The Altered Scrolls, Part 9: Small Considerations, IPISYDHT#3

By Rutskarn Posted Saturday Oct 3, 2015

Filed under: Elder Scrolls 121 comments

Morrowind‘s narrative is settled around a religious schism between the “real” gods, who are worshiped by the occupying Empire, and three home-grown mortals-turned-gods who are worshiped proudly and a little spitefully by the unwillingly colonized natives. Unsurprisingly, there's a complex lore and backstory behind this state of affairs, and I admit that this is where I would normally check out; this sort of thing is so commonly tiresome in fantasy. An author creates a convoluted narrative of gods and wars and legends and thinks the reader will find it as interesting as they do, if only they relay every detail precisely. The result is a plodding, ponderous shaggy dog myth that competes for headspace with the dozen other lores the player had to memorize. What these fantasy authors fail to realize is that history is not story. It’s the tools for telling a story.

This is one thing that Morrowind gets exactly right.

How did the self-made gods come into being? Great question! I don’t know. All I or anybody else knows is that there’s a half-dozen different accounts all believed passionately by factions that bring their own prejudices and needs and grudges onboard. The history of the tribunal’s divinity resembles a real history: a he-said she-said conflict of mythologies and folk accounts that sparks heated arguments and debate even between people on the same side. History as a debate is much more interesting to learn and follow than history as an inventory, and conflict over who is right is more interesting that conflict over who is stronger.

 

I don't know if this is 100% crazy nostalgia, but the snow island in Morrowind's expansion feels more genuinely cold than anywhere in Skyrim.
I don't know if this is 100% crazy nostalgia, but the snow island in Morrowind's expansion feels more genuinely cold than anywhere in Skyrim.

Later Elder Scrolls games would give each town a unique style of architecture and presentation. You get the Mediterranean town, the cosmopolitan snow town, the dwemer town, the fancy suburb. In Morrowind, there are five or six architectural styles spread across most of the settlements, so you would really need to know your way around the game to be able to tell precisely where a screenshot was taken. There's a definite trade-off here. The later games use their visual storytelling to communicate more specific details about each specific town, but Morrowind‘s visual storytelling tells you about a town's place in the greater narrative; a squat little mining town with modest Imperial thatch and stonework implies a vastly different backstory than a mining town with Redoran chitin and fringes, and letting these styles stand as broad trends gives a good idea of how the map is carved up and how spheres of influence are exerted.

Morrowind has an explanation for why all of its caves are full of hostile bandits and necromancers. It's practically an easter egg, and it's worth noticing that until they find it, nobody thinks much about the issueâ€"or cares.

Morrowind is one of very few games to feature slavery on a personal level, not as an abstract mechanic or resource. One of the many unseemly traditions upheld by the native Dunmer and “suppressed” by the colonizing Empire is the right to enslave the two beast races (both playable races, mind) for personal and industrial use. The game does not moralize extensively; it trusts in the inherent horror of bondage to rouse players to action. There is a slave-freeing faction in the game, but the player discovers it by freeing slaves independent of any greater questline. Morrowind presents slavery as a feature of the local culture without feeling the need to preach redundantlyâ€"it rightfully trusts the player to know that slavery is bad without needing to make every NPC adjacent to it a hero or a monster. That said, the player is actually forced to broker a slave bride marriage to complete the main quest. Which is, uh, awkward. In general.

There is pretty much only one constant throughout the franchise: everybody looks ugly and weird.
There is pretty much only one constant throughout the franchise: everybody looks ugly and weird.

Among the many diverse factions in the game are the three semi-aristocratic Great Houses. They're loosely coded to the three main skill treesâ€"combat, stealth, and magic. The combat one is mostly good and honorable, the thief one is mostly sneaky and underhanded, and the magic one is mostly evil and vicious. The effect of this is that good mages and evil warriors find themselves in difficult situations. Some might say giving those organizations a little extra flavor is worth their specificity and consequent exclusivity; others might prefer factions designed to let everybody have a go. For the ethically incongruous, there are of course standard fighters', mages', and thieves' guilds, which are all pretty neutral.

There’s one other thing about the Houses. When I originally wrote this series I didn’t really bring it up, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided I can’t really be done talking about my experiences with this game until I have. So let’s talk about Crassius Curio and my own very personal experience of him.

The stealthy faction Great House Hlaalu is nice or ethical. You engage in sabotage, theft, and espionage for various questgivers, most of whom don’t really give a shit about the House and just want to help secure their own investments. It’s not a subtle transition from raw recruit to thug, either; your first quest is morally and legally dubious and it only gets worse from there.

After a certain point you can’t progress until you report to a man named Crassius Curio. Crassius is sleazy and lecherous towards your character–towards everyone, apparently. Crassius is the only person who can sponsor you and allow you to progress to the next rank. If you don’t like where this is going, you might want to skip these next few paragraphs.

Crassius won’t sponsor you unless you take off your clothes for him. To get to the next rank, you have to actually go into your inventory and remove all of all your character’s armor, garments, and jewelry. He admires you and gives you a promotion, plus a magic ring as a bribe for being a good sport. It’s pretty clear from the game’s presentation that Crassius, and his demands, are comedy. Back in the early 2000s it was a novel absurdity to solve a quest by stripping, and he’s a memorable enough NPC that he remains a fan favorite to this day. These days I don’t really have an opinion on him. I made a lot of jokes about him in my LP a few years back and I recently wrote a play for Skyrim imitating his own ribald magnum opus, The Lusty Argonian Maid. He doesn’t really bother me.

When I first played the game–which is rated Teen–I was about twelve years old. And this quest did bother me. I didn’t feel good about doing it. I felt guilty and anxious in ways I couldn’t really articulate, except that I was afraid my dad (who played the game as much as I did) would do the same quests and be angry at what I’d done to progress. I am not blaming the developer for this. I am not saying this quest shouldn’t exist, or even that another route through it should have been programmed. But I can’t look back on this with another twelve years of context and not realize how fucked up that was.

Let’s move on.

Caldera's a mining town. If you've already been to a few places like it, you'll be able to tell at a glance that it's an Imperial town through and through.
Caldera's a mining town. If you've already been to a few places like it, you'll be able to tell at a glance that it's an Imperial town through and through.

One appealing aspect of Morrowind is that its magic items are more powerful by far than others in the series. Laying aside the tremendously powerful creations players can cook up themselves, there are dev-created items that can make a character nearly invulnerable when worn in concert or, in a few cases, even individually. The trick was that to get one of these awesome items, you generally had to kill somebody already using them.

I can’t think of any way to sum up the rift between Morrowind and Oblivion than this. When Morrowind wanted to discourage you from killing its king, it gave the king a magic ring that reflects all spell effects, constantly restores health, and provides immunity to paralysis–but the king can be killed (in two hits, with a weapon introduced in the same expansion) and the ring can be looted and used by the player character. When Oblivion wanted to discourage you from killing its king, it made the king unkillable and wouldn’t let you take any of his stuff. One can make arguments for either design philosophy, but the first is unquestionably more satisfying for a greedy and mercenary player to run up against.

A few features that would debut in Morrowind only to vanish forever include throwing weapons and spears; spells that teleport the player to local temples; joinable non-military political factions; beast races with conspicuously different physiologies; multiple default-game vampire clan factions; about a half-dozen unique clothing and item slots that can be mixed and even mismatched; fixed-point money-cost fast travel, including forms never seen before or since, such as hireable cruises and mage teleporters; a system to taunt NPCs into fighting you so they can be killed in self-defense; joinable religious factions representing multiple faiths; drug prohibition (honest merchants won't talk to you if you're holding) and paraphernalia; manors with staff that may be overseen; avian adversaries.

Nearly all the foodstuffs in Morrowind are fictitious. The crops grown on the game's landmass are largely imaginaryâ€"”ash yams,” “saltrice,” “comberries,” “hackle-lo leaf”â€"and the dishes and liquors made from them are doubly so. One staple in particular, kwama eggs, has a fully-realized species life cycle and ecosystem built around its acquisition. A queen kwama lays eggs, workers (headless dog-shaped arthropods) tend them, foragers (hopping maggotlike creatures) gather nourishment, and warriors (arthropods with a forager jutting from the neck cavity) defend the lair. This works because it’s completely taken for granted by the working-class bastards who have to mine the eggs. In general, Morrowind‘s pretty good at establishing that bizarre is relative.

