I do not like Bethesda. I’ve made this clear on multiple occasions. I hated Oblivion and its dogshit writing. I hated Skyrim and its dogshit writing. I hate how so many of their games promise you this experience of free-roaming roleplaying, then proceed to funnel you down a linear path that sucks and punishes you for doing any sort of morally ambiguous act. I hate their ugly characters with terrible voice acting with names that read like someone trying to satirize Dragonforce lyrics and no reason to give a fuck about any of them. Most importantly, I hate how they completely ruined Fallout. Hell, given the current state of Fallout 76, it’s not much of a stretch to say that they fucking killed it. A shitty company full of dudes who still quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail run by Donald Trump’s brother that makes boring ass RPGs that are inexplicably popular and I still can’t forget that weird documentary where Todd Howard more or less admitted that he says “Kneel Before Todd” to underpaid sex workers. Fuck Bethesda! They might not be as evil a company as say, Riot Games, but still, fuck them anyway!
All that being said, I have spent the last few days doing my rare “see what all the hype about Morrowind is” run. After many, many years, I’m actually, Dear God, enjoying myself.
Morrowind is the game that I am frequently told that if you hate Bethesda games (and I do), you will like this one. Every time, I install the game, make a character, then immediately stop playing and uninstall. It’s a game where your character moves with all the urgency of a rock formation, and where hitting a rat is a feeble impossibility. That fucking battle system, where you swing your weapon directly into an enemy’s face, and nothing happens. You swing it again. Still nothing. You and the Mudcrab you ran into are swinging at the air over and over until one of you magically walks into that air.
You slowly walk and fail to stab something directly in front of you for minutes at a time, and your main objective in the world is “go find some dude.” Captivating. This is supposed to be “The Good One.”
This most recent attempt, I did something a little different: I actually did some reading. I had to know why Morrowind had to be like that. Yeah hey, turns out that there’s a whole bunch of math and shit that’s never explained to you! Your stats, which raise as you do stuff, Final Fantasy 2 style, don’t dictate how good you are with a weapon and the percentage of critical hits, like I had assumed. No, having a 30 in Short Blade means that I have a 30% chance of hitting something! So I either have to grind on weak enemies that can’t possibly kill me even if I tried, or wander the world looking for teachers to help me raise my particular skills. You’re meant to do the latter, as it’s actually not the worst way to incentivize exploring the game world that you are in. Morrowind is a game that does not have quest markers (something I actually really like), or special labels on NPC’s, so you have to explore, talk to everyone, and remember to double-check your journal when you need to make a return trip. Normally, I would have more patience for a game like this, but remember: this is a game that already has two strikes against it for being made by the people who murdered Fallout, so I have to admit that my initial attempt at playing this ten years ago wasn’t something I approached with an open mind.
Not that I’m suddenly going to say that Morrowind’s combat is good, because it’s not. Just because I understand it doesn’t mean that it’s great. The fact that it’s in real time, and the subsequent feedback of swinging a weapon and missing feels like shit. With other RPG’s, there’s enough done visually for your brain to understand why an attack did or did not land; putting up a shield, or dodging to the side. Morrowind doesn’t have this. It has the Bart and Lisa Hockey fight I posted above.
Luckily, Morrowind is not a game about combat. Rather, it is a game about exploration. Actually shutting the fuck up and wandering around is great. The character models are absolute dogshit garbage in a game that came out the same year as Resident Evil on the Gamecube, but the environments are fantastic. The world of Morrowind is very distinct, very alien, something lacking in Oblivion and Skyrim. The thing is, despite how utterly strange the world is, it still comes across as a place where people live. Balmora actually has its own districts of shops, homes, and bureaucracy; it’s not a weird jumbled mess like a lot of RPG towns can be. Other places, like Vivec, Perigrad, and even the starting town of Seyda Neen have this sense of mysticism and wonder to them. Each different from one other on a visual standpoint, with these very distinct buildings, and riding the Silt Strider (a large flea-like creature that acts as a form of public transportation) from port to port really drives home this feeling of not being on Not-Earth like Morrowind’s sequels. That counts for a lot with me.
I’m still fairly early into the game, so I can’t really speak about my experiences beyond a few areas outside of the Bitter Coast, but it hasn’t been super terrible. Starting as a prisoner on a ship, before being pardoned in exchange for working for the government, finding a murdered tax collector, discovering his murderer, killing said murderer and simply moving into his house afterwards. That’s pretty fun, actually; who doesn’t want 500 bucks and a free house with no rent? Exploring caves and mines in the nearby area, being targeted by an assassin’s guild for reasons you don’t understand. Joining the Mages Guild, and helping its leader fuck with an underling he doesn’t like so you can become better at casting spells. I can only imagine how things will go once I’m done running in place to increase my movement speed and hacking at thieves or rats so my knife isn’t completely useless.
It’s a bit of shameful admission to myself that I’m liking a Bethesda game, but I am. I cannot fucking believe that I am actually enjoying my time with Morrowind now, but I have to believe it. Granted, Morrowind is good, but it’s not the best RPG I’ve ever played; not even the best one I’ve played this month. I would still much rather lose myself in the worlds of Wizardry, of Planescape Torment, of Vampire the Masquerade, of any From Software title, or, you know, FALLOUT. But I’m glad that I’m finally starting to “get” Morrowind, and I think I’ll be playing more of this in the coming weeks and months.