The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Game Info
Platform(s)
Xbox
Publisher
Bethesda Softworks
Developer
Bethesda Softworks
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Huge, impressive environments
• Extremely open-ended gameplay
• Lots to do outside of the main quest

The Bad

• Framerate issues when outside
• Graphics engine seems unpolished for Xbox version
• Combat is clunky

 
Grade
B+

Morrowind begins as with the player on a slave ship. For some reason, you've been set free by the Imperial authority and dropped off on the shores of the Vvanderfell District of Morrowind, a diverse land populated with many races, including the Imperial colonists and the Dummer, or dark elves. Beneath the surface of political and social intrigue, there is an entity called the Blight, which seems to be diseasing the land. As you go further in the story and become part of the Blades, a network of spies, you learn of cults and conspiracies and the name of Dagoth-Ur is battered about as something unpleasant. Outside of the basic framework of the story, you're basically given the whole world to explore and enjoy.

Gameplay: Morrowind is a true PC RPG game at heart. In fact, its concept is fairly ambitious in that it allows the player to basically do as they please. While there is a main quest, you'd be remiss not to spend some time doing all of the others things that are available to you. Many of the people that talk to you have things they'd like you to do for them and you can even join a variety of Guilds in which to gain training and do various quests. And if none of that pleases you, the player can always just go for a walk in the countryside to find mines, tombs and assorted dungeons to look for treasure and trouble. One of more impressive features is that the player can basically steal anything that they can carry. And when you're a little tight on money, swiping some silverware may not be such a bad idea. But, be wary of stealing too much. If someone sees you, they'll try to fight you or report the theft to the authorities. Also, killing villagers in plain sight of the guards is a no-no. For everything that you can do, there are repercussions. Available in the game is a large variety of weapons and spells. This is made even better by the fact that the player can create their own spells or even their own magic potions by finding the right ingredients and paying someone to make them. One of the nicer features is the experience system, which doesn't force players to go looking for a fight to gain levels. Characters gain experience by improving their major, minor and miscellaneous skills through training or use during the game. After they gain enough improvement in their skills, they need to rest to meditate on what they've learned, at which point you can add points to your attributes. This kind of experience system allows non-fighters to improve without so much melee combat.

Graphics: The graphics are a mixed bag. While the environments are large and the architecture is well designed, the game doesn't really seem to take advantage of the Xbox's power to make the little graphical details seem more polished. The towns are fully realized and packed with tons of items that make it feel like a real world, but certain areas just feel unpolished. And for the most part, the character models look blocky and underdeveloped, even though the texture maps used look fairly good and the design of the characters is imaginative. The little things really help in making the world more realized as a realistic, functioning world: the water looks great and the shift between day and night and between sunny to overcast to raining are done well. The fact that everything seems to attempt a real-life setting is impressive, even if the graphics engine seems a little unpolished. While the exterior settings may not look as good as in Halo, you'll be impressed by the city settings, each of which is designed and modeled with impressive detail.

Controls: While the initial button arrangement is fairly easy to pick up, the controls in-game could still use some work. Movement is decent, but if you're using the first person perspective, you might find yourself hanging up on some of the architecture as you move through the cluttered streets. Combat takes some getting used to. Often, you'll be hacking away, not sure if you're even landing blows and even the smallest beast will give you a fight. After some time, you'll figure out at what angle you have to be to get the best impact. Also, switching from magic to weapon in battle is dangerous and can leave you open for attack. I wish that you could cast magic without having to put your weapon away.

Audio: The sound portion of the game is nicely polished. The soundtrack is excellent and really works in a timepiece manner. Sound effects are well done, especially when you hear a monster off in the distance heading your way. The voice-acting is pretty solid, even though hearing the guards repeat the same lines over and over again everytime you pass them in the city may grow a little old.

The Bad: Morrowind is plagued with being so large and vast in scope that the graphics engine seems to be a little overtaxed. While indoors, the game runs at a smooth framerate, but once you step outside (or even more so outside of any town), the framerate seems to jump and hiccup. A lot of times, it runs fairly well, but there are times where it seems to snag and jump. Don't be surprised to see "Exterior Loading" message boxes as you move from one area to the next, or even a slight stutter as the next area tries to load. At the beginning of the game, there is a long loading sequence, which is mimicked when you travel from town to town by any manner other than by foot. There seems to be some issues with the draw distance as structures off in the distance appear as you get closer. And, in the cities, if you see NPCs walking around in the distance, their movements seem jerky, as if they're running at a lower frame rate. While none of these issues take away from the excellently realized gameplay aspects, they do point to the fact that Bethesda may have not have optimized their game engine to it's best potential for the XBox. But, considering how much of a memory-hog the PC version was, no one should be surprised.

Morrowind is a wonderfully huge experience that will take dedicated gamers some time to finish. And with all of the options available, no two trips through the game will be the same. Even with all of the flaws, the game is an excellent adventure for anyone who's looking for a nonlinear game set in a world that they can live in. People who don't care for PC-style games may be turned off by the open-endedness of this game, or by the large amount of text that you'll read. If you can look past the minor gripes mentioned, you should feel rewarded by such a large adventure.

- - Kinderfeld

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