The Altered Scrolls, Part 7: We Make a Special Trip, Just for You

By Rutskarn Posted Saturday Sep 19, 2015

Filed under: Elder Scrolls 149 comments

Sometimes you're at a used bookstore and you pick up an old paperback fantasy novel you've never head of. You're not even sure why you buy itâ€"maybe you like the cover, or the summary on the back was well written, or it’s on-sale for something confrontationally cheap like a nickel or a petition signature. Nothing grandiose. Nothing you can really point to later.

You don't read it right away, because it's not that kind of purchaseâ€"you just throw it onto the backseat of your car and forget about it for a couple days. Later you're getting out of your car and you remember to bring it in and put it on your desk. Then one day you sit down with your lunch, realize you left the Comic History of the Peleponnenisan War you'd been reading at homeâ€"and with nothing else to read, you grab the old paperback and flip to page one. You put the book down on page seventy. From that lunch break onwards, you’re pushing through this book like it’s your job.

It's goodâ€"but it's not really that it's good. It's that it's weird.

The hero is born in a village that isn't burned down by orcs. Magic rules are patterned around some obscure historical mystic tradition that doesn't comfortably conform to established conventions or even vocabularyâ€"spellcasters aren't wizards, but byrzkars, and that's somehow relevant instead of annoying. Elves aren't haughty fey, which would be cliche, or evil celestial beings, which would be edgy clicheâ€"they're some third choice that doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything anyone's done with elves before. But it works. It feels alive and organic and fresh and you find yourself transported–and why should you be surprised at that, when transport is supposedly the aim of fantasy? How jaded were you–and how has this book gotten past it?

It's kind of like you showed up to watch a stringed instrument contest. For hours you hear everything from Jim Croce acoustic guitar to twanging Southern six-string riffs to wailing glamrock solos to doom-shaken death metal crunch. And just when you're trying to figure out where on the sliding scale of soft folksy guitar to ear-splitting electric guitar your tastes lie, some guy comes on with a cello and effortlessly changes the context of the entire show. That paperback fantasy novel probably won't end up being your favorite ever. It may not be the first book you recommend to people. You may not even seek out other work by that author. But years later, if you come across the spine of that book on your shelf, it'll all come rushing back. For better or for worse, that book was different enough to stick with you to the grave.

Give it time, and that's exactly what Morrowind is. It may not be your favorite videogame, but give it time and something about it will crawl into your brain and refuse to leave.

This is Jiub. He says seven fairly obvious sentences and disappears from the game forever. Somehow--through that single red eye, that raspy voice, that mottled skin--he sets the scene in a way that still gives me chills.
This is Jiub. He says seven fairly obvious sentences and disappears from the game forever. Somehow--through that single red eye, that raspy voice, that mottled skin--he sets the scene in a way that still gives me chills.

TES I: Arena was about making the player feel like a hero. TES II: Daggerfall was about making a world that felt real and functional and full of opportunity. TES III: Morrowind was not about making a world that felt real, per se, but a world that immersed you despite being manifestly unreal. Everything about the game contributed to making the feeling of inhabiting its alien, hostile world as complete and captivating as possible.

On the face of itâ€"that might sound like a similar goal to Daggerfall’s. In practice, they could hardly be more different. Daggerfall creates verisimilitude by simulating the sameyness of civilization, procedurally generating vast chunks of territory so that as in life, one town is superficially like another. Morrowind creates verisimilitude by featuring specificityâ€"making each place feel like its own location with its own purpose, history, and personality. Both are valid approaches, but Daggerfall gives the player a sense of cynical world-weary monotony where Morrowind constantly engages the player to examine their surroundings. It presents a fantasy world that is far removed from any real-life cultures or faiths, a world populated by entirely fictitious fauna, a world where there's a new made-up word for every concept and creature and political position, a world where even the food is unfamiliarâ€"and makes it work without a single misstep.

This is the first town in the game. It feels wet, old, rural, colonized, and real.
This is the first town in the game. It feels wet, old, rural, colonized, and real.

Even now, the vocabulary that should sound obtuse and ridiculous stirs me deeply. Ash yams. Silt striders. Almsivi. I can see the blight-choked winds rustling a row of roughspun banners. Telvanni. Nerevarine. Kagouti. A mournful wail of some unknown, unseen creature warbles over cracked hills. Shalk. Kwama. Indoril. The sun sets over the canals of Vivec. Bonemold. Flin. Saltrice. The gravely, unkind voice of an impatient old pilgrim stings your ears as you take to the road. All of it is sold by the matter-of-fact, deliberate way it is laid out within the gameworld. All of it just works.

Morrowind is my favorite Elder Scrolls game.

I understand every complaint everyone’s ever made about it.

Before we get to the good part of Morrowind, we're going to have to do what plenty of people very reasonably failed to do: suffer through its bullshit. Like its predecessors, Morrowind was as approachable as the rotted feral zombie of a terrorist skunk.

This is a temple. This is a god damn temple, right here.
This is a temple. This is a god damn temple, right here.

And it really must be emphasized that Morrowind’s problems were nothing new for the series. In so many gameplay areas it made marked improvements from the last games that just so happened to be–as is universal throughout this series’ history–at least five years behind everyone else. The interface was busy and content-dense and was completely unsuited to the Xbox, which it launched on to some aplomb–but it was an improvement from the decentralized and intractable pages squeezed into the first two games’ resolutions. The journal that tracked quests and topics was a joke, but at least it was comprehensive and helpfully hyperlinked, unlike in Daggerfall and Arena where the journals felt haphazard, incomplete, and painful to sift. And yes, there wasn't a lot of in-game instruction to teach players just what the fuck the difference between Absorb Health, Damage Health, and Drain Health was supposed to be, but at least now when you cast the spell you could sort of figure it out from cues in the health bar (admittedly patched in) and enemy noises. So for accessibility Morrowind rates a solid, “Shows improvement,” unless you aren't an apologist fan trying to put your inability to criticize a good game into context, in which case it continues to rate the rotted feral zombie of a terrorist skunk.

Let's talk about combat.

Remember that Arena and Daggerfall were both 2.5D adventures. Your weapon was a pixelated graphic that swiped awkwardly across the screenâ€"an abstract gesture that meant you were rolling the dice to hit and it was time for [insert second-wave fantasy monster cliche] to roll to defend. The game had no further ambitions because it had no further resources; unless combat was to be a very straightforward and predictable slog, hitting and missing had to be matters of probability for every RPG of the era.

But Morrowind did not debut in that era. This was not the age of 2.5D and abstract warfare-by-accountant. Now it was 2002â€"the year of Two Towers and Wind Waker and Jedi Outcast all bringing gritty fantasy slugfests to the table. Now that Morrowind had triumphantly ditched its procedural corridors and sprite of a Caucasian fist for actual 3D models it was time to cast aside the crutches of the old and make Elder Scrolls combat into kinetic, bone-crunching brawling the series is now known for. Or so one would think. Evidently they disagreed, because the underlying mechanic is still murder-by-accountant with no allowance for the new engine. It's very possible to be pointing your sword or spear or bow right at an enemy, unleash an attack that clearly contacts their fleshâ€"and get nothing but the audible whiff of a complete miss. And when I say it's “possible,” I mean, “that is absolutely what is going to happen nearly all the time until you've got some points in a skill.” The only innovation was to make weapons swing when you click the mouse button instead of when you click and drag it, which was not so much an “innovation,” because everyone knew damn well that was a good idea when Arena came out and it was pure cussedness that kept the click-and-drag system in place so long.

Oh, and this is what a character sheet looks like. That's inventory, health/magicka/fatigue, class information, rank information, general statistics, spells and abilities, skills and stats, your map--crowded? Nah, it's fine. Just click and drag and resize the windows. That never gets old.
Oh, and this is what a character sheet looks like. That's inventory, health/magicka/fatigue, class information, rank information, general statistics, spells and abilities, skills and stats, your map--crowded? Nah, it's fine. Just click and drag and resize the windows. That never gets old.

Magic is pretty much like it was in previous entries. Every time you try to cast a spell, you've got a chance of failure. Players starting the game with as many magical advantages as possible will nevertheless encounter countless early-game situations where they will go to cast a spell, eat the (steep, in the early game) expense of Magicka, and watch the thing fizzle out entirely. After which they will pretty generally be beaten to death by whatever they were fighting.

That’s the problem in general. Random chances of failure suck when they’re so steep in the early game and everything you do amounts to shit. So many people's first game went like:

I can play whatever I want? Awesome! I'm gonna be a badass wandering knight in full metal armor who alternates between splitting foes' skulls with a two-handed blade and roasting them with fire. And hey, it's actually really easy to take all the skills and stats I need to make that build work as well as possible. This adventure's gonna be awesome!

So…wait, what was I supposed to be doing? Let me check the journal. This…is my journal, right? I think it wants me to click thisâ€"oh, no, that's a list of topics. Uh…is one of these relevant to what I wanted to do? I can't figure out how to switch it back. Well, never mind. I'll go buy my stuff and figure that out later.

Got my spells, got my armor, got my sword. Can't really figure out how this map works, and I accidentally pinned it to my screen so it's up even when I'm in-game, but no matter! The pressing issue is, there's a big ol' rat over there looking plump and lootable. Kind of a meager foe, but it'll let me figure out the controls so I can move on to some real…

Ow, okay, this rat is really nailing me.

Okay. How do I get my sword out…? Oh, there we go. Now, taking a swing…did I miss? How did I miss? Okay, swinging again. *whhfff* And again. *whfff* And again. *whffff* And againâ€"there we go, I hit it! But I did minimum damage, I guess, so it's stillâ€"okay, now I'm dead.

That…really didn't take as long as I thought it would. I mean, I personally am not wearing any armor at all, and I'm pretty sure it would take a rat longer than that to bite me to death, but what do I know? Let's try that again. Casting a firebolt at the rat…oh, the spell fizzled. Oh, he's coming over. Oh, the spell fizzled again. And now I'm dead. Again.

Is this part of the game’s charm? An intrinsic component of its (many and profound) successes? Not really. It’s a few bad decisions compounded by some overly-trusting game design and the puny and unworthy aesthetic of early enemies. And you know something?

If they’d done this part just a little bit better, I think a lot of complaints about later games in the franchise could have been avoided.



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149 thoughts on “The Altered Scrolls, Part 7: We Make a Special Trip, Just for You

  1. Bubble181 says:

    It is still strange, to me, to see an admitted RPG fan dislike fighting-by-accountant. As shown in, say, to take a random game example not at all influenced by this page, KOTOR, it can work perfectly well. Your actual skill at hitting something is not at all important – your odds of hitting are determined by your *character’s* skills, not those of the player. As is true in Daggerfall, or Morrowind. As it should be. All these modern day RPGs where I’m supposed to actually be able to do something myself are not what I like about this sort of game. I’m utterly incapable of pointing my mouse at the same spot twice in a row – but if my *character’s* a super-capable bad-ass swordslinger, he’ll still make mincemeat out of the enemy. If he’s a wimpy mage, hitting things with a sword’ll go badly. As it should. A game can tell me all it wants that my character – say, Shepard – is a military super soldier. If *I* have to actually hit stuff, she’s going to suck at combat and die a whole lot. Blegh.

    That aside, as I’ve noted on your blog before, I’m still an eternal Daggerfall fanboy – but Morrowind’s my second favorite, because of the atmosphere and, as pointed out in this post, its….uniqueness. No other RPG or game has managed to capture that, for me, to quite the same degree.

    1. Ivan says:

      I also do not have an objection to “fighting via accountant” but after hearing about Morrowind’s system I would much prefer that the game stopped pretending that my input mattered and give me something like the original Guild Wars. In GW I would click on a dude, hit an attack and my dude would run into range, launch the attack and then go on to auto-attack. If the enemy moved I would automatically chase after it as well. There was no ambiguity and no impression that your skill as a player mattered as your character is essentially on auto-pilot for the duration of the fight (ignoring the fact that you have skills to trigger that que up behind the auto-attacks).

      While the combat technically takes place in real time it effectively functions more like turn based combat, which is where the accountants make the most sense.

