Anthology: A Return to Vvardenfell
Marking my second entry into my very own Anthology series of articles, I take a look back at The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and all its glory.
From the moment you wake up on the boat to the last few steps up Red Mountain, Morrowind is a game with a special place in my heart. It had the right balance of seriousness, comedy, and moral ambiguity. With Skyrim recently released, I notice many returns to the days of Morrowind. The Morrowind had the grand vistas, the epic feel, the rough terrain, but nothing feels more like a return than the feeling that you are truly someone special. Not just some person caught by the winds of fate and thrust into matters with which they must deal, but a person with a real destiny, a place where they need to be. Morrowind had a lighter side to offer as well, though the comedy wasn’t hidden in caves or darkened ruins, it was in the open for all to see.
One of my most memorable moments from Morrowind was the event encountered on road north from Seyda Neen, a man falling from the sky. Upon searching the body – as any true adventurer would – you discover a few Scrolls of Icarian Flight. If you know you Greek mythology, this spells trouble from the beginning, but it’s just a game. The scrolls have Fortify Acrobatics by 1000 for seven seconds, a large fortification for such a short time. Now, in Morrowind there were a great number of skills and they were governed by attributes like Strength, Intelligence, or Endurance and they could be fortified though potions, enchantments, and spells but there was no limit on the duration or power of the fortification that could be achieved. Thus, by fortifying the skill Acrobatics – in control of jump height and resistance to fall damage – by 1000 points, the distance one could jump was vast. Everyone makes that jump, but it takes longer than the seven seconds, and there in lies the problem. The fortification runs out before you land. For players unfortunate enough to not be aimed at water, their lives end in the same manner as the original owner of the scrolls, a crumpled corpse on the ground. I like to think that another poor adventurer would come along and repeat the process. Hilarious as that may be, it is not the least of the ridiculousness brought by Morrowind.
The Daedric shrine of Sheogorath, sends you on a quest for the mythic Fork of Horripilation, to be used to kill a Giant Bull Neitch. Looking for some grand Daedric artifact may lead many to overlook its resting place, sitting beside the plate on the dinner table. There is a Khajiit named M’aiq that stands on a rock, with some other rocks. The interesting thing is, he lies. From invisible dragons to weresharks, he tells many lies, but his lies are not all false. He mentions that the mudcrabs have all the money, and it is true, for the best merchant in the game is after all the Talking Mudcrab. With a 10 000 septim purse and a buy/sell multiplier of one, I unloaded countless Daedric Daggers – worth 2000 each – to buy and sell back and forth to empty my inventory.
On a more serious aspect, one feature of Morrowind that I don’t exactly miss, though something could be said for it was the utter lack of forgiveness for killing. In Skyrim, there are people who are crucial to the plot, and as such those people are gods. Whether you roast them in the fire of a thousand suns or beat them for hours with a pickaxe, they will never die. In Morrowind, you were able to kill anyone, even vital plot characters, with the game kindly informing you to reload a save if wish to continue your game. Even the half-black half-gold floating-four-feet-off-the-floor demigod Vivic was not immune to a good ol’ face stabbing. Even though a quest item was eventually obtained from Vivic, that doesn’t stop you from killing him and claiming it from his corpse, or obtaining a second item if you had already received one though more civilized means. There were guards whose armour when worn would enrage fellow guards into hunting you down. There were choices such as whether to free the slaves, or helping the honourably ending the life of a warrior.
While both Oblivion and Skyrim have the ability to become a vampire, Morrowind had entire vampire plots lines. Instead of a few vampires hiding in a cave, Vvardenfell was the home to three complete clans of vampire, and the clan from which you contracted Porphyric Hemophilia – which I still hold to be a better disease name than Sanguinare Vampiris – determined your clan. One of the best parts of being a vampire in Morrowind are the dreams. When ever you sleep, which is often considering you really don’t want be waiting around outside, you get a text description of a dream, a really morbid dream. There is something about trying to rest and instead getting a message that you had a dream that your skin was made of glass that shattered when you had to sneeze or waking up paralysed and having to watch yourself being buried, tasting the dirt as it gets in your mouth.
