The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind provides an astonishing array of options ranging from character creation and gameplay preferences to the ability to create and share new mods, items, and quests online. The depth and attention to detail extends to the surrounding world and the many NPCs populating the world of Vvardenfell. Morrowind is a role-player's dream come true: an exotic world filled with fascinating creatures and villains, an engaging story, and the absolute freedom to role-play your character any way you choose. Unfortunately, even on high-end computer systems, the game stutters along and pauses frequently. The technical issues diminish the fun, which is a pity since in most other respects the game is outstanding.
With so much to do, playing Morrowind can be a bewildering experience. The never ending procession of side quests can be overwhelming, with multiple guilds, temples, or factions to join, money to make, and even undocumented tasks like diving for pearls or exploring shipwrecks. A journal keeps track of the various quests your character has undertaken (and even some he turns down), but unfortunately they're not removed or marked when completed. Having too many things to do is hardly a complaint, though, and devoted role-playing gamers will be happy for months. After the main quest is completed, the included editor allows unlimited creation of new quests and other modifications to the land of Vvardenfell.
You begin as a slave held captive on a prison ship, but an edict from the Emperor releases you into the world of Vvardenfell. Initially, the circumstances of your release are cloudy but Morrowind's plot gradually discloses your character's history and what the Emperor wants you to do. Completing the main mission is surprisingly low key, however, as the emphasis is really on exploring the world.
Morrowind's character creation process resembles the Ultima series with its question-and-answer methodology, and the freedom given players is welcome. It's certainly possible to make stupid decisions and end up with an ineffective, if interesting, character, but creating a "tank" capable of slashing through scores of enemies is equally viable. For many gamers, half the fun is making new characters, and Morrowind makes the process more interesting than most.
Exploring Vvardenfell is fascinating. The developers obviously put a great deal of work into the world, and it shows. The environment changes from area to area, but a certain dark brooding atmosphere pervades the various landscapes. Vvardenfell is full of lakes, mountains, rivers, towns, trees, mushrooms, rocks, dungeons, tombs, caves, and characters, and everything manages to be eerily alien but also familiar, especially to players of The Elder Scrolls: Chapter 2 -- Daggerfall and The Elder Scrolls: Arena. The full effect of the impressive graphics and world will depend primarily on how much your computer can handle. With all the settings maximized, the environment is gorgeous. Most players, however, will have to settle for intermediate settings to minimize the continual pauses and low framerate.
Gameplay issues include difficulty in keeping track of the quests, since you'll have literally hundreds of pages of your journal to constantly sift through, and though combat is not a big focus of the game, it's also unavoidable and not particularly well done. Enemies charge into battle without thinking, and fighting them off is a tiring, repetitive business.
The biggest problem, though, is the character development process. Players will be dismayed to find that improving their character's abilities stems mainly from finding powerful items. Of course, this is a big facet of any RPG, but most, like Diablo II, manage to balance the powerful items with the necessity of gaining experience. In Morrowind, any skill your character lacks can be purchased -- power leveling entails getting lots of gold and buying experience. It's a shame that a game with such an excellent character creation system would then undermine everything with questionable character development. Finally, the absence of a meaningful ending after such an involved main quest is disappointing.
Morrowind is worth buying just to explore the world of Vvardenfell. Players with high-end systems will enjoy the scenery and gameplay more, but the pauses and stuttering framerate will annoy everyone. However, Morrowind offers plenty to offset these problems and any role-player will be satisfied, though probably not ecstatic with the Vvardenfell experience.
Graphics: Vvardenfell is gorgeous, but players will need a powerful system to fully appreciate it.
Sound: The soundtrack is decent and functional sound effects accompany gameplay.
Enjoyment: If exploration is your forte, you won't do better than Morrowind. Four separate travel systems (walking, boat, mage transport, and Silt-Strider), surprise encounters, a huge main quest plus literally hundreds of side quests and more will keep RPGers occupied for months.
Replay Value: The included editor makes creating new quests and modifying the world possible, increasing the already considerable replay value with exchanges via the Internet.
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