      1. Squirly says:

        That only really works because those games, like KOTOR, are third-person tactical games. Morrowind and the TES series are first-person, and at that point you have to make considerations to how you do the accounting. I’m also more of a fan of differentiating the player from the character in RPGs, but in a more visceral game where you are directly controlling a character, that line becomes blurry.

        TES 4 and 5 did away with dice-rolling for hitting and made it entirely based on the damage you deal, and that’s somewhat superior, if not ideal. You end up running into the issue where it’s also very easy to trick the game and take advantage of that, and not in a good role-playing fashion either. Instead of finding a high-level scroll that allows you to take out an opponent way above your level, instead you’re standing on an inaccessible spot where the enemy can’t reach you, peppering him with your 100% sure to hit iron arrows or firebolt spell. It feels off, compared to getting hold of a staff of Summon Storm Atronach at level 5 through luck or know-how.

        That’s also why they implemented the system where they level enemies and items according to the character (only slightly turned down in Skyrim), because allowing you to find a powerful sword early on would completely ruin a game like Oblivion.

        1. Kerethos says:

          I remember the fighting by accountant as being one of the most frustrating parts of Morrowind, especially in the early game. Where I could swear I shot that enemy dead center in the chest 5 times in a row. Yet, somehow, all my shots missed.

          It’s beyond frustrating. It’s infuriating to miss because of RNG, when I clearly hit the enemy I aimed at, repeatedly. It becomes less of an issue once your skills get higher ““ obviously ““ but I’m glad they dropped it.

          And it's not that rolls and such can’t work. They're great for some games, but it depends on the perspective on what you're doing.

          If I'm not directly controlling a single character, from a first person perspective, and only really order my character to perform certain actions, or say certain things, then rolls are a good way to determine the outcome of the characters actions, because it's all up to the character. I'm not performing the action.

          But if I'm the one performing the action, if I'm the one who aimed that shot right at the enemy's head, then it's infuriating when the game is essentially negating my action. It feels like the game is basically slapping me across the face and saying “Fuck you – you miss! Why? Because I say so, bitch. Now watch my awesome rat kill you, because I won't let you hit it”.

          That feels awful, like “why do I even bother with this, if most of what I do doesn't matter? If I can aim right at an enemy and still miss, why do I even have to aim?” It feels pointless to even have me give that input then, because most of the time it is pointless.

          1. Bubble181 says:

            See, this is the disconnect. *You”re* not missing. Your character is. I admit, the input is pretty much pointless… but so is setting your character “just so” in KOTOR. I’m not saying the Morrowind system is perfect – I just do’nt really get the amounts of hate it always gets. Just because it’s first person doesn’t mean it’s suddenly “you” doing the fighting.

            1. Syal says:

              The thing is, there’s no auto-lock in Morrowind like there is in KOTOR. You, the player, have to attack in the right direction from the right distance before you have a chance of hitting (which is especially hard with arrows that drop off), and then once you do that your character’s chance of hitting is still like one in four. It’s not fighting-by-accountant, it’s fighting-by-filing-the-proper-forms-that-the-accountant-must-then-approve. It’s the worst of both worlds.

              1. Felblood says:

                It really is the worst of both worlds.

                If you attempt and attack and *you* miss, your attack fails and does nothing.

                If *you* hit, there is still the chance for your character’s inept fumbling to cause a miss and negate the attack.

                Your character will always be worse at this game than you are, which is particularly frustrating when you are just starting out with it.

            2. Raygereio says:

              I just do'nt really get the amounts of hate it always gets.

              Because Random Number Generators hate you. And people who realize that hate it in return.
              I played a landed Supply Barge map in XCom once. I spotted a group of Mutons who in a standard shootout would likely wipe my team out. So I spend over an hour carefully manouvering my team around and positioning so that I’d have flanks on everyone. I spring the trap. My assault has a 100% chance to hit.
              And he misses. That displayed 100% was actually something like 99,6% internally. But the second guy takes another 100% shot and he does hit. But doesn’t kill his target and the Muton uses intimidate. My guy fails his will check and panicks. The guy next to him panicks because the first guy panicked. The guy next to him panicks as well. Etc. Result: Next turn the enitre team got killed.
              Now, any XCom player will respond to that with “That’s XCom”. But that’s not the point. What happened there was the game’s RNG deciding: “Oh, all that time and effort you put into this? Fuck you.” and that’s a problem.

              I’m pretty sure RNGs in videogames are a thing because they tried to emulate PnP RPGs and boardgames. But in a well run PnP RPG you don’t always roll the dice. A good GM wont go “Okay, you try to jump over the fence. Roll your dice. Ah, a 1. Well, you stumble and break your neck. Your dead.’. There are situations where the GM will let the player do something awesome or mundane without leaving the result up to chance.
              And that nuance is lost in videogames and instead you roll those dice all the time. Resulting in annoyance because the RNG can decide to steal your moment of awesome, or decide that you fail at a mundane action.

              1. Ivan says:

                I’ve heard someone say that XCOM is a game about risk mitigation. You need a plan, then you need a backup plan for when plan A goes sideways. That said, what you experienced is super unlucky (if it’s any consolation) but could be prevented with the right preparation. Having a dude with the steadfast perk (can’t panic) and giving him/her smoke grenades might have helped depending on your cover situation.

                That said, I’ve never been able to decide if I liked the intimidate mechanic. I mean I shoot you and then I panic? I think it also triggers off of grenades and rockets. So the only answers are, kill them in one shot, engage from squadsight range, use steadfast, or pray that the wrong people/the entire squad, doesn’t panic.

                1. Decius says:

                  It’s recursive risk management. Not only do you take steps to reduce the chances of a wipe, you also take steps to reduce the severity of a wipe (by having experienced agents back at base).

                  Risk is one of the resources that you manage, and not being able to quantify it is part of what makes XCOM interesting.

                  1. Michael says:

                    Or, alternately, risk becomes a resource you can balance intuitively, and the game becomes much less interesting as a result.

                    1. Decius says:

                      You’ve got to know when to hold
                      know when to fold
                      know when to walk away
                      and know when to run.

                      Training intuition is fun for me.

                    2. Michael says:

                      Yeah, it’s fun to learn it, but once you know exactly how everything shakes out in XCOM, the game loses a lot. I mean, that might be the definition of first world gamer problems, but, it is kinda disappointing when it finally happens. Because the actual risk management is so simple.

            3. Daemian Lucifer says:

              This is why it gets the hate:If you miss by turning your head slightly in the wrong direction,the rng wont turn that into a hit no matter how much you boost up your abilities.But if you hit the enemy square on,the rng will sometimes turn it into a miss.So you not only have to boost your skills in game,you have to boost your skills outside the game.The system amplifies your misses.

              Compare it to other stuff that uses something similar,for example mass effect 1.You get a reticule,and your bullets can hit anywhere in it.The more skill you have,smaller the reticule.But if you go all up into the enemy and they cover the whole reticule,you will not miss.Which is much more fair.

              1. Abnaxis says:

                That’s actually a really good point–the problem isn’t the randomness, but how the randomness is portrayed to the player.

                People are willing to accept an imperfect reticule, because they can see and understand when it misses. Further, I would bet that if you randomized damage based on character skill* people would be less inclined to be upset, even if their overall damage output didn’t change. It’s all still random, it’s just not abstracted-out randomness.

                Now I want to see if it’s possible to mod Morrowind to work this way…

                *Pro-tip for designers who think in PnP terms: for same-skill players, X damage with a Y chance (in decimal, so 50%=.5) roughly corresponds to a X*Y midpoint damage with a sqrt(12*X*Y*(1-Y)) range, if you want to convert between a system of X% misses and a system that does random damage on every hit. It’s ugly math, but this is why I’m suggesting this for a computer game instead of a PnP game…

            4. Ysen says:

              Except it is you doing the fighting because if you don’t aim your attack accurately, it doesn’t connect, even if your character is the best fighter in the world. The system itself isn’t really sure whether it wants combat to be based on player skill or character skill.

              It also looks pretty silly when you swing a sword directly through someone’s torso and it “misses”. I think people may have found the system less frustrating if it were framed differently – for example if your opponent defended and there was a parry/dodge animation instead of you “missing”. At least that would explain why attacks aimed directly at enemies don’t connect. It also changes the narrative from “my character is literally so incompetent they cannot hit a stationary target directly in front of them” to “my character isn’t a good enough fighter to overcome my opponent’s defence”.

              Another problem is that d you gain skill only on a success, which can make training your combat skills a bit erratic when they’re very low. If they went up when you missed at least you’d get something out of it when you miss a dozen times and then have to run away or use a scroll to bail yourself out.

          2. Peter H. Coffin says:

            You’d think they’d at least be able to animate the miss too, since it’s probably being calculated at the BEGINNING of the animation rather than the end. An arrow wobbling off to the side is entirely realistic. Enemy ducking or jumping back to create even a “right-there melee miss” is plausible. There’s lots of ways to make it happen in a not-enraging way.

            1. Decius says:

              The hit/miss can only be calculated at or after hit detection occurs. If you swing a sword and three different creatures are on the map, you can’t calculate hit or miss until you know which one was targeted. Normally that happens at the end of the animation, so that if you run up on someone while swinging you hit, and if you swing at somebody who is stationary while backing up, you don’t hit them.

        2. Ivan says:

          Well there’s the problem right there. The words “visceral” and “accountant” do not go together. If you want to go first person and focus on the action then getting rid of as many dice rolls as you can is a good thing. If you want or need to have those dice rolls for whatever reason then I would be very surprised if you managed to pull off anything visceral, and you’re far better off pulling back to the 3rd person and encouraging tactical decisions.

          As for players cheesing, well all they need is a jump button to be able to do that. Even if your arrows are roll to hit, it really doesn’t matter if the player has found a spot where they’re untouchable. Eventually they’ll get enough rolls in their favor and kill it.

        3. Trevel says:

          FYI: Morrowind has level-scaling. They just did it a lot better than they did in Oblivion.

          For example, the weapons that Dremora have will depend on your level. The higher level you are, the better weapons they can end up with — which means harder fights and better spoils. The loot in some caves will go from petty soul gems to grand. The world DOES level with you.

          They did it badly in Oblivion, in part because you could jump anywhere in the world easily (and thus the world didn’t slowly unfold about you the way it tends to in Morrowind, at least when I played it) and because a summoned daedra with a stronger weapon is very different from a bandit in tough, fancy gear.

          We’re used to worlds getting more difficult as you explore them; Oblivion got more difficult when you came back home.

          1. Decius says:

            Each area in Morrowind has a minimum and maximum level for each leveled object, and it varies sensibly. The sensible variation is more important than the leveling.

    2. Leo says:

      Does all direct combat bother you, or is that only the case when you feel there is a mismatch between the character you are supposedly playing and your own ability to live up to that image?

      For example, would you be bothered by an RPG with direct combat where you started out with a very limited moveset and then unlocked moves throughout the game, so that the character is improving at combat (unlocks new moves) and you are improving at a similar rate because you are given time to learn the game’s combat step by step and aren’t forced to be proficient at it right off the bat?

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Direct combat doesn’t necessarily bother me – it’s a matter of the type of game you’re playing and what you’re expecting. Jade Empire works perfectly fine for me, and is quite similar to what you describe :)

        1. Leo says:

          Your comments helped me understand this issue better. I don’t enjoy dice based combat at all but now I know a legitimate argument for it, whereas before I had no idea why anyone would want it outside of pen-and-paper RPGs.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The problem isnt really in the numbers.The problem is when you try to make a hybrid,where you are asked to point your mouse and attack,but at the same time it doesnt matter how precise you were,because you can still miss.

      In kotor you just que up an action,and your character does the rest,based on how you built them,and thats fine.

      In mass effect,you use your mouse skill to shoot at the enemy,and based on your skill you hit them or not,and thats also fine.

      In morrowind,you use your mouse to stab them,but no matter how skillful you are,if your build wasnt good enough you miss,and if your build is perfect but your mouse skill wasnt good enough,you miss as well,and thats not fine.