A few common phrases and phrases you'll have to learn from context over the course of playing: serjo, sera, muthsera, s'wit, n'wah, b'vek, almsivi.

Morrowind is actually the second game in the franchise to set its climax inside the ash-spitting Red Mountain. In Arena, Red Mountain was Jagar Tharn's final bolthole and looked like a generic lava-filed demonic hellscape. In Morrowind, Red Mountain is a semisacred place used as a fortress by the ancient Dagoth Ur; its design gives a few nods in the direction of actual volcanoes. It really sells Morrowind‘s commitment to “plausible, even if that's sometimes a little bit more mundane than we'd have gone for in the mid-90s.” Also, it raises a lot of appalling continuity questions, but nobody really cares about that. I just wish somebody had told Khajiit guy.

And now: your questions, please.

DaMage asked:

Morrowind is the last Elder Scrolls to not have voice acting (well, it had a little, but not much). Do you feel the storylines were stronger BECAUSE it didn't have to be voice acted?. Along with this, Do you feel that it's impossible to achieve the depth Morrowind has if all dialogue has to be voice acted?

This is a good question. Honestly, yes, I do feel the game would have been weaker if every line of dialogue was voice acted, because I think it would have severely constrained the amount of words there are in the game and had a drastic effect on the pacing. Part of Morrowind‘s Outland Tourist aesthetic is that you ask people about topics and they furnish rather elaborate answers. Hearing these answers at the pace of a bored voice actor, or even accompanied by the unsolicited dronings of a bored voice actor before I cut it off to skip to the next line, would damage the experience to the point where it would be undesirable even presuming one could afford the studio time and the talent. Additionally, the actual line-to-line writing isn’t spectacular and voice acting would draw considerable attention to this. Sort of like it does in Oblivion and Skyrim.

Is it impossible? No. Just much harder and probably very expensive.

Hal asked:

How does the handling of the religions compare to the earlier series?

In Oblivion and Skyrim, the Imperial gods (Aedra) are treated as “true” gods, while the Daedra are treated more like powerful demons or usurpers.

My memory of Morrowind says that the Imperial religion was the foreign, unaccepted faith in the land, while the Daedra were very popular (although their shrines were still out in the middle of nowhere.) I don't really recall much about how Tribunal worship fit into things.

Still, I remember those factions as being fleshed out and having complex relationships. Do you have any further feelings on how this transformed from the first entries, or how it changed moving past Morrowind?

Daedra worship was largely a source of mobs to fight in Morrowind, but not entirely. It’s a tier system. The Imperial occupiers worship the Aedra; the native population centers object to this heretical intrusion and spitefully worship the Almsivi Tribunal; the Ashlanders and outskirts object to THAT heretical intrusion and worship the Daedra. Many of the latter category consist of hostile dudes squatting in temples, but there’s like one or two temples that won’t attack on sight and the Ashlanders worship their patrons peacefully and provide more stimulating religious debate than “Graggh bragh die.”

DaemianLucifer asked:

If these gods are actually real and tangible,meaning they do appear to mortals,they do perform actual miracles,and everyone knows about them,how the hell can different religions and different sects of religions even exist?The only reason we have religious wars and schisms in the real world is that no one has ever seen an actual god appear and perform an actual miracle.

One of the reasons I love Morrowind is that it shows how not-true that is. We have religious wars and schisms not because of any real evidence, or any absence of evidence, but because of deep-rooted cultural tensions and tribal allegiances that inform our outlooks.

The Aedra definitely exist. Worship of the Aedra stems from the understanding that we in some way owe them; they created this plane, they appear to us, they can perform miracles (though they rarely do) and they seem to demand (or at least politely request) some worship or tribute. This would seem a perfectly good basis for worship, and the Imperials accept it at face value. Why worship anyone but the actual creators of the universe?

The Tribunal definitely exist. The Ashlanders used magic to make three people possess immortality, limited omnipotence, and omniscience. These three people, who argue convincingly that they are gods, care for their chosen people and perform miracles semi-regularly in their service. This seems like a perfectly good basis for worship, and the Dunmer accept it at face value. Why worship anyone but your own home-grown locally-involved deities?

To the Imperials, the Aedra are the actual creators of the world who deserve awe and gratitude and the Tribunal are three punks with magic powers, not fundamentally different from mages or liches. To the Dunmer, the Aedra are absentee tyrants who empowered a bunch of foreigners to come savage their lands and culture and the Tribunal are, at long last, involved and sympathetic and empathetic patrons. You can really see where each faction is coming from and why they loathe each other.

Fabrimuch asked:

Could you be enslaved if you were playing a Khajit or Argonian?

Nope. Racism against you is present, but it’s more grumblings and insults than actual impediments to liberty or progress. Probably for the best.

 


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121 thoughts on “The Altered Scrolls, Part 9: Small Considerations, IPISYDHT#3

  1. Zaxares says:

    Maybe I’m just too jaded by years of tabletop gaming, but I found nothing at all objectionable about stripping down for Crassius to advance in the quest. After all, if he really pissed me off, I could always just kill him later after I had no further need for him. :P

    I also don’t like either of those options for “crucial NPCs”. I would rather go about it the classic Bioware way; you CAN kill NPCs that are integral to the plot (not that it’ll be easy to do so), but even if you succeed, you get a Game Over screen stating that “a character crucial to the plot has been killed”. The game acknowledges that you succeeded in what you wanted to do, but it’s the equivalent of a player going, “I don’t like these rules! Imma do THIS instead.” Sure, you can do it, but you’re going to get kicked from the table for doing it. You will get the satisfaction of knowing you COULD do it even as you reload though.

    1. shiroax says:

      Doesn’t Morrowing do that too? I still remember the message

      “With the death of this character a thread of the prophecy is severed. Reload a save or persist in the doomed world you’ve created.”

      Give or take a few words.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        Of course that only applies to the main questline. I once broke an entire questline because it turns out one of the leaders of one has the same trigger topic as another faction questline that requires you to fight someone in the arena, except the game doesn’t warn you, they’ll run off to fight you, and if you beat them you get promoted… by one rank. So if you weren’t already the second-highest rank the entire faction is now broken.

        Also there’s a backdoor way that’s not signposted in any way that you can still complete the main quest unless you kill one very particular person.

        1. Trevel says:

          The thieves guild and the fighters guild quests can totally break each other. Which is annoying but also makes a lot of sense for IG reasons.

          1. pdk1359 says:

            That right there is the best thing ever.
            Yeah, it’s annoying when you realize that you’ve broken a quest chain after the fact, but the option? Game don’t let you make mistakes anymore.
            Sure someone might need to play through the game several times, or at least have the UESP open in another window, but I actually hate the later elder scroll games, just a little bit, for not keeping that freedom. I enjoyed effing up and figuring out what had snarled the plot.
            Sigh.

            1. Trevel says:

              I think they could have had the interaction be a bit smoother, but yeah — I like the simulationist aspects that mean that one quest can cause problems for other quests. I actually wish a few more guilds were exclusive — I shouldn’t be able to progress so far in the imperial temple AND Almsivi, for instance.

          2. shiroax says:

            I don’t think that anybody was shocked that completing a questline to break the Thieves Guild would break the questline of the Thieves Guild.

            1. Syal says:

              They even tell you when you take the quest, “you’re hitting the Thieves Guild because you work for us, not them.”

              Far more annoying was breaking the Hlaalu questline by killing someone seemingly unrelated who attacked me while performing a task in the Legion questline.

              1. nerdpride says:

                Redoran can clash with Thieves Guild or Morag Tong. I think it’s more to do with forgiveness for stealing or murdering from other Redorans though.

                But hardly anyone goes for Redoran.

        2. Abnaxis says:

          I’m pretty sure you can finish Morrowind’s MQ no matter who you kill, if you stock up on Resist Magicka potions.

          1. Decius says:

            And unless you kill both Vivec and Yagrum, you can complete it regardless.

            You can make the main quest uncompletable by destroying Keening or Sunder, such as by putting them on a corpse and letting it decay.

            1. Syal says:

              Or by killing the Heart through sheer damage.

      2. Abnaxis says:

        Wait, it lets you keep playing? I wonder what happens if you finish off Dagoth Ur after that?

        A little background–neither my wife nor I have played any TES main quest-line past “are you sure this is the character you want?” but she still managed to kill the final boss in Morrowind. At that point in the game, she was killing Dagoths for sport and just stumbled across him (it takes two MacGuffin weapons that you supposedly need to do the main quest to wield safely, but an absurd amount of Alchemy will work with them too and both weapons are nearby).

