Morrowind Bloodmoon Review: The Elder Scrolls Hard Mode

After playing the game for 200+ hours and finally getting around to plaything through Bloodmoon, I was surprised to find that the DLC was thought provoking and large enough to justify me writing a review of it, since I was unable to at the time of writing my original Morrowind review, which you can find here. It’s not essential to read for this review, but if you’re unfamiliar with how Morrowind works it might give you some context.

Anyway, it’s important to note that I went into this DLC very ignorant of it and knowing nothing about it other than the fact it took place on the island of Solthsteim, which would later appear in Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC too. Mostly, I was ignorant to the fact that this DLC was intended for characters anywhere between levels 40 and 50, and instead entered it with my level 32 Redoran warrior character. Additionally, I was playing with the dynamic difficulty mod, which I had altered to increase the difficulty by +1 for every time I levelled up and for +10 simply for being on Solthsteim. This meant I was under-leveled and going into a world-space I had made infinitely more difficult for myself. It should also be noted that although I spent a great amount of time talking about how to break and exploit the game in my original review, that isn’t typically how I progress through it. While use the methods of exploitation, like stacking intelligence potions to boost my alchemy, or the ability to farm grand souls from summoned Golden Saints, but never to levels that would allow me to cheese through the entire game. So my playthrough of Bloodmoon was not one I had prepared for by first becoming a God.

Thankfully, I didn’t really notice the difficulty for most of the early parts of the DLC since my skills, attributes and equipment were more than able to deal with the local wildlife that makes up 90% of the DLC’s enemies. I went in with the Ebony Mail, the best medium armour in the game, and a combination of other ebony and dwarven armours on the rest of me. I also went in with Umbra, a very powerful soul trapping sword and Veloth’s Judgement, which is (to my knowledge) the best war hammer in the game. I didn’t have much skill using blunt weapons like Veloth’s Judgement, but provided my fatigue was full I could still land every 4/5 hits I threw at an enemy, so it was just a matter of chugging restore fatigue potions if things got rough. Even so, Umbra was my primary weapon of choice since I had maxed out the long blade skill. As for enchanted gear, I had a ring that would slowly regenerate my health over time and a daedric shield that, when equipped, would summon a dremora to fight by side. When this dremora died, all I had to do is unequip and re-equip the shield in order to summon another one with no magicka cost. It’s quite handy.

So I arrive in Fort Frostmoth and start doing busy work for the Imperial Captain there, unaware this is at all main quest related, that mostly involves handling disputes and raising the morale of his soldiers who hate being on the island. Unlike the base game and Tribunal, Bloodmoon makes a lot of use out of voice actors so that in between quests and before initiating the traditional text dialogue, they will outwardly ask you about your progress with the tasks they have assigned to you. They also make use of the voice actors for world building purposes. One of my favourite lines from the Imperials is: “Join the Legion, see the world, freeze your arse off”, because it perfectly captures their hatred for their station and the high spirits they’re trying to maintain. Sure, plenty of modern RPG’s do this all the time and better, but it’s interesting to see a game as old as Morrowind starting to try and make use of these things for the first time. Especially since the rest of the game is mostly devoid of it. It was as though I was watching the game grow.

But I digress. Eventually I get sent to deal with some smugglers who really gave me a run for my money. Not only could they chew through me in only 5-6 hits, which was surprising given that my Endurance was 112, maximum health was 366 and armour class was 190, who would paralyse me and proceed to hack me to death. My only hope was to stack as many resist magic effects on myself as I could and chug health potions if I got paralysed, while also making sure to always summon my dremora. It was a tedious process, but one which I got through with sheer willpower alone. Well… Willpower and a paralysing sword of my own that I looted off of a corpse. When I returned to the fort I found it had been attacked in my absence and that the Captain had been taken by monsters that the soldiers cannot describe. They think a tribe of native Nords called the Skaal might either be involved or know what the monsters were, so they send me to them.

Unlike in Skyrim, where the Skaal are a bunch of god-fearing hippies, in Bloodmoon they are mystical-wolf summoning, heavy armour wearing, silver weapon possessing hunter-warriors. In fact, it was from them I got what must be some of the game’s best heavy armour that was leagues better than my ebony armour, but not quite as good as the daedric stuff elsewhere in the game. The downside was that it degraded really fast and so I had to spend a lot of money getting it repaired all the time since my armourer skill was only 10, and thus I could not reliably repair it myself.