      1. Christopher says:

        Damien and Squirly both mentioned problems I have with that kind of combat. It’s better the more abstract it is, and the less direct control you have. When you do control it and feel as though you’re directly responsible and not just giving orders, it’s so frustrating to miss, whether it’s Dragon Age or Valkyria Chronicles. There’s plenty of directly controlled games that do make numbers matter without making the actual mechanics dicerolls.

        Having said that, it’s not like Skyrim has amazing combat.

    4. Bropocalypse says:

      Hell no, I hate random miss chances in video games. Especially if ostensibly I’m the only aiming, my aim should MATTER beyond the choice between “aiming at nothing” and “aiming at something and still missing.”
      In any case, I think ‘role playing game’ is a borderline empty appellation when it comes to video games. For a game to involve actual role playing, you need to have a system in place that allows for you to act upon the guidelines of a given personality. And games like Mass Effect where the choice is binary and mostly cosmetic is kind of a cop-out. Besides the obvious freeformality of tabletop gaming, the only series I’ve seen come close is about half the games bearing the name of Fallout.

    5. Rutskarn says:

      I understand your perspective, and I’ll go into why specifically in the next bit–suffice it to say, using an RNG for first-person combat breaks my character-player connection in a particularly pernicious and frustrating way.

      But I will say that even as a tabletop gamer my love for letting stats and dice decide things is far from constant. I’ve got a bit of the old-school bug in me where sometimes–not for every campaign, but every once in a while–I prefer to let player creativity and cleverness trump the numbers on the character sheet for a while. With computer RPGs, I’m equally happy to let my kinetic control of the character sub in for whatever the game says my capabilities are.

      I do hate half-measures, though. Deus Ex is fine–I’m fine with worse aiming reticules, that doesn’t frustrate me or break my immersion–but games like Borderlands that calculate damage on a wide spectrum and leave you pumping lead impotently into enemies more often than not really grind my beans.

    6. Chauzuvoy says:

      The problem I had with Morrowind was that it wasn’t just stat-based dicerolls like KoTOR. It was an unwieldy fusion of that and oblivion-style hack-n-slash. It looks like a first-person action game, and there’s no direct reference to the abstraction at work. KoTOR has a third-person perspective, health bars above enemies, menus with your various actions, and damage numbers popping up to show you what the dice-roll system has been throwing you. Morrowind has none of that, so the system IS abstracted, but doesn’t LOOK abstracted. The upshot of this is that when you line up and visually connect perfectly but hear that dreaded “whiff” sound, it doesn’t feel like you rolled poorly OR you played wrong, it feels like the game has crappy hit detection.

  2. Corsair says:

    The problem is that Morrowind has, Buffalo Bill style, made itself an action RPG suit while underneath it’s still Daggerfall. At least when you send your character to attack in KotoR and they whiff they are actually seen to whiff. There’s nothing quite like going into third person in Morrowind and -seeing your sword go through the enemy’s body- to no effect.

  3. Daedalist says:

    This was my experience of Morrowind. I really wanted to like the game, but its dense and nonsensical UI and unforgiving combat system seemed out to get me in a way that a first-time Rolemaster GM could only dream of.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      Me too.

      Especially coming to it after playing Oblivion and Skyrim and expecting something similar.

      “Boy, it sure took a long time to install those mods that everyone said were a good idea. Oh, cool, a game where you make your character by answering questions about your personality. I’ll answer that and that and that… So now I’m a spellsword or something – so I’m equally good with both weapons and magic? That sounds fun. Now I’m on the main quest. Obviously I’ll ignore that and go exploring.

      “OK, I’m fighting a critter that lives on the borders of the starter town. I can’t seem to hit it. And I’ve taken damage. Fortunately I took a healing spell. Why isn’t my magicka replenishing? Run away!

      “Phew, I made it. So now I need to sleep before I can recover enough to fight another battle? And the inn is too expensive? And in order to get my stats up to be good enough to kill anything I’ll presumably have to fight hundreds of battles, because that’s the Elder Scrolls way, but since I can’t win a battle, that seems impossible.

      “Well, maybe it will make more sense if I do some quests. Hey, there’s a big weird city thing here. I’ll explore it and talk to some people. Boy, this place is a bit empty. Hey, an unattended bedroll! Finally I can heal!

      “…OK it’s been three hours and I still haven’t done any meaningful adventuring. I’m done.”

      1. Nidokoenig says:

        Yeah, best advice I can give for Morrowind is to start by taking a Silt Strider to Balmora, talk to people, pick up quests, rob them blind and spend the spoils on some combat training. Make sure to take ten points in spear, medium or heavy armour per level until you max Endurance and thus HP gain. Also, the cheapest method for restoring magicka is getting blind 0-intelligence drunk.

        Or more simply, forget combat as a primary activity and relegate it to an occasional problem solver.

        1. Decius says:

          Most of that introduction is fed to the player; right down to taking the silt strider to Balmora and being directed into the thieves’ guild.

  4. Squirly says:

    Morrowind is also my favorite TES game, if not my favorite cRPG. So much was right on the money in this, and I was one of the biggest disappointed fans when Oblivion landed. I went from ecstatic to morose and bored within the span of a few days, as the superficial awesomeness wore off and the flaws and regressions started becoming obvious.

    Morrowind did so much more to create a world, and Oblivion, in it’s attempts to “streamline” went way over-board and off in the other direction. I don’t think Bethesda has ever hit a sweet spot where everything works and the game as a whole shines, it’s only ever been really great in some departments, and god-awful in others.

  5. 4th Dimension says:

    I guess I’m the exception but I quite liked the UI, what with the ability to arrange it as I saw fit. Admittedly I played it after a lot of patches but journal too wasn’t as problematic. Of course it isn’t as clear as a simple list of quests would have been but it’s usable. And it recorded all the interesting information for your perusal later.

    The combat on the other hand was a mess, until you broke the game through enchantments and good gear. I still remember being killed and killed by that first worm you encounter on teh road. And I died because I too tired making an unexpected mixed character and not having enough points in fighting categories I could actually use. And getting lost in that first Dwarven dungeon on the like second fighter’s guild quest. Afterwards I found out that the thingamajig I came for was in like the first room and my dungeouneering into the depths was unnecessary.

    1. Orillion says:

      I like the UI, too. And every other UI in the series is objectively terrible, so it’s not like the complainers have much to go on. Just keep the four windows in their respective corners and only resize them inward when you NEED them bigger. With the exception of the character stats and skills, which should always be maximized since it’s not that big (and it makes a handy guide of how large to make the other windows normally).

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Oh the UI is pretty dense, especially once things start to pile up (like, your list of spells can become loooong), this is further compounded by the other things Skarn mentioned like the confusing terminology (until you learn it basically by heart) and personally I always found the journal to be a mess (questmods didn’t help). On the other hand I am arriving at it from the point of view of a gamer who often didn’t have a journal or tooltips at all, and sometimes had to do maps on graph paper so it wasn’t anything I couldn’t deal with but I can see this being something of a problem for people used to the modern comforts (and there is nothing wrong with that).

        All that being said because it doesn’t affect me personally I never even thought about how this works for Xbox and when I think about it the idea seems pretty awful (mind you, I suck at controllers). Does it just give you a cursor that you have to move around with the controller when you open the menu?

  6. kikito says:

    I’m strangely eager to hear what you have to say about cliffracers, Rutskarn.

  7. Kazork says:

    I really loved Morrrowind. As said in the post. The unique feel, the places. It was for the first time i realy had the feeling i was visiting a foreign country and had to learn the language and the customs.

    Once i figured out a starting build with wich you could overcome the beginning of the game. I sunk in more hours than any other game.

    All its shortcoming are something i look fondly back to. Things that are perfect are not intressting. And Morrowind is a very very intressting game ;)

    I have never found a game wich gave me this kind of experience not before Morrowind or after.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Morrowind takes a special place in my mind as well.Its the first game that Ive liked,sunk a few actual days in it(meaning Ive played it for more than 48 hours),and then stopped playing it without ever finishing it,never to go back to it again.This is the first time that Ive realized I dont really like open world games the same like structured games,but rather I like dicking around in them for a while until I get my fill and can comfortably stop.

    Also the jumping scrolls.One of the bast (sort of)random gags Ive seen in a game.

    1. Squirly says:

      Not just a gag, but also a way to show new players the size of the map. You’d basically find them, try them out and die in the process, but not before you see thousands of square kilometers rushing by below you.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        You would die only if you didnt read the notes about them.If you did,you would execute two perfect hops and end up somewhere you have no idea how to get out from.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          I think it was a great device overall. It was funny and memorable, it was also showing the player that yes, there are strange effects in the game that will kill you. Then, once you figured out how to use the scrolls you got several leaps that could help you cut the distance but the limited number was more of a tease and encouragement to explore the mechanics and be creative for other potentially useful effects.

  9. Da Mage says:

    Morrowind does the important thing of not only adding is ‘weird’ stuff for the sake of it, but adding depth to each of the weird ‘things’ so after a while they no longer feel weird.

    You have the Kagouti, and a quest all about their mating rituals. Silt Strider are not just a beasty in the world, but provide travel and lore to the game. Nearly every creature in Morrowind is both unique and at the same time fit is as if there was no other choice. That is what makes the game feel so good. The whole structure of the Kwama is ineresting, then there is a whole industry built around them aswell….it all makes sense and is so rich to learn about… me some Kwama.

    In Skyrim you have something like a Draugr….which is just a zombie. That’s a boring name change, not ‘edgy’. Hell, it’s even lore unfriendly, since in Morrowind a Draugr was actually a undeadish cannibal monster. Just naming things weird is useless unless you also back them up with interesting depth on why they aren’t just a mook to kill.

  10. Matt Downie says:

    Anyone got any suggestions for fantasy novels of the sort mentioned?
    I remember as a youngling reading Jack Vance (Dying Earth) and Gene Wolfe (Book of the New Sun) and liking the way they used made up words (or, more often, little-known archaic words like deodand or destrier) in an unobtrusive manner.

    1. djw says:

      All of the weird words in Book of the New Sun are actually in the English language (just not very common). I’m not sure about Dying Earth, but I have found that reading Jack Vance did more to increase my vocabulary than just about any author that I have encountered.

    2. Michael says:

      Roger Zelazny’s Amber books fit the weird category pretty well.

  11. Crystalgate says:

    The accuracy system in Morrowind was not only misplaced, it was very poorly designed. Imagine two novices fighting each other. Now compare that to two masters fighting each other. You would think that while a master can attack faster and more skillfully than a novice a master would also be better at parrying as well. So, you’d expect that both scenarios would yield roughly the same chance of hitting in a videogame.

    Not in Morrowind. If two novices fight each other, over 80% of the attacks would miss while the two masters would hit each other with almost every blow. You can get massively better at hitting, but the concept of being better at defending barely even exist.

    1. Adrian says:

      You know what I hate about Morrowind’s random number generator driven combat. You level up when the computer deems it so. How do you level up your sword skill? By successfully hitting things with your sword? How do you hit things with your sword? When the computer rolls a percentile value under your skill rating. Assuming you picked swords as a starting primary skill, you will only hit 35% of the time.

      1. Michael says:

        The assumption was, you’d train any skill you were intending on using early, to get to around 25-30 points in it. Skills below that were nearly unusable.

        On one hand, it was a neat idea, and the game actually told you, “hey, you need some training before you can do anything serious.” But, on the other, it was such a shift from the way RPGs usually work, that it was really hard (even as someone who’s already played Morrowind) to realize that’s what you were supposed to do. This is made worse when you see the way training was nerfed in Oblivion and Skyrim, to make that kind of approach non-viable.

  12. Neko says:

    I was fine with it, honestly. Morrowind’s power-fantasy works better given you start out so low down and end up ascending to invisible levitating fireball-flinging badassery.

  13. Nope, don’t buy it.

    Sorry Rutz but yer fanboy is showing. As it was in yer Chocolate Hammer article, there’s a lot about this that comes off as elitist. Mostly its in the framing and mostly its in the second half of the article, but the first parts got problems. The focus on how ‘unique’, and ‘different’ the setting is rather than the quality of it gives off a slight hipster vibe to be honest, but as I said, it’s the second half that gets my grit.