        Note that she had no idea she was beating the final boss before she saw the cutscene. She just thought the area was a huge dungeon puzzle.

        1. Da Mage says:

          Well…spoilers….

          If you kill a MQ critical NPC that is not Yagrum Bagarn, you can still complete the MQ by killing Vivec, taking Wraithguard to Yagrum for him to fix it (though you’ll need plenty of fame before he will do it)…..then killing the heart.

          If even Yagrum is dead, then you can you enchantments/potions to restore enough health for long enough to wield the weapon to kill the heart. That’s how speedrunners beat the game so quickly.

          They obviously knew that people would want to kill MQ characters, and did built a catch-all backdoor that is hard to find.

          1. Orillion says:

            And the fact that they haven’t repeated this brilliant move is why the Elder Scrolls series is dead to me until further notice. It’s hard, I know, to write a good narrative that also allows the player to use a backdoor that enables them to actually USE the freedom to do anything they want, but it’s never not worth it. I never even used the backdoor. Almost every time I played the main quest I did so as straightforwardly as possible, but knowing that I could put a knife in the back of any one of my associates meant that I was making a [i]choice[/i] to do what they asked.

            The worst part is, Oblivion and Skyrim even have the framework to enable essential NPCs to die without risking the game breaking without the player’s knowledge or consent: there’s actually a flag you can set on an NPC that makes them immortal in combat–but only against other NPCs and monsters. Skyrim uses it, I think, on its companion characters, but for some reason not on any of the characters who are “needed” for the plot.

            1. Da Mage says:

              Oblivion, Fallout 3 and New Vegas only have the normal ‘Cannot be Killed’ flags, it wasn’t until Skyrim that they created the second type where they can only be killed outside of battle. But then Skyrim missed the point by only having that flag on companions. They could have written their story better, made only a few NPCs really essential…but no.

              Gast! You might miss some unimportant piece of content if we just LET you kill NPCs. Now here’s a generic quest to a random dungeon you can fast travel to, where you can kill anything you please.

              1. Rayen says:

                Or have a Legion leader of a camp follow you around that I have to knock out every minute or so because for some reason he’s unkillable even though I’m thane of Windhelm and leader of the stormcloaks.

          2. Abnaxis says:

            I know it’s possible–like I said, wife did it by accident (she didn’t get Wraithghuard)–I just wonder how the game reacts to it. It’d be weird getting that congratulatory cutscene after the game told you the world is going to end

    2. Raygereio says:

      Maybe I'm just too jaded by years of tabletop gaming, but I found nothing at all objectionable about stripping down for Crassius to advance in the quest.

      If you’re that used to NPCs demanding to see you naked, your GM might have had some issues.

      1. Zaxares says:

        Our group often dealt with all manner of truly twisted villains and scenarios. In one example, the party was trapped in a city in the Abyss and had to bribe a corrupt (but still human) official in order to get a pass to one of the few working gates that led back home. The official kept an underage girl as a “pet” and it was strongly implied that he was also sexually abusing her.

        To their credit, the party did manage to finagle a way of rescuing the girl and seeing the official got his just desserts during their escape from the Abyss.

    3. Vect says:

      I know Fallout New Vegas sort of tried to cheat this by having certain plot-crucial characters be out of reach (you only deal with President Kimball in a single mission and you only deal with General Oliver in the endgame) or having justifications for being immortal (Yes Man can jump bodies so that you’ll have some way of beating the game). They give a bunch of reasons I’m willing to buy as to why killing Caesar doesn’t immediately end the war (it’s more a long-term effect and they’ll have enough momentum to fight the final battle at least).

      I liked that the game allowed you to kill almost anyone within reason. It’s certainly better than having annoying characters be immortal like in Skyrim. Of course I understand that in a modern AAA game giving you complete freedom comes with a serious price (I can’t imagine what the Skyrim world would be like if you successfully managed to kill off all Jarls and completely destabilize the region). I guess a Non-Standard Game Over could work within reason (Pillars of Eternity gave you one for killing Lady Webb since it means that you can’t progress with the plot and your character is doomed to end up driven mad by their past lives) but I’m sure certain nitpickers will consider it the author’s way of slapping the player for having fun.

      1. Michael says:

        Yeah, Deus Ex: Invisible War pulled this a lot. One of the changes from the first game was to make everyone killable. But it also meant you never got to be face to face with characters like Billie, Tracer, Nicollete, or Paul until the game was ready to let you kill them if you wanted. A lot of mandatory quest givers hiding behind bulletproof glass.

        Wait, did SW do Invisible War? I keep remembering watching an LP of that a few years ago, but can’t remember where.

      2. Jeff says:

        “They give a bunch of reasons I'm willing to buy as to why killing Caesar doesn't immediately end the war (it's more a long-term effect and they'll have enough momentum to fight the final battle at least).”

        I think it’s very well justified, actually. We’re not allowed access to the rest of the camp (via giant walls), so we can’t slaughter the entire army, and since there’s an established hierarchy they had someone ready to step up (who we then fight at the end, iirc).

    4. Syal says:

      That king he mentioned with the Ring of Superpowers? About the same power level as the antagonist of that expansion, who you’re supposed to kill; if you can kill one you can probably kill the other.

      And there’s another fight around there that’s harder to kill than either of them.

  2. Infinitron says:

    Hmmm, evil fighters have that one path in the Fighter’s Guild, and good mages have the Mage’s Guild.

    When you put it like that, it seems premeditated.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      The Mage’s Guild is not really full of great people, either. It’s not as bad as the Telvanni, but most people in the Mage’s Guild range from “indifferent and self-interested” to “backbiting and vindictive.” The only guy really on the level is Skink-in-Tree’s-Shade, whom everybody seems to think highly of.

      As an Imperial organization, they ban necromancy… but in Morrowind, it’s more like “don’t get caught and we won’t have to bring it up.” Which is the same code the Telvanni apply to, well, everything.

      1. Hermocrates says:

        I believe that necromany wasn’t actually banned on an Imperial scale until Oblivion (or, technically, during the interim between Morrowind and Oblivion). In Morrowind, I think it was merely the local Mages Guild trying not to piss off the locals that made necromany verboten.

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          You may be right. I can’t remember the particulars of why; only that Morrowind’s ban on necromancy was enforced with a pretty limp wrist. In particular, Balmora’s Mage’s Guild- the first Mage’s Guild you’re likely to see and the location where you’ll likely join the guild if you desire to- has a fairly unsubtle necromancer, who is also an essential NPC you’ll have to talk to at least once in the main storyline.

          1. Destrustor says:

            Morrowind’s necromancy ban was in order to “respect” the dunmer tradition of ancestor worship. Even though it’s more of a tribal superstitious cultural thing from the ashlanders, most of the dark elves on the island still carry the taboo that necromancy is disrespecting your ancestors and that disrespecting your ancestors is just wrong.
            So the mages guild doesn’t really care beyond “It upsets the locals, so maybe don’t parade around town with your throne made of the bones of their elders; it’s bad for business.”
            Because they’re nice guys like that.

      2. Incunabulum says:

        most people in the Mage's Guild range from “indifferent and self-interested” to “backbiting and vindictive.”

        So a biting indictment of academia then?

      3. Jeff says:

        “As an Imperial organization, they ban necromancy… but in Morrowind, it's more like “don't get caught and we won't have to bring it up.” Which is the same code the Telvanni apply to, well, everything.”

        There is consistency in that – in Skyrim the Empire doesn’t actually care who the Nords worship, but if they get caught doing it the Empire has to act according to that treaty they have with the elves.

  3. Da Mage says:

    Kwama! My favorite animal group from any game….there is a lot to be said for a designer that creates an entire ecosystem, then builds a semi-realistic industry around it.

    Anyways, a question for you good sir.

    Morrowind is the last Elder Scrolls to not have voice acting (well, it had a little, but not much). Do you feel the storylines were stronger BECAUSE it didn’t have to be voice acted?. Along with this, Do you feel that it’s impossible to achieve the depth Morrowind has if all dialogue has to be voice acted?

    I don’t recall using teleportation and yet there I was. Alone. Naked.

