgrimage is the easiest, but has some hard tasks for low level characters. You can choose to go to the harder areas of the pilgrimage last, but by visiting all the areas in the designated order you may receive buffs that aid you as you go to the next. Another pilgrimage sends you into a cave where you have to answer riddles for a bunch of elemental atronachs. Get the riddles right and they’ll let you pass. Fail, and they’ll try to kill you. The third pilgrimage is one that makes you take a vow of silence to start. If you speak to an NPC you break the vow. This means you can kiss away the idea of using public transport to fast travel to your destination, and that you’ll have to make your own way to the destination… On the other side of the map. To do this, I decided to pray at a shrine from a previous pilgrimage that would allow me to levitate for a very, very long time and flew to the other side of the map over most of the dangers I would have otherwise had to have fought against. To get back I teleported (did I mention this game has teleporting as well as flying?) because I was so far away from infrastructure and civilisation that I didn’t trust myself to get back in one piece.

There are also many notable and unforgettable characters in this game, such as Archmage Trebonius; the leader of the mages guild. The man gives you a quest to find out what happened to make the Dwemer disappear, but offers no leads, information and refuses to elaborate on any specifics. I decided to ask around the guild to see if anyone else could help me and what I found out is that Trebonius is… Well, one guild member told me that Trebonius tasked her with digging a tunnel from Morrowind to Cyrodiil to protect Imperial trade from the Telvani, and she just tells him it’s all going okay whenever he asks. Likewise, the other guild members have equally ludicrous stories about the man. Another quest involving him revolves around a spy in the mages guild, who you must uncover. The spy turns out to be Trebonius’ right hand man, and the way you find out is by seeing that the credentials he handed Trebonius have spelt the name of his boss wrong. So no, Trebonius isn’t capable of spelling the name of his own, boss and spotting forgery from the people he wants to protect the Empire from. He also has an amulet of necromancy… Make of that what you will.

Then there’s Divayth Fyr, a wizard so old and proud that he has made female clones of himself to take as his wives. Also there’s Caius Cosades, leader of the Emperor’s spies known as the Blades, who is a drug addict. He is so addicted to skooma and moon sugar that he leaves the game at the halfway point, telling you that his superiors have concerns about his addictions. And who can forget the man himself, Fargoth – a meme in the Morrowind community – who tries to take the first enchanted item you find in the game from you, and who is despised by fellow town folk. One of his neighbours tries to convince you to help steal his life savings, just for the fun of it. It’s just kind of funny.

There are many more characters of note, but I wouldn’t want to spoil every last one of them for you.

There are two DLC’s for this game:

  1. Bloodmoon: I have never played Bloodmoon because, despite playing this game for 200+ hours there are still things in the main game I am yet to do, such as join the Imperial Legion, Theives Guild or Telvani. I hear it’s good but you’d be better finding someone more informed on the DLC rather than my hearsay.
  2. Tribunal: The Tribunal DLC ties in as a follow up to the main story, so I did play this one. Much like a Fallout New Vegas DLC, Tribunal is a more linear expansion of the main game that takes place in a new area; the city of Mournhold. Here you meet the Tribunal God Almalexia who doesn’t think that her shared and unrivalled power over Morrowind is enough, and thus wants to eliminate the King of Morrowind, his family, as well as her fellow God friends in order to consolidate her political power. But she’s not some blunt-force object and you interact with her often since she is initially presented as a goody-two-shoes, who turns out to be a liar, cheat and master of intrigue. There is a plot twist at the end, as well as couple of NPC’s throughout, that might leave the average player thinking “oh”, but that will leave anyone who’s be adamantly following the lore surprised – hopefully in a good way like I was. It also comes with a handful of side-quests that take place in the city, and one or two that take you back into main game areas. What it also contains is two of the most powerful enemies in the game (neither of which are Gods by the way) who are guaranteed to make you pull your hair out until you can counter them.
    One of these enemies was a tiny wood elf who demanded I gave him one million gold to buy adventuring supplies. I turned him down and, in response, he approached me several in-game days later in full ebony armour and began to kill me over and over again to the point where I had to leave the DLC area and spend a couple of hours grinding skills and more powerful items in the main game to be able to fight him. I ended up killing him by summoning roughly 100 scamps and a bunch of Dremora Lords, all of whom died repeatedly but who also diminished his armour value so much that I could eventually fight him relatively easily. I loaded a save to see if I could cheese the fight by fortifying my strength to 3000 and smacking him with a 60 damage sword, and the guy took it like champ. When I looted his corpse I found that none of his stuff was all that good, which begged the question as to why he was so powerful. Well I checked the game files and found out he had over 750 luck, which means that he was dodging my attacks and landing more on me than he ever should have been able to. He also had an unnaturally high chance to reflect magical damage back at me, and a proficiency in heavy armour.
    In conclusion, Tribunal is a DLC that has a great story and that is also quite challenging. The only downside is that it has some of the most boring dungeons I have ever had to explore in my life, with the exception of one pretty neat Dwarven dungeon.