Anyways, the Skaal have no idea what happened to the Imperial Captain but say they might be able to help if I prove I am worthy of living among them. So, they send me on a great quest to all of their sacred stones on the island where I must complete a series of challenges. The Wind Stone was the most straightforward because it boiled down to “go to a place and kill things”. At the end I opened a bag and freed the wind from within. The Sun Stone challenge was similar, but it took place in an extremely dark cave that I had to return light to. Since I didn’t have a light or night-eye spell, and my character wasn’t much of a mage anyway, I had to make do in the dark and fought against my urges to simply turn the brightness up. It was a fun little cave that was actually quite frightening.

Me seeing a nightmare-inducing Grahl for the first time, standing between me and the light I need to free into the dark cave.

The Earth Stone required me to listen to a melody and repeat it into the Earth, the Water Stone required me to follow a unique horker (Elder Scrolls rendition of a walrus) out into an underwater cave to find the water of life. The beast stone required me to save a bear from hunters and heal it’s wounds, and the tree stone required me to kill someone sending hordes of spriggans to kill me by controlling the trees of the forest. The tree was probably the most difficult because of how many enemies attack you at once, the fact all the enemies resurrect three times before dying, and the fact they don’t stop spawning until you kill the person controlling them. Speaking of spriggans…

You may remember them from Skyrim as those enemies that regenerate all their health just before you kill them. Well, in Morrowind they die three times and resurrect as more powerful variants of themselves instead. This is highly exploitable because for every time you kill a spriggan you can fill a grand soul gem, meaning that a single spriggan can provide three grand souls. In Morrowind… That is ridiculous. It’s a gameplay feature that is overtly broken because of how valuable and powerful grand souls are in enchanting. In the base game, exploit strategies exist to farm grand souls for this reason, but in Bloodmoon they just throw spriggans at you like they’re the most common enemy in the world. I felt dirty harvesting their souls, but how else was I to power my immortal weapons? Speaking of disgustingly powerful weapons…

My reward for this quest was a unique mace that dealt a maximum of 98 damage on a single swing, which is the highest damage output I have seen on a weapon in the game. And that damage statistic doesn’t factor in any bonus damage that may come due to my high strength, or against specific enemies weak to silver weapons. Needless to say, it became my new favourite blunt weapon. Overall, visiting all these stones and completing these challenges was probably one of the highlights of the DLC to me because it took Morrowind’s reputation for having boring and often pointless dungeons and decided to mix things up a bit. It’s also full of worldbuilding for the Skaal and gets you better orientated on the island.

After doing all of the stones and going on to solve a mystery of theft involving a jealous Nord and an unfaithful wife, the Skaal send me to go and kill a draugr lord living in caverns beneath a nearby lake. They explain to me he used to be a Skaal before he started practicing necromancy, at which point they exiled him. So I go to the lake and…

The lake is on fire…

The Skaal shaman says it’s probably something to do with an ancient myth called the Bloodmoon, but that he doesn’t believe in it and I should just focus on killing this draugr lord. To my surprise, this draugr lord is actually one of the most interesting people in the whole DLC. It’s true he was exiled from the Skaal for practicing necromancy, but he made his home under the lake after discovering a bunch of ice daedra trying to rise from under it to kill everyone on the island. He put barriers in place to stop the daedra but knew they would get through when he died. So, naturally, he turned himself into an immortal draugr lord so he could maintain the barrier forever. Unfortunately the massive fire pictured above ruptured the barrier and he asks if we will help him kill the daedra. We can choose to kill him or help him. I decided to help him, but he eventually fell in battle against and ice atronach. That isn’t to say he was weak though. he put up one hell of a fight and probably would have survived if I had a spell allowing me to heal others.

After killing the daedra, I get back to the village to find it under attack by werewolves. Lots of werewolves.

Here’s the thing about werewolves: My new favourite mace can kill them in 2-3 strikes because it is made of silver and does additional bonus damage to them on top of the maximum of 98 damage per strike, plus whatever extra damage bonus I get from my high strength. And yet, despite all my armour, health and endurance, they can do the same to me. Although the fight in the Skaal village wasn’t so bad because of all the NPC’s helping me, any and all future encounters with werewolves would boil down to how many health potions I could chug down before they killed me. This was because, although my mace hit like a truck, the werewolves could attack much, much, much faster than me and could land hits a lot more reliably because, as I stated at the beginning of this post, my blunt weapons skill wasn’t all that great.