    1. Hal says:

      I’m not sure it’s “impossible” to achieve the same depth, but it certainly acts as a limiting factor. Not that it’s necessarily better for you to be able to discuss any topic with any NPC the world over, but text certainly allows for much more story telling than voice acting, for practical reasons.

      (Of course, think about so many of the conversations you have in these games. I imagine a lot of people read the subtitles and advance the dialogue, even while the audio is only part way through the sentence. I wonder if it’s actually worth doing the voice acting in the first place, all things considered.)

      I think one of the bigger problems for modern Elder Scrolls games stemming from the ubiquitous voice acting is the difficulty in adding new content. If you’re a modder and you want to add a unique quest line or NPC, those features won’t have voiced lines (unless you record your own, and that leads to questionable quality.) I’d bet a lot of people shy away from such content because it’s incongruous with the rest of the game world when the NPC chatterboxes suddenly turn silent.

      1. Incunabulum says:

        There are basically two types of people – those who read the subtitles and skip past the speaking (because we can read faster than they talk) and those who don’t read the subtitles and just skip the dialogue to get back to the killing.

        While we don’t need spoken dialogue for the first group, the second group will scream bloody murder that someone expects them to read something they’re not actually going to read anyway.

        There was a post in the Steam FNV forum a couple of days ago by a guy complaining that he didn’t know what was going on or what to do or where to go – because he just skipped all the dialogue with NPCs and ran around shooting things and wasn’t happy there wasn’t an arrow showing him what to click on next.

        1. Mike S. says:

          If we’re getting into types, then I have to speak up for those of us who find spoken dialog useful for immersion, have the subtitles on to make sure we don’t misunderstand it, and never skip it even on the fifth playthrough of the same scene.

          I entirely get the tradeoffs involved, and I’d like there to be more diversity among all text, silent protagonist/voiced NPCs, and fully voiced, (with the concomitant differing flexibility for branching paths, DLC, and fan mods) rather than seeing a succession of monocultures. (Though the indy scene helps some.) But the idea that the only people interested in spoken dialog are people uninterested in the story (and ultimately even uninterested in the voice acting) doesn’t match my experience.

          Granted, Bethesda’s approach to voiced dialog is often sufficiently dead-eyed and repetitive that there’s an argument they shouldn’t even bother. But Bioware, whatever criticisms it may merit, does pretty well on average, and better over time. (ME3’s acting and direction is noticeably better than ME1’s– Mark Meer in particular dramatically improves– and ditto Dragon Age Inquisition vs. Origins.)

          1. Michael says:

            It’s probably worth pointing out that Mark Meer’s performance in Mass Effect was placeholder dialog, which ended up getting used for the final game. Apparently, the original plan was to get an actual name to voice Shepard instead of just a local comedian they got to do placeholder work and bit parts. It’s part of why his performance jumps in quality sharply between the first and second game. In the first one he literally did not know anyone outside of Bioware would hear it when he was recording.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              I think it’s noteworthy how the voice acting in BioWare games has improved over time. They take it *very* seriously nowadays, to great effect (IMO, of course)

        2. DjordjBernardChaw says:

          There’s also the type that has subtitles on but has a very happy skip dialogue finger. Sometimes I skip because I heard the dialogue before, and can’t stand to hear it again, sometimes I skip because I clicked more times than I intended, sometimes I skip because the pacing is way too slow.

          I really wish I could have a hybrid between Morrowind and Skyrim dialogue. I appreciate voice acting, but I really miss being able to skim text, either because I skipped an important bit, or I put the game down for months and have no idea what’s going on anymore. Alternatively, I would love to be able to speed up the dialogue by a couple percent.

  4. shiroax says:

    “Morrowind has an explanation for why all of its caves are full of hostile bandits and necromancers. It's practically an easter egg, and it's worth noticing that until they find it, nobody thinks much about the issue”“or cares.”

    Could you expand on this? I Explored maybe 2/3 of the map, but I don’t remember this. Maybe I missed it or forgot.

    1. Paul says:

      Please, can I just also beg for an answer on this. I’ve played the game a time or two and don’t recall anything that’s a slam dunk answer on why half the place is occupied by “baddies”.

    2. squiddlefits says:

      It had something to do with the 6th house either destabilising the society that the bandits would prop up or the bandits being funded by 6th house. Something to that effect, anyway, maybe it was a different faction?

    3. Rutskarn says:

      You find a memo in Vivec’s chambers detailing Dagoth Ur’s plan.

      “Phase 2: Create passive servants in ever-widening circles around Red Mountain by broadcasting compulsions couched in dream imagery to susceptible subjects in their sleep. Establish a major operational base at Kogoruhn for further operations in the ash wastes. Establish smaller bases near small port villages and in lower-class waterfront districts in Vivec. Infiltrate and subvert smuggling syndicates. Recruit willing followers from disaffected populations, including the underworld, the poor, and rabid anti-Imperial activists.

      Phase 3: Expand from smaller bases to other towns and villages, and recruit and indoctrinate subjects made susceptible by dream sendings. Occupy abandoned towers and ruins, and train corrupted cultists as raiders and irregular troops. Identify, discredit, and decimate possible sources of political resistance.”

      This explains why there’s so many hostile smugglers, bandits, cultists, etc.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Which, if I may add, is another thing I love about the game. Dagoth Ur has a plan. Sure it’s not perfectly fleshed out in the game, in the same way that the towns don’t have the actual sustainable population, but it’s clear that the idea goes beyond just “there’s a boss and he will use his boss powers to win”.

        1. Benjamin Hilton says:

          This is made even more unique since so many developers seem to think that the Big Bad fighting with nothing more than his Boss Powers makes him somehow cooler.

      2. Da Mage says:

        This is further supported at since you can find ash statues in many smuggler caves……which are used in the game to indicate when a person has been indoctrinated by Dagoth Ur.

        1. Michael says:

          Also in a bunch of smuggler shipwrecks, as I recall.

  5. Squirly says:

    The world-building in Morrowind is second-to-none compared to any other game set in the TES series, as well as the striving for internal consistency. Like you mentioned, items are powerful, rare, and wholly exploitable by NPCs and the PC alike, and that’s a huge part for me in making Morrowind feel real. Subsequent Bethesda games, whether we’re talking TES or Fallout are defined for me by ever further widening the gap between what the PC can do compared to NPCs, abandoning internal consistency to make certain things easier or simpler.

    I loved the feel of Morrowind more than anything, and I was hoping for that kind of world-building for Oblivion. Instead it all felt very systematic and watered down. “Streamlined” is the moniker that the devs use, but that only applies to certain aspects. The rest is such a regression in various gameplay systems that it leaves me wondering what happened to the original RP part of RPG.

    1. Da Mage says:

      I always got the feeling Bethesda kept trying to ‘balance’ Oblivion and Skyrim. To make it impossible for things to get too easy or too hard. Which is silly, you should never have to balance a single player perfectly.

      1. Trevel says:

        Especially an open world game — balance it too much, and the entire world is the same everywhere.

    2. dp says:

      Spears are an interesting case in pretty much any RPG. Despite being the principal infantry weapon (in some form or another) until the 20th century the number of computer RPGs that actually have them is surprisingly low and those that do tend not to be the simulation like Bethesda games where you can take any enemy’s weapon and use it.

      My guess is that they just aren’t that popular (in fiction in general there are plenty of magic swords but very few magic spears) so dropping them tends not to be noticed and saves a whole bunch of animations/design/balancing etc. But it is a bit odd to see polearm free soldiers.

      1. Da Mage says:

        See I find that strange as well, since if you go back to ancient mythologies (Greek, Romans)…you’ll see many ‘blessed’ and ‘magical’ spears in their stories.

        It might simply come down to the fact that Tolkien never had a spear wielding race in his books, so spears never caught on in popular fantasy like elves, dwarves, etc did.

        1. Cinebeast says:

          Weirdly enough, that’s probably the EXACT reason.

        2. Tizzy says:

          but… There are plenty of famous swords in medieval literature (excalibur, durendal,…) and no spear springs to mind. So isnt this a weird thing about ancient mythologies rather than a weird thing about Tolkien?

          1. Lachlan the Mad says:

            One theory; throughout the Middle Ages, swords were an aristocratic weapon, because they were difficult to forge, required extensive training to use well, and were very effective from horseback. Spears and maces were the weapons of common infantry, because they could be forged in large quantities, were very easy to use, and didn’t require a horse to be effective. Being an aristocratic weapon, swords earned more prestige, and therefore got more stories told about them.

