It’s almost been a decade since my first foray into the exotic realm of Morrowind. Having spent hours immersing myself in the intoxicating fantasy world of its sequel Oblivion, I remember browsing through GameStation’s tatty selection of second-hand PC games and having Morrowind leap out at me. Rushing back to my once state-of-the-art desktop computer, I hurriedly installed the game only to abandon it just a couple of hours later. Needless to say, my first experience of Morrowind was tainted having already played the much improved Oblivion.
Although some ten years apart, I had similar misgivings when deciding to give The Elder Scrolls Online for the first time last year. With a love for MMORPGs and more recent entries in the Bethesda series, combining, the two always seemed like a no-brainer. However, with its surprisingly heavy focus on action-based combat and storytelling, playing this wasn’t quite what I had envisioned.
From the outset, I was apprehensive of giving it a second try with The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind, yet there was something drawing me in. For all its bewildering depth and archaic oddities, the one thing that always fascinated me about Morrowind was its bizarre yet enchanting landscapes. In creating the Elder Scrolls universe, Bethesda has always taken established fantasy tropes and then infused them with occasional macabre weirdness.
Having created a new character, you disembark a ship anchored at the town of Seyda Neen. As hazy as my memory is, I couldn’t help but recognise this as being exactly the same opening as in the original Morrowind. It’s a strange, somewhat oppressive land, pockmarked by erupting volcanoes and overgrown with gargantuan fungal growths. As far as fantasy settings go, there’s nothing quite like it. Stranger still are many of its inhabitants, the common folk seemingly oblivious to their otherworldly surroundings.
As you begin to explore the region of Vvardenfell, you’ll be drawn towards the expansion’s main storyline. This brings you to Vivec City, named after one of three demi-gods that preside over this corner of Tamriel. Sensing that his powers are starting to wane, he enlists your help to restore them.
When I first played The Elder Scrolls Online, I couldn’t connect with the storylines at all, but something clicked in Morrowind. Vivec’s plight and its web of subplots had me wanting to explore and learn more about Morrowind, The Tribunal, The Ashlanders, and various other concepts and factions.
The only slight drawback here is how the story is framed, butting against the traditional storytelling route most MMOs follow. As “The Outlander” you are portrayed as Morrowind’s heroic saviour but at times that’s hard to believe when constantly surrounded by players being told exactly the same thing.
That’s perhaps my biggest gripe with Morrowind and TESO as a whole. While there are PvP battlegrounds, dungeons, and raids, its core PvE story-driven content feels more like a singleplayer Elder Scrolls game. Where MMOs often cram in as little dialogue as possible, here you can spends a good half hour or so talking to NPCs with not so much as a scuffle or swordfight in between. Still, the constant presence of other players running around gives the illusion that this is an intrinsically multiplayer experience
That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities to team up or against other groups of players. The One Tamriel update broke down barriers between levels, so you can team up with anybody and face an appropriate level of difficulty. Morrowind brings even more ways to do so with new dungeons, raids, and an arena-style PvP arena with quick fire modes such as team deathmatch and capture the flag.
There’s also a new player class known as the Warden – the first class to be added since TESO launched back in 2014. Combining a menagerie of arcane powers, the Warden offers three skill trees that form a fairly versatile range of play styles. Winter’s Embrace includes a spread of protective spells that can be used to soak up damage. Meanwhile, Green Balance calls upon natural elements to heal you and your allies, whether directly or by creating safe havens. Finally there are Animal Companion skills, temporarily spawning creatures to inflict damage and various debuffs. As an extension to this, you can summon a bear that will follow you around, automatically attacking targets and generally helping to draw attention away from you.
Playing as the Warden is fun and never limits you to one particular combat role. Again, this feels like another line drawn between TESO and singleplayer Elder Scrolls games, being able to tailor your character without subscribing to your typical warrior/rogue/wizard or tank/healer/damage archetypes. When playing through the expansion’s PvE content, I never felt ill-equipped even if the hairiest of battles, being able to change tactics and loadouts on-the-fly.
Really, there’s two ways of looking at Morrowind. For existing fans of the series, there’s a new continent to explore that’s teeming with side quests wrapped around an engaging storyline. For some, simply being able to step foot in this part of Tamriel once again justifies the pricetag.
For complete newcomers and lapsed players such as myself, Morrowind is an opportunity to discover The Elder Scrolls Online at its peak. Having shed its subscription-based model quite some time ago, buying into TESO is just like picking up any other modern-day RPG albeit with a multiplayer twist. That said, although ever-present there’s nothing stopping you from ignoring the mass of other adventurers surrounding you and tackling this as you would with Oblivion or Skyrim.
Overall, it’s a great expansion and one that doesn’t feel needlessly bloated, concentrated within a single area while adding new features elsewhere. However, if The Elder Scrolls Online hasn’t already won you over, Morrowind isn’t likely to tip you over the edge. Although Tamriel is now a second home to many online players, the way TESO straddles the line between MMOs and traditional Elder Scrolls games simply won’t do it for others.