During this fight you get infected by a werewolf and will become on yourself unless you cure the disease, which I did because the Skaal refused to associate with me unless I did so. At the time I didn’t realise that if you decided to become a werewolf, the quest would branch off into an alternate version of itself, kind of like Skyrim’s Dawnguard DLC. Either way, I think siding with the Skaal was better because of how they’re one of only three places of Solthsteim that wasn’t a sprawling forest full of things trying to kill me. Sure, being a werewolf would have been cool, but it wouldn’t have been convenient.

Anyway, it turns out the werewolves took to leader of the Skaal and it is at this point I realised that is probably what happened to the Captain of Fort Frostmoth too, when it was attacked while I was dealing with the smugglers. After this, I helped the Skaal do a ritual to unite them with the land again in these dire times and they send me to meet with a giant called Karstaag, who’s the leader of a tribe of rieklings living in a frozen castle. If you played Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC, you will remember rieklings as fragile goblin creatures that can’t speak. In Morrowind they are extremely buff, armed and dangerous goblin creatures that are fluent in english. After helping a handful of them kick some nasty Grahl’s from their castle, they tell me that Karstaag was attacked by some wolves and went missing thereafter.

Returning to the Skaal shaman, he tells me that it is as he suspected: All the most powerful and influential people on the island have been taken by the wolves. It is a sure sign of the Bloodmoon myth coming to fruition; Once every era, Hircine, the daedric god of the hunt, comes to the mortal realm with his hounds to hunt mortals he deems as worthy prey. The second act of the main quest ends here on an ominous note. We are told the Bloodmoon has started. We are told to fear what lies ahead in the following days. We are given no quests or direction as to how to stop it. That’s it.

And I adore it! The confidence the writers show in their design by committing to saying there is nothing the player can do to prevent the Bloodmoon is fantastic, and works brilliantly hand-in-hand with the rising number of werewolves you’ll encounter on the island at night time. It’s perhaps the most dramatic and helpless feeling an RPG has ever made me feel, and by far one of the strongest story beats in the entirety of Morrowind. No matter who you talk to or when you do it, no one will give you a way to progress. After all, what are you to do against Hircine’s myth that has already come to fruition? Of all the traditional second-act low points I’ve experienced in games, this might be one of the best. The contrast of how Morrowind typically encourages you to think your way around problems creatively, with this absolute truth that you’re too late to prevent the Bloodmoon is just fantastic.

So, how do you progress? Wait and see…

Literally wait and see. If you rest anywhere, be it in the wilderness or in a bed after receiving news that the Bloodmoon cannot be stopped, you will be taken to Hircine’s hunting grounds by werewolves just like the Imperial Captain, Skaal leader and Karstaag.

Me staring down Hircine. (This scene is much brighter in-game. I went back into the game three times to up the brightness and get a better screenshot of Hircine, and they all turned out terrible like this one. My apologies.)

We meet Hircine when we arrive and he explains that we have to go through a gauntlet of sorts to get to the end of a maze. Of the people he has captured, including myself, the Imperial Captain, the Skaal Leader and Karstaag, can make it to the end of the hunting grounds in order to face him in honourable combat.

The hunting grounds are an absolute nightmare. The difficulty wasn’t so much challenging here as it was frustratingly hard due to very poor design. This is because, although the hunting grounds are described as a maze, it’s extremely obvious which way you have to go and it seems as though the developers decided to just spam the area full of as many of the highest level, unique variants of werewolves as they possibly could. Two hits from one of these guys killed me on my difficulty settings. Even after lowering the difficulty to the default state, I’d die in 3-4 hits, which doesn’t sound that bad until you consider you’re often being attacked by two werewolves at once who attack extremely quickly and who almost never miss. After somehow brute forcing my way through the first section of the hunting grounds I gave up in the second area because I knew that, even if I did beat them all, I would have no potions remaining and all of my armour damaged beyond repair by the time I reached the final boss. It was essentially unbeatable.

But do you remember what my original Morrowind review was about? It was about figuring out how the game works and bending it to your will. So, that’s what I decided to do now that I knew what to expect from the hunting grounds.

I loaded a save before I got taken by werewolves and returned to the base game. I levelled up my alchemy and chugged a few stacks of fortify intelligence potions, and then used that intelligence to create health potions that healed me for 50 hit points per second for 150 seconds. I could have made better potions than this, and a variety of strength increasing stuff too, but I didn’t want to cheese the game too much. I still wanted to win without resorting to making myself unbeatable.

