Morrowind starts with you getting dumped off a boat into a shithole hamlet where everyone is racist, before being sent to a city to meet your contact who is a half-naked old Skooma addict that tells you to piss off and get a job. And when you get a job, they give you vague directions to caves and deadly dens, directions that, if you misunderstand, could lead you into fights with some of the toughest enemies in the game. And if you have the DLC, you’ll get jumped by an overleveled Dark Brotherhood assassin. I bloody love it. Don’t play it.
It’s unforgiving, archaic, janky, and brilliant. Combat is based on dice rolls that take your skills into account, meaning that if you try to swing a sword without the right skill, you’ll keep missing your attacks. Skills are actually important and hold weight, which is great! That makes leveling less of a muddled, meaningless mess. It also means that leveling is grueling, and the slightest mistake might mean starting over or going back to an old save – not so great. But it’s woven into the actual story, as a lot of spells are impossible to cast without the right build, locking off entire guilds who require you to know a little bit about magic to join – you can’t just wander off the streets like you can in Skyrim and Oblivion. Take the Telvanni, who have teachers and key characters up high in studies you have to levitate to. Can’t levitate? Can’t progress. But it rewards you for making a competent mage, something Skyrim doesn’t do enough.
A lot of Morrowind is built on incredible ideas that give every single aspect of its design meaning, but that also makes it unfairly obtuse, because if you don’t know the ins and outs of every mechanic, you’ll often hit a wall. The directions I mentioned are the biggest hurdle, since modern game design has adopted intuitive quest markers that tell you where to go, making it nearly impossible to get lost – even Elden Ring has a giant yellow line on the map that directs you. Morrowind, meanwhile, has a notebook with scrawled comments based on vague dialogue from untrustworthy vagrants. Just pop south to the river, follow it until you see a somewhat round rock, take a right, then a left- Good luck, you will get lost. That’s half the fun, since it ties into Morrowind’s ripe exploration with a world full of treasure and secrets, but it will get tedious for those just trying to get on with the story.
Speaking of questing, you can’t keep track of everything like in Skyrim, switching between main quest and side quests. Instead, everything is interwoven and you might end up killing a vital NPC somewhere along the way. Quests are all dumped into the same place as key dialogue and directions, and if you do manage to untangle those threads, you might have accidentally blocked off a path without realising. Take the Fighter’s Guild – join them, and you can’t join the Thieves Guild. Then there’s the Mages Guild, where joining it will drag down your reputation with the Telvanni, and vice versa.
That’s what I love about it. You can’t be a jack of all trades, meaning that each run requires you to carefully pick your allies and decide what path you want to take. This means that a knight can’t end up being the Archmage of a magical college, and a master thief can’t become the head of a renowned guild of helpful mercenaries. And side quests are required, unless you want to make things even more difficult for yourself. Right from the gate, you’re told to go join a faction, level up, and train, before the Blades will send you on your first mission. That’s because they don’t want you wandering in and getting stuck with holes and dying on the first day of the job. You need experience, and that experience engrosses you in Morrowind’s world far more than a straight line main quest ever could.
In a lot of ways, Morrowind is a true-to-life Dungeons & Dragons campaign, albeit with a TES aesthetic. And D&D is notoriously difficult to get into for newcomers, let alone a newcomer without anyone to guide their hand. You’re thrown into the deep end, and as in-depth and meticulous as Morrowind is, as unique and stunning as its world might be, and as rich as its dialogue is, there are simply too many hurdles that require hours of pushing ahead and mastering to even come close to enjoying what it has to offer. And yet, I can’t imagine a remake doing it justice, leaving it a locked-off TES relic that will only ever exist for those willing to stick with the obtuse jank. For those that do, TES’ best world, story, and characters will be waiting there to reward them. But I can’t recommend it to anyone. Just play Oblivion and Skyrim – they’re great too, and far easier to get into.
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