Specific Ratings

Learning CurveA
Replay ValueF

Pros and Cons

  • Excellent opening music
  • More patriotic than burning your money
  • Interesting loading screens
  • Essentially any cRPG with the story stripped away
  • Composed almost entirely of simple fetch-quests
  • Paper-thin NPCs

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC)

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Broken promises


As I entered the world of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, I found myself enthralled and full of joy. Here was a game that delivered on its promises, I thought to myself gleefully. The music, the graphics, the very responsiveness of the game were all fantastic. This was a game so good that it didn't have a story, some of my friends told me. Others disagreed, saying it didn't have a story, it was so good.

It all came shattering down as I clicked the ''New Game'' button. Gone was the magnificent music and the beautiful title screen. The former was replaced only by silence and the latter by an illegibly annotated image of some big blocky creature. The game continued to get better and better, and by "better" I mean "worse".

After the bar filled itself up, I was greeted by the image of a tremendously ugly polygonal head attached to a just-as-ugly body. This thing made Andross from the SNES Star Fox look like Miss America in comparison. I tried to flee, but was trapped in place as it leered at me. As I watched the screen, dumbstruck in horror, another monstrosity ran toward me like a low-gravity zombie. There truly was no escape! Or so Bethesda thought. Due to decades of training on Microsoft systems, I was well versed in the ways of the three finger salute. In relief I laughed in the face of the horrors as I was whisked away.

Once I had worked up my courage, I started up the game again and allowed the villains to do their worst. Apparently they wished me to depart their big brown boat. I did so, and gladly, only to be approached by an armored zombie creature. The hideous creature informed me he was an Imperial soldier and demanded to know my race. Either he was as dumb as he looked or I looked just as hideous as he! By clicking my way through the various, but rather meaningless, character customization options, I was able to tone down the level of repulsiveness to something that would have only had an even chance of scaring the living daylights out of a normal man. Despite being made of sterner stuff, it still repelled me. I had to prove that I was macho enough to take the pain, though, and pressed on.

The malformed being led me toward a brown building. I use the word "led" rather loosely here, of course, as I do with the word "building". As I opened the door, I was reminded of Ursula Le Guin's classic short story "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas", wherein the peace and prosperity of a utopia are maintained by the suffering of an abused, malformed child trapped within a box of a room. Apparently the entire world of the Elder Scrolls was such a room. I hoped that the universe these characters were suffering for was happier than the people of Omelas, for otherwise there'd been a mistake somewhere.

In any case, after I waited through a dramatic black screen, I was greeted by some sort of funky medieval psychologist who proceeded to give me a personality test. Had I known this was the most role playing to be found in the entire game, I would have spent more time analyzing the multiple choice questions. "Your father tells you to clean the barn, but you want to play", the Freud-wannabe informed me in his pitiable voice-over. "Your friend says he will do the work for you in return for a later favor. What will you do?" I would smack the freak upside the head, that's what I would do. What kind of sick people developed this game? Alas, my only options in the make-believe scenario were to accept the offer, refuse the offer (with the justification that it's my job, not his), or to split the work (and split the "favor").

And so it continued until Freud decided I was really a peasant monk. I told him I was a really a crusader. With this, Freud telekinetically filled out a form lying on a nearby table and released his Xavier-like mind-lock on me so that I could at last experience the freedom of Morrowind. Being willing to be led by the nose, I decided to pick up the paper and wait for freedom until I was outside. No sooner did I do so than Freud began lecturing me on the evils of thieving. Out of spite, I picked up his pen, which caused him to again repeat his diatribe against burglary. I decided to beg for forgiveness, but apparently the good doctor had gone mad and would only repeatedly tell me to go through the door. I complied in order to humor the brown-robed old man.

Here I came face to face with another ugly soldier, though the only evidence he wasn't the same guy I met initially was a name tag. That was paltry proof. In the time that I'd been playing twenty questions, he could easily have snuck off and switched names. Nonetheless, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, largely because he was more heavily armed and armored than I. I proceeded to try to pry him for information, but his impeccable soldier training had left his mind as sharp as a vise. Our conversation went thusly (names have been changed to protect the guilty):

Me: ''Hello.''
Him: ''Welcome to Corneria.''
Me: ''Hello.''
Him: ''Welcome to Corneria.''
Me: ''Hello.''
Him: ''Welcome to Corneria.''

I could not hope to defeat this conversational master at his own art, so I showed him Freud's sheet and left. As I walked down the hall in all my first-person glory, a message from Satan himself appeared on the screen, informing me that I must steal the assorted bottles and weeds from this customs office. I repeated Freud's mantra about theft to myself, but the message was insistent. I stole the bottle and went through a door. Here I opened barrels and stole meat from within! I could see that this game was very different from the other computer and console RPGs I'd played, for usually I steal from vibrant treasure chests before I steal from brown tables and brown barrels.