    The critique is entirely about the games mechanics and design, completely excluding any mention of RP elements such as setting/world/characters. This becomes very apparent in your strawman example of a guy who just wants to be a badass. To frame your example as a guy just in it for the empowerment fantasy absolutely smells of crocodile tears.

    Point of fact, I think the mechanics and design was the best I’ve experienced in a TES game so far, but I was playing using the overhaul instead of vanilla soooo…*shrug*

    I didn’t stop playing Morrowind because I couldn’t strike a hit with every swing and I didn’t stop because the windows took up the entire space of the screen when I tabbed to them. I quit because the first thing I did when I got off the boat was go through customs. I quit because I was told what to do and why I was there by a guy I didn’t know. I quit because between the three towns I went to, I could fit on one hand the number of people I met that had any dialogue available that had anything to do with their actual characters instead of just being another walking Wikipedia. And I quit because when I finally met the guy I was told to see, he told me to join a guild. I quit playing because I wanted to play an RPG, not a single player MMO.

    Look, I get how ‘details first’ it is and how appealing that can be, but when the lifelessness of the world extends to the people that inhabit it, I don’t see how there’s a reason to have them there in the first place.

    1. Shamus says:

      “Nope, don't buy it.”




      Hey, just because I didn’t post it doesn’t mean it’s suddenly open season for confrontation and insults. There was NO REASON to make this personal, or to take this tone.

      1. Nor is it appropriate to deliberately remove context Shamus in order to justify accusations of behavior.

        “there's a lot about this that comes off as elitist.” =/= “you are an elitist”

        “gives off a slight hipster vibe” =/= “you are a hipster”

        There’s a tone to this article that rubs me the wrong way and it’s the article that I’m addressing. At best, you could claim the fanboy comment could be interpreted to be a personal attack, but that is the only thing it would be: an interpretation. It has even less legs considering Rutz uses the term in the article as a self-descriptor. It was in truth, simply an expedient summary of where I think the articles coming from, but if ya want it removed, let me know in about five minutes or you’ll have to excise it yerself.

        1. djw says:

          When is “fanboy” ever NOT used as an attack? Seriously? I have never seen that word used in a friendly way in all my time on the internet.

          1. Raygereio says:

            When is “fanboy” ever NOT used as an attack?

            When you use it to describe yourself, or jokingly to someone who’s in the joke. Other then that: Yeah, i’s always an insult. Maybe not always an intentional one. But it just doesn’t have positive connotations, no matter the context.
            Same goes for “elitist” & “hipster” for that matter.

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            I always use it to describe myself in regards to starcrafts.Im a total fanboy.

          3. silver Harloe says:

            paths to happiness #21
            when someone insists they meant no offense, take them at their word rather than trying to convince them to be offensive

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I have to ask,if you dont think theres any insults meant in that comment,then why did you bother to respond to Shamus in the first place?I mean,from my end it looks like you are taking his comment awful personal for something you say aint there to begin with.

          1. Corsair says:

            “Morrowind was as approachable as the rotted feral zombie of a terrorist skunk.” Rutskarn, 2015.

            Yeah, that smacks of blind elitist fanboyism to me.

        3. Bropocalypse says:

          “I’m not calling you Hitler, I’m just saying that you and him go out for coffee every saturday.”

          Insults by association aside, passive aggression isn’t any more tasteful than outright flaming. If anything it just makes one look worse because it requires them to be aware that what they’re saying is probably not kosher and they’re choosing a roundabout way of expressing it.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      So this opinion piece made by someone who admits to love the game comes off as written by someone who loves the game.And that is…wrong?Because…it looks like an opinion piece and not a professional critique?Ummmmm…….ok,I guess.

      Also,since you like pointing out differences,”many people” =/= “all people”.Nor does it equal “all people who dont share my opinion”.But hey,if you feel it was an attack on you personally,that is your own fault.

    3. Matt Downie says:

      That ‘strawman’ description doesn’t seem at all critical of the hypothetical person. It’s a fairly accurate description of my experience with the game.

      As for the complaint that he didn’t mention the difficulty in finding interesting people to interact with, maybe he hasn’t got to that yet, since this is only part one? (Either that, or playing Daggerfall and Arena lowered his standards for NPC interaction.)

      1. As I said, it’s an issue of framing.

        “I can play whatever I want? Awesome! I'm gonna be a badass wandering knight in full metal armor who alternates between splitting foes' skulls with a two-handed blade and roasting them with fire.”

        Rutz is a professional writer, he knows what he’s doing. By opening the example with this dialogue, he’s painting a personality of selishness and vaguely anti-social behavior. No, it’s not extreme, but it’s enough to be judgement by proxy. It’s subtly inferring that only by having this undesired perspective will the games flaws become apparent. In plainer terms, it’s saying the game’s problems are only problems to obnoxious min-maxers who don’t care about world-building, drama or any of that narrative junk that only real role-players can appreciate.

        And as I said, I don’t buy that. This game has flaws for those wanting to get into character just as much as those who wanna kill er’thang what moves.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          Not really – it’s just expressing the general experience of the early game given the game mechanics, by turning it into a little story, and making it all extremely specific, as if this were an actual person giving a report of their experience. It’s more engaging that way – or it was for me.

          It’s not attempting to sustain an argument, nor provide a judgement. It’s just supposed to be descriptive of an experience. So, I don’t see the problem, really – you’re not buying it, but then he’s not selling it, so we end up all-square. :D

          1. Rutskarn says:

            If this is unclear, let me clarify. The example guy, who wanted to make a guy who can use a sword and cast fire spells, is absolutely within his rights. I don’t think that guy’s foolish at all. It’s not even a bad decision–it’s exactly as practical as anything else in this game and lets him or her advance in several guilds at once.

            That example isn’t how the game goes for an *idiot.* That’s how the game goes for everyone. It frustrated me, it frustrated my father who’d been playing videogames since before I was born, it frustrated my uncle who played AD&D back in the day, it frustrated my sister, it frustrated my girlfriend. It’s just frustrating and poorly designed.

            I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a character, even a level one character, to not be embarrassed by a cave rat. I think it’s extremely reasonable. My sympathies are with my example guy because, and I cannot stress this enough, I was that example guy.

            And if you think I’m shy or half-assed about criticizing Morrowind, wait for the next post where I talk about how the combat is basically the worst possible way to maintain the connection between player and avatar and how I’m shocked it made it through playtesting.

            1. Hector says:

              I was, too. My tastes ran towards fantasy James Bond rather than Magic Conan, but roughly the same thing happened. I was lost. I was killed five minutes in (four of which were spent wandering the town and talking to funny people who all hated me, even though I was supposed to be charismatic). I was killed by a smuggler I didn’t even know was hostile. I mean, the smugglers were literally a stones throw away from the town’s bus stop, and had a nice, non-concealed door advertising their presence. I was just opening it up to say hello and possible loot their trash bins.

              Unfortunately, I discovered the hard way that the game starts out by letting you select a class, and these classes are labelled. You probably picked one that sounded good, but you didn’t understand the system because it wasn’t explained. (And never would be outside the Wiki.) But you aren’t yet. Your character needs at least five levels and a few thousand gold coins’ worth of loot to actually play the class selected.

              However, this isn’t explained to the player and the first time you play, you will have no idea how you even should react to situations. While I can, and have, given Oblivion and Skyrim grief, one thing they both got right was to walk the player through a very basic adventure. This gave you a basic understand not only of the controls, but “my sword works like this and can do so much damage” and “this is how you interact with people” and “here’s some basic info on how the world functions”. This is totally missing in Morrowind, and the game really needles players trying to figure out how to do basic things.

              Long story short: The game has a broken feedback mechanism early on. There’s an unnecessarily large knowledge gap between being a total neophyte and getting your adventure rolling. Every Elder Scrolls game is going to be somebody’s first Elder Scroll’s game; you keep those people playing by at least introducing them to the mechanics as much as the setting (and vice versa).

              Edit: Sorry, forgot to add this. This is probably how it got through playtesting: All the playtesters knew it already. That’s always an ugly side of playtesting; the people testing it may know too much about it. They played it for ten thousand hours before Beta, let alone launch. They had lunch with half the dev team at various points. They don’t approach things with the complete ignorance that many players did. They were expecting certain things and probably didn’t even consider that the mechanics were complicated, opaque, and unnecessarily stilted.

              1. Mortuorum says:

                The classes themselves just make the problem worse. Most of them were clearly not thought out very well and wind up unplayable. (The horrible level-up system didn’t help either.)

                The first time I played, it recommended “Pilgrim”, so I went with that. It’s a “stealth” class with primary attributes Personality an Endurance. None of its major skills are combat-related and it doesn’t even have Sneak as a class skill – for a “stealth” class! So, on top of all the other problems Rutskarn enumerated, you also need an intimate understanding of how characters work under the hood (including attributes, skills, race and the level-up process) so you can create a custom class that can survive and be fun to play both in the short- and long-term.

                1. Michael says:

                  On that subject, even viable classes can be pretty dicey early on. When I played the game originally, I went through with a Bosmer Assassin, so I never realized how messy the systems could get. I recently started up a Breton Nightblade, something I’d gotten inordinately fond of in Oblivion, and found them to be borderline unplayable in Morrowind, because you need to train their sneak up. In order to train sneak, you need to raise their agility, which requires you raise their sneak skill… and your starting sneak skill and agility attribute are too low to actually slip around undetected.

            2. Okay, I think I see the issue here. Let me make clear once again, that all my comments are in relation to the article and the article alone. They were never intended to be directed at you as a person nor to comment on your intentions with the piece. If the example wasn’t meant to be a judgement by proxy, I’m perfectly willing to accept that because your personal intent wasn’t what I was addressing. I wasn’t saying you structured the article in order to be duplicitous. I was saying the way the article was structured gave off a certain impressions to me for such-and-such reasons and such-and-such was why I disagreed. My comments would have been the same if it were an anonymous forum post Shamus felt like sharing.

              The only place where it could be argued to not be the case would be the silly ‘fanboy’ comment that everyone’s so focused on. As I said, it was just basically cheeky flavor text that could be completed excised without altering anything I had to say. I certainly wasn’t using it as this grand jab into the heart of your self assurance! I can’t remove it anymore mind, but I wouldn’t raise a stink if it were admin edited out.

            3. Mersadeon says:

              Honestly, my measure for videogames (and roleplaying, to a certain extent) is normally: I am very average. Can I do it? Yes? Then my dude should be able to do it.

              I could beat a cave rat. Yeah, it’s a big rat, but I could survive fighting it and kill it.

              That’s why “waist-high-fence-in-my-way” annoys me so much – EVEN I COULD GET OVER THAT! This dude has arms bigger than my entire body!

        2. acronix says:

          Care to specify how do you go from “the author presents a player who wants to make a character who casts fire spells while wielding a two-handed sword” to “the author presents this player as vaguely anti-social and selfish”?

          Because that seems like pretty simple player logic right there: “I have an apparently very flexible character creator; so I’m going to create whatever I want with it!”

        3. Raygereio says:

          It's subtly inferring that only by having this undesired perspective will the games flaws become apparent. In plainer terms, it's saying the game's problems are only problems to obnoxious min-maxers who don't care about world-building, drama or any of that narrative junk that only real role-players can appreciate.

          You seem to want to read something the article that just isn’t there. All I saw there was a description of someone who’s eager to jump in the game, and then had trouble with Morrowind’s shitty gamedesign.

          Honestly, reading in between the lines of your posts here: You seem to feel personally attacked by the article.
          If that’s the case, then let’s be clear: It’s okay to not like Morrowind. Personally I find it to be an unplayable mess of game. And nowhere in this or previous articles is Rutskarn calling you a big dumb-dumb for not liking it.

          1. This aint the first time I’ve seen this particular framework attached to this particular game and Rutz’ article is easily the most eloquent and diplomatic I’ve read. That said, it’s still an article which begins by extolling how different the setting is, with no mention of mechanics or design, follows up with a critique of mechanics exclusive to combat framed through a character frustrated that they can’t split skulls and light things on fire as soon as they start the game.

