20 years ago the world was a different place. Social media wasn’t a thing yet, double denim was in, and Terry Pratchett was releasing his Magnum Opus – Night Watch. Over in video gaming, the followup to Daggerfall burst out into the world. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was a massive leap forward for the series and today, 20 years later, it still holds a firm grip over the hearts of many.
It’s rare for a game from so long ago to still be so entrenched in the zeitgeist, with many equally genre-shifting games becoming little more than footnotes to history. It might not be the most popular game in 2022 but to its fans, there’s nothing that’s ever managed to replace it. Simply say ‘Morrowind’ in some circles and unfortunately you’re in for a 12 hour lecture about its many highlights (and its occasional flaw).
As it’s 20 years old as of the 1st of May, 2022, we thought we’d take a look back at Morrowind, why it’s remained so popular, and why you should check it out if you haven’t so far.
Morrowind – Weird, Messy, Brilliant
One of the dullest things you can say about a game is that it’s playable. What an awful phrase, but yet, Morrowind remains incredibly playable. Today this would go without mention as most games are smooth, slick affairs that don’t throw confusing mechanics at you. In 2002, however, the gaming landscape was a vastly different affair, especially when it came to RPGs.
You see we just didn’t have the rules then. In the 90s games were incredibly ambitious and experimental but often that experimentation came at the cost of playability. Many games had wonderful worlds, ideas that leapt out of the screen at you, but mechanics that just…weren’t great.
Morrowind, unlike many of its predecessors, was playable. It, alongside games like Halo which released the year before, helped turn gaming from a load of obtuse experiments into an industry. Playing games had fewer barriers to entry suddenly, helping gaming take over the world.
That’s not to say that Morrowind doesn’t have its own swathe of obtuseness. Dice rolls fill every skill check but they’re hidden from the player, meaning you have no real idea why you’ve failed to hit that Kwama Forager. It’s also populated entirely by NPCs who only have a vague – at best – grasp of directions.
Which in itself may be another reason it’s still held in such high regard today. The Dark Souls series took vagueness and ran with it, making an entire series about hints and whispers of story hidden in weird worlds. Morrowind does the exact same thing, just a few years earlier.
If you want to know what’s going on you’re going to have to put in the legwork yourself. No-one will say ‘hey, this is the plot’ because even at best that’s just their take on it. Similarly if you want to find a dungeon you’re going to have to really work to understand the creative directions you get at times. Everyone on the island of Vvardenfell has been stricken with terminal unreliability, so it’s up to the player to let the game’s story and world live in their head.
Unless you spend the time thinking about what’s going on or where you’re going, maybe taking a few notes along the way, you’re going to be a little lost from time to time. Morrowind, as a result, lives in you even when you’re not playing it. It’s no wonder that its fans become fanatics.
On one hand you have a game that’s less difficult to get into than its predecessors whilst also requiring you to put the work in, making it almost a perfect recipe for obsession. And that’s before you take into account its peerlessly weird world filled with creatures that border on nightmarish.
Also it has Silt Striders, the most fantastic creatures with the most beguiling voice in any video game.
Mods Make it Your Own
The other reason for its enduring success is the ability to mod the game, making it entirely your own. Whilst some of us cough are Morrowind purists, still playing through the same game roughly unchanged since 2002, many like to rip the game to pieces and create something wholly unique – and all power to them.
There’s almost no end to what can be altered in Morrowind, from textures and graphical upgrades to mechanical changes, new islands, new quests, new worlds to explore. You can even slap a Star Wars adventure in there, should you wish.
The base game is more than enough for many, but if you really want to make this your forever game, modding can unlock a game that never stops giving. The sky really is the limit – and with some mods, even that won’t even stop you.
Morrowind Beginner’s Guide – 2022
If you’ve got this far and have never touched Morrowind, here’s a few tips to get the most out of your first Morrowind adventure. Despite the game being smoother to play than most at that time, it does have a few rough edges which can make the prospective player bounce off it.
