If there’s anything that Super Mario Bros. taught me, it would be this: Truly classic video-games never die. A game can be old, but still fun to play in the modern age. There are few games that encapsulate this more than Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, which is often heralded as the “Greatest RPG Ever”. Reading through this right now, I’m sure you have many questions.
Why is Morrowind still considered good to this very day? Why do people gush about it so much? Well, let’s backtrack back to 2002 and find out! Back in 2002, gaming was on its way to evolving into something completely new. We had Metroid Prime, Warcraft III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Age of Mythology, Hitman 2, and many others.
The market was flooded with many great games, and the gaming medium was on its way to becoming something far less niche. While 2002 wasn’t as good of a year for gaming as 2007 was, it definitely was one that would impact video-game market greatly. During this time, the world was introduced to “Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind”.
At the time, no one knew what Elder Scrolls was. The first two games were incredibly obscure, and the fan-base for them was very small. However, this third entry is what changed all that. Morrowind introduced the world to the concept of a “Fully 3D Open-World RPG”. It wasn’t an isometric RPG, a dungeon-crawler, or an isometric game. Instead, it was a game that involved free-choice and building the kind of RPG experience you wanted!
You could be a spell-slinging Argonian Wizard, a Khajiit Thief, or a Nord Barbarian. You weren’t restricted by the character class you chose, and nothing stopped you from completely changing your build halfway through the game’s story. Now, Morrowind didn’t invent this genre of RPG.
Ultima Underworld helped craft that open-world RPG experience, while Elder Scrolls simply took it and refined it. The first two Elder Scrolls games were heralded at the time as being immensely solid and entertaining RPGs, but hard for the average player to get into. Morrowind was made more simplistic than its predecessors, but still kept a lot of the older games’ more complex systems.
For example, most of the “Skills” from Daggerfall made their triumphant return in this game. Skills like “Unarmored” and “Hand-To-Hand” were slowly phased out as the franchise progressed, but they were on full display here! I found myself focusing a lot on Unarmored, due to the fact that my character couldn’t wear boots by default. It’s the curse of being an Argonian reptile; armored boots just don’t fit lizard feet.
Morrowind’s skills aren’t its only draw, just one of the big ones. The game’s biggest asset is the alien world it presents, which feels far different than any other fantasy game on the market at the time. You start the game by getting off of a prison shop, right before being thrust into a strange and bizarre world. You are dropped off in a swampy town, while a giant monstrous insect looms over you. The insect isn’t some kind of giant monster, but rather just a vehicle for people to get around on.
This sets the stage for Morrowind’s aesthetic, which involves embracing the weirdness of its setting to the best of its ability. You’ll come across tons of bizarre monsters, interesting adventures, and odd scenarios. One of my favorite moments in the game is when you leave the starting village, only to be caught off guard by a mage falling out of the sky. He lands on the ground, allowing the player to loot his corpse of magical flying scrolls. Using these “Scrolls of Icarian Flight”, the player can take to the air and soar into the sky. However, you’ll be in for a rough landing as well if you attempt this, unless you use a special spell to break your fall.
The game is full of awesome magical spells like this, which actually make for some fantastic gameplay. You can levitate high up in the sky, walk on water, or even magically unlock treasure chests. The game also lets you create your own custom spells, which increases the amount of crazy magical things you can do in this game! The only limitation is the fact that spells fail most of the time, at least until you’ve leveled up the skills associated with them enough.
Morrowind is a game that lets you create your own experience, but it definitely takes a while before you fully get to that point. Morrowind’s biggest problem is its lack of accessibility, at least for beginners. Morrowind was a game designed with a more “hardcore” RPG audience in mind, and caters more to those ideals.
You’ll find no quest markers, dedicated “Fast Travel” system, or fair combat system here. This is a game where 90% of your attacks are guaranteed to miss, while your ass gets kicked by enemies far weaker than you. Morrowind throws you into an unforgiving world with minimal guidance, and expects you to fight your way through it on your own.
I’m not going to lie, I had to resort to using a strategy guide multiple times for this game. The directions it gives are often obtuse, and are even wrong in some cases. On top of this, the game doesn’t run well on modern PCs. Be prepared for lag, bugs, and slow loading screens. Thankfully, the OpenMW mod fixes a ton of these problems.
That’s another good thing about Morrowind: Its modding capabilities. Morrowind was made by Bethesda after all, which means people will automatically mod the heck out of it. You have mods that add new landscapes, monsters, cities, dungeons, etc. All of these mods make this already extremely long game even longer, while giving the player mountains upon mountains of new content.
You can even use mods to fix a lot of Morrowind’s dated issues, such as making the clunky combat much better. Regardless of whether you consider Morrowind bad or good, you can’t deny how popular the game still is to this day. Despite how poorly most of the game has aged, people STILL play it. It has a sizable player-base, one that still thrives to this day.
Heck, Bethesda just gave the game out for free earlier this week! On top of this, Bethesda went out of their way to set some expansions for their most recent games in Morrowind itself. It’s clear that the interest in this game is still there for its many fans, myself included. While I can admit that Morrowind has aged poorly and that a lot of its mechanics are horribly dated; I still find it to be a fair bit of fun. I don’t ask for perfection from my game, just a fun experience. To that end, this makes Morrowind a grand success in my book.