            If you think there’s nothing to that, I aint gonna fault ya. But I have to ask, if you don’t think there’s anything there, then why did you bother to respond in the first place? I mean, from my end it looks like you guys are taking this awful personal for something you say aint there to begin with.

            1. MichaelGC says:

              I bothered to respond because it seemed as though you’d got the wrong end of the stick, and perhaps were bringing in experiences from elsewhere, leading to a hostile tone which in this case is unjustified. I don’t really care about the Morrowind aspect as such!

              Or put a better way: I’m not haggling over the details of the argument. I’m saying I don’t think we’re actually having an argument in the first place.

            2. djw says:

              Had a comment, changed my mind.

              Nothing to see here…

        4. Benjamin Hilton says:

          Sorry I have to disagree. that quote is in no way, literal or contextual, a straw man of someone doing it “wrong”. In fact he’s saying that the player is right and the game is wrong…..So I have no idea what your issue is. Plus as others have pointed out, it may be best to wait until all of the pieces of the Morrowind section are out before passing judgment.

          Edit: Instead of reading in a superior tone, read it with the assumption (which based on his description of his own experiences of the game, should be a fair assumption) that Ruts’ is including himself in the group of people who’s first games went like that.

        5. djw says:

          I’m just going to say that I disagree with you, and leave it at that.

        6. Syal says:

          Considering how many of the game options are weapon skills, it’s a pretty fitting thing for a fictitious player to want to play a fighter. And wanting to play a fighter is directly relevant to getting his ass kicked by a starter rat; if he wanted to be a trader on the road who put all his points in Speech and Barter there wouldn’t be half the credibility in complaining about the early fights.

          1. Corsair says:

            Although he’d be playing it wrong, because playing a trader in this game is impossible – there is no way to sell a good for a higher price than you buy it. Even the broken secret traders – Creeper and the Mudcrab Merchant – will only buy and sell an item at cost, everyone else has some form of markup/markdown that even with 100 Mercantile/100 Personality and a perfect relationship isn’t entirely negated.

            1. Rutskarn says:

              I will say that unlike in later TES games, you could make a living in Morrowind harvesting flora and diving for pearls. I did play a few hunter-gatherer characters, trading with an ashlander camp for arrows and supplies, and Mercantile was useful for that kind of a thing.

              1. djw says:

                You can do that in Skyrim with the hunterborn mod.

                1. Rutskarn says:

                  Haven’t tried that mod, but I did have a few pleasant evenings living-off-the-land evenings with a combination of others.

        7. Mersadeon says:

          I think you’re reading way more into Ruts’ example character than what was meant. And something very different. I really don’t get where you are coming from.

    4. Syal says:

      Those wikipedia guys are there because when you advance the main quest some of them start spouting Sixth House cultist stuff and it’s more impactful because of how generic they were before.

      Also so you can level up your speechcraft, pickpocketing and maybe combat.

      1. Dt3r says:

        I hadn’t thought of it like that, but it’s a good point. Taking a routine part of the world that you’ve gotten used to and changing it can be really jarring. Even a small change can signal that something is different in the world.

      2. Mersadeon says:

        Those guys really freaked me out as a kid!

    5. topazwolf says:

      I was going to reply with an analysis of your comment, then forgot about it and returned much later to see a bunch of replies. Doing such a thing now would probably be completely unnecessary… I’m not doing anything else at the moment though, so here we go:

      Nope, don't buy it.

      I’m gonna assume this is to set the tone. Carry on.

      Sorry Rutz but yer fanboy is showing. As it was in yer Chocolate Hammer article, there's a lot about this that comes off as elitist.

      Elitist: favoring, advocating, or restricted to an elite.

      He is not favoring really. He in fact goes out of his way to illustrate how the game isn’t necessarily good with a long, built-up metaphor. He enjoys it sure, but he isn’t ignoring that it isn’t the best.

      Mostly its in the framing and mostly its in the second half of the article, but the first parts got problems. The focus on how “˜unique', and “˜different' the setting is rather than the quality of it gives off a slight hipster vibe to be honest, but as I said, it's the second half that gets my grit.

      He does comment on the quality. His metaphor illustrates quite clearly that the quality leaves something to be desired, but it is different enough to stand out from the crowd. This is an objective fact. Keep in mind that this game released in 2002 (the same time as Neverwinter Nights and Pokemon Ruby). Almost all other fantasy RPGs were either Japanese or riding the Dungeon and Dragons train. Not to mention the fact that it launched 2 successful squeals and is pretty much a household name at this point destroys any hipster vibe.

      The critique is entirely about the games mechanics and design, completely excluding any mention of RP elements such as setting/world/characters.

      Well this bit of the critique is about the mechanics. He hasn’t really gotten to anything else.

      This becomes very apparent in your strawman example of a guy who just wants to be a badass.

      Strawman: The practice of misrepresenting a person’s actual position and substituting a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.

      Example: “Senator Jones says that we should not fund the attack submarine program. I disagree entirely. I can’t understand why he wants to leave us defenseless like that.”

      This is a improper usage I think. I believe Rutskarn is actually using some kind of generalization fallacy to generalize a specific kind of player to use in an argument. However, this being an informal article such fallacies are in fact welcomed for increasing the clarity of the point. Even saying that however is being ungenerous, since his point is pretty valid. Combat survival in Morrowind is relient on you knowing the ups and downs of the game and how to build a proper character. Knowledge you will not gain until you play it a few times, so most first characters will obviously end up dead in a gutter and then the new character that replaces them will be much better.

      To frame your example as a guy just in it for the empowerment fantasy absolutely smells of crocodile tears.

      Crocodile Tears: Tears or expressions of sorrow that are insincere. Is this some kind of international phrase? Or is it just a mixed metaphor?

      Point of fact, I think the mechanics and design was the best I've experienced in a TES game so far, but I was playing using the overhaul instead of vanilla soooo…*shrug*

      Question of curiosity, did you play Morrowind when it came out? This will naturally color the content of your post to a certain extent.

      I didn't stop playing Morrowind because I couldn't strike a hit with every swing and I didn't stop because the windows took up the entire space of the screen when I tabbed to them.

      Irrelevant information that is only loosely tied to the article. But good to know.

      I quit because the first thing I did when I got off the boat was go through customs.

      In fairness, where else would you go after getting off a boat on an international voyage? That’s some world building right there.

      I quit because I was told what to do and why I was there by a guy I didn't know.

      Well yeah, you don’t tend to personally know quest givers. It’s a RPG cliche. You go somewhere and the game pushes you in the direction it wants you to go.

      I quit because between the three towns I went to, I could fit on one hand the number of people I met that had any dialogue available that had anything to do with their actual characters instead of just being another walking Wikipedia.

      Valid criticism of the game right here. While a lot of the characters have a great deal of depth to them, you tend to have to get to know them (or at least do quests related to them) before any of the pertinent dialogue opens up. The game never tells you there’s hidden dialogue, but from a RP stand point it is reasonable to not want to tell some random hobo all your secrets.

      And I quit because when I finally met the guy I was told to see, he told me to join a guild. I quit playing because I wanted to play an RPG, not a single player MMO.

      Also a valid criticism. However, the guilds are extremely important to the lives of the people of Morrowind and it’s not unreasonable that you as (essentially) a mercenary would need to become associated with them to do business. Though I will note that calling it a single player MMO is pretty unjustified. What with Everquest being the only big kid on the block at the time. Hell, MMOs were still new enough to not have a hard set of cliches. So if Morrowind feels like an MMO, chances are the MMOs borrowed from it, not the other way around.

      Look, I get how “˜details first' it is and how appealing that can be, but when the lifelessness of the world extends to the people that inhabit it, I don't see how there's a reason to have them there in the first place.

      Again, for the time the game is far from lifeless. NPCs have jobs, family relations, and even preferred activities. Entire regions have names and histories that extend beyond what is mandated by the main plot. Even the aspects of “what do they eat” is covered in game. It’s positively overflowing with life compared to everything else at the time. Though I think what you really want is a bunch of open dialogue and easy, lore building quests right off the bat. However, Morrowind doesn’t do that. It is super stubborn and a massive pain in the ass about it’s questing and adventuring. In fact some of the quests send you in a vague direction with a vague set of directions and just expect you to figure it out. This is a problem, but can be enjoyable to certain players. Nowadays we have the compass marker.

      After my analysis, it occurs to me that you did not play this game when it came out, but years (if not a full decade later). And no one in their right mind would claim that Morrowind has aged well.

      Saying in a historical overview of the Elder Scrolls franchise, “I don’t like this game because it’s not as good as all the games it inspired a decade later” is not a valid criticism.

      1. “It's positively overflowing with life compared to everything else at the time.”

        It’s overflowing with structure. To reiterate, my issue wasn’t with its world building, but the complete absence of character with its denizens. I wouldn’t have minded if they simply weren’t willing to talk to me or gave some indication they were uncomfortable with my prying into their affairs. That would indicate actual personality.

        The opening of Skyrim has a guy saying “A nords last thoughts should be home.” There’s nothing even remotely approaching that kind of internalization with any character I interacted with in Morrowind. And this was a game that was texting its dialogue. There was no reason not to put some dramatic meat on dem NPC bones.

        “Though I think what you really want is a bunch of open dialogue and easy, lore building quests right off the bat.”

        Wow…there it is. Okay, so if anyone was curious, this one sentence here pretty much encapsulates the tonal issue I had with the article. Again, not saying it was the intent, but that’s what it came off like for me personally.

        1. topazwolf says:

          I still don’t see the problem. That is what you wanted. That’s what I would have liked. I legitimately can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t have enjoyed easy quests that build lore and guide you along. However, Morrowind was still pretty old-school in how it approached it’s learning curve. Being hard was seen as a good thing. It’s open world was radical, but not in the best way. An MMO would have given you something easy to do to familiarize yourself with the game, but Morrowind just gives you five seconds of pseudo tutorial to get you on your way. Your issue with the tone stems from the fact that you implicitly believe people disagree. We do not. However, what Ruts is saying is that if you can get past the failings of the game, you will find something enjoyable there. The failings being its near complete lack of intro and early game.

          Also worth noting that Dunmer are noted for being assholes that won’t give you the time of day. They legitimately don’t want to talk to you. Though a few people are totally worth talking to right off the bat, most kinda aren’t. It’s realistic, but having a few friendlies around to interact with right off the bat would be nice.

        2. James Porter says:

          Dude, he wasn’t making a judgement of quality. Just because something is easy doesn’t make it patronizing, and just because its hard doesnt make it high quality. I havn’t seen one person say otherwise.

      2. Syal says:

        Crocodile Tears: Tears or expressions of sorrow that are insincere. Is this some kind of international phrase? Or is it just a mixed metaphor?

        From Wikipedia: “The phrase ‘crocodile tears’ is derived from an ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their victims.” So, an expression of sorrow at something that actually causes the speaker joy.

        And it’s apparently older than most of the nations you’ll hear it in, so it’s very much international.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Really?I thought it was fake tears because it was believed that crocodiles never cry.Every day you learn something new.

          1. silver Harloe says:

            It’s both. Language is how people use words, not how people used to use words.

    6. Decius says:

      Addressing the points: At the town where you start, you can encounter plenty of people, several of which had their own quests and stories. If you just spent your time hitting every dialog option with every NPC, you got what you deserved.

      I’m not sure why you object to the customs office existing, since you didn’t explore long enough to realize that the reason the customs office is pointless is because it isn’t at the large regional trade port.

      You got a chance to act as a secret agent, and your first task was to build a cover identity.

      From what I see, you wanted to step into a character that had already been mostly written, rather than step into a world and write a character in it. Morrowind isn’t that kind of game, and there’s nothing wrong with not liking a game that doesn’t fit your particular itch.

      1. “Addressing the points: At the town where you start, you can encounter plenty of people, several of which had their own quests and stories. If you just spent your time hitting every dialog option with every NPC, you got what you deserved.”

        This is an even better example. Again, Rutz’ article is exceptionally more eloquent, but the way it frames the game has this faint (FAINT mind you, I’m not saying they’re in the same league for crying out loud…) hint of ‘git gud scrub’ that’s perfectly encapsulated here with this guy’s ‘deserved’ stinger.

