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The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Review By:  Nick Arvites

Developer:   Bethesda Softworks
Publisher:   Zenimax Media
# of Players:   1
Genre:   RPG
ESRB:   Teen
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Unit
Date Posted:  

8-21-02

Most traditional RPG’s are not exactly Role-Playing Games. There is a set story line that cannot be broken and only a miniscule amount of real choices to be made. More often than not, modern RPG’s become more of interactive movies instead of players assuming a character and interacting with the world. Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind breaks from that trend in a major way. The entire attitude can be summed up by a quote from the introduction in the manual:

One of the first questions people usually ask us is, "What do I do in this game?" The answer we give is inevitably "Well, what do you want to do?"

Morrowind takes pride in allowing players to do almost anything they can think of. Bethesda Softworks breaks the traditional RPG mold and delivers a completely free action game that gives players immense freedom to adventure how they want.

The graphics in this game look good for the most part. Characters look great and the massive environments look tremendous. Weather storms tear through the game world showing off rain and dust storm effects. Each section of the continent has a different architecture to it. No buildings are cosmetic either. If there is a door, there is a way in (be it by picking a lock or just opening it). The biggest question: Since there is so much going on in the world, are there graphical slowdowns? Well, I’d be lying if I said there were no slowdowns. I’ll explain the slowdowns as well as the other problems I’ve experienced later on in the review.

Morrowind’s major selling point is the gameplay. The game provides hundreds of faction and side quests to perform as well as the main quest. Needless to say, Morrowind will give the player many a long nights. Quests can be as simple as "go next door and kill this guy" or as complex as "find out why the dwarves disappeared." There are no shortages of quest-givers as most people see you as some sort of Fed-Ex delivery-man/killer for hire. The best parts about quests are some of them have multiple solutions. If someone assigns you an unethical quest, you can often just lie and say you did it.

Factions are a necessity in the world of Morrowind. There is a long list of groups you can join, ranging from the Imperial sanctioned guilds (fighter and mage), the thieves guild, one of the two religious groups, the local military guard, or one of the great houses. Joining a great house should be a high priority on a newcomer’s list of things to do. Not only do they offer quests, they usually give better rewards and loot. Plus, you gain a stronghold after you reach a certain level in the House. House Hlaalu is a good choice for thieving characters since most of their quests involve espionage. House Redoran is good for fighters. They hold the traditional fighter codes of honor. House Telvanni is a house for wizards. The downside about great houses that should make joining one a major decision is "once you join one, the other two are closed to you." Personally, I chose House Hlaalu because I played a thieving character. One of the major things that makes it worth joining House Hlaalu is you get to interact with the great character "Uncle" Crassius Curio. It is worth advancing in House Hlaalu so you can experience his horrible attempts to come on to you [Ed: Everyone loves Crassius, pudding].

So how exactly do you start out in this game? First, you pick your race from a list of standard fantasy races. Many diehard fantasy fans will complain that there are no dwarves in this game (except for the upper torso of one). Get over it. The fact that the dwarves were mysteriously wiped from existence adds a mystery for you to solve. Besides, if you want dwarves in a game, make your own. Character classes are a whole different experience. You can pick a character class from a list of pre-made sets, answer a quiz and have one assigned to you or make a custom class. I would highly recommend making a custom character just because the pre-set classes are usually too weak in areas that one direly needs in the game. Making a custom class will take a few tries, but once mastered it provides an even more user-defined world.

So what is the main quest like? You start off in the dark and slowly gain more information on your purpose. To put it in a nutshell, you are to fulfill the local prophecies and defeat an evil god that is causing all the problems on the continent. However, unlike most games, you do not even have to take the set main quest paths. It is entirely possible to sever a link in the main quest and stomp your way into the end game. Sure, it’s insanely hard to find a back way into the ending, but it is possible and does further provide player freedom to do whatever is wanted.

The leveling system is different from most RPG’s out there. Each class has five major skills and five minor skills. Skill points are gained each time one of these major or minor skills are used. After 100 points, the skill levels up. After you level up major and minor skills 10 times, you gain a level. When you gain a level, you get points to add into your base attributes (Strength, Speed, Agility, Luck, Endurance, Intelligence and Personality). All of the specialized skills draw on a combination of the main attributes. If you level up more skills that use agility and speed than anything else, you will get modifiers (X2, X3, X4) to add to that skill. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but it makes sense after a few level ups. This level up method does make it important to chose or create the proper class. It would make no sense to make a magic heavy class and run around wielding heavy armor and long swords while ignoring spell casting. Sure, you’ll level up those skills, but your major and minor skills will never increase and you will not level up. There is a solution to those who don’t want to earn skills through practice. You can buy training from some characters. This automatically increases the skill’s level. This does get expensive once you get in the higher skill levels and you also need to find a master trainer to advance a skill past a certain point.  See my FAQ for more on creating a custom class.

The combat system is not turn based. It is more like an adventure game where you basically run around and hack (or cast) at enemies. Spell casting is awkward at first since it takes too long to get off spells, but once you become used to the system, spell casting is a breeze. Melee combat is simple. All you have to do is run up to the enemy and slash away. There is no manual block button, so blocking is pretty much random based on your block skill. It should be known that once you start enchanting equipment, the battles become easier.

Enchanting? Yes. The process of enchanting weapons and armor allows players to make a sword that deals out tons of fire damage with each hit or make some clothing with stealth enchantments. There are two ways to enchant items. You can either pay someone a lot of money to do it for you or do it yourself. While self-enchanting saves money, it does require an insanely high enchant skill, making it almost impossible to do until many hours into the game.  See my FAQ for more on Enchanting.

The music is a typical fantasy score that constantly repeats. It sets the mood, but since it is only one track the theme can get annoying. Sound effects are another story. Most magic sound effects sound decent, but the melee attack sound effects sounds like they’re from the 1960’s Batman TV show. Lots of "THWACKS" and similar sounds make the melee combat sound almost like it is in a comic book.

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