Title :Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Platforms :Microsoft Xbox, PC
Publisher :Bethesda Softworks
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :7.5
Review by :Robert Boyd

Back when the CD format was introduced, people spoke enthusiastically about all the advantages that the new medium would provide to gaming: better graphics, higher quality music, spoken dialogue, fully animated movies, and gigantic virtual worlds. And although most of those advantages have been realized by now, one could argue that the size and length of video games has stayed nearly the same. Every year sees the release of many games that can be completed in just a few hours, which is a far cry from the virtual worlds that were promised long ago. 

Morrowind, an Xbox port of a popular action-RPG for the PC, breaks away from the crowd to deliver one of the most expansive worlds ever seen in a video game. Unlike most RPGs, Morrowind takes a non-linear approach to its world. Although the game does have a story of sorts (a stereotypical quest to find the truth about your forgotten past), players may opt to ignore the main quest entirely and focus on the game's vast world and optional quests. In fact, the game actually seems to encourage this approach. 

Morrowind plays similarly to the classic Ultima Underworld series and the more recent King's Field series. Played mostly from a first person perspective (with an optional third-person perspective), the player controls a single hero as he explores forests, mountains, and dungeons, fighting monsters and gaining treasure along the way. The game features a simple yet versatile character creation system, a complex magic system that allows the creation of custom spells, and a fun skill system with many different abilities to master (like lock picking, potion brewing, and shield mastery to name a few). Morrowind's environment is invoked with many well-done environmental effects, like rain and a day and night cycle. 

With so much going for it, it's a shame that Morrowind has some nasty flaws. Although the environmental graphics are adequate, the graphics used for monsters and humans are fairly mundane. The music, as well, isn't very memorable. The game is also somewhat buggy, with game-freezing bugs not unheard of. And while it technically isn't a flaw, the Xbox version lacks the powerful world editor that was one of the nicer features of the original PC game. 

These problems could be endured, but Morrowind has some more crucial problems with its gameplay. Combat is almost entirely a matter of statistics and luck. Run up to a monster while mashing on the attack button. If that doesn't work, reload a recent save, and do the exact same thing and see if the game's random number generator is kinder this time around. Sadly, the less violent aspects of the game don't fare much better. The game's conversation system allows the player to ask people questions on a wide variety of topics; unfortunately, asking different people the same questions will often result in the exact same response thus rendering such a system pointless. Finally, the highly promising exploration aspect of the game is greatly hampered by an infuriating slow running speed and long and frequent load times. 

Morrowind exemplifies a great idea coupled with a poor implementation. Exploring the world of Morrowind can easily take over a hundred hours to complete. Such length would normally be a good thing, but I fear most people will lose interest in the game long before then. Unless you are able to overlook the game's flaws, you should search elsewhere for your adventuring needs.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Gamebits, 15-Feb-03