        I can’t also help but notice how consistent people are misinterpreting the issues I vocalized with the game. Always the responses say that I’m asking for more ‘quests’ or ‘lore’, when I never mentioned either as an issue. This is perfectly exemplified by this guy responding by a link to a spreadsheet as part of his counterpoint.

        Look, I get it. Judging aesthetics is always a murky issue because it’s inherently subjective and topics like quests and lore are much easier to contextualize quality because they’re inherently quantifiable. It’s simply easier to frame an issue as ‘more equals better’. I get that.

        But my problems with the game won’t change no matter how much the responses here try to recontextualize them. A lifeless NPC isn’t going to be made less so by including a note in my journal about them. The fact that one of those NPCs in that list above suggests I clear out a den of outlaws nearby not to rid the town of evil, not because they did anything personally damaging to the character himself, not because he cares, but so that I can – and I quote – “practice your skills” establishes a level of personal disinterest that makes it clear this game had no intention of making its characters engaging. More quests and lore isn’t going to fix that.

  14. Hermocrates says:

    I’ll be honest: when I first picked up Morrowind, back in 2003, I actually never beat it (main quest or any of the guilds). And again, in 2006 when I repurchased the GOTY edition, I could only get about 5-10 hours in, and I hit a wall. Either dissatisfaction with my character build, or roleplaying style, or just frustration with the mechanics. But I still knew it was my favourite cRPG… the game I always wished I could muster the will to complete.

    But it wasn’t until watching the Spoiler Warning season on Skyrim this spring (actually my first Spoiler Warning season), hearing all the nostalgia for Morrowind, comparing how Oblivion and Skyrim got everything I loved about Morrowind wrong, and then reading your Altered Scrolls articles on Morrowind over on Chocolate Hammer, that I finally picked up Morrowind on Steam and just friggin’ played it. And played it. And kept on playing it for 80 hours over 3 months until I beat the damn thing. And I loved (almost) every minute of it.

    And I think I owe you, Rutskarn, more than anyone else for rekindling my love of this game. So thank you! I look forward to rereading the rest of your series on Morrowind.

  15. Adalore says:

    I remember many MANY attempts at breaking into the game, over exploring the starting zone and finding like…three weapons just hanging out inside different logs with very light enchantments. I think most of the random skill books in the town. And

    Never got to making a caster due to that steep magicka costs but yeah that RNG missitude hurt a lot.

  16. SoranMBane says:

    A lot of the issues talked about here are a big part of why one of the first mods I ever installed for this game was one that replaced the random chance to miss with something more akin to later games, where your weapon skill affects how much damage you do instead. It just felt too much like the game was cheating with the vanilla system, when my attacks would visibly make contact with the enemy but “miss” anyway.

    The game was still janky and unapproachable even with that mod, but at least it made it playable enough for me that I could push past to the rest of the game. And good thing, too, because Morrowind has one of the most interesting settings and some of the best writing of any of the last three Elder Scrolls games. I’d say Skyrim is the most satisfying of the three to just pick up and play for an action-packed adventure, but Morrowind is the more thoughtful and challenging experience (which is “better” depends entirely on what experience I happen to be in the mood for at the moment).

    1. djw says:

      I agree. I like the skill system and mechanics of Skyrim the best of the Elder Scrolls games, but the atmosphere and story line of Morrowind is much more compelling.

  17. Spammy says:

    I own Morrowind, but in all honesty I played it for maybe thirty to forty minutes and haven’t gone back since. I think I called it after running into a cave outside of Starter Town and running into that wonderful combat system. I suppose I just have little patience for old games with terrible mechanics. I’ll tell everyone who asks how cool the setting for Arcanum was and how much it felt like you were in the middle of watching this world change, but hell no I’m not reinstalling it to slog through that confusing mess of a combat system. It’s like they took all the sense out of Fallout or something. Oh and if you did level up get ready to agonize about where you put the one point you get when there are twenty different options.

    And I’m sure this is where people tell me how scrubbish I am that I didn’t keep playing a game I was really enjoying or had hooked me from the start, but nothing ever really grabbed me in Starter Town like happens in other RPGs. I wasn’t feeling like I was standing on the edge between two eras like in Arcanum, I didn’t want to go around reading everyone’s mind like in Divinity II, I didn’t want to shoot Matthew Perry, any of these things that get my attention. I don’t even remember why my character was in Morrowind in the first place, it felt like the game just dropped me in after a ton of exposition and expected me to care.

    If you would like me to play Morrowind, then direct me to a really good conversation. I have fond memories from New Vegas of listening to an old man talk about Baja and hearing about the NCR/Legion conflict from Cass’s perspective as a trader. I remember fondly in Arcanum listening to an old knight talk about the first modern war. Or talking about things with Richard Dean Anderson in the first Fallout. Where, relatively close to the start and with minimal slog to get there, is a conversation like that? You can mention the topic, but please no spoilers.

    1. Syal says:

      it felt like the game just dropped me in after a ton of exposition and expected me to care.

      So you do remember why your character was in Morrowind!

      Interesting conversations with people are hard to think of, but you get a lot of lore on various subjects by reading books and notes you get from quests. Try a book store, maybe?

      1. James Porter says:

        If we are being honest, the part that Morrowind won me over was when I first walked into the bookstore. I had decided I didnt want to use a walkthough, and those “Guide to X” scrolls were a godsend. I think Morrowind warmed me up to reading the books more, since all the dialogue is text.
        I really like “The Monomyth” It gives such a wide view of the universe the of the game, and because it ties into the plot of Morrowind, it feels like a huge treasure. I also liked that book detailing the different pantheons of races, and the different interpretations of gods by different cultures. Special mention to “The Stranger” a poem about the Neravarine prophecy that is pretty neat.

        As for interesting characters, the coolest ones tend to be along the main story, like Vivec, Yagrum, Divayth Fyr. The politics of the Great Houses can be pretty neat too.

        1. Syal says:

          I don’t remember any of the names, but my favorites were probably the “Dwemer” stories with the notes in the end about how the author was probably just attributing his own stories to the Dwemer. Gave a good feeling to both the character of the author and to the mysticism the world had about the dwarves.

          1. James Porter says:

            Hm, well I know in the 36 Lessons of Vivec have the Dwemer say this in frustration ‘Nothing is of any use. We must go and misinterpret this.'(Sermon 3) which is really great.

            I also remember the Chimeridium, where the Chimer are given a robot as token of peace, before this really great twist that really helps in understanding the Chimer culture. There is even a Mages Guild quest about it, and the payoff is the lady getting pissed off at the book for its twist.

        2. topazwolf says:

          My favorite Elder scrolls books are:

          1. A Dance in Fire (the series) : Some poor businessman bumbles his way around Tamriel. Kind of a British comedy like deal. Some random loser that doesn’t really get it just sort of ends up in all kinds of cool situations. Leads into The Argonian Account.

          2. Immortal Blood: Book about a Vampire and a Vampire hunter’s burgeoning friendship. Though introduced in Oblivion the vampire in the book makes an appearance in Skyrim.

          3. Purloined Shadows: A book about an apprentice thief showing off everything that the final Theive’s guild quest should ever be. Stealing that which cannot be stolen. Great read and cute moral.

          4. Feyfolken (Series): Books about the dangers of enchantment, when a scribe uses a grand soul to enchant his quill, things get weird fast.

          Elder Scrolls books are great fun, they even get sequels as the series progresses.

          1. James Porter says:

            Oh! I forgot about the multi book stories! Let me just add on The Poison Song to that.

          2. SoranMBane says:

            My personal favourite Elder Scrolls book is the volume of 16 Accords of Madness where Sheogorath challenges Hircine to a Pokemon battle.

            I’m also quite fond of pretty much any book dealing with Khajiit lore and culture, like Words of Clan Mother Ahnissi, Cherim’s Heart, Ahzirr Traajijazeri, and The Tale of Dro’Zira. The Khajiit might definitely be my favourite race.

            1. Sleeping Dragon says:

              I don’t have the titles on hand but myself I like most books related to Sheogorath: the blessings, all the stories about him paying visitations to mortals and dealing with them… For that matter most book about either mortals dealing with Daedric Princess or the Princess between themselves were pretty fun, but then it’s just my kind of story.

              I also like how some books in the later games would discuss events of the earlier ones and present differing, often conflicting, views of events that have by the time turned into legends, attempts to explain the Dragon Break/Warp in the West were particularly entertaining.

    2. djw says:

      A fairly small number of missions into the main quest Caius Cassides will send you to two different informants to get data on the Neverine prophecy. The quests they send you on are fairly bog standard postal quests, but when you finish they give you their notes, which are interesting to read (at least I found them interesting, your mileage may vary).

      There is very little in the way of interesting interactive conversations though, so prepare for disappointment if that is important to you. The lore dumps, when they happen, are usually pretty interesting, but the NPC’s do not create depth through conversation.

  18. Retsam says:

    > the year of … Wind Waker … bringing gritty fantasy slugfests to the table

    I feel like we had very different experiences with Wind Waker.

  19. krellen says:

    My issues with Morrowind were never the mechanics – I just didn’t find the world (which seemed like a bunch of dull brown rocks) or the quests interesting in the least. I, too, lost the trail when my next quest was “go join a guild” – it didn’t feel like there was a good reason to do so (I think it was supposed to be some sort of cover?) and the process of joining a guild was unexciting, and there wasn’t anything I really wanted to look at.

    I hope the person I gave my copy of the game to enjoyed it more than I did.

  20. TMC_Sherpa says:

    Did I miss the memo? I feel like I missed the memo.

    Morrowind isn’t my favorite TES game but I respect the heck out of everyone who liked it. There are tons of folks out there (relatively speaking) who play PnP RPGs differently than I do at the moment and I’m cool with them too. The RPG market has gotten to be so small it can’t afford to not be inclusive to one degree or another. My own tastes have certainly changed over the years. The value of story, the detail of the simulation, the dependence on dice have all gone up and down in the *mumble mumble* years that I’ve played. Its pretty much a miracle that the game came out at all after Battlespire and Red Guard so I happily took a game I thought was flawed over the closure of the company.

    I (try) and use the same standards with cRPG that I do with PnP. If everyone involved in your game is having fun, whether thats you alone or ten people around the table, then you’re going it right.


    PS I guess we’ll see what happens with FO4 but I really hope Bethesda stops throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    1. djw says:

      Every game they make is both the best and the worst thing ever. I doubt FO4 will be any different. I’m sure I’ll sink 300 hours into it and then complain about it afterwords.

      I don’t mean that sarcastically, that is almost certainly what I will do.

      1. TMC_Sherpa says:

        I find it amazing what Bethesda can get away with. NPC stuck in the ground? LOL! The exact same thing in AssCreed? WTF Ubi! Is it the player base? Is it because, in general, folks are happy with Bethesda but angry with Ubi?
        I should probably have turned that into a Diecast mailbag question.

  21. PhoenixUltima says:

    According to a random NPC conversation in Oblivion, Jiub later went on to drive the cliff racers out of Morrowind.

    For this, he deserves every gold medal that has ever been made.

    1. Rutskarn says:

      He appears as a ghost after Oblivion as “Saint Jiub,” also.

    2. SyrusRayne says:

      This is a reference, I believe, to one of the major “Fuck Cliffracers” mods for Morrowind. The author worked in a bit of backstory; Jiub took it upon himself to kill all the cliffracers. This became canon.

  22. Brian says:

    I’ve found the best way to enjoy morrowind is to watch other people play it. Veriax’s interactive morrowind LP was absurdly wonderful. And SorcererDave’s current LP is also excellent. I still have memories of actually *playing* the game and… I much prefer watching other people play it.

    1. Hal says:

      Oddly enough, I was inspired to try the game after watching a roommate play for a while. The moment came when he was in a dungeon. He’d snuck through most of it, avoiding the mobs, but now he was at a point where the door to continue was rather high up. You could jump up there, but he couldn’t quite reach. He could jump around to build up his acrobatics, but that risked attracting the attention of the enemies he’d snuck past.

      It was him trying to figure all of that out that made me think, “I have to try this.”

