Return to Tamriel
There are many games from my youth that trigger warm feelings and nostalgia, but few make me feel a longing. It’s hard to really describe what I am even longing for. Maybe the sense of wonder that came with exploring a world for the first time? That’s likely as close as I am going to get to articulating it. So in order of appearance there was Dungeons of Daggorath, then Darklands, and finally in 1996 – Daggerfall. Considering that they were still eyeing witch pyres in my home town at the time, these were a safe alternative to playing Dungeons and Dragons.
I had never played Arena, and honestly, I still haven’t. So Daggerfall was my first journey into the world of Tamriel. I didn’t know then that my affection for the series would last as long as it has. It was only when Morrowind emerged in 2002 that I realized how important video games could be to someone. I finally got it – I never understood how people could get so worked up over these things. But here I was, desperately engaged in a story for the first time.
And here we are, many moons later, living in an era where Bethesda has proven time and time again that the single player experience is still a valid one – despite EA tacking multiplayer on to almost every franchise now. Finally, the return to Vvardenfell that the fans wanted has been crammed into an MMO.
MMOs are part of the market that I’ve always tried to like – buy could never get into. I even dove into the Beta of Elder Scrolls Online when it started, and was massively let down. My return, with the siren call of the Morrowind Expansion, changed my view on the game entirely, but left me a little concerned about my own motives.
Sweet Memories of Ash and Fire
This game really wants to take you back. So much so, that it seems new characters will even just start out in Morrowind if they skip the intro story. Fresh off a boat in Seyda Neen, you go through a lot of the motions of the original game. There are many shout-outs, call-backs, and Easter eggs for those familiar with the first Morrowind – so many, in fact, that you’ll nearly choke on them all.
And that’s okay, really. It’s what we wanted.
But, the paint chips off quickly in the face of an MMO, where game world logistics need to be balanced with lore. So, to be clear, you get to work with the famed, feared, and beloved Morag Tong guild of assassins… But you can’t join them, so don’t expect the be executing official writs on your own or furthering your position in the guild. If that’s a deal breaker for you, get off this hype train now. If not, you’ll find there’s a lot of good stuff to be found in this expansion.
Seeing Morrowind aesthetics is nothing new for people who ate up every drop of Skyrim. And, from what I can tell, the Morrowind look and creatures have been peppered in parts of the ESO world for some time now (though I could be wrong). Basically, the look and feel is nothing new. Where this game springs to life is where ESO has always been interesting: A glimpse into the past of one of the world’s most beloved fantasy settings.
When I saw the Cantons of Vivec City being constructed, the cranes and scaffolding everywhere, I’ll admit I got chills. It got flashbacks to when I played the 2002 game, my character was flying over the landscape with the massive city of the Living God Vivec Sprawled before me, the sun rising, the mist parting as I touched down and sought my contact with the mages guild.
When the chills left me, I started getting some conflicting feelings.
See, this wasn’t the origional Morrowind. Many of the things that lent excitement in that game had been made pedestrian or non-existent for the need of competitive MMO game balance. It’s still great if you are looking for an interactive museum. As someone who spent a great deal of time in museums, after I fell asleep and they thought I was part of some pioneer display, I can tell you the big problem: No matter what happens, you know you are looking at a display. Sure, you may think for a moment you are on a special mission with your assassin buddy, but you turn your back and suddenly see about five others doing the exact same thing, with their electronic stand in for costumed theme park attendants.
If you are OK with that, and you can suspend that disbelief a bit better than my dusty brain box can, then sign up and enjoy. Back in the Beta days kill stealing, resource competition and general fear of death were the biggest problems with solo play in this MMO. Those are for the most part gone, and I’m very happy with the single player experience I’ve squeezed out of ESO on my return trip – the danger for series fans is the potential to ruin immersion.
There are fun communities, and I’ve not had big problems with the players I’ve met. Some have been dismissive at worst, but most are excited – passionate, even – and helpful to new players. For old nerds like myself, there’s even a very active Roleplay community, but it is hard to stay in character with some guy squat jumping in your face while you are trying to chat about Pact Politics. (Honestly, in my opinion the biggest problem with the Mega-Server is that Role Players have no where to go.)
Wardens the Ill-Fitting Guardians
The Warden is the first new class added to the series. It fills a niche and actively encourages group play with its abilities, but also is great for people wanting to go it solo. Really, the Warden class is the result of the changed mentality of the ESO game, in that it’s less focused on traditional MMO roles and grants more flexibility.
Yeah, I’ll be honest, the bear companion was a big consideration when I was wondering what my main character should be. Finally Dragon Knight won out, as I found its powers more suited for my particular play style. And honestly, I’m glad I went with it. Right now, there are so many damn bears in the game you would swear some lunatics were making some absurd bear cavalry! Really, they are every where – and that really can be distracting. Heading up to speak to Lord Vivec (blessed is his name) to help with his problem, I thought to myself, “I sure hope he hires me to kill bears, that will be easy! Look at them all.”
And that brings me to my final minor gripe about the Warden: It really doesn’t fit the theme of the Morrowind Expansion at all. Other than them shoehorning in a cloud racer attack as a low level ability, this was a missed opportunity. There was a good chance of building some new, interesting Morrowind lore and adding it to cannon. With a bit more work and thought the themes could have been altered to mesh with the Morrowind setting. Alas.
Azura Be Praised
The main plot of the Morrowind Expansion for ESO deals heavily with Lord Vivec and the prophecy of the Nerevarine. Yeah, this all sounds a bit familiar, but none of it seems like a hack job. I loved seeing Lord Vivec, loved learning more about the Living Gods of Morrowind, and diving into Ashlander affairs.
The graphics and appearance of the characters was very well done and the voice acting was perfect. I was so happy with how the plot progressed and – to be fair – my blood got pumping a bit during the final act. There are side quests galore, as is expected with an Elder Scrolls game, and I feel that players will really enjoy the wide variety of things to do in the expansion.
I’m Watching You
In the end, when considering the context, Morrowind is an great tribute to a beloved classic. However, by virtue of being an MMO, it’s going to fall short on the hopes and dreams of many fans looking to rekindle those glory days. While I can not stress enough that ESO has become a game that a player can solo and enjoy, this will not be an immersive single player experience. If you are an MMO fan, but haven’t taken the plunge on ESO yet, this is a great time. If you are an existing ESO player who is a bit bitter that this expansion is not unlocked with your monthly subscription (or able to be purchased with crowns), I guess you need to decide if the 30+ hours of new content is worth it. Personally, I thought it was.
And finally, if you are someone who’s not a fan of MMO’s, you will likely only be entertained for a bit before the shine wears off and you notice all the other kids on the museum tour. In that case, you may want to wait for the large fan project Skywind, which will port Morrowind into the Skyrim Engine.
8/10 – It delivers on what it promised, but the buyer needs to remember they are not buying a single player trip down memory lane. This is an MMO.
Review by Old Man Mordaith aka Josh Smith
Edited by Jesse Roberts