One of the main reasons people got excited about the latest expansion to Bethesda and ZeniMax’s The Elder Scrolls Online was that it would give them the chance to revisit an iconic location from the series, Vvardenfell, first seen in 2002’s The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. A mysterious land full of elves with weird beliefs, organisational structures based around deity and Dwemer knowledge, giant mushrooms, mass transit the form of giant insect-looking things, and of course -- a massive volcano that serves as the centrepiece for the anything-but-tropical
Now of course, another reason would be to simply go back to The Elder Scrolls Online proper and see what’s changed since its 2014 PC debut and subsequent 2015 console release. For an MMO along the lines of Everquest, World of Warcraft, and so forth, the answer to that is – a lot. Okay, so maybe those comparisons are a little simplistic. Back when The Elder Scrolls Online (or, TESO) first made its debut, one of the strongest aspects of its presentation was that it placed a lot of time and effort into transposing what an Elder Scrolls game might look like if it went ‘online’. As opposed to going about it the other way around, or simply copying the standard MMO template. This meant that TESO was different enough from everything else at the time, especially in how it approached PvP.
Where since that time, it has seen several changes.
Prior to the release of the Morrowind expansion, TESO got something called the One Tamriel update. A revised version that meant that any story or location could be visited in any order, with any character, and with no level restrictions in place. The outcome of which directly affects the new Morrowind expansion. Being able to approach the new content fresh, is a definite plus. As is getting to experience an entirely new introduction and tutorial sequence, and then travel to Vvardenfell to experience all the new sights and sounds with the new Warden class. It helps add weight to the situation and stories you’ll uncover, of which there are many. Whilst instilling the feeling that Vvardenfell is, as of right now, the place in Tamriel you need to be in.
If I had to ballpark it, I’d say that there’s enough story content here to provide an entertaining 30 or so hours of traditional RPG-like questing. And that’s traditional in the RPG sense, because you won’t find many or any ‘kill x amount of this’ or ‘collect x amount of this thing’ fetch quests with no real impact. Instead Morrowind presents characters, situations, and stories worthy of both the evocative setting, and the Elder Scrolls name.
As for how it plays this is still very much The Elder Scrolls Online, with the same great skill-based levelling and combat. Plus, the interesting crafting and the ridiculously long time it takes to train everything - from blacksmithing to increasing the speed of your mount. Both of which will take over two months, measured in Earth days, to master. Ahh, the MMO. But, when starting fresh with the new Warden class this is something that can be ignored entirely. On the topic of the new class, which indeed comes with a fighting bear companion to unlock, the Warden strikes an interesting balance between all the major online-RPG roles of damage dealer, tank, healer. From the time I spent with the Warden, this all-round approach was refreshing and tailored well to the Morrowind experience.
And in the end, that’s how I chose to experience Morrowind. Go in fresh, create a High-Elf Warden, ignore the usual trappings of MMO progression that are more akin to daily chores than fun, and simply take in the story and environment in co-op.
Set 800 years before the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the story might lean a little too heavily in the direction of you’re the lone saviour that can, err, alone save the land, but the writing, presentation, and exploration more than make up for the initially standard RPG plot. Well, as standard as a giant floating rock above a fantastical city being held in place by a deity/ruler who’s slowly losing his source of magical energy can be. In fact, perhaps Morrowind’s greatest strength is in how much it feels like an Elder Scrolls experience. More so than any other TESO setting and location before it.
Ultimately what that sentiment boils down to is an experience where intricate stories and characters not tied to the overall ‘main plot’ begin to surface, and define locations that would otherwise be another icon on a map. Or a new town to sell stuff in. Take for example the town of Suran, where it seems corruption has led to a situation where people accused of even minor crimes are then forced into a life of servitude and slave labour for rich land owners. Over the course of an hour or two, the small tale then becomes one about a Batman-like masked vigilante looking to right an injustice. Where, upon completion, you take the cowl so to speak and become the next Scarlet Judge. Alongside a costume to prove it.
This is the sort of side-quest you can expect to find in Morrowind, and its unexpected execution and delivery evokes the feeling of playing a single-player Elder Scrolls game. Where discovery and surprise lead to memorable narrative experiences.
And, being able to complete a quest-line like this with others sells the concept of The Elder Scrolls Online just about better than any description of a Group Dungeon or PvP Battleground Arena. There’s a definite appeal to playing an RPG in an environment filled with other people, but by that same token pedestrian traffic can and often does break the illusion. When a dozen or so ‘Outlanders’ are hovering around Lord Vivec, possibly being told the exact same thing about being the only ones that can stop whatever grave calamity is about to happen, it’s hard not to feel like perhaps there’s a better way to do this. Not that I have any idea what that might look like, but the simple fact is that being a game that can be played alone or in co-op as a story-driven RPG, as wells as being a place for crafting, selling, and for groups of people to socialise and compete, has its quirks.
A statement more about the genre than Morrowind specifically.
Which in the end gets a lot of things right, in addition to feeling like a traditional open-world Elder Scrolls RPG expansion. In that sense, The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind is a definite success, it faithfully recreates and updates the iconic location for both modern audiences and modern gaming hardware. Seriously, simply walking around and taking in all the sights is worth the price of admission alone. Well, for those that think fondly of their time spent with the original Morrowind over a decade ago. But, with a great story that expands and digs deep into the sort of lore and history that would make any Elder Scrolls fan happy, The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind feels very much like its own thing too.