Ryan King
02 Mar, 2003

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Review

Xbox Review | Xbox doesn't have a stand-out RPG in its line-up but Morrowind does its upmost best to fill the void.
It’s no secret that the one thing Xbox lacks in its growing line-up is a decent RPG. Every other genre is well catered for but RPG gamers have been left alone snivelling in the corner like a miserable, rejected child. So hats off to Bethesda for coming up with the first Xbox RPG worthy of note: the massive, sprawling beast that is The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. It’s been in development for a fair while now and you can see where all the effort has gone but is it worth your hard earned cash?

Let me slay some trolls, strong warrior!

As you might have guessed from the none-too-catchy title, Morrowind is more of a ‘hardcore’ RPG. The term hardcore RPG has most sane games players diving behind their sofa, fearing a game where the characters talk like He-Man and have names like Freva Trothslayer. It has to be said that Morrowind does contain some of these traits, which might make the game a little daunting for newcomers to the genre. Still, once you get your teeth stuck into the meat and bones of the game, it is incredibly easy to get wrapped up in the Morrowind world.

There is a story to be found, which follows the typical cliché of “only you can save the world!” but as you’ll soon discover, you don’t have to stick to this story. In fact, you don’t even have to save the world at all. You can idly wander about, chat to villagers, insult villagers, pick flowers, read books, steal cutlery from people’s houses, just about everything your imagination can come up with is catered for. The main draw is the freedom that the game gives you; unlike most RPGs, which gently guide you along and tell you where to go, in Morrowind you can decide your own fate and what you do the moment you pick up the pad.

There are limits to this of course. The map is huge which means although you can go out and explore everything straightaway, it’ll take ages, so you’ll probably prefer to slowly work your way around, completing tasks for various different people and building your character up. Also some areas of the map have in effect ‘sealed off’ by placing some very strong enemies there, enemies that obviously can’t be beaten until you’ve levelled up enough to give them a proper spanking with your sword. Finally, you’re still bound by certain laws within the game, so while killing people and stealing is an option, you’ll eventually have to pay a fine or go to jail for your crimes. Even then, there’s a way around this; if you taunt someone into attacking you first, killing them is considered self defence and isn’t a crime. Everything you can think of, the developers have thought of first. It encourages a lot of experimentation from the player, often with pleasing results.

The same freedom can be found when deciding what character you want. You can be anything from a sneaky thief who can sweet-talk people to a lumbering barbarian that poleaxes anyone in his path. There’s a huge amount of things to discover in this game, along with treasures to loot, armour and weapons to steal, guilds and factions to join, friendships to form, enemies to make. The replay value here simply rockets into the stratosphere, with the amount of little trinkets to collect and unmapped ruins to explore. There is also a lot of fun to be had combining different classes and abilities, tailoring your character to your own needs. Then of course, if you get bored, you can slaughter everyone you see and spend the whole game as an outlaw living on the run.

Unfortunately, creating a game this immense has come at a cost. The frame rate splutters when there is a lot of action on screen or a big city looming into view, as the Xbox struggles to cope. It doesn’t happen that often, but given the slow paced nature of the game, it shouldn’t really be happening at all. Due to the vast world the game takes place in, there’s a lot of space to be filled and it seems that the developers had a field day with their green and brown paintbrushes. The monsters aren’t particularly imaginative either, particularly when compared to what the hyper imaginations of Square’s developers come up with.

Still, all this pales next to the clunky control system. The fighting here is slow and awkward, consisting mainly of running towards you opponent, hitting him and then running back out of striking range. For magicians and marksmen, this changes to running backwards while firing spells and arrows. There are no tactical subtleties to be learnt (all the attacks are assigned to one button) and the artificial intelligence doesn’t vary from “charge in straight line towards player and attack!” behaviour. It’s the weakest part of the game by far and a real shame because a lot of your time will be spent battling enemies.

Also, the freedom that you’ve been granted means that sometimes it’s hard to tell what to do to progress. All your side quests are kept up to date in a journal, which is a neat touch, but the more that fills up the harder it is to keep track of where to go next. You really can do anything you want in this game and while the freeform structure works, sometimes it’s a little alienating and too laid back. There are no cutscenes or set pieces to hook your interest and there’s no sense of urgency to anything in this game. This is a shame because sometimes you feel the game needs to kick you up the backside to keep you involved.

Finally, there have been several reported bugs in the game that become apparent once your save file reaches 200 blocks. They seem to vary from save files being deleted to the game crashing and it seems to occur more frequently for some people than others. Generally, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for most, but the simple fact that there are bugs in the game is worrying.

Morrowind has an unusually high level of depth and playability to get stuck into but the lack of polish and difficulty finding your feet in the game may put some off. Those who are desperate for a good RPG will find the little subtleties and moments that make it worth persevering with while others who don’t have the patience will no doubt be firing their copy into the bargain bin and sticking to Halo.
The Score
It’s a game you’ll either love or hate. The combat system is clumsy and the bugs shouldn’t be in there, yet despite this, it is still the best RPG on Xbox thus far.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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