Review by robbiedbee

"The best game ever made?"

Many moon ago, a company by the name of Bethesda released a game called 'The Elder Scrolls: Arena'. It was 1994, and it was good. That, (and indeed the sequel, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall) went largely unnoticed to the vast majority of us. Only with the third entry in the series did we fully see what this series had to offer. 2002 saw the release of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The world of computer gaming would never be the same again. Ever.

Okay. So let's say you know nothing about this game. Here's the first 10 minutes for you. After an opening sequence in which you hear a female talk in a very strange way, you wake up in the belly of a ship. You were awoken by an odd looking man telling you that you slept very soundly last night, and that not even the storm could wake you. He asks you your name, and takes you up on deck, where you dismount the ship and arrive on the land. You can look all around you, the view is superb. Behind you there is the vast ocean, and in front of you, there is a small town, with a couple dozen small dwellings, and a strange, tall creature in the distance. You meet a guard who asks you where you're from, and in answering him, you chose your age, race, gender and appearance. You are taken to the Custom and Excise office, where you 'fill in your papers'. You're actually choosing your characters skills here, but more on that later. You take your now completed papers to the guard captain, and you're a free man. The game is there for the taking. It is a completely free-roaming RPG, you can go where you please, wear what you please, eat what you please. Everything! It's great.

The scenery is absolutely stunning (especially if your machine can handle it). The continent you are on is a whole massive world to explore. There are rich and poor regions. Hot and cold regions. Hilly and flat regions. Forested and sparse regions. It's all very convincing. It all looks great too. The water ripples with the wind, and as you step in it. The wind moves dust around, and trees sway in it. Daytime in game turns to evening, and then into night, and you can look up at the sky (if it is a clear night) to the stars. It's all so realistic; it really is a whole new world to live in. Remember I said you can do what you please? Well, don't be surprised if you choose to go for a walk in the countryside, it all looks so beautiful. Don't be fooled though, the game is actually far more entertaining than that.

Of course, the game has direction. As you get released into the public, you get nudged towards a fellow in a nearby town who wants to speak to you. Through him, you are guided towards what could be considered the 'main story' (a term I'll use a lot). I won't give too much away, but an old warlord, who became a cult leader, who became a demigod, is back, and you could be pivotal to stopping him. It may be the main story, but it represents a fraction of the story that Morrowind has to offer. There is all kinds of lore to pick up on by reading books lying round on bookshelves. You can talk to everyone, and you can choose to talk about certain topics. Everyone has an opinion. You gradually pick up the whole history of this continent from all the sources there. I can not stress the depth of this story enough. The writers of this game have put thousands of hours in here, putting in lots of little books. There are fiction books to read, science books, instruction books, history books. In the real world, when you walk into a library, you can pick up a book and read it, right? Well it's the same here. Prepare to spend many an hour piecing together the history of Morrowind.

Of course, you can do anything you want. You can hit people, steal things, trespass, break into people's houses and so on. Much like real life though, you have to pay the consequence. The world of Morrowind is policed by guards in every town, and if you are witnessed breaking the law, you will be reported. You can pay the bounty on your head, and have any stolen goods removed from your person, go to jail, and pay a sentence proportional to your crime (the longer you are in jail, the more your skills deteriorate, more on that later). Or if you're stupid, you can resist arrest, and doing that will just get you in to more and more trouble though. It is very realistic, after all.

Morrowind has its own culture too. There are areas of the land which are made up of makeshift shacks and huts, and perhaps ruled by some rich baron. There area more wealthy areas, which actual houses, or mansions. You can see the divide between rich and poor. The people of Morrowind even have their own set of curse words, like “N'wah” and “S'wit”. It is hard to describe it all here, but this game offers the most complete gaming experience.