But I’d need more than potions to get me through the hunting grounds. Umbra was a good weapon and so was Veloth’s Judgement, but they did a pitiful amount of damage compared to my new favourite mace and so it was crucial that I levelled up my blunt weapon skill. So, I sold half of my health potions to a drunk scamp in Caldera, and trained my blunt weapon skill from 54 to 72 in Balmora with the money I earned. Now I could hit things reliably, even when my fatigue was low. I then used what money remained to train my armourer skill from 10 to 54. This was crucial, and perhaps the most important part of my preparation, because a werewolf could gnaw through my Nordic armour in just a couple of hits. I took some repair tools from the fighters guild and returned to the hunting grounds without lowering the difficulty this time.

Against a single werewolf I could out-heal the damage they did but it would require me to drink TWO of my overpowered potions to do so, much to my surprise, which only speaks further to the insane difficulty of this final section. Therefore my strategy was to pop my head around every corner to lure the enemies to me one at a time, drink two health potions before the engagement, kill the enemy and then repair all of my armour before the next encounter. It was a long and tedious process.

Along the way I met the Imperial Captain. Nice guy, I decided to try and escape with him until he said he would find his own way out. After completing the hunting grounds, you can find him back at Fort Frostmoth. He also appears briefly in Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC. Anyway, later I met the leader of the Skaal who turns out to be a werewolf himself and who tries to betray me. I slew him and replaced my damaged armour with his perfect conditioned armour. He also had Hircine’s ring on him which would allow me to become a werewolf whenever I wore it, without having to resort to getting the werewolf disease. The final area was a big open room with one enemy: Kasrtaag. Turns out Kartaag can kill me in two hits. One hit if I’m unlucky, even with two of my ludicrous health potions active. For safety, I drank four potions before initiating combat with him and still nearly died, even with the help of my dremora.

With Karstaag dead only Hircine remained. He gives you a choice to fight his aspect of strength, speed or guile and reward you get for killing each corresponds with this. I didn’t know this on my first playthrough, so fought his aspect of strength, although it is the aspect of guile that gives you the best spear in the game as a reward. Surprisingly enough, killing the aspect of Hircine was probably the easiest bossfight in game. Easier than Vivec, Dagoth Ur, Almalexia, Gaenor and the rest of them. He only landed a single hit on me before he died. After this I escaped the hunting grounds and the Bloodmoon ended. I’m not sure why it ended. It’s not like I defeated Hircine, or all of his werewolves, I just fought an aspect of him in arena combat. Well anyway, it’s over now and we get an angry cutscene of Hircine saying he will return during the next era for more Bloodmoon boogaloo. Skyrim Bloodmoon Edition when, Todd?

Overall I feel as though Bloodmoon is a great bit of DLC, although it is let down by a lacklustre ending to its main quest that is the wrong kind of difficult and too tedious. But everything before that is great, and I genuinely believe much of the quest design is better here than in the base game or Tribunal DLC.

As for side content…

Do you remember the settlement of Raven Rock in Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC? Well in Morrowind’s Bloodmoon, you literally are the one who builds that settlement from the ground up. In a lengthy side quest, you join the East Empire Company, scout locations, order supplies, rations and deal with the troubles of the workers in the unfinished town. It’s probably my favourite side quest. Eventually you have to choose between helping a really nice man who cares about the settlers build the settlement, or an actual idiot who only cares about the East Empire Company’s bottom line. Similarly to when you have to choose between being a werewolf or curing yourself in the main quest, there are slightly different variants of the tasks involved in this side quest depending on who you side with. There’s little combat involved until the end of the quest line, so most of it relies of quirky challenges and writing to hold your engagement and it does so very well. And, given how dated Morrowind’s combat mechanics are and how frustrating they proved in the hunting grounds, this works tremendously to the advantage of this side quest.

Me talking a depressed miner out of suicide in Raven Rock by letting him punch me a lot.

Alongside great quests, it also has some standout characters like ominous Skaal Shaman, feuding Imperial burocrats, the rieklings in Castle Karstaag, the exiled draugr lord and last, but not least, Uncle Sweetshare. Who is Uncle Sweetshare? He is a crack addict living in the middle of the forest who has his own theme song written down on the corpse of his dead assistant. I kid you not, he ticks all the right boxes to be featured on To Catch a Predator.

But as much as I’d like to delve into all of the side content, this post is already far too long and my thoughts on the main quest more or less carry over.

Though narratively not as strong as Tribunal or the base game, the Bloodmoon DLC offers a lot of unique and interesting quests to Morrowind that are more than welcome, and I thoroughly enjoyed 90% of my time in it… The other 10% being spent in the hunting grounds. It’s a strong piece of DLC that I was happy to play and overcome.

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