As for the game as a whole, the biggest draw back would be its dated mechanics. The biggest one being that there isn’t any waypoints to guide you to your destination. On one hand this is good because it requires you to ask people for direction and engage with the environment in a more meaningful way. However, considering the default draw distance immensely low and the fact that some people just give you wrong directions all together, this can also be very frustrating and eventually infuriating. While I personally like this layer of immersive exploration, I cannot deny how infuriating it can be on occasion. Googling locations is advisable if you find yourself lost, surrounded by lava and hounded by cliff racers.

Other drawbacks:
The Mercantile and Speechcraft skills are redundant given how easy it is to become the richest man in the game at a reasonably low level with a bit of exploration, a willingness to talk with and listen to NPC’s and know-how. You can bribe your way to having a good disposition with almost anyone, and can afford pretty much anything after engaging in a few heists in Vivec city, which will yield end game items you can sell for 10000 gold each to a talking alcoholic mudcrab on a nearby island (no I’m not joking).

Medium Armour is next to useless since it neither allows for the increased speed of light armour and offers a fraction of the protection that heavy armour does. There are also comically few types of it, and only a limited number of complete sets. Without mods, the only way to get the best medium armour in the game is to visit the Tribunal DLC which might cause you trouble at a low level. However, one of the most valuable pieces of armour in the whole game – the Ebony Mail – is also medium armour, which makes the skill tempting.

The armourer skill also feels useless because you can jut pay anyone to repair your stuff for you with all that money you earned.

The Luck attribute feels useless to me because you have the ability to level, enchant and fortify your other skills and attributes directly, which yields more benefit than you would get to them from Luck. I am willing to admit I may be missing something, but unless you have the ludicrously high luck of that boss in the Tribunal DLC, then you will only experience limited returns considering how hard it is to level that attribute.

The music starts as the most serene beautiful thing you’ve ever heard, but becomes more and more irritating as it plays 100% of the time on a constant loop throughout the entire game. Even if you prefer a vanilla experience, I’d advise downloading some fantasy music mods to give yo some more variety. If you’re a mad man like me then consider being experimental: On my second playthrough I had the Halo 2 Mjolnir Mix playing as I fought Dagoth Ur. Fun times.

On the whole Morrowind is probably one of the most thought-provoking, detailed and sincere RPG’s I’ve ever played. It is without doubt the best Bethesda game I have ever played. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s truly a marvel that will not fail to surprise you. This might be the longest game review I’ve written and I still feel as though I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. I could talk about this game for hours, but I wouldn’t want to deprive you of everything it has to offer.

I want to finish this review by listing the mods I used to make the game play better, as well as to patch out many of the bugs inherent to Bethesda titles. All of these can be found on Nexus mods, along with installation instructions. This is only for PC players. If you want to play Morrowind on console, it is available on Xbox.

-Morrowind Graphics Extender: Improved view distance, updated visuals and optional shaders.
-Better Heads: Makes people’s heads not look like bacon.
-Better Bodies; Makes people’s bodies not look like bacon.
-Morrowind Code Patch: Patches the game so thoroughly that in my 200+ hours I only had one bug so severe I had to load a save. It also allows you to change various mechanics to your liking, such as raising the cap on skills and attributes which effectively allows you to level up forever without hitting a ceiling.
-Morrowind Script Extender: Allows for some of these more complex mods to work, as well as a variety of other complex mods you may also want to implement.

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