Elder Scrolls Online: Setting up the Morrowind story

Last week, I trekked out to Baltimore to visit ZeniMax Online Studios and get a first glimpse at Elder Scrolls Online’s upcoming chapter/expansion, Morrowind. After all, it’s been fifteen years since anyone explored the island of Vvardenfell; it would have been extraordinarily dumb of me to turn down the offer. The press event also afforded me the opportunity to speak personally to the ESO developers, including Game Director Matt Firor and Creative Director Richard Lambert, so believe me, I took advantage of every opportunity that I had to get our readers questions and concerns addressed.

During my visit, Lambert and Firor gave a presentation about Morrowind story, the new Warden class, and battlegrounds. Later this morning, I’ll have articles about the Warden and battlegrounds, but in this piece, we’re tackling the Morrowind story and what’s happening on Vvardenfell some 700 years before The Elder Scrolls III.

The set-up

The province of Morrowind, which includes both the land surrounding the city of Mournhold and the giant volcanic of Vvardenfell, is ruled by three mortal gods named Vivec, Sotha Sil, and Almalexia, called the Tribunal. If you’ve played through the Ebonheart Pact storyline, then you know what’s happening with Almalexia. But you’ve not really heard much of Vivec so far, and Sotha Sil might as well not exist.

At the end of war between the Chimer and Dwemer at the Battle of Red Mountain, Lord Nerevar’s advisors used the Heart of Lorkhan, and though accounts of what really happened vary, the result is that all of the Dwemer vanished, Nerevar ended up dead, and his advisors — Vivec, Sotha Sil, and Almalexia — were effective elevated to godhood, falling into conflict with the Daedra Azura, who put a curse on the Chimer changing them from olive-skinned elves to ashen-skinned Dunmer, dark elves. From that moment until now, the Tribunal, as they became known, ruled over Morrowind as god-kings.

As far as history tells us, the time period when Elder Scrolls Online takes place happens to be at the height of the Tribunal’s power. Aside from the Ashlander clans, the Dunmer pretty much followed the Tribunal without question, and the five Dunmer ruling houses lived in relative peace with each other. The sixth house hadn’t risen yet, and the great enemy from TES III slept in the heart of the relatively dormant Red Mountain. Lambert even reminded me that the Ghost Fence isn’t even constructed yet.

Putting the puzzle together

In the presentation for Morrowind, Firor explained that Vivec has been growing progressively more ill and losing his power. He even went so far as to say that Baar Dau, the falling moon in the sky above Vivec City, has begun to fall as the god holding it up there succumbs to illness. To Morrowind fans, this brings certain questions to mind, such as why Vivec is losing his power in the first place. Isn’t he at the height of his power during this time period? When I talked to Lambert about that, he said that it would all make sense. Firor called it a juxtaposition.

“At the time when he should not be getting sick and his power weakening, he is.” Firor explained, “So clearly it is something outside his understanding of things. That’s why he needs an outsider to come in. That’s why he needs the player.”

I was also a bit concerned about the setting and the feeling that people would get when exploring or revisiting the world of Vvardenfell. A few years back, the original writer for Morrowind Michael Kirkbride did a Reddit AMA where he described Vvardenfell and the world around Red Mountain more of a sci-fantasy and less of a traditional European medieval fantasy. Because the design of the rest of ESO was very much grounded in that traditional fantasy feel, I asked Firor about the fanbase that shared a similar opinion to Kirkbride: Will they be able to find the Morrowind they are looking for?

“I think [Bethesda Executive Producer and project lead on TES III] Todd Howard would question that description,” Firor began. “But yeah, you’ll see levitators to get up into the higher reaches of the mushroom towers. There is more Dwemer construct stuff that may or may not be done by Sotha Sil because he, of course, has been attempting to copy the Dwemer technology forever. You’ll see more machinery and things around, but it’s still the same world and always has been. I think that anything that you felt comfortable with and saw in Elder Scrolls III… you will see similar things in this.”

Immersing players in the world

Firor mentioned to me during our conversation that the development team couldn’t just leave quests and other points of interest completely open anymore as it could during TES III. It just wouldn’t work with the expectations that players currently have in RPGs and MMORPGs, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t any mysteries or things to explore in the game. I mentioned to Lambert that I am more of a Socializer and Explorer in the Bartle Test, so exploration and the hidden items in the world are very important to me.

“One of the things we did consciously, that we didn’t necessarily do in [the] Orsinium [DLC] was to put more exploratory stuff in there that doesn’t necessarily have a quest that takes you there,” he replied. “You kind of just wander around and what? There’s an ancestor tomb over there. There’s a set piece or set dressing there but not necessarily a quest there. That kind of stuff is in there. Sure, there’s a treasure chest here and there, but for the most part, you just explore around; you aren’t necessarily guided there.”

Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind goes on sale June 6th for $59.99 US for the full version with the base game or $39.99 for the upgrade. Full details can be found on the announcement post. We’ll have more from the press event later this morning!

Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that ZeniMax paid for our writer’s flight to and hotel at this press event. They also fed him a Panera Bread ham and cheese sandwich. Yum. Neither ZeniMax nor Bethesda has requested or been granted any control or influence over our coverage of the event, and the writer is paid exclusively by Massively OP for his work.

Get caught up on all of our pieces from the Morrowind press event!

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21 Comments on "Elder Scrolls Online: Setting up the Morrowind story"

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dr_lucien_sanchez

“After all, it’s been fifteen years since anyone explored the island of Vvardenfell…”

I very much doubt that. I’d bet you any money there are folks still playing it.

