[Cleaning the Backlog] The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is one of those Leviathan games that change a whole biosphere with a single breath; it’s Bethesda’s most impactful game and the inter-generational beacon of RPG design; it’s a game that came closest to being the only eternal game to end all games; it’s a monstrous behemoth of gaming software; it’s my oldest nemesis.

This is the personal story of my failure. Don’t expect any critique or analysis here.

My first voyage to Morrowind happened pretty soon after the game’s release. Penniless and mostly offline, I was lucky to have a great logistical source for new videogame releases—cracked, hacked, and burned on CD-Rs for such a cheap price that I could have afforded dozens of games from saving school lunch money for a couple of months. What I couldn’t afford, though, was hardware.

The early 2000s was still a time when one had to upgrade their hardware quite regularly to keep up with the games. But when you are poor, you adapt. It’s mind-boggling to remember how much shit I’d put up with not to fall behind my mates—minimal graphical settings, constant crashes, abysmal drops in FPS, etc. But Morrowind was so demanding that it broke me.

Everything in vanilla Morrowind got covered with milky fog on the lowest settings, making you feel even more shitty for not owning Geforce 3. Even in such horrible conditions, FPS went all over the place—from heavenly 30 indoors to 10-15 outdoors. But if you decided to leave Seyda Neen, FPS dropped even more harshly. I remember traveling on foot to Balmora for almost two hours in real-could’ve-been-spent-better-time. When I finally arrived, it was evident that my PC handled bigger cities even shittier than wild landscapes. So I loaded my older safe and stayed in Seyda Neen. For months. I just hung around there—broken into one of the shacks on the swamp and made it my own by killing a dude inside. I was leaving the homestead every morning to wander in the fog like the rest of the NPCs—but I was even more aimless and lost than them. It was like living in limbo.

Then I saw how Morrowind was intended to be played. My more fortunate classmate showed me the undeniable power of the hardware by allowing me to make a two-minute walk from Seyda Neen to Balmora on his ultra-hi-tech PC (it even had some LEDs on it). I was so furious and engulfed by envy that as soon as I got home, my PC was cleansed from Morrowind’s presence for a long time.

Several years later, I was having a blast with Oblivion when a thought passed through my head—why not recheck Morrowind? For historical justice, you know. By then, my PC had endured a couple of extensive upgrades—Oblivion was running smoothly on max. The technologically aged Vvardenfell landscapes paled in comparison to the breathtaking beauty of Cyrodiil. Still, I decided to postpone the journey to the Shivering Isles in favor of getting my ass kicked in the GOTY edition of Morrowind.

Pro-tip of the day: never jump into Morrowind right after playing Bethesda’s newer games. Combat mechanics will drive you insane. The reason is that, in contrast to Oblivion, the combat system in Morrowind is not action-based but stat-check-based—in the manner of dice rolls in D&D. This means that not all your hits land, even if it seems that they land. Of course, nothing is wrong with this, but it feels counter-intuitive while playing a first-person real-time game, especially after playing a first-person real-time game with more intuitive combat mechanics.

I’m pretty sure that I could have managed to get over it eventually. But I was young and hot-blooded, and as I’ve said, the Morrowind I installed this time was combined with both expansions. One of those was Tribunal which began its plot by sending an assassin to kill you in your sleep. The game couldn’t care less if your character has seen through the original game’s ending or is brand new—assassins will come, and they are not easy to kill for a newbie, especially for a newbie that still doesn’t dig the combat system. It annoyed me so much that I uninstalled the game, returned to Oblivion, and had a great time.

The next time I had fun with a Bethesda-adjacent game was with Fallout: New Vegas. It was also when I first got interested in mods. Long story short—I spent shitloads of time setting up mods, failed to do this properly, and broke the game. I had to uninstall and chose not to reinstall.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, and there’s one thing that I have to say—it’s much easier to mod Morrowind nowadays. Guides became more beginner-friendly, tools more accessible, and mods themselves safer. OpenMW by itself is an outstanding achievement.

Mods fixed the graphics, the combat, and the assassins. They improved mechanics, visuals, questlines, and everything in this game. Morrowind today can be by far a better game than it was twenty years ago. But the more I played it, the more I wanted to play another Morrowind. The one that came out in 2002 and shook the RPG genre. The one that I had no memories of failed playthroughs and traumatic technical misadventures. The one that could have been my favorite game ever.

I don’t think I will ever play Morrowind again. My desynchronization with this game has gotten too evident to ignore. There is definitely more Oblivion for me in the future—I want to revisit it for a long time already. Maybe, I’ll even finish Skyrim sometime, and Starfield is coming. I’ll definitely play and replay Bethesda games. It’s just that Morrowind will never be among them…


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