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Platform: PC, XBOX

Developer: Bethesda Softworks

Publisher: Zenimax Media

Format: 2 CDs

 

Sys Rq: P3 or equiv. 800mhz, 128MB RAM, 32MB vid card, 1.2GB HD space

 

Reviewer's Machine: AMD Athlon 1.3ghz, 384MB RAM, 64MB GeForce3, SoundBlaster Live

 

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The long awaited third sequel is here. Why are you not at the software retailer?

The Elder Scrolls series has had a long and illustrious history. Its legacy began with Arena, which was one of, if not the largest RPG of its time (1995). It was popular among gamers as well as critics. It garnered many awards, as well as becoming the Game of The Year for many publications. Then came its buggy sequel, Daggerfall. Its sheer amount of bugs made it notorious, many called it the buggiest game ever. Even with its problems, no one could deny its scope and beauty. The world was so massive and intricate, that to this day, some people still play it, hoping to unravel all of its secrets. Daggerfall also continued the series' legacy and was selected as the GOTY for many magazines and such. The series' momentum slowed to a crawl after Daggerfall. News of the third coming was scarce and some believed the series is done for. Bethesda later trotted out two offshoots, Battlespire and Redguard. Battlespire was similar to the two previous games, but came up short. It wasn't as complex or as enjoyable as Arena and Daggerfall, thus it was shunned and slandered by critics. Redguard, on the other hand, was decent. It was a swashbuckling adventure with gameplay that hadn't been seen in ages. Its story, graphics, and gameplay were just what a person would expect from the series. Two blockbusters and two offshoots later, the prophesied third coming has been fulfilled. Morrowind is the true third sequel to the Elder Scrolls series. Boasting a huge new world and mind blowing visuals, Morrowind continues the legacy of its predecessors.

The game takes place in the Dark Elven continent of Morrowind. You are unexpectedly released from a prison sentence and are given tasks by the emperor himself. Much of the plot is revealed through performing quests for the emperor's spymaster. You find out that Morrowind is in a state of unrest and an evil cult has risen. This cult hopes to revive the evil sixth house Dagoth Ur and cleanse the land of Morrowind of Western influence through violence. The story's conflict is similar to that of resistance against imperialism (a major issue in real life), but it is mixed with Hitler-like genocide. Emperor Uriel Septim believes that you are the prophesied Dark Elven hero, Nereverine, who is supposed to get rid of the evil cult. The emperor hopes to fulfill the prophecy and purge the land of the sixth house.

Morrowind's mechanics are unique, simply killing monsters will not help you level up. When you begin the game, you are given a wealth of skills to choose from. The skills that you choose are split into three categories, major skills, normal skills, and minor skills. To gain levels, you are required to improve your skills. You must improve ten points in any of your major skills, twenty in any normal skill, and thirty for any minor skill. As with real life skills, you can improve by constantly practicing. Once you level up, you are given a few points to distribute among your attributes (Strength, Intelligence, etc). This makes leveling up quite difficult in the long run, especially after you've mastered all of your major and normal skills. Interacting with the world is a very different experience in Morrowind. The world is truly a living and breathing universe. Stealing something when someone has their eye on you will cause them to call for the guards, your reputation and personality affects someone's disposition towards you, and as in real life, money can truly buy almost anything. The interface is much simpler than in the older games. You can control most aspects of gameplay in four small windows (only visible when toggled). One is your paperdoll and inventory, the other your stats, the other your spells and magic, and the last is your automap. Managing your inventory is quite simple, simply drag items to your paperdoll to equip and double click on items to use them. Since the game allows you to assign number keys for ten different weapons or spells, many people confuse the game with an FPS.