            1. Mike S. says:

              Swords are to spears as pistols are to rifles in modern culture. The latter are the primary military and utility weapon. The former are used as marks of authority (officers’ pistols), are used in situations where the longer arm isn’t appropriate or practical (city and town, dueling), and have a much bigger mythic pedigree. (“The Rifleman” notwithstanding, there are a lot more legendary pistols and heroic wielders thereof, from Westerns to contemporary action heroes to SF.)

              That said, there are a few named spears in myth and legend, though they mostly don’t have much modern cachet. Odin’s spear Gungnir, Arthur’s spear Rhongomiant, the Holy Lance/Spear of Destiny which pierced Jesus’ side on the Cross (familiar to DC comics fans, at least– both Austria and the Vatican have what they claim to be its spearhead). Even Tolkien had the spear Aeglos, which the elf king Gil-galad carried to the same war with Sauron where Elendil carried Narsil.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                I think part of it is also that spears are best used as a group/formation weapon, and swords for one-on-one duels, particularly as popularly shown? I’m no expert in medieval military tactics, but that seems valid.

                1. Grain of Salt says:

                  This is not strictly true, no, though it’s an idea popularized by the romanticization of swords. Spears are exceptionally good in a formation, this is true – but the reach advantage and the swiftness of movement at the point is nothing to be scoffed at in a one-on-one fight either.

                  A sword’s blows are largely telegraphed, and even a two-handed longsword is not as long as a short spear. By contrast, a competent spear-user can, with very little movement, switch from attacking someone’s head to attacking their legs in quick succession, without sacrificing balance or power, and before they’re even able to get in range.

                  Now, spears are obviously not a godly weapon either. Few weapons are incredible in every context. But I think people assume they’re easier to best than they actually are, because we assume it’s as simple as knocking the point away or grabbing the spear, which in a pitched battle is neither easy nor is it a sure bet. A competent spear-user should beat someone with a shorter weapon at least three-fifths to three quarters of the time, assuming there are no shields and both people are of relatively equal training. The shield is an equalizer in this case, but even then it’s just that – 50/50. Spears are so often underestimated by fantasy and casual history fans.

                  Sorry this ran so long, hope this was interesting! Cheers!

                  1. Ruethus says:

                    I agree that spears are often underestimated… Until one plays Dark Souls. I can’t speak for Demon’s Souls or DSII, as I have not played them, but in DS spears are a really effective weapon for both defense and offense, for many of the same reasons you listed. In fact, just about the only time spears lose to swords (of similar size; boss weapons are a different story) are when the player is relatively new or not playing optimally, or when the player is wielding the sword and knows how to kick aside shields.

          2. evileeyore says:

            There are spears, you just have to go back to before Medieval history.

            Lugh Là¡mhfhada had three spears: Làºin of Celtchar (The Spear of Destiny), Gae Assail, and “The Spear of Lugh” which may also have been Gà¡e Bulg; other famous spears: Gà¡e Bulg (spear of Càºchulainn), Atgeir (Gunnar’s spear), Gugnir (Odin’s Spear), Gà¡e Buide and Gà¡e Derg (spears of Diarmuid Ua Duibhne), Rhongomiant (King Arthur’s Spear), Ascalon (St. George’s dragon killing spear)… and let’s not even go into Japan and China, those guys loved spears.

            For your spear stroking love: List of Mythological Spears

      2. Crystalgate says:

        The reason I have personally seen devs mention is animations. You can can use the same for axes and maces and even swords. If you let the player stab with a sword, it will need a new animation, but most other animations can still be recycled from axes and maces and the stab animation can be used for daggers as well. However, spears generally need completely unique animations.

      3. 4th Dimension says:

        It might have to do with the fact that fighting with a spear feels differently and you need different animations than when you wail on somebody with and axe, hammer or a sword. Also all three in games have similar/same range, thus making them easy to program, while spears would need to have the longer range. On top of it all there is a thought that you can not block with a spear thus the mechanics of combat with a spear is different.

        TLDR in the minds of devs spears are 1. not as awesome as swords and axes 2. would need a lot of specialized code to get right.

  6. Raygereio says:

    Highly relevant
    Even more relevant

    A few features that would debut in Morrowind only to vanish forever including…[snip]
    – throwing weapons and spears
    – about a half-dozen unique clothing and item slots that can be mixed and even mismatched
    – fixed-point money-cost fast travel

    – Gah! Don’t remind me. People were genuinely exited when patch 1.8 for Skyrim hit and referenced to spears were found in the files. Spears were featured in the gamejam video and lots of other stuff from that video made it into the game. Why not spears? Then the Dragonborn DLC was released and these turn out to be throwing spears used by enemies. Which turn into friggin arrows when picked up by the player. Damn you, Todd Howard! Don’t play my heart like that.
    – Given what Bethesda seems to go for with item customization in FO4, I’m allowing myself to be optimistic that this might make a return in TES6. Don’t anyone tell me otherwise. I need to believe.
    – Skyrim had that in the form of carriages. The Dawnguard DLC also added ferrymen who could transport you to the coastal cities.

    1. GloatingSwine says:

      Trouble with spears were that they were a rare niche weapon which needed a whole different skill to operate, which meant that if you used them you were locked into them and if you didn’t use them the tedious “miss forever until you get some skill points” progression bit you in the arse, face, and genitals repeatedly whilst you reskilled.

      Probably giving you rockjoint.

      Because that’s what happens in Morrowind.

      They were a casualty of the skill consolidation that’s happened in every Elder Scrolls game, which people accuse of being “dumbing down” but is actually necessary given how bloody tedious the skill system actually is when you want to do anything new in it.

    2. Ysen says:

      “about a half-dozen unique clothing and item slots that can be mixed and even mismatched”

      If I recall correctly, this was dropped for technical reasons – reducing the number of slots apparently lets you put more people on screen without performance problems.

      Mind you, I still haven’t seen much of a crowd in Oblivion or Skyrim. I feel like one of the reasons it’s difficult to take the war seriously in Skyrim is that the “armies” are comically small – ten people do not make a “battle”.

      1. Da Mage says:

        This. Bethesda (like most AAA game devs) like to put aside a huge polygon budget for the main character. Since all NPCs have the same level of detail as the main character, they can be extremely expensive to draw if you get too many in the one place. By reducing the equipment slots, they were able to cut down on the potential visible items. Though it might also be because of how many player’s abused the enchanting system with that many equipables.

        I think the fights are so bad mainly because of the AI limitations. Since Oblivion, Bethesda games have had fairly low limit (around 15-20ish?) NPCs that can be active within a cell.

        1. HeroOfHyla says:

          In Skyrim, at least, the Civil War mod causes mass battles to spawn at random as you wander the map. I don’t know if there’s actually more than 20 NPCs at once, but it feels like it (and if you’re unlucky, they’ll stop fighting each other and all gang up on you).

          1. Veylon says:

            Pfft. I’ve seen them keeping going at each other even when there’s a firebreathing dragon filling the sky with it’s scaly wings and raining down fire on them.

          2. Michael says:

            The Skyrim build of the engine devours it’s own tail and dies if there’s more than about 50 NPCs spawned into the world at one time. It’s a memory overflow issue, IIRC.

            I want to say the stated reason they backed off all the slots was for game balance. Same reason they capped alchemy and spellcrafting in Oblivion. There were so many different slots for enchantments in Morrowind, it was impossible to balance content… which, I always thought was the point. Half the goal of the game was turning into an unkillable god yourself, so… why keep us from doing that?

            1. Rayen says:

              The main question was becoming the full reincarnation of the fifth member of the tribunal. Don’t analyze that statement too much it makes sense in the game.

              My biggest problem with it in skyrim (I played about an hour of oblivion and said I was done) is my character is trudging through a foot of snow in armor that has no sleeves. I don’t understand why I can’t wear clothes and armor.

    3. 4th Dimension says:

      The problem with those means of transport is that they are less then efficient. In Morrowind you could travel pretty damn quickly if you knew how to chain different services together and were usually pretty close together.
      If you were stuck in the middle of some eastern swamp dungeon and had a lot of loot you would do Mark, Divine Intervention and teleport to Ebon Hearth Fortress, run down into Magic Guild and teleport to Caldera, run across the street to the Creeper and offload your goods, Use the Recall spell to get back into the dungeon to pick up the rest of the loot.

