While it would be a bit of an overstatement if I said that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was one of my favorite games, it would be completely fair to say that I caught the Skyrim bug along with everyone else in the months preceding and succeeding 11-11-2011. Like most of those players, Skyrim served my first encounter with the Elder Scrolls. It was my introduction to a crazy world filled with dragons, daedra and dragons somehow trapped in the body of mere mortals. Its world was expansive, its quests entertaining and its charm seemingly everlasting. It’s every bit the excellent game that its players say it is, and yet for many it still lives under the shadow of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, a game over 9 years its junior. As someone who started with Skyrim and was unimpressed with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I had a hard time seeing why. So, I decided to try the game for myself and see why so many still make such a big deal over it. And while there were definitely more than a few things that I didn’t like about the game, I found that those singing its praises may have had a point or two. So what’s Morrowind’s secret? What is it that sits at the core of its RPG superiority? Well, if I had to reduce it down to one word, I’d have to say it’s “convenience.”
“Convenient” is probably not a word normally associated with Morrowind, and for good reason. The game treats money like an inventory item. Arrows actually have weight. Magic only replenishes via sleep or a potion. Fast travel is limited to teleportation spells or riding on giant walking fleas, and there’s no such thing as a compass marker or convenient quest outlines. These may all sound like knocks against the game, and at first they are. However, after one gets used to dealing with them and them steps back to take a closer look at what they’re actually doing, it turns out that all these “inconveniences” actually add quite a lot to the RPG experience.
As much as I love Skyrim, I’ve never taken the time to get to know its world. Without its location marker-filled map, I don’t think I’d be able to tell you where anything actually is. Where’s Whiterun in relation to the Throat of the Word? I dunno. Where’s Bleak Falls Barrow in relation to Kynesgrove? Your guess is as good as mine. The best I could do is tell you where the individual holds are in relation to one another and even then I’d probably wouldn’t be all that confident. With Morrowind , this isn’t the case.
I haven’t been around much of the map yet, but I the parts I’ve explored are already well known to me. Why? Because I had to find them myself! Aside from taking a silt strider to another city. Everything in Morrowind must be tracked down by hand. No quest markers. No cut and dry explanation of where exactly stuff is. It’s not just finding locations on Vvardenfell that’s like this either, just about everything has to be discovered manually. Need to talk to an NPC in Balmora, well you’re just going to have to ask around until you find someone who knows where they are. You’ll then have to use actual map skills and your own sense of direction to actually find the place given to you. The modern gamer in me should (and probably does) find this annoying, but the RPG fan in me absolutely loves it!
I’ve only just scratched the surface of what Morrowind has to offer and I’m already loving how things are done in it. In Morrowind I get to put my own navigational and investigative skills to use. I get to figure out the best way to find things. I get to discover my own quests and learn for myself which ones I can take on and which ones I can’t. I get to discover the game’s deeper systems on my own and develop my own understanding of how things work. Of course this means I’m not getting the whole picture, but I’d argue that that’s how it should be in an RPG. I’m discovering Morrowind and making my own version of it in the process. It might be flawed, but it’s mine. There’s something special to be had in that, I think.
Whenever you read or watch fans gush about Morrowind, they’ll usually talk about its interesting quests, deep lore, or wonderfully alien landscape. Indeed, those are all excellent qualities to the game that are definitely worthy of praise. Now that we have two sequels to compare it to though, its biggest and best difference has to be the sheer amount of trust and freedom its players enjoy. It may have been par for the course back then, but now it’s something special. Morrowind ‘s RNG combat and visuals may not have aged well, but in every other aspect its age has only made it shine all the more!
What do you think of all this? Do you prefer the many conveniences we now enjoy, or do you also think we’re losing something by indulging in them?