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agemyth 😩

Trailer looks fine, but I’m going to nitpick at that music. With the library of Elder Scrolls music available to them and all the nostalgia going into this expansion the choice of overused twinkly piano keys + Inception Horn music was a bit uninspired. That’s just what marketing teams do I guess.

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Alex Willis

Emotions should not be manipulated in this way. #feels #allthefeels

xpsync
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xpsync

So ya, like i was saying…

OMFG!

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Matthäus Wey

Now is the time…. to increase the view distance!

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agemyth 😩

Actually, they are cutting the current draw distance in half in order to really give us that Morrowind nostalgia. /s

Sadly, the current draw distance in ESO drives me nuts when you think about how important draw distance became for Bethesda’s games starting with Oblivion. Stepping out of the sewers and having the feeling of being able to see eeeverything was pretty amazing in 2006.

I recently downloaded a “mod” of sorts that lets you disable the fog in ESO and I like it. There are a few weird things you aren’t supposed to see that the fog normally obscures, but it is worth it for me. The world itself clearly was not designed for beautiful vistas like previous games were. Sight lines are almost always blocked by trees or hills not too far off in the distance. It is a bit disappointing really for those who want this game to be around for the long term. Maybe its a limitation of the engine (was it Hero engine at some point?) or a compromise to be multiplatform.

Before and after pics of the fog turned off is below but the image gallery thing put it in a weird order.

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Totakeke

I think you might be looking in too much, especially with oblivion. Stepping outside the sewers the first time and realizing that the draw distance is great, but everything outside your general vicinity is made out of playdough wasn’t.

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Dug From The Earth

There would be zero complaints from me if they increased the view distance. Im a huge stickler for graphics in most games, but despite the looming wall of fog being nearer than Id like in ESO, it doesnt bother me as much as I would have expected. Maybe this is due to so much of the game being right up in your face as you play? I dont know. There are so many detailed things to see up close to you, that Im often simply not looking way off into the distance.

Id also worry about performance. The game is VERY CPU demanding, and most of it is put all on just ONE core. Ask most people, even those with an 8 core i7, and they will tell you that one of their cores is often running at around 100% load. This is why cities with lots of players often cant run at 60 FPS, and why Cyrodiil is lucky to run at 30 FPS.

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agemyth 😩

Performance doesn’t take a noticeable hit with fog off or literally any of the normal graphics settings on max. The only thing that hurts my framerate is too many players on screen. Presumably, an annoying engine limitation.

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Dug From The Earth

number of players does seem to be the #1 performance hit

However, many with lower end GPU’s often see a pretty big increase by lowering view distance.

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agemyth 😩

Yeah, I guess I just mean even in ideal PC conditions the game itself has problems rendering too many people. That is such a strange thing to let slip in a MMO. ESO isn’t the only game with this problem, but it is almost like they didn’t expect lots of people to play their game at the same time :P

This was probably a lot less of an issue before the megaserver merges.

xpsync
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xpsync

Agreed but i think a large portion of the player base is missing out on something, i know i was.

First Person Mode. I usually play 3rd person like everyone else in every mmo, one night while exploring i was in a tight spot and zipped into 1st person mode to view something, then unconsciously continued to play the rest of the night like that. I took a break and when i came back I’m like oh crap lol forgot to go back 3rd, that’s when i noticed the game is far more immersive in 1st person. I’ll spread the good word, “huge immersion factor”, combat too, it’s a massive difference.

To me it feels like the game was built for 1st person and 3rd person was like a “Oh ya’ moment for them, oh ya we should add that. Combat in 1st person is literally exhilarating you feel like you’re getting hit specially a knock back, or taking a hit from behind and flying forward, love it, love it, love it, you feel like you’re dealing damage. It’s all done so very well. Exploring forget about it, no contest either 1st person all the way.

Sure i still go 3rd too but I’m a decent 80% if not more at times in 1st. it’s no contest, it’s that much better, and yes i know there are 3rd person advantages, but trust me, play well and you’ll find you don’t need them.

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agemyth 😩

Not sure if you are aware of the game’s beta history. The game was 100% designed for third person view and even made it into some large beta phases before they realized there was serious demand for it. Kinda a weird oversight for a team making an Elder Scrolls game :P The first person camera stuff they got in by launch was pretty good though.

First person is at a notable disadvantage if you are trying to avoid standing in enemy red circles/cones and stuff. :( Good thing I’m a casual.

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Dug From The Earth

dont forget, after launch they added the FoV options which made 1st person a whole lot better.

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agemyth 😩

Oh, barf. I don’t think I could have played first person at all around launch.

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BalsBigBrother

Heh I always chuckle at the stuff that is put in the disclosures. I can just picture Larry:

“wait I have to interview people? I was just here for the free ham and cheese sandwich. Oh maan!”

Anyhow interesting article and I like that they are adding stuff into the world to find without necessarily having anything that leads you to it. Always enjoy that kind of content.

Looking forward to reading the warden article later.

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Scott

I love how this game encourages “exploring”, one of my favorite things to do, in fact a lot of times I don’t stay on a mount for that reason.

No other game does it this well. Neverwinter Online does support “exploring” but not many other MMOs.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Rift’s artifact glowies was tops. Especially since the more rare ones could often be found in hard to reach places.

EQ2 had a similar system but Rift’s was better.

ESO by comparison feels tacked on. They are random rare drops for classes of mobs. So it’s just a grindfest of killing a specific type of monster hoping to get a lucky roll on RNG.

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Armsbend

I didn’t know there were HQed in Baltimore. That’s pretty neat they are in such an atypical city – software speaking.

Morrowind hype is legit.

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Totakeke

You can even visit their offices in Fallout 3.

xpsync
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xpsync

Da hype is real!

wpDiscuz