The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Proof that plastic surgery can’t stop the ageing process
Played on PC (Steam)
The latest two installments of the Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion and Skyrim, were very effective at absorbing me into their respective worlds. I’ve devoted hundreds of hours into each game, so I was eager to play Morrowind and lose myself in this region of Tamriel. I was keen to immerse myself in its environments and the many characters and stories contained within. Morrowind is also a frequent inhabitant of many ‘Best of’ lists – usually ranking higher than that of it’s sequels.
I gave Morrowind every chance I could to suck me in, but after 67 hours I couldn’t take anymore. The weight of all the bugs, frustrating UI and inconsistent mechanics caused the experience to collapse.
All the familiar elements were there; the large world, the many towns, the hundreds of NPC’s and quests. It had the stealth, the combat, the guilds, the grand sweeping music and many different environments. All of what I love about the Elder Scrolls series was there, but whenever I became absorbed into the world some bug, or frustrating UI issue yanked me right out.
Where to Begin….
Stealth almost never worked. About ninety percent of pick pocketing attempts would fail, even after investing enormous amounts of time and gold to level