First you’ll need a copy of Morrowind. Thankfully, you can grab it over here and activate it on Steam.
From there we’d recommend a few little tweaks to ensure that you get the most out of your first experience. For technical fixes, we’d recommend the Morrowind Graphics Extender, which allows you to get the game running in modern resolutions easily.
Next we’d recommend a couple of mods. Not many – this is your first time playing, so it’s probably a good idea to just hop into the game as close to the original as possible. Later on, mod away, but for your first time – let’s keep it vanilla.
Here’s our recommended mods for a new start:
- Morrowind Code Patch – Fixes some bugs in the game engine
- Patch for Purists – This is a mod that fixes more bugs, but keeps the experience close to the original.
- Morrowind Optimization Patch – Helps optimise the game, making it run a little smoother.
Character Creation & First Steps
Now you’re ready to dive into the game and…there’s a lot to choose from right off the bat. Whilst we do recommend playing with the character creation tool a bit, there’s a few pointers we’d recommend:
- Avoid purely magic or stealth based builds – Play these to your hearts’ content later but they are very much harder than playing a class that can take a hit or swing a weapon.
- Make sure you have an armour and a weapon skill – Being able to hit things and take a beating right from the start will make all the difference to your survival;.
- Do not take The Atronach – This birth sign may seem intriguing, but it will stop you from regenerating mana. If you ever intend to get involved with lobbing spells about, give this a miss until you’re more familiar with the game systems.
- Read a guide – If you get really stuck, you can’t go wrong with the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages guides to classes, attributes, skills, and races.
After exiting character creation you’re off – the game’s basic tutorial will unfold throughout the Census & Excise offices, but here’s our recommendations for starting out:
- Rob the Census & Excise offices blind – Grab everything you can EXCEPT – and we do mean this – where anyone can see you. Everything in the other rooms? Fair game.
- Explore Seyda Neen – There’s a couple of quests here that’ll net you a bit of cash and some starting gear. Fargoth’s Ring, Fargoth’s Hiding Spot, and Death of a Taxman are great quests that can help you start off right.
- Buy some gear, sell some gear – Around Seyda Neen you’ll find some bits and pieces like an Iron Shardaxe in a tree stump near the lighthouse which will net you a pretty penny or two. Head to the town’s shop and grab a weapon and some armour – whatever suits your character’s class.
- Addamasartus – This dungeon right outside of town is quick, simple, but contains a fair bit of early game loot. Think of it as your final tutorial section.
- Walk to Balmora – The first quest directs you to the city of Balmora, we recommend walking there instead of taking the Silt Strider. You’ll encounter a few small adventures, some NPCs, and another town on your way – and in Morrowind the most important thing is to experience the world and engage with its systems. This little trot will see you hopefully be a little more comfortable with the game, and will give you some low level enemies to test your mettle against.
- Decide who you want to be – A large part of the joy of Morrowind is that many of its quests and factions are exclusive, meaning you can’t do everything. Deciding what kind of person you want to be on Vvardenfell will help you decide where to go and what to do. Here’s some brief examples:
- Thief? – Try the Thieves Guild or House Hlaalu in Balmora.
- Warrior? – Try the Fighters Guild in Balmora, the Imperial Legion in Gnisis, or House Redoran in Ald’ruhn.
- Mage? – Try the Mages Guild in Balmora or House Telvanni in Sadrith Mora.
- Have fun – Morrowind isn’t always the easiest of games, especially at the start. Remember to soak up the atmosphere, talk to people, and just enjoy being there. Also don’t worry about the difficulty slider, slap that down to lowest if you want. We won’t judge.
Morrowind, 20 years on, remains a bright spot in the history of gaming and one that holds sway over many devoted fans. If you’ve played it, you probably already have a million stories about your adventures. If you haven’t played it yet…we’re jealous. You’re in for something special.