The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Nostalgialistic: Morrowind belongs in a time capsule

Before role-playing games told us players what to do, they tossed us in the pool to teach us how to swim
Photo by Marisa Valdez

There will never be another video game like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

For those that haven’t heard of the game but think they recognize the Elder Scrolls label, they may be familiar with later installments of the series, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, with the latter selling over 60 million copies to this day. 

Skyrim is estimated to be the seventh-most-sold video game in the hobby’s history. Before the literal gates to hell in Oblivion and Skyrim’s return of dragons, the series felt calmer. Quieter. 

It had outgrown its first two entries on the msDOS to a decent following but hadn’t received the press attention we see around the franchise today. 

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2002’s Morrowind exists in a weird place before developer Bethesda had found their footing as a major player in the industry, but still had people expecting great things. The game is a moment in time that will forever be captured, but never re-captured. 

Morrowind is an open-world fantasy role-playing-game that takes place in, get this, the country of Morrowind. It is keen to get you exploring the land.

God talks to you in your sleep, you start as a prisoner on a boat, you pick your race and class, you’re given a piece of paper to give to some guy in another town, and you’re sent on your way. This is just about all of the story the player’s given to start with. 

Now, you’re free to explore the little town you start in, Seyda Neen. There’s not much there in Seyda Neen, but it’s crafted to ease the player into the game. You can start by asking around for rumors and can hear about some small goings-on around town. 

Nothing major, but interesting enough for a greenhorn adventurer to get their foot in the door. A tax collector has gone missing, someone’s hiding money from me, there are thugs in the cave nearby. But beyond these humble beginnings, what a truly open world we are given.

The nicest way to describe Morrowind would be a desolate hellscape. Due to the volcano in the middle of the country, Red Mountain, the land is covered in ash, so the local people had to essentially learn farming again. 

The wilds are packed with loads of entities that sit around just waiting to kill you. There are intense, borderline wars both politically and religiously. And yet, travel around the country is both peaceful and tense. 

The muted colors are still teaming with life. Big mushrooms grow natively, so some wizards decided to make homes, bases and towns out of them. The ambiance of slowly but surely hearing your footsteps clop along the road. 

And none of that is mentioning the music, which excellently captures the atmosphere. The opening theme “Call of Magic” immediately makes a player want to explore the world, learning spells and gaining glory. And this hasn’t even mentioned the actual things you can do in the game.

When you actually decide to do the quest given to you off the ship, your first order in the next town is to buzz off and play the game. 

No, really. His exact words are “You’re new. And you look at it. Here’s 200 drakes. Go get yourself a decent weapon. Or armor. Or a spell. And second thing… you need a cover identity. Around here, ‘freelance adventurer’ is a common profession.

“Sign on with the Fighters Guild, or Mages Guild, or Imperial cult, or Imperial legion, advance in the ranks, gain skill and experience. Or go out on your own, look for freelance work, or trouble. Then, when you’re ready, come back, and I’ll have orders for you.”

This is not only a departure from every other Elder Scrolls title, but the Role-Playing-Game (RPG) genre in general. The Final Fantasys and Dragon Quests of the world always make the main story feel urgent. But not Morrowind.

It actively tells you to go do side quests. Figure out how you want to play the game, get some gear or magic, that sort of thing. It states in extremely clear terms that there is a whole world out there to be explored, but at your own pace. 

The last time I played Morrowind, I legitimately played for three hours and never left the town of Balmora, because there was just so much to do there. It’s refreshing to not feel pressured into saving the world because I am the chosen one, and so on and so forth.

“Here’s some money. I’ll see you after school. Love you!” 

Speaking of being told to freelance, there is a lot to do in this game. There are joinable factions whose names tend to speak for themselves (Fighters Guild, Thieves Guild, Mages Guild, and so on). 

These factions have their own self-contained storylines that ease players into the class, such as starting the Fighter’s Guild by killing rats or the Mages Guild by collecting ingredients. 