  23. muelnet says:

    I going to come out and say it, I can’t stand Morrowind. I feel like I lose all my esoteric video game fan cred every time I say that but OH MY GOD I HATE THAT GAME. The weird thing is the things that bother me more than anything are things like the interface and how bad npc interactions are.

    Here’s my last story of playing Morrowind: I decided to play a paladin type character and work for the church. Someone told me I needed to go to Ebonheart and talk to Kaye to join up with the Militant arm of the Imperial Cult. . So I open my map…… It doesn’t have any information on where Ebonheart is. Ok I’ll ask the person who told me about going to Ebonheart. I walk up to him hit talk and…. Ebonheart isn’t something I can talk to him about. I look at my map again. Well I’m on the West coast and going towards the giant mountain at the center doesn’t seem like a good idea. So do I go north or south? I decide to go north.

    After finding a quest to escort someone I take it and they give me the infamous boots of blinding speed. Somewhere along the way I meet a man named Caryarel. He seems like a nice dude. I still can’t find Ebonheart. I keep going along the roads for another hour or so and eventually get so bored of generic towns that I look up ebonheart online to find out I should have gone south. *facepalm*

    So I take the mage’s guild teleporter thing to Vivec. Having gotten to Vivec by teleporting there I now have no idea how to get out. I wander around in copy pasted hallways searching for an exit getting completely lost. At one point I think I’ve found the way out but I actually ended up in the sewers, where I’m killed repeatedly. Finally I make it out to a balcony, which does not appear to have any connection to the shore, so I decide to jump for it… and die. Then I remember that I still have those scrolls of Icarian Flight. So I manage to successfully use one to jump then the second to land. now I’m outside Vivec, but I managed to jump in the opposite direction from Ebonheart.

    Finally about 4 hours after I started I make it to Ebonheart, where Kaye promptly asks me to go find Caryarel and get back some limeware for him. I have long since forgotten where I met Caryarel as I have been through something like 6 or 7 towns. Kaye doesn’t bother telling me where he is. At this point I decide it’s time to be done with video games for today.

    For all that story what I really had to say about Morrowind was the things that killed it weren’t the crappy combat, or the illogical systems. It was things like how I’d ask 15 people about something and if I was lucky there would be 2 different responses. How talking to people led to a dissertation about a subject where the said nothing interesting or relevant. In that search I think I remember finding someone I could ask about Ebonheart but I would get a response about how it was the seat of the empire on Vvardenfell and it’s history, but nothing about where it was or the best way to get there.

    Oh and that god awful interface. There is nothing that kills a game quicker for me than a bad UI. While I love exploring the worlds of old RPGs I often get so frustrated by their interfaces that I don’t end up playing them. As consolized as skyrim’s interface is, it is at least legible, usable and easy to do things like scan your inventory for a specific item.

    1. Nidokoenig says:

      Trying to get to Ebonheart and getting lost in Vivec? Happened to me more than once, good times, good times, and getting lost in the countryside with no clue how to get from one place to another is so authentic, and I’m only mostly joking there. I always used a map with all the fast travel routes marked, I think you can travel to Ebonheart by boat, but buggered if I remember where from.

      Quests were arse, the argument can be made that they should have dropped the quest log entirely so you’d know you had to do it properly yourself.

    2. Trevel says:

      Just so you know: at the exit of the town you start in there is a small cluster of signposts. One of them points the way to Ebonheart. :)

      Your “paladin” could also have joined the Almsivi temple, because Morrowind had two religions.

      But yeah, Morrowind DOES have you spend far more than the usual amount of time wandering around looking for things, to various degrees of frustration. Ebonheart is easy compared to “this witch that’s somewhere around here”.

      1. Syal says:

        Of course, joining the Temple is a much bigger pain. If you can’t find Ebonheart, good luck with the pilgrimage sites in the middle of nowhere.

        1. Trevel says:

          Those get marked on the map, I believe. Plus they give you a book to tell you where each one is.

          The vow-of-silence pilgrimage, on the other hand, is a pain if you don’t prep for it properly.

          1. Syal says:

            I’m pretty sure nothing gets marked on the map except towns, dwarven/daedric cities and the Mark spell.

            I spent more time on that first Temple quest than on the entire Fighter’s Guild questline.

            1. Trevel says:

              Then you’re fortunately wrong — this series has inspired another playthrough, so I loaded a save from right after finishing character creation, and sent my character down to Vivec to confirm. I can assure you that the Fields of Kummu, Ghostgate and the Koal Cave are added to the map once you accept the quest. The other four are in Gnisis and Vivec, both also added to the map.

              Plus you get handed a book with more specific directions.

              There are a ton of times where the game says “go find this” and doesn’t give any help, but this quest isn’t one of them.

              1. Syal says:

                Is that base Morrowind, or with the expansions?

                1. Trevel says:

                  Base game, from the looks of it:

                  Journal TT_SevenGraces 10
                  Player->AddItem “bk_PilgrimsPath” 1
                  ShowMap “Gnisis”
                  ShowMap “Vivec”
                  ShowMap “Ghostgate”
                  ShowMap “Koal Cave Entrance”
                  ShowMap “Fields of Kummu”

      2. Nidokoenig says:

        I remember following that sign, thinking “Ebonheart’s a cool name, and this playthrough, I’m not going to get derailed by going to Vivec, getting lost and stealing shit for hour after hour.” Guess where I ended up. For the record, Ebonheart is a little ways south of Vivec on a fiddly little peninsula.

      3. muelnet says:

        While I’m sure that’s true I had unfortunately gone to balmora first which must have been why I missed that sign.

  24. SoranMBane says:

    I just had a random, only-semi-on-topic realization; every one of my three favourite RPGs (Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim, and Morrowind) can be compared to different breeds of terrible boyfriend.

    New Vegas, for instance, is the semi-abusive type that I’m constantly getting into petty, vicious fights with. But he’s just so charming and witty and respectful when things are actually going smoothly that I can’t help but keep crawling back, no matter how many times our relationship crashes.

    Skyrim is that rich, overly-arrogant, douchebro; the kind who’s always talking-down to you, contradicting your choices, and generally treating you like a complete airhead who can never do anything right on your own. But darn it if he doesn’t give me the nicest gifts (“I can be a snow leopard version of Mr. T punching dragons to death? So cute!” “A pair of mods that let me wield the sword and shield of Martin the Warrior from Redwall? Aww, you know me so well.”). Besides, can a guy who’s okay with gay marriage really be all that bad?

    And Morrowind… That’s your Draco In Leather Pants asshole type; entirely abrasive, hostile, and unapproachable on the outside, but just ever so smart, complex, and interesting. Plus he has such a heart of gold when you really take the time to get to know him, honest!

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      For me, Alpha Protocol is the manic, wide eyed, entrepreneurial boyfriend with more ambition than sense. Every time he tries something it goes sideways or blows up in his face and leaves us barely able to pay the bills for the next few months. He also has a bunch of really annoying habits that usually drive people away and make him a chore to be around sometimes. But he also has such a rugged and dynamic charm about him that I just can’t leave him even though I know I should, and every so often he comes up with something so spectacular that it takes my breath away and makes me happy to be alive.

      Sorry, I put more thought into that than I should have.

  25. Ant says:

    Morrowind was my first open world RPG, and my second RPG after Neverwinter Night, so there is obviously a lot of bias on my part. I liked it, but I recognized there is a lot of default in it, namely:

    _ You are very very slow. Learning the two teleportation spell to the nearest temple and the pair of Mark/Recall spells would be one of my priority if I were to restart a game. In the same way, I wouldn’t play any other race than Breton or Orc, to profit from the 50% magic resistance which allow me to wear ASAP the boots of blinding speeds, which give you the running speed of Oblivion. Theses boots also gives you 100% chance of hit. Of course, they ruin the early game and remove the pleasure of becoming more and more powerful because they allow you to hit and run almost anything, thus making you very powerful from the start.
    _ Magic is useless at high level combat because the most difficult fighter reflects to you any negative effect you throw at them. The only exception to this is Invocation which give you some of the best weapon of the games right at the start. However, Magic is a must to explore freely the world.

    1. Syal says:

      Thinking back, I’m wondering how much of the slow starting speed was to get you to stick to the towns and the fast travel system for the early game.

      1. Ant says:

        I forgot to add that you should not run before or during a combat because you are spending stamina which greatly influence your chance to hit. So not only are you slow, the game punish you for being as fast as you can.

        I think that the slow speed was supposed to give light and no armor based build a better fighting chance, because being faster isn’t a great advantage if everyone is fast. It gives archer and mage a chance to hit you more than once before going melee, especially if you are at a stage when a full stamina bar is needed to hit them.

        It’s also one of the trick which makes Varvendell look bigger than it is (the other are the multiple detour of the roads and the absence of any fast travel).

        I also remember that on the list of default, there is a lot of imbalance in the skill set:
        _ There are many unique swords in the game, but I don’t remember seeing a unique lance. Good blunt weapon are likewise rare, so the choice is between axe(the bound axe on the invocation school can easily carry you to the end game) and swords.
        _ There isn’t a top tier medium set of armor, and I don’t remember any interesting piece of medium armor.

        _Security (opening lock but only below a certain level compared to your skill) is useless if you are moderately good at alteration(at level 30/40 you can open any lock + you can levitate, breathe underwater and some other less useful spell))

        1. Syal says:

          There’s one legendary spear and one legendary Medium Armor; you have to get both of them from Daedra. The game is definitely weighted toward swords and axes, even though there aren’t any legendary axes (Bound Battleaxe is easy to learn, weighs nothing, and outdamages most legendary weapons.)

          And yeah, Security is only useful for building up base stats.

  26. SlothfulCobra says:

    Morrowind is the only one of the Elder Scrolls games that I’ve actually played. I rented it once, and while playing I got confused, couldn’t figure out any questhooks, accidentally blew all my money fast traveling back to the starting town, almost got arrested, and on my way back to the town where I was supposed to go, I was murdered by a small slug. Your description seems very accurate in that respect.

    I did find the giant bugs an interesting thing to put in a fantasy setting, though.

  27. Sanguine Cavalier says:

    I don’t remember Morrowind being anywhere near as inaccessible as most of the comments here- and the article itself- would suggest, but looking back on it this is more due to dumb luck on my part during my first playthrough than any particularly good work on the part of the game devs.

    I went Dunmer (which I’ve always felt is the most appropriate choice for the story, though I didn’t know that at the time) custom-class, picked a reasonably generic but effective set of skills (long blades, destruction and alteration, medium armour, can’t remember what else as this was back in 2003.)

    Then it was off the boat, chat to the customs guy, have a poke around town (read: steal all Fargoth’s stuff) and head off to Balmora. Joined the fighters and mages guilds, did a couple of quests there, then set off to join the Legion (Join the Legion, they said. See Vvardenfell, they said.) Anyway, it was all pretty smooth sailing, particularly by comparison to the experiences a lot of other people had.

    …this is making me want to re-install Morrowind again.
    (The combat is legitimately rubbish though. I’m really looking forward to the Skywind mod because the idea of Morrowind with the graphics and combat mechanics of skyrim added in sounds pretty amazing.)

  28. I stopped playing Skyrim when my character, an axe-wielding Nord barbarian with next to no magic skills, managed to become archmage of the College of Winterhold simply by being able to cast a few low-level spells (that the gatekeeper of the college was willing to sell to me). And that same axe-wielding barbarian, with no skill whatsoever in sneaking about, managed to climb through the ranks of the Thieves’ Guild.

    It was blatantly obvious that the game didn’t give a damn about the character I created and was simply going to give me the same experience regardless. I consider this a cardinal sin on RPGs, so much so that I don’t even consider Skyrim an RPG, but rather an open world action/adventure game with a few threadbare RPG elements that could be excised without changing the game very much. And I suspect that a sizable fraction of Bethesda’s target audience would welcome this change.

    The other reason I stopped playing was because the game continually and blatantly insulted my intelligence. Not only does the game feature a quest arrow, but by default it’s set to appear on your HUD, giving you a big fat indicator screaming “Go here! Do this! Talk to this person! Now talk to this person!” at you. And if you switch off the quest arrow, the game is unplayable, because the journal system is so sparse that it provides no information as to how to get to your destination.