      But in Skyrm the carriges are outside cities a walk away and prompt that stupid cut scene or something instead of teleporting you to the destination. They introduced fast travel to eliminate all these modes of transport because first time players didn’t know the routes and were complaining about how slow it is to get anywhere. But I still would have liked to have Mark and Recall because why you can travel to the mouth of a dungeon you must walk to the treasure and back out wasting a lot of your time. Also all these added to the atmosphere of Morrwind.

      1. Corpital says:

        The never system are so much less efficient, it actually causes pain in the hoarder part of my brain. Piling every piece of loot in a dwemer ruin on a big heap, then recalling/teleporting out with everything in one go and having several short trips to a nearby merchant was *so* much better than ‘you can’t fast-travel while encumbered’.

        1. Incunabulum says:

          I’ve never understood this hoarding thing. For me *part* of the RP is being able to stand there, sorting through loot piles and going ‘nope – not worth enough to haul back’ and, as I progress through the game, being able to say that to increasingly valuable stuff.

          Sure, at the very start I’m hauling back every flea-ridden scrap of hide armor I can pick up to try to scrape together a few Septims for a warm bed for the night. But later? Steel weapons and armor? Meh, not a good enough weight to value ratio to be worth hauling out.

    4. Aldowyn says:

      Carriages are boring, though. They’re not interesting, flavor-wise, and they just take you from every major city to every other major city, making them not interesting decision wise, either.

      And as soon as you go to a city once, they become obsolete because fast travel is a thing that exists that you can do at any time.

  7. Greg says:

    I didn’t have any real problems joining House Telvanni with a good mage character. The only really dubious quest I remember from them involved killing someone to get their robe, and you had to do things just as bad for the other great houses. Since the guiding rule of the house is might makes right, my character had no trouble deciding that when he took over he could change things by force if necessary.

  8. Matt Downie says:

    I’ve been giving Morrowind a second chance based on advice from these comments sections. Unlike last time, I’ve specialised in being a blade specialist who steals everything that’s not nailed down. This means it’s actually possible to defeat enemies and complete quests – especially once I joined the Mage Guild and took their potions, and found a magic sword lying around seemingly at random in the basement of an inn.

    I’m still not seeing the appeal. Yes, there are weird giant insect things, but that just makes the world a little more ugly and creepy. Yes, it’s impressive that you can get hold of magic items that allow you to win without any challenge. I could do this in Oblivion too, combining items to make me permanently invisible to all enemies. The difference is, in Oblivion I didn’t want to do that, since the combat was reasonably fun.

    I’m sure there’s more interesting stuff in Morrowind, but I’m not sure how long I’ll tolerate the clunky controls (how many mouse clicks am I supposed to need to pick up three coins?) and the slow movement (I’m always at zero stamina at the start of fights due to auto-run, and drinking a stamina potion rarely seems to be worth the hassle). I think I read somewhere that there were boots of speed somewhere in the world, which might make it more tolerable, if I hadn’t chosen to play as a race that turns out not to be able to wear boots.

    1. Rutskarn says:

      Yeah, all this is legit.

      I kind of have a thing on this which I’m hesitant about writing up–about how in Oblivion and Skyrim the worlds are almost confrontationally approachable, and why that might be. And I think it comes down to: as long as they made them idiosyncratic and weird, they’d never get the player base you need to support next-gen sandbox games because they’d always alienate a not-inconsiderable chunk of players.

      The reason I’m hesitant is because I worry it sounds like I’m judging people who didn’t like it. But I’m not. The point isn’t that you “missed” something, the point is that you got it perfectly well and didn’t like it, and you shouldn’t have liked it, because (and you had no way of knowing this, because the promotional material certainly didn’t tell you) it wasn’t made for you at all. And if it wasn’t made for you, why should it expect you to buy it gladly and ask for another one?

      1. djw says:

        Since you can get a Morrowind style game with mods (OOO in Oblivion, and Requiem in Skyrim, for instance) I am cool with the change, even though it makes the vanilla games less interesting for me.

      2. Benjamin Hilton says:

        To a certain degree It’s even not a game for people who love it. I love the game for all the reasons you list, yet I, and others I know of, have never actually come even close to finishing the main quest. The most I’ve done is finish a few guilds. As much as I love the world and what it does, it really is a slog. And inevitably once every few years I install it again and say “This time. This time I’m gonna finish it.” Flash forward a few months later and I exit out and can’t summon the will to go back In. Flash forward a year later and…..

        1. Syal says:

          Oh, how much of a slog. The first, what is it, four quests, entirely about learning world history? Five? Eight? That really should have ended at two; one for the prophecy, one for the bad guys, done with the mandatory learning.

          1. djw says:

            I think the feature that turns it into a slog is that you have to go out and level your skills independent of the quests you do. The dwarven ruin that the first history quest sends you to is a death trap if you go in unskilled. This is a direct consequence of the way level scaling works in Morrowind. I prefer it this way, but it is easy to see why some people would hate it.

            1. Syal says:

              For me the slog started when they sent me to Vivec, and I had to find three people who would tell me about things the last two quests had been to learn about, with no combat to distract me from the tedium. And then the next one is to Ald-Ruhn to ask another person the same thing, and then the next one is to the middle of nowhere to ask more people the same things.

              1. djw says:

                Vivec is a slog because its civil engineers designed it for maximum annoyance to travelers.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  Oh yes. Ohhh yes.

                  In any case, once I modded Morrowind just a bit (there was a collection of patches that I used, I don’t recall), the early game became annoying instead of unplayable, and then I was off to the races. There are so many things I prefer in Morrowind – relative lack of level scaling, more interesting loot, questlines that actually required you to be competent at relevant skills (both through the hard skill limits and through the soft mission parameters), etc. etc.

                  I’m really hoping Skywind turns out well. (I have no idea how Skywind is doing)

                2. Benjamin Hilton says:

                  So much this. Also any quest involving Escorting an NPC.

  9. Hal says:

    How does the handling of the religions compare to the earlier series?

    In Oblivion and Skyrim, the Imperial gods (Aedra) are treated as “true” gods, while the Daedra are treated more like powerful demons or usurpers.

    My memory of Morrowind says that the Imperial religion was the foreign, unaccepted faith in the land, while the Daedra were very popular (although their shrines were still out in the middle of nowhere.) I don’t really recall much about how Tribunal worship fit into things.

    Still, I remember those factions as being fleshed out and having complex relationships. Do you have any further feelings on how this transformed from the first entries, or how it changed moving past Morrowind?

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      If I remember correctly Tribunal was the official faith of the natives of Morrowind with the Aedra worship being considered a thing of the Invading Empire. Daedra were there too, but worshiping them was as in many other games something cultist did because D are cruel masters. But people with real problems would still do it coz Daedra would help if only for a GREAT price. I have this memory of one of the Temple missions being clearing out a Daedra temple.

      1. Syal says:

        But the members of the Tribunal were also considered to be incarnations of certain Daedra. It was… complicated.

        And the Temple talked about the Four Corners of of the House of Troubles as if they were basically pure evil, but there was a Temple quest to worship them.

        Weird and complicated.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ok,this isnt really a morrowind question(its related),but something specific to most fantasy:
    If these gods are actually real and tangible,meaning they do appear to mortals,they do perform actual miracles,and everyone knows about them,how the hell can different religions and different sects of religions even exist?The only reason we have religious wars and schisms in the real world is that no one has ever seen an actual god appear and perform an actual miracle.

    1. Grey Cap says:

      Well, I think the people who don’t “believe” in the Tribunal understand that they exist; they just don’t agree they should be worshiped as gods. I might refuse to worship them just because I prefer to worship other gods; or on the basis that they aren’t really gods, but just really powerful magicians; or even because I think they are gods, but morally repugnant (if I knew that they got their powers by betraying and murdering their boss).

      A possibly really wonky parallel: few people in our world would deny that the U.S. army is really powerful. But people disagree on whether or not it’s a force for good, and they disagree on whether or not their countries should ally with the U.S.

    2. Hal says:

      The Tribunal aside, my understanding of the Tamriel religions comes from how you consider their role in the creation mythos and the broader universe.

      That is, the Daedra generally consider Nirn just another realm like their own, and thus fair game for their influence, while the Aedra (i.e. the Imperial gods) consider it a special place under their protection, with the Daedra as evil outsiders.

      As I recall, this is actually critical to the plot of Oblivion.