With the recent Skyrim, all the books in-game are available for download via an app on to a tablet, if you own one. This really speaks to the quality they place on in-game books. Even more went into the books of Morrowind, in fact many of the books in Skyrim were in Morrowind. I haven’t taken the time to compare the copies, and in Skyrim the books are a bit blurry due to my SDTV, but the books of Morrowind were compelling reads in themselves. Possibly my favourite series, Poison_Song, tells the tale of a young man who hears music where none exists and the enormous change in his life upon finding a mysterious ring.
Morrowind had a lot of everything: books, quests, locations, walking, but have a vast array of creatures, spells, and weapons created such a diversity in the methods of play. Did you want to use a dagger, short sword, tanto, wakizashi, broadsword, longsword, katana, saber, claymore, daikatana? Well then choose from the plethora of axes, spears, thrown weapons – including throwing stars – , clubs, maces, warhammers, staves, and that is just the common weapons. Add the unique weapons and you need a few houses just to store your stuff. The creatures, ranging from the bane-of-my-existence cliff racer to the dreaded Ascended Sleeper, and all their associated alchemy ingredients left no traveller under burdened.
Although the DLC for Skyrim has yet to be released, I hope that Bethesda again returns to the kind of expansions Morrowind had. It was on Solstheim – an island north of Vvardenfell and east of Skyrim – that I got my first taste of Nord culture, and where I first became a werewolf. In the city of Mournhold – the capital of Morrowind – I met the remainder of the tribunal, Almalexia and Sotha Sil. One the lover of the original Neravar, the other a crazy clockworks genius. Finally enabling the me to fulfill the mission of the Neravarine, to kill the Tribunal. The DLC for Oblivion got on the right track with Nights of the Nine, before releasing the actual expansion Shivering Isles.
By no means was Morrowind flawlessly executed, in fact there were so very many glitches that I still mention it to first time Bethesda gamers complaining about falling through the world. Morrowind has glitches that became legendary exploits, such as the soul trap glitch enabling the permanent casting of spells such as various bound armour, feather, or infinite permanent Golden Saints. As I mentioned before, there was no limit to which stats could be fortified, so creating a Fortify Intelligence potion out of ash yam and bloat, makes you win the game. Intelligence governs Alchemy, so the higher Intelligence you have, the better potions you produce, to the point that you have Intelligence in the billions, with a duration for the rest of your natural life. Creating rings with levitation enchantments so powerful you can just soar around Vvardenfell in the sky, or chameleon, so that you are always invisible.
Some people would say that breaking the game reduces the fun, or that a few would complain that it’s too easy after you use the exploit. I say, if that were true for everyone, do you think people would be creating potions that enhance Enchanting and enchanting armour that enhances Alchemy. For me, Morrowind had the right mix of environments, weapons, creatures, spells, and bugs, with a touch of comedy, stoicism, red-visioned rage, and utter despair.
Morrowind was so addictive and time-consuming that for a lot of people it began to bleed though into their real world lives. Having played for many real-time months in-game before my Xbox hard drive ate itself and my saves as well, I know all too well the feeling of the bleed through effect. Wanting to save before doing things so I can reload if it goes awry or sleeping until the next day because it’s too late to do something today, well that still happens. As does my feeling that businesses should always be open, just in case I need to buy something at 4:00 AM.
On that last point I ask a question of you who have played both Morrowind and Oblivion or Skyrim. Before the release of Oblivion, many people commented that they wished the stores would close at night, that NPCs would wander about granting a more realistic feel to the world. I ask you now, is that realism worth arriving in town between 8:00 PM and 8:00 AM and having the stores closed? Especially since it appears in Skyrim that some shop owners don’t feel like opening on time, yet still promptly close at 8:00 PM. For the next Elder Scrolls game, I say keep some shops open, and just have the proprietor change.