There are many factions within the world of Morrowind, such as the Fighters Guild, Mages Guild and Thieves Guild, whom you can all join, and enjoy the benefits that their home bases offer, such as supplies, and a place to sleep. In return, you perform duties for them, which become progressively harder as you do more and more of them. Truth be told, some of them have a ‘fetch and carry' element to them, but as you get further, quests become very interesting. There are other groups too, like the Imperial Legion, sect devoted to protecting the Empire; the Temple, which are a group who work for the Temple, a religious group in Morrowind and there are three Great Houses, which are large groups of people who own land in Morrowind. The upper echelons of each are mainly aristocrats, but you can choose to work for one of these Great Houses (they are all on unfriendly terms), and in the same vein as the guilds you work for, you take on quests that get increasingly harder, usually climaxing with a plot revelation, often important to the ‘main story'.

So I said there are guilds for fighters, mages and thieves, so that must mean that you can choose to be one of these ‘classes' in very traditional RPG style, right? No, not by a long shot. Morrowind has a very customizable system when it comes to selecting the skills your character will have. Basically, you have five ‘Major' skills and five ‘Minor' skills. The ones you have for major will be naturally higher than the minor ones, and those not selected in either category will be even lower. For example, you could choose the ‘Long Blade' skill as a major skill, and it would start at around 35. Choosing as a minor skill will see it start at about 20, while choosing not to select it for either will mean it starts at 5. By using long blades in the game, you will gain experience points for your ‘Long Blade' skill. When you get enough, it will go up a level. There are around 25 skills like this to choose from, some are weapon based (Long Blade, Short Blade, Axe and so on), magic based (Restoration magic, Destruction magic, Enchant magic, and loads more), armor based (Heavy, Medium and Heavy Armor). There are other skills, such as lock picking, armor repairs, as well as Athletics and Acrobatics, which govern how well you run/swim and jump respectively. As you can see, by selecting which ones you want for major and minor, and which ones you don't, you can have a character be whatever you want. He can be a traditional RPG fighter or mage. Or, you could perhaps recreate a Final Fantasy (I, III, V) Red Mage, by having a mage that can use long blades really well.

In addition to these skills, your character has a set of physical attributes, such as strength, speed, stamina and willpower (among others). For every 10 times you level up major and minor skills (5 in each, so for example, if you raised them all by one, or just raised a single stat by 10), your character gains a level, and you can raise your physical attributes. Every one of the skills is governed by one of these stats - long blade by strength, armor skills by endurance and so on. If you raised more strength related skills since your last level up, your attribute bonuses will be in the strength department.

This game offers an amazing amount of detail, and it would be hard to list all of it here, but here are a few examples of the things you can do. You can barter will shop keepers, (governed by a Mercantile skill) or use your charm to get information from people (governed by a Speechcraft skill) both of which are successful dependent upon your personality attribute. You can enchant items in the game; all you need is a soul, (which you can trap yourself, inside a gem) and the item you want to enchant. It can be made so that a glove grants the user the ability to cast fire, or you could have shoes that allow you to levitate, or a helmet that fortifies your strength stat. Basically, the higher your Enchant skill and the stronger the soul, the better the enchanted equipment. You can harvest all of the surrounding crops, and it has a use. They all have their own different properties too. It only really becomes interesting when you use your alchemy skill to make potions. Different combinations of plants (or indeed, animal remains, and other ingredients) yield potions with different effects at the end.

If you buy this game, and take to it well, I guarantee that you will get in excess of 200 hours of gameplay from it. It's a good job the game doesn't keep track of the time though, because I would probably hang myself if I knew how much of my life I have poured into it. It's a completely immersive 21st century RPG experience, a game that set the standard for all games to follow, and nothing did better it in my opinion (not even the sequel, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion). Until I played this game, I was a big Final Fantasy fan, with FFVII being my favorite game of all time, but after playing this, I see that we have moved beyond those old turn-based RPGs, good though they are.

The PC version of this game is completely customizable by an editor, which comes with the game, and thousands of patches/mods are available online. There are some fan-created ones which add dungeons, or whole islands to the game, thus extending the lifespan of the game even further. There are also two official expansion packs, ‘Tribunal' and ‘Bloodmoon'. They both offer new quests (and a new ‘main story') as well as new places to go, new items to get, new people to talk to, as well as fixing tiny little bugs, which I didn't even know about. If you don't pick this game up, you're missing out on the biggest, longest and best game that has been released to date, so go, now!

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 07/12/07

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