I even found a brown burlap sack on the ground which I slept in. I wanted to take it with me, but my character had enough morality to know that you shouldn't steal other people's beds, for otherwise they'd have no place to sleep! I decided that sleeping on the floor was good enough, but my character disagreed here as well. I even dropped clothes on the floor so that they looked like a burlap sack, but he would not be deceived by this cheap trick. If I wanted to rest, I needed a real bed. Or an immovable burlap sack. I exited the building and raided another barrel to find a more-or-less circular ring. With my ill-gotten gains at hand, I decided to walk the streets.

Immediately I was approached by a rat-faced creature who demanded his ring back. I gave it to him and he shambled off. But I was not about to let him go so easily. I meandered after him around a brown house on a brown road and asked him more questions. He, too, was well-trained in concealing his secrets and refused to elaborate on any of his answers. I stopped another guard (though again, he could have been the same one as before, running outside as I slept). He gave me the exact same answers as the rat-creature did. With growing unease and exhilaration, I found the inescapable conclusion that everyone was linked to a hive mind except me. Oh, Bethesda had crafted an intricate plot indeed!

I decided to investigate the propped-up general store. I leaped up, but my character refused to grab on to the brown walkway above. After a few more attempts, I realized that this was his way of telling me he wasn't the Prince of Persia, but rather a Redguard Crusader. I went around the stairs in the back, but the store was uninteresting, so I decided to hike across the country instead.

The smog was as thick in the wilderness as it was in the town itself -- the hive mind was not an environmentalist, I saw. Out of the blue, I heard a yell, but the smog obscured my view. Proceeding onward, I saw a body strike the floor ahead of me. I noted the body was better dressed than I, so I stole his clothes and left him lying there. Decked out in a pimping robe and pointy hat, I strode through the smog, giant mushrooms towering above me. All at once I came face to face with a damsel in distress. She told me she was trying to be mugged, so I punched her. This was not good enough for the woman and she made her displeasure felt by punching me back. And adding on another punch for good measure. And another. And another. I ran, but I was no match for her speed, either. Soon she had pummeled me senseless, forcing me to reload my previously saved game.

This time when I got to the lady boxer I decided to ask her more about the art of being mugged. She told me she only wanted to be mugged by a particular mugger and told me to tell him so. In this innovative way, I was sent upon a letter delivery quest, something I've enjoyed in my electronic RPGs since the 80's. Eventually I found the bandit in a brown tavern. When I told him that the savage seductress wished to be mugged, he vowed to marry her and give up his evil ways. Rarely have I seen such realistic characters in a computer game.

I myself decided to visit a pawn shop to buy some quality used goods. I picked up a few books and browsed through them as the pawnbroker looked on, staring right through me. As soon as I touched a sword lying on the counter, however, she moved to give me two black eyes and a number of bruises. My poor character collapsed in a heap and I reloaded the game.

My only hope was to train to become a superior warrior. I did this by punching a brown building over and over. Something had to give eventually and something did: my patience. I resolved to set the evil building on fire, but my efforts failed, for the brown-ness of the structure made it immune to the elements. In despair, I resorted to stabbing at it with my sword, but I left not a scratch on the harder-than-adamantine house. Bethesda had really thought of everything when designing this game.

The time had come, I concluded, for me to get a real job. Being a crusader, I enlisted with the local fighter's guild. My first job was to kill three rats in the village pillow-maker's home. Having done this, I was lauded mightily and given a promotion in rank. My next mission was to kill some egg-thieves. I walked (skipped, really) to the egg mine and delved within. As soon as the egg-thieves saw me, they relentlessly attacked, giving me no option but to slay them then and there. I returned to the guild hall and told my adviser the task was done. The hive mind recognized this was so, for it felt the loss of its two egg-thieves, and rewarded me with some more money. Since I was injured, I decided to rest in a bed to recover from the massive amounts of hardcore roleplaying I was being exposed to.

As I slept under the watchful eye of the entire fighter's guild, an assassin appeared by my brown bed and attacked me in the middle of the night. I defended myself aptly and loudly. Stripping the assassin down to his undies, I left him floating in mid-air and walked back out the open door to the guild members standing down the hall. Being a real man's man, my crusader refused to even mention the assassination attempt that occurred under their very noses, and they pretended it didn't happen either. The guild head was no different in this regard. Instead, I spoke to a local soldier who believed me but didn't much care for my life. Recognizing how little my crusader meant to the hive mind, I dejectedly exited from the game.

In real life, I cried myself to sleep that night, knowing that Bethesda had accurately portrayed how little value a lone man represents to the hegemony. Morrowind's superb interactive, reactive nature might be lost on a smaller mind, but not on me. This was a game chock-full of everyday truisms. Never touch items in pawn shops. Never sleep in communal housing. Always obey authority. Humor senile old men. Paint the town brown. Kill rats. Don't think outside the box. Never in all my life have I experienced as "immersive" an RPG as this. Morrowind was so powerful that I could do naught else but sell it in the hopes that someone else could cope with the raw intensity. The money so earned goes to fund extra books for those wildly inferior Pencil and Paper RPGs. Those, at least, I can handle.

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