      For what it’s worth, I don’t feel like the Aedra are ever very well characterized or explained, though that’s largely because it’s a big feature of the games to go on quests for the Daedra and earn their magic doodads, while the Aedra generally just hand out blessings.

      1. Michael says:

        The difference between them are the Aedra are agents of stasis. Keeping things the same, preventing change. The Daedra are agents of change, kicking things a bit to get things rolling.

        This is part of why Meridia and Azura are Daedra and not Aedra. They’re actually trying to change the world in various ways, while the Aedra are content to set the rules sit back, and do nothing most of the time.

        So, in general, the Aedra aren’t the kind to pass their goodies around and get you to go questing for them, and the only actual Aedric artifact I can think of is Aruiel’s Bow.

    3. Hermocrates says:

      The aedra, Imperial pantheon, are actually not the kind to show themselves and prove their existence. Their existence is more heavily implied than the gods of any real life religion (for example, physical shrines which grant perceivable bonuses and similar blessings), but there’s still enough room for someone to at least doubt their godhood, if not their very existence. Their primary role was in the creation of the world and the first mortal creatures.

      The daedra lords, on the other hand, are most certainly real, and both have alternate planes of reality and make physical appearances on Tamriel (or at least present themselves in visions). However, their godhood is much more in question, with some merely considering them demons. The daedra like to be worshipped, but played no hand in the creation story.

      Then there is the Tribunal, who are most certainly real and most certainly have god-like powers, but as the Morrowind plot shows, their godhood is also the most controversial. Because they saved and protected Morrowind over the millennia, the locals mostly worship them, but they have no sway outside of the province and I think they’re okay with that. There are a selected three daedra which ALMSIVI hold up as special, and they are revered—not worshipped—as powerful, benign beings, and there is a selected canon of deceased mortals who are revered as saints.

      1. shiroax says:

        “The aedra, Imperial pantheon, are actually not the kind to show themselves and prove their existence.”

        Yes, they are. You meet them in Morrowind, during Cult quests.

        1. Hector says:

          That was also a somewhat unusual case, since they were directly helping you along. Most people probably don’t meet them in person, or if they do don’t recognize them. All the deities took the appearance of ordinary people and didn’t act that unusual apart from handing you a minor magic item. It took a special oracle to identify them – and even them you might not quite believe it. They don’t sit around sending mortals on missions.

          On the other hand, Daedra are chatty to the point that they just Will. Not. Shut Up! They’re always trying to wheedle, command, and bribe you into serving them and doing their dirty work, most of which amounts to silly politicking or playing game for the sake of it.

          1. Michael says:

            Almost everyone meets Wulf during the main quest, unless they sprint through the Ghost Gate. The number of players who realize they were just talking to Tiber Septum, however…

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        This. The existence of these beings isn’t usually in question, religious conflicts in the TES universe are mostly about which of them are the most deserving of worship. Especially in case of Daedra for many people this also translates to either “which can give me the most” or “which am I most afraid of”.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          “The existence of these beings isn't usually in question, religious conflicts in the TES universe are mostly about which of them are the most deserving of worship.” This.

          Also applies to other settings – say, D&D – where the gods are accepted as existing but people pay special attention to certain gods depending on their spheres of influence. Analogous to many real polytheistic religions, actually. (Think about greek/roman mythology)

    4. SoranMBane says:

      The religious conflicts in Tamriel seem to have less to do with which gods are “real,” and more to do with which gods are powerful and/or morally-agreeable enough to be worth worshipping. For example, the Deadra are often seen as cruel and “evil,” so most honest people revile them and choose to worship the “good” Aedra instead. But, at the same time, the Daedra are objectively more powerful than the Aedra (because they didn’t give up their power to create Nirn), so some others see the Daedra as being more worthy of respect. Then there are gods like the Tribunal and Talos, who started out as mortals, which causes many to question whether they even deserve to be considered “gods,” even if there’s no question they exist and have power. Then there’s inter-god politics to consider (like the rivalry between Molag Bal and Boethia), and the fact that different races often can’t agree on the true natures of certain gods, even if they all technically believe in the “same” gods.

    5. Decius says:

      The Aedra exist, appear to people, and perform miracles. The Tribunal exist, appear to people, and do miracles. The Deadra exist, appear to people, and do miracles. The mages guild exist, appear to people, and do things that would be miracles if any of the god-contenders did them.

  11. Narida says:

    “The stealthy faction Great House Hlaalu is nice or ethical.” should probably be “isn’t” or we’re disagreeing on some pretty basic definitions.

    Also, what was fucked up, what you thought your father would think or that the game made a 12 year old strip? I’m guessing the former.

    1. Rutskarn says:

      Alright, I’m answering this here and now because it’s sort of important.

      I don’t think he’d react that way at all now that I have an adult’s context and understanding. Kids (particularly sheltered kids like I was) do not. They only understand that sex stuff is taboo and they’re not supposed to know about it, which means they don’t feel safe going to adults when they feel uncomfortable.

      It was a fucked up situation that a game character molested me and I felt not only uneasy, but like my actual parent couldn’t find out.

      1. evileeyore says:

        Huh. That didn’t bother me when I played (I was a bit older than you… by 16 years) but the rape in the Chaos intro for The Secret World did bother me.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I’m pretty sure I was forewarned about Crassius, so I wasn’t overly bothered by that segment. I can’t possibly understand how he can be a fan favorite, though, because he was one messed up sleazeball.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            It would probably be better to call him “memorable” than a favorite. I imagine for many players it was at least chuckle-raising solution of the quest* and an original, if gimmicky, use of the inventory system. Like ‘Skarn said, he was in a vulnerable position, plus different people have different triggers.

            *Truth be told I was unaware this was the only solution, I would expect to be some workaround and the lack of it is somewhat disappointing. In the playthroughs I got far enough into the houses for this to become relevant I’d go Telvanni as a rule.

  12. Rosseloh says:

    RE: “feeling genuinely cold”

    I live in a place that gets pretty damn frigid every winter, and while not perfect, I think Skyrim had some good spots where the sound effects and visual effects came together and made me shiver out of habit. I don’t get the same effect from Morrowind, at least in my memory.

    However it has been a long time since I fired up Bloodmoon (as much as I would love to finish Morrowind, there’s something about it that makes me stop playing after I get a few levels in and I’ve never gotten further), so maybe I just don’t have the requisite experience to say for sure.

    1. Christopher says:

      Just from the image, I think Morrowind looks colder than Skyrim, but it might be because of what I imagine Skyrim’s snow to be like. There are areas there with snowstorms, but I hardly remember them. Instead, I remember a full moon on a bright night sky with wolves howling and snow blowing in the wind over snow. It’s more atmospheric, and much prettier, but it doesn’t feel colder compared to a pale, desaturated landscape.

      To compare something similar, the winter area with the storm raging in the Dark Souls 2 DLC feels a whole lot colder than the Painted World of Ariamis where snow is just laying down, even if that takes place at night.

      Does Morrowind have icy waters? That might be the thing that feels coldest in Skyrim, though it might also have been me being terrified of sea monsters that never appeared.

      1. djw says:

        Skryim feels colder if you install Frostfall and face consequences for walking around without warm clothing.

        1. swenson says:

          I’ve never actually played vanilla Skyrim, I played my first time with Frostfall installed, so my very first time up what’s-it-called mountain had underleveled me booking it on foot through a snowstorm, running from every single enemy because I was so close to freezing to death I knew I would die if I stopped to fight anything. Believe me, it felt cold, and I’ve never been so happy as when I stumbled up to that door and found the first brazier to warm up next to.

          Subsequent trips up the mountain sans Frostfall (or plus a horse) were significantly less dangerous/interesting.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            I still like taking the pilgrimage up the thousand steps to High Hrothgar. It’s usually the first significant trek I take in any given run of Skyrim.

            For all its faults, I really do like the atmosphere of Skyrim. Just traveling across the overworld is easily my favorite part.

      2. Rosseloh says:

        Instead, I remember a full moon on a bright night sky with wolves howling and snow blowing in the wind over snow

        While I completely agree with you, this is actually one of the big things that makes me feel cold.

        Where I live, snowfall or a blizzard usually means it’s warmer, of all things – snow can’t fall if it’s too cold for it to be in that fluffy semisolid state. So I’m very used to walking out the door and getting hit with -40F wind, where the only snow is stuff that is already on the ground. Not saying that blizzards are pleasant, but they’re not the only indicator of winter conditions.

