Clan 404

...spiffing

Morro Morro Morrowind (Xbox)

17 Jan 2008 by ShogZ

Where do I begin with this one?

Well I should be honest and say that after weeks and months of playing a few hours a day, I havn't finished it. And the reasons I havn't finished it are basically all the highs and lows of the game easily remembered:

Interesting, involving, deep, intricate, bugged, flawed, tiresome, repetative.

The game is fearsomely open ended, there is a central plotline which you can play several ways (Good, bad or somewhere in between) and then there are multiple side quests and guild quests, plus hours of your own preferred activities.

I'm a big fan of open ended games and the ability to persue a storyline at your own pace, the world of Elder scrolls is a rich one, and Morrowind is no exception, however this is also a failing. If you wanted to you could spend weeks just reading all the hundreds of books there are in the tens of libraries and stores you'll find. Sadly the story envrionment is just as complicated.

It boils down to the imperials (Romans) having control over an island (Morrowind) of previously free dark elves (Dunmer). There are troubles in the empire and for some reason you, a convicted prisoner, are released and sent there with instructions to meet someone and deliver a package, and thus your adventure begins...Well its supposed to.

See I never once worked out exactly what I was supposed to be doing or all the intrigues behind it. There are various noble families of dark elves politicing on the island as well as the imperials, some religious sects (Good and bad) and thousands of random NPCs somewhere in-between.

You can do as you wish, interact with these people, get information, sell information, if you want to wander off into the island chains for hours and pick flowers and sell them in various markets, go ahead the choice is yours.

The world of Morrowind is divided into various regions along the coast and nearby, or inland,  and the graphical geography changes to suit, it's sometimes green and verdant, gently sloping. Othertimes its harsh and barren, with twisted trees and volcanic rock. It's quite interesting for the first few hours, but after a while you notice the environment is not changing quite as much as you'd thought and similar structures and patterns emege regularly. Textures become a bit repetative, but thats also because of some graphical issues (Coming later). To be fair the game is old (2002?) and does very well with the hardware available on the Xbox.

Graphically the environment has received worthwhile attention, as you'll spend many many hours wandring around it, lakes shimmer, water runs, dust blows across your vision and grass and tress spring from rolling hills, the sun sets and rises over changing skies and stars become visible at night, the graphics can be truly stunning on occasion, if simply because you can be drawn into the world so well. It's not Unreal by any means but it does make a good effort.

The characters and animation are also noteworthy, with fairly decent movement and other animation sequences. There are a limited number of 'face' textures available for NPCs and some of them do start to look familiar after a while, that said there's also a suprising amount of variety due to the number of races and species populating Morrowind (A handy getout for the model skinning problem no doubt).

Where the graphics fall down is in the area of magic and other such effects. Despite there being many spells that you can cast or have cast against you, the actual effects these produce makes them very difficult to distinguish, essentually these seem to produce either a purple, blue or yellow glow in the hands of your opponenet and then something happens to you (Not always noticeable, but more on that later). So in the use of magic and its depiction, there's some lack of detail there.

Graphically the weapons you use seem diverse and often 'feel' different to wield suggesting their respective weight and damage, so thats a good thing. But the lack of variety in opponent attack sequences often makes longer fights seem rather repetative.

In terms of sound the music and effects of Morrowind are generally low key and follow the general lines of the graphics, there's attention paid to the environment and other such associated events (dust storms etc) but there's a lack of variety outside of ambience. There's no discernable background chatter in taverns or inns, stalls and markets are eerily quiet and NPCs will sometimes say some really bizzarre things when you're not talking directly to them.

Musically the game is not very diverse, standard fight and walking around music is present. On the rare occasions the music and events sync up properly its really grand, for example, cresting a hill and seeing the sun dawn over a massive castle in the distance as the music climbs to a crescendo is a great game moment, but rare due to a lack of attention to music and its in game use.

Gameplay is a very diverse category within Morrowind, it's ups include an open ended style story whereby you can wander the wastes, skulk around villages as a thief, perform magic and healing and get money and reputation, or become a wanted ciminal and be chased by gaurds in every town you enter. Additionally theres a variety of factions you can work casually for or betray, and the character levelling system is a nice blend of D&D and standard earn XP and level.
By performing actions regularly you rank the asociated skill, so by talking a lot or persuading others your speechcraft increases or by fighting with swords, bladecraft and so on. These sub-abilities influence you overall level which influence your stats etc. So a good, rise by doing, system.

On the downside gameplay is often repetative with the player needing to grind certain skills to hit their top level and move on to the next, in truth you want a more powerful character and so whilst you might otherwise fight with whatever weapons and armor feel best (I.e. an organic gaming approach) you'll end up approaching it more scientifically and choosing things that will level your character faster.

Additionally you will naturally tilt your character to certain things, meaning others get further and further behind. This isnt a problem say for a magician character as if you leave your speech and security skills by the wayside you can use your magic to open doors and influence people, however if you're a warrior class you cant simply bash open doors or locks and you cant influence others with violence (They simply fight until they die and never leave combat mode until you or they are dead).

Additionally, and worth their own paragraph are the bugs. There are numerous gameplay issues and real show-stopper bugs in the game itself. On occasion savegames simply just wont load. This doesnt seem to depend on anything but luck or otherwise. You'll need several saves to make sure you dont get locked out between sessions.

Second characters will randomly wander into combat with you if you're fighting another, so if you're involved in a scrap with a guard and an NPC you really need to talk to is nearby they will often wander into the battle and be struck, hence forcing you to kill them and loose any info or quests they may have to offer.

On the same point about battle, if an opponent is behind a door in a room and you go into combat in another space often the opponent will attempt to run through the door to reach you, (NPCs being unable to open doors universally) but this also causes a collision detection bug whereby you simply cannot open the door as the character is clipping through it. This is intensly frustrating as NPCs never leave combat mode once it is engaged, and you cannot open a door they are stuck in, thereby you lock yourself out of areas because of their action, this can also stop you getting on with a central quest.

In summary Morrowind is a great and involving, if flawed and buggy, title. It's promise shows through in how much you're willing to look past the bad just to play the game and experience the environment.

Equally its promise remains that, an elusive thing which is never fully realised due to graphical constraints, limited use of sound and some serious software flaws.

Recommendation: Buy it if you like open ended RPGs and see it on 3 for 2 or preowned. Well worth a go, if a little frustrating.