As one may expect from an Elder Scrolls game, the world is, for a lack of a better word, huge. Travelling between one location to another can take an hour, literally. Fortunately, you can avoid most of these long treks, but early on in the game, you won't be able to afford a Silt Strider (a large flea that can take you to other stations) or a boat ride and you'll be stuck trudging endlessly from point A to point B. Luckily, the world's size has its advantages. There are plenty of ruins and dungeons for you to explore and ransack, which can be very enjoyable. Much like its predecessors, Morrowind is very open ended. This is a place where you can truly go wherever you want, and do whatever you want. If robbing people blind is your style, then go right ahead, if you're more of goodly hero, then you can free some plantation slaves! The world is yours to explore and you can make all of the important dedcisions. One problem I had with the world of Morrowind, is its creatures. The variety of monsters in Morrowind isn't as diverse as in Daggerfall and many of them are complete pushovers. During the beginning, most monsters can be difficult, but after reaching level 6 or so, you can step on almost anyone, except a barrage of heavily armed guards. The size of the dungeons is also very disapointing. Gone are the dank, cavernous dungeons of the previous games. Most of the dungeons take mere minutes to explore! While Daggerfall and Arena's could easily take days! This isn't a major problem though, because spelunking around massive dungeons isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for people who love a good dungeon hack, they won't find much here.

One of Morrowind's key selling points is its graphics. There is no doubt that you've probably seen one of the ads for Morrowind in your favorite PC magazine and while those screenhots look decent, they do the game little justice. Morrowind packs the latest and greatest version of the NetImmerse engine, which is capable of amazing effects. The polygon counts on every object in the world is mind boggling and the pixel shaded water is some of the best I've ever seen. Armor,weaponry, and clothing is faithfully rendered on your character upon equipping them. The incredible weather and time of day effects increase the immersion factor of the game as well. The water looks absolutely stunning when it is hit with the rain drops, local folks cover their eyes when a sandstorm hits, and the two moons of Morrowind slowly reveal themselves during nightfall. Before you get all excited about the visuals, you'd better make sure you have a decent gaming machine to get the best out of the game. My Athlon 1.3ghz and GeForce3 could only pull 10-30 FPS outdoors and I also had to disable shadows to gain a bit more performance. Indoors, fortunately, is not a problem though. My rig could easily get up to 60-80 FPS. With all of these in mind, many people probably can't enjoy Morrowind to its graphical fullest. Most people don't have 2000$ to spend on a beefy machine. There are also some issues to contend with the game's graphics. Rain seems to permeate through tunnels and locations that aren't exactly "indoors" and the character models could use a bit more polygons. They tend to look blocky and rigid, but this is easily solved by slapping some armor on them, which makes them look much more proportional. The draw distance was suprisingly close as well, even at maximum level. This isn't a huge problem, but it looks strange when a very tall daedric ruin isn't fully visible unless you fly up to its midpoint.

The sound is incredibly brilliant in Morrowind. You can hear your muddy footsteps in the rain and the battle sounds are great. Many of your humanoid enemies also yell insults and sounds of anguish while in battle, and so do you. The music is another story, though. The music in Daggerfall was simply amazing, and Morrowind's arrangement pales in comparison. The same song often plays over and over again, and some songs play during the wrong times. Again, a minor problem, but I was expecting something better.

If you played Daggerfall, you probably know that it had more bugs than an Ethiopian outhouse. The good news is, Morrowind isn't as buggy, but it is far from perfect code-wise. The game is plagued with crash bugs and broken quests. It crashed on me almost every half an hour for no apparent reason and certain quests fail to initialize. Bethesda has addressed these issues thoguh, and a patch was released a few days ago.

After three weeks of play, Morrowind was just as enjoyable as its prequels. I have never enjoyed a CRPG this much since Baldur's Gate. It's good to know that Bethesda used their time well and crafted an RPG that will be remembered for ages. With tons of quests and huge, intricate world to explore, RPGers will be playing this one for a long, long time.

Highs: Mind blowing visuals, massive game world, tons of replayability, well developed story

Lows: Minor graphical glitching, disappointing soundtrack, still has a good number of bugs

Final Verdict: 96%

Bottom Line: All gamers rejoice! A new king has risen! If there's one game you should get this year (or any year for that matter), it should be Morrowind.

 

                                                                                                            - Toma