        I don’t know how far north (in numbers) Solstheim is from the equator, but most of it is supposedly at about the same latitude as the cold parts of Skyrim. Depending on the distance from the north pole, ocean currents, and perhaps periodic ashfall from Vvardenfell, may very well make it more temperate, to a point. (Consider coastal Norway and the British Isles vs. the central northern U.S. where I live)

        I should really get Morrowind going again and ACTUALLY play it this time….

  13. Bubble181 says:

    I know theese are reposts from your own blog, but I still feel the need to point out the same as I did there:
    “multiple default-game vampire clan factions” were in Daggerfall as well, and they were larger, more diverse, and there were more of them.
    As for cruises, those were in Daggerfall as well.

    Morrowind was the last of the great TES games as ar as I’m concerned; both Oblivion and Skyrim completely failed to hold my interest. Far too generic and bland. They’re not the same type of “open world” as Daggerfall or Morrowind.

  14. Mark says:

    That’s a really good point, about the “history” of Elder Scrolls being an endless stack of poorly sourced rumors and convenient myths and urban legends that people incessantly argue with each other about. That’s a far more realistic portrayal of how people actually think of history than the sterile sixth-grade midterm test version you see in most games of this type. It’s also far more fitting for video game “lore” which is usually a mess of contradiction and retcon anyway.

    But I can’t think of any other titles that a) are lore-heavy and b) take this approach. Can anyone else?

    1. Mike S. says:

      Dragon Age has a bunch of different versions of historical events believed by the Chantry, the Dalish, Tevinter, etc., including multiple varying versions of specific battles.

      There’s a bit in the beginning of Inquisition in which Solas talks about how Fade spirits endlessly reenact the battle of Ostagar from the beginning of the first game. You can suggest that this makes it possible to find out what really happened, and he explains that because they’re keyed off people’s perceptions, you can see evil Teyrn Loghain betraying the heroic King Cailan, the wise Loghain salvaging something out of headstrong Cailan’s disaster, etc.

      On the other hand, there are parts of Inquisition that threaten to reveal what “really” happened– multiple eyewitnesses to myth and ancient history who’ll tell you what they know. (Especially Solas himself in the final DLC.) I actually sort of hope they muddy those waters a bit more as the series progresses.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        The revelations about Solas and Flemeth have all sorts of far-reaching ramifications as far as lore in Thedas goes. I really need to get around to Trespasser…

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    One can make arguments for either design philosophy

    I think morrowinds philosophy should be followed by all open world games,while preventing the player from murdering critical npcs should be left to the more structured games.

  16. Double A says:

    Well holy shit, you might finally finish Altered Scrolls before GRRM puts out another book. Is Chocolate Hammer kill at last?

    Anyway, how would you describe Battlespire and Redguard? I read Weaver’s Battlespire letter, and he seemed to think it was actually a pretty funny game. I only sort of trust his word here.

  17. Vi says:

    It sounds like a really impressive world to play in. We probably would have enjoyed it immensely…until the strip quest. Although the hosts wouldn’t have understood why “something” inside them was flipping the hell out, it could have potentially broken our trust in video games forever. Games were our collective happy place, where things like that didn’t happen. Even now we try to keep them that way: If a new app begins disrespecting our boundaries, such as making our avatar jiggle at us suggestively for no reason, we’ll simply uninstall it without any further investment. Of course, that’s harder to do with a full-priced RPG midway through a quest line, just as it’s harder to distance yourself from a real-world pervert who’s been feeding and clothing you your whole life…

  18. Isaac says:

    Grammar mistake on this line, brackets are mine: “The stealthy faction Great House Hlaalu is [neither] nice or ethical.”

    Edit: oops nvm someone else already pointed this out

  19. Fabrimuch says:

    Could you be enslaved if you were playing a Khajit or Argonian?

  20. Ben B says:

    The language factor is something that hit me so hard, I try to include it in my RPGs. I so vividly recall being called a s’wit and n’wah that I try to come up with similar terms and use them when I’m playing a racist character. For instance, I wanted to come up with a term for Dwarves when playing an Elf in a game where there’s a big war between them. My elf regularly called them ‘Rock-humpers’ and ‘Boulder-faces’. It feels real to have words like that involved when you are actively fighting a group of people to help dehumanize them. War fighters do that in the real world. Why wouldn’t my character?
    That was a big part of my immersion for Morrowind. What took me out of it was that the best way to train Athletics was to swim into a wall, strap a rubber band to the controller, and go out for dinner. Then come back and bask in your new skill-ups.

  21. Vivi says:

    The he-said-she-said / conflicting myths presentation of the lore really annoyed me when I first played the game as a (barely still) teenager, because I actually do enjoy finding out the the exact world-building the creator had in mind. (I don’t have a problem keeping several different elaborate fantasy setting backstories in my head, either. I used to read quite a lot of long-running, history-heavy fantasy book series, and I’ve always loved learning about real-world history of various cultures, too.) All this waffling and purposeful vagueness just pissed off my scientist side.
    But now that I’m older (and have spent a lot of time reading history on the university level, not just the one version they teach you in highschool), I do appreciate the approach as a more realistic representation of how culture actually works – especially a pre-modern culture that relies completely on religion and politically biased chronicle-writers for memory-keeping, not social-science-type historians at least trying for objective accounts and archaeologists / palaeontologists relying on tangible proof.

    As for Crassius… Well, I was 19 when I first played, and I’m a woman (so this character’s behaviour felt more ‘unpleasant, but hardly unexpected’ to me, except for the fact that he was an equal-opportunity-pervert), plus I was playing a male character (CRPGs at the time offered romatic side quests mostly just for male characters – Morrowind is no exception), so there was another buffer between me and the character, and it didn’t feel as personal as it did for you. (Or were you playing a female character for the usual juvenile reasons and felt guilty because the game was basically making you complicit with Crassius in her exploitation and/or because the game was saying “I know you’ve ogled her undressed body before and that you’d probably install a nude mod if you could.”?) I think the only thing I thought at the time was “This is rather homophobic, to make the only gay character act like a sexual predator.” (Yes, I know Vivec is intersex/bisexual as well, or at least considered to be hermaphroditic by the more mystical parts of priesthood – but that is hidden really deeply in the in-game lore books, so most players won’t realize it.) After a male friend, who’d been playing a female character, told me that it happened to ‘her’, too, so it wasn’t that it was meant specifically as part of a gay characterization (though “Depraved Bisexual” is just as harmful as a trope), I actually kind of appreciated the scene as a teachable moment. (I.e. to show the male players what this shit feels like to the victim, and not letting them get out of it by simply giving their male character the male privilege that mostly protects them from this type of abuse in real life.) I think it’s good if boys learn this lesson in empathy early – before hormones override common sense and their peers and other media consumption teaches them that it’s okay / forgiveable “boys will be boys” behaviour to take advantage of women that way if they have the power to do so. (Though the game writers rather ruined the lesson by treating it in a ‘humorous’ manner and characterizing Crassius as an essentially harmless dunce, not dangerous as such sexual predators are in real life.)

    However, if your reaction was more embarrassment and guilt at doing anything sexual in the game, instead of outrage, then I think you may have been a bit too immature to play the game – twelve isn’t “teen”, and I feel like it was more your father’s job to keep the game out of your hands for a few more years, or at least to provide the “Parental Guidance” even a lower rating would have required, if he chose to raise you that sheltered; it wasn’t the game designer’s job to keep out all sexual content in a game aimed primarily at teenagers and adults. Though I think I remember a similar plot point in Final Fantasy 7, which I played when I was 11 or 12, and it didn’t faze me much. Perhaps it’s a cultural difference between Western Europe and the U.S. (I never had “the talk” with my parents, but purely reproductive-biology-covering school sex ed happened at age 10/11, and my parents started giving me historical novels written for adults when I was 12, which included not-particularly-porny-but-still-explicit sex scenes), but I didn’t feel guilty for disrobing my character – just righteously angry that he/she was getting exploited by this creep.
    But anyway, I do agree that the topic of sexual harassment is not an appropriate subject matter for comedy (which in my opinion is what really was “fucked up” about that scene), and should have been presented much more seriously (and with at least some option of getting around stripping for those that really can’t handle it for whatever reason, be it youth, trauma triggers, or just plain prudery). I mean, it was basically a censored-for-teens ‘casting couch’ type rape joke, and those are never okay.

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