Beyond the factions, though, there is a metric overload of unique side quests in the world of Morrowind. Other RPGs have so many quests such as “hey can you kill a wolf for me?” or “I can’t find my friend, can you check the nearby cave?” (looking at you, Xenoblade Chronicles).

In Morrowind, you find a naked guy who says a witch stole his clothes and, more importantly, his family’s ax. You find the woman, and she claims he was getting a little too familiar with her and she decided to punish him. 

You can take the side of whomever you want, or you can kill them both and take all of their things. There is a guy who just falls out of the sky in front of you to his death because he made scrolls of jumping, but forgot to make scrolls of falling. 

I could list the absolutely unique quests of Morrowind for hours, because it’s one of the last worlds I’ve felt truly immersed in. That being said, breaking the immersion is a pretty easy thing to do.

The mechanics of Morrowind are clunky, but a relic of a bygone era. You can’t build your own weapons and armor here. You have to scrounge for them or save up enough money to buy them like your ancestors did so long ago in Dungeons and Dragons. 

Shops are always open. They just never close. Thus, shopkeepers never leave the one spot they’re standing in, so you can just steal everything from the parts of the store they can’t see. 

Don’t try to sell that stuff back to them, though, or they’ll call the guards. You can sell it all to the cat across the street, though. He doesn’t ask questions. 

Weapons don’t always hit when you’re at a low level, but their accuracy and damage go up as you practice with them. Spells can fail to cast if you don’t have a high skill in the spell’s school. 

There are potions and spells that grant fortified strength and speed, more magic, sneakier steps, larger pockets, levitation, invisibility and a plethora of other effects. That being said, the line between mechanic and glitch is often blurred.

As a wise man in the YouTube comments once said, “Either you break Morrowind, or Morrowind breaks you.” 

The Elder Scrolls III is a broken, buggy mess, even by 2002 standards. There is certainly an argument that these add to the game’s charm, but regardless, programming oversights both benefit and harm the player constantly. 

The add-ons were implemented improperly, so an assassin meant to attack the player after the main story instead attacks them after they leave the first town. This assassin has the strongest light armor and dagger in the game. 

Sometimes the game just crashes (classic Bethesda!). You can randomly fall through the floor. Some quests just won’t complete. On the other hand, there is plenty the player can do to exploit things the developers left behind. 

The most infamous example is the Fortify Intelligence Loop. Intelligence governs how strong the potions you make are. So, gather a bunch of ingredients to make these potions. Make one. Drink it. 

Now that your intelligence is higher, make another one. Doing this for about a minute can easily get the intelligence stat into the thousands, when the cap is one-hundred. 

Now that you can make the world’s best potions, you can fortify the rest of your attributes. Strength and Speed, in particular, have the most notable effects, as they affect physical damage and speed, respectively. Pretty much any enemy in the game will go down to one hit after this.

This seemed long-winded, and that’s because it was, but that’s because I have so much to say about the third entry of the “Elder Scrolls” franchise. I didn’t even cover the ten playable races, I barely touched on attributes and skills, and so much more, but I think I’ve gotten my point across. 

Games today would never be an iota of what Morrowind is. It’s a vast and explorable world that’s a pleasure to explore and learn about. There’s no pressure to save the world or play a certain way. 

You can be a lizard man, punch a god to death, then crash your PC because you ran so fast the game couldn’t keep up. You can free a bunch of slaves, become a political powerhouse, or a deadly assassin, or all of those. 

Right now, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition is on sale for only $6.00 until Feb. 12. It’s normally a cool $15, which I think is still a good price for the game. 

Any old crapbox of a computer can run the game. 

If you’re looking for a night to explore an alien and mystifying world that stays frozen in time, Morrowind is a great game and place to explore alone or with others who love open-world RPGs or fantasy universes. Maybe download some mods first to fix all the bugs, though. 

Tolbert can be contacted at [email protected].

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