Tamriel Infinium: Looking back at Elder Scrolls Online’s Morrowind

    
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In 2002, the Elder Scrolls CRPG franchise took its biggest step forward to date with the release of its third game, Morrowind. While Arena and Daggerfall had its fans in the 1990s, Morrowind is where the series really took off. Players fell in love with the open world gameplay as they explored (and modded!) Vvardenfell and its many strange wonders.

Considering the five million units that game sold — not to mention its expansions — and the sheer love that players had for the game and its setting, I’m not at all surprised that ZeniMax chose to capitalize on this nostalgia for the release of Elder Scrolls Online’s first expansion in 2017. Today, four years later, I want to look back on what Morrowind brought to ESO and why it remains one of my favorite zones in the game.

While Elder Scrolls Online didn’t have the disastrous start that we might attribute to many other MMORPGs, it certainly stumbled and fumbled its way through the first couple of years as ZeniMax got into the groove of things. By its third year, however, the studio was confident enough to start what’s now become a standard cycle of yearly releases that are all based on a huge chunk of content that it strangely called “chapters.” I mean, it’s an expansion by any other name, but if ZeniMax’s PR department wants to get uppity about it, I’m not going to fight it to the death.

For the first chapter, the studio seized on perhaps the second most popular Elder Scrolls setting produced — some snowy landscape with knee-prone arrows is the first — and shamelessly went with it. And who could blame the devs? They wanted a big hit out of the gate, and if you’ve got any sort of homefield advantage, it’d be dumb not to utilize it.

Morrowind had three big things going for it at the time of its release. The first was the introduction of a new PvP mode called battlegrounds, which was great if you were into that sort of thing. The second was the introduction of a brand-new class, the nature-loving Warden, which proved to be a big hit. And the third was the online version of Vvardenfell, the same volcanic island that players knew from 2002, only with futuristic visuals and a past setting.

That hurts my head to consider. Let’s move on.

In my opinion, the Warden ended up becoming the best class in the game. I’ve tried all of them, and while I want to love some of the others (especially the Necromancer), I keep drifting right on back to my Warden and her trusty bear sidekick. Like all of the classes, you can spec the Warden to fill any role, but it differentiates itself with its theming, the ability to have a permanent combat pet, and really cool visuals.

When I first started playing Elder Scrolls Online, it was at the time of Morrowind. The name recognition and Warden class finally broke down my resistance to the game, and I am grateful the combination of those two factors did. In fact, Vvardenfell ended up being one of the first places I really explored, all while trying to recall hazy memories of playing the 2002 CRPG back in the day.

And I really can’t say enough good things about the zone of Vvardenfell, either. You really can see a jump in the quality and involvement in quests when you go from the base game to the first expansion here. There are so many terrific tales to be discovered, from helping an assassin find justice to becoming a superhero to meeting the worst bard in the whole wide world.

Having the Red Mountain be the centerpoint of Vvardenfell also helped to give players direction as they chose to explore clockwise or widdershins around it. And what always appeals to me about this zone — and the Morrowind region as a whole — is that it bucks the traditional fantasy setting. The giant bugs and mushrooms alongside of lava flows and strange flora feel more fantastical than the norm, lending a lot of weight to a sense of identity here.

Having gone back through Vvardenfell recently, I can attest that the weakest point of this zone is (as it often is in this game, sadly) the main questline. I’ve heard that Clockwork City is so much better (I haven’t bought that yet!), but man is Vivec and his plight the definition of sheer tedium. I don’t really care about this dual-colored god who just floats around writing fortune cookie sayings, and I didn’t feel that the game really sold me on the urgency of helping him out. In fact, it’s only at one point — when a moonlet starts to crash into the city — does it ever get exciting.

That aside, there are so many fun secrets and interesting vistas to discover in this realm that I felt sad when every point of interest on the map was finally colored white.

So as we pause to take a few moments to remember Morrowind, I’ll turn it over to you. What are your memories, impressions, and judgment of this chapter? How well does it hold up today compared to subsequent releases?

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online! Justin Olivetti and Ben Griggs will be your guides here in Tamriel Infinium on Wednesdays as we explore together the world created by ZeniMax and Bethesda in one of the biggest MMOs in the genre. We welcome questions and topic ideas!
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