    Or how about the “puzzles” such as rotating columns to show a certain icon…an icon that is shown right behind the columns! This isn’t even a puzzle, because there’s nothing to work out! How stupid does Bethesda think players are, anyway?

    Compare this with Morrowind. Want to rise through the ranks of the Mages’ Guild? Better work on those magic skills. And now House Telvanni hates you, because they see the Mages’ Guild as a rival foreign organisation.

    Need to get somewhere that’s not marked on your map? Better ask for directions, and even then you might…*gasp!*…get lost! And you might…*gasp*…stumble into a dangerous situation! And maybe…*gasp!*…it might be too much for your low-level character to handle! Better use that scroll of ALMSIVI Intervention and come back when you’re stronger.

    No, the game wasn’t perfect. Yes, it had its flaws, people have pointed out. But at least it had none of this hand-holding, safety-scissors approach that plagued Skyrim. And it didn’t treat you as though you were too stupid or lazy to figure things out on your own.

    Now, this is going to sound rather strident, but there’s a reason Bethesda won’t make another game like Morrowind, and it’s because they’re aiming for the people who would play a classic RPG like Baldur’s Gate or Fallout and have the following reaction:

    “What do you mean, my character’s attack missed? He’s standing right next to the enemy, so he should hit him! This game is STOOOPID!”

    “What do you mean, I put no points into magic skills and now I can’t join the Mages’ Guild? The guild’s there, I should be able to join them! My character should be able to do everything I want to! This game is STOOOPID!”

    “What do you mean, I can’t kill the dragon at Level 1? I can reach him, so I should be able to kill him! This game is STOOOPID!”

    “What do you mean, I put all my points into Strength and none into Intelligence and now my character talks like an idiot? This game is STOOOPID!”

    “What do you mean, I told a quest giver to go plough himself and now I can’t get the Infinity +1 sword? This game is STOOOPID!”

    “What do you mean, I killed an plot-essential character and now I can’t finish this quest? This game is STOOOPID!”

    “What do you mean, I have to read dialogue? Why can’t everything be voice-acted? I’m not going to play a game just to have to read stuff! This game is STOOOPID!”

    This is Bethesda’s target audience. They don’t want an in-depth RPG. If the played Morrowind now, they’d likely regard it with contempt. They just want to play as a badass Viking warrior, or a vampire, or a werewolf, or a Dark Brotherhood assassin, or a Vampire/Werewolf Dark Brotherhood assassin, without having to deal with “STOOOPID” RPG mechanics. It would not surprise me in the slightest if the next TES game removed the skill system entirely and simply let your character be a master at everything. You won’t be able to die, either, you’ll just get knocked down for a little bit, like all the “Essential” NPCs. And Bethesda would be sure to have M’aiq the Liar show up to mock players who complained about it.

    1. Trevel says:

      Hey, Skyrim had GREAT puzzles. Remember the one where you had to turn over a key so you could enter its code into the gate?

      And the one where you had to turn over a key so you could enter its code into a gate?

      And the one where you had to turn over a key so you could enter its code into a gate?

      And the one where you had to turn over a key so you could enter its code into a gate?

      But I’ll never forget the time I had to turn over a key, which let me enter its code into a gate.

      1. To be honest, this took me a bit for to figure out, since I wasn’t aware you could rotate items in the inventory menu.

        The question is, why did the ancient Nords sealing these tombs use only three characters in their secret entrance code? That is sufficiently short that people will be able to figure it out by accident. Why not make the code long enough that you would actually need that Golden Claw to enter it correctly?

        Combined with the other boneheaded puzzles in the game, the only conclusion I can reach is that Nords are really, really dumb, and figuring out the aforementioned puzzles taxes their limited intellect to the utmost.

        1. Trevel says:

          Well, you also needed the claw itself, which means it’s pretty much the same as just using the claw as a key. After all, WE have to navigate through menus to look at the flip side of the claw, while a Nord would just have to turn it over in his hands and play match-the-shape.

          This is not a land of geniuses.

        2. Decius says:

          I did most of them without figuring out that they were on the key. By brute force (crypto sense).

    2. Ant says:

      You can call me stupid as much as you want, but
      _ There is a middle man between “go to this exact place” and “the location you search is somewhere near a mountain”. Ideally, I would like that the location was more or less roughly circled on the map ( a very precise circle when the location is known, such as finding the archmage, a very imprecise one when I got to find bandits). If that’s not possible, I prefer to know exactly where I should go, especially when your speed is pathetic. It’s not realistic, but I play more for the scenery and the exploration than the pleasure of being lost two hours because I miss a well hidden door.

      _ It didn’t happen to me, but I remember that someone anger too much a plot important character without noticing or knowing what he was, which means that his first twenty/thirty hours were lost (I helped him make his new character and he very quickly regains them back, because having a good build, traveling quickly and knowing where are the best piece of equipment transform the hard beginning in a cakewalk). The thieves guild can also be impossible to join if you follow the quest you have been advice multiple times to do.

      _ the skills requirements are annoying as hell. Completing a lot of magic task for the mage guild is good. Doing hours of grinding (or, more probably, exploiting the games to gain a lot of money to train) just to get new quest isn’t, even if it’s logical.

      _Reading a good story is nice (I read all the book of Morrowind). Reading short wiki articles, less so. Especially when they repeat themselves.

      _ Once you have endured the rough beginning, which I recommend, because it is essential to suffer a little to really appreciate your late game level of power, the game will stay agreeable even if you reroll, because knowledge is worth a lot of power in Morrowind.

  29. WJS says:

    Dammit Rutskarn! I was going to have another go at getting into Skyrim after reading some of Shamus’ writings on it, but now I want to play Morrowind instead. That means I have to find the damn thing (bloody CDs). Skyrim is still installed; all I’d have to do is hit ‘play’!

    P.S., proofing this before posting, it occurs to me that that single paragraph actually speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

  30. “Give it time, and that's exactly what Morrowind is. It may not be your favorite videogame, but give it time and something about it will crawl into your brain and refuse to leave.”

    This statement doesn’t work for those who got into The Elder scrolls games since Oblivion. In fact, this might be an illusion cast off only as you played the game when it first came out. Oblivion and Skyrim are my favorite games of the series, because as much as people argue simplification, the games are more refined over time.

    Morrowind may have had the same goals in mind as Daggerfall, but they took completely different directions in implementing said goals, and it’s because of these vastly different ways of direction that we see each game as one of exploration, with the other in terms of detail and the other in terms of expanse.

  31. Vivi says:

    Normal CRPGs make you feel like a Chosen One hero – Morrowind (its intro video aside) makes you feel like a poor, culture-shocked immigrant. And I actually really like that about the game, including the huge difficulty curve at the beginning. It just feels more “in character” for somebody who arrives penniless, friendless, and out-of-shape (thanks to a stint in prison) in a completely foreign land that’s supposed to be hard and dangerous like the Wild West. In fact, once the game mechanics get easier because you’ve leveled up and have collected some good loot, I usually get bored. In more recent replays I’ve even started to use a purpose-built incompetend starting character based on that Oblivion “Prequel” comic (e.g. no useful combat skills nor much magic to start; Atronach sign while aiming at a mage career; a beast race that the locals all despise; a prohibition of alcoholic potions due to her being a recovering alcoholic; a vow not to steal from lawful citizens and to stay away from shady quests, even though the character was in prison for theft and has some skills and natural aptitude in that area; etc.), just to make the challenge and feel of “rags to riches” storyline last a bit longer.

    But to be fair, as far as I can remember, the first time I played the game, the friend who recommended it gave me some starting tips. (Like where to get the translocation spells, and to put some points in the related skill early on; and to install the Rational Wildlife mod from the start – so the cliffracer annoyance experience completely passed me by.) And since none of the standard character classes really appealed to me, I played with a custom class from the very start. (Dunmer because that seemed like it would logically get me some home advantage or at least more role-playing opportunity; no combat magic because that’s often broken in CRPGs; Alchemy as an actual trade that my character learned in his previous life – originally just chosen because I often spend too much money on health potions in CRPGs, but it turned out to be the ideal solution to all the money you need for training, and I have the urge to pick flowers and mushrooms anyway; and otherwise mostly a charming thief/archer). And apparently I got lucky with that build, because I don’t remember any difficulty with small animal enemies. Sure, my arrows usually missed at first, but that just seemed realistic (and considerably less weird than missing with a sword at two feet distance). And yeah, I got killed by human bandits / smugglers a few times at the first few levels, but again: that just added to the realism and immersion for me. Why wouldn’t a total noob like my character get his ass handed to him trying to take stuff from bunch of professional criminals?

    The only frustrating bits I remember about my first few days playing the game were that first Dwarven ruin and not finding the damn puzzle box therein (at that point the bandits in the ruin weren’t so much of a problem anymore though, since I had been listening to the game and got some training before doing any dungeon crawl quests); the small smuggler cave right beside the path from Balmora to Hla Oad (great loot for a low level character, but also way too powerful enemies for the area – and many playing days later it turned out that the cave was part of a relatively late Imperial Cult quest, and I’d long forgotten where I’d sold the cheap amulet that I was supposed to recover); at one point training non-combat skills too much so that I’d leveled too high without improving combat skills accordingly (making leveled enemies temporarily too much of a challenge – but that’s why the gods invented the difficulty setting); and the fact that there was no sensible in-character way to raise your endurance if you’re not playing a heavily armed fighter or training a weapon you’ll never actually use (like, why is running / athletics not an endurance related skill?).

    The combat system isn’t great, but for me it’s just the right mix between easy-to-handle (I’m not good at systems that require the player to use different moves or have good timing – the Gothic series has about the most player-skill-dependent combat system I can deal with) but still hard enough not to break my sense of immersion or make me feel patronized by the programmers – at least on the first 20 levels or so. (Oblivion’s combat got boring way more quickly, as far as I remember. Primarily because too much of it was level-adjusted.) It would have been nice if I’d occasionally have to use some tactics to win (beyond using ranged weapons from atop a large boulder, or using fire on ice-based enemies, I mean), but… eh… the game is quite old. And combat systems where you have to die a few times before you find the only tactic that will work on a specific enemy are too frustrating for me as well.

    Still, I feel combat is really not the selling point of the game. Exploration / virtual tourism is. The often rather simplistic quests and low level of characterization of NPCs (by today’s standards) are much more of a buzzkill, as much as I like the game nevertheless. (Oblivion made the huge mistake of not even being visually / culturally interesting, thus removing the one thing the previous game was really good at.) But at least dialogue can (and partially has) been improved by dedicated modders, and more interesting quests can be added. I’m currently playing two considerably expanded Redoran and Twin Lamps questlines with my now-not-so-inept-anymore Khajit mage, for example. And there’s a big Telvanni quest mod I haven’t even tried yet.

    By the way, a tip for those who get their rocks off on the whole wide open sandbox exploration aspect of the game: The huge Tamriel Rebuilt mod is still being updated and added to, even if they have reduced their ambitions to just doing the rest of the Vvardenfell mainland. Quests, at least in the relatively finished Telvanni district (which alone is about as big as the original game map, and more densely settled), are plentiful but mostly small-fry (there are more complicated Telvanni and Temple questlines already, but they are frustratingly incomplete) – and that will stay that way for the foreseeable future, because the team wants to finish designing and populating the rest of the landscape first. But still, their cities are individually designed and mostly bigger than on Morrowind (which makes sense, since in-universe Morrowind was newly settled except for the city of Vivec and the Ghostgate garrison), and a lot of them are truly a marvel to behold. It’s generally newbie-friendly, since it’s only logical that the civilised parts of Vvardenfell would be less dangerous than the lawless, disease-ridden, contested frontier, though due to the unfinished nature of the mod and the lack of quest documentation, be prepared to have some frustrating experiences with bugs or not finding stuff / NPCs. (For example, it took me ages just to find the Mages Guild / any other magic trainer, and to find a way to be accepted into the Thieves Guild – all because I got the erroneous impression that Helnim (which has about the size and level of detail of Balmora) was supposed to be the main home-base town for outlanders new to the country, not Firewatch (which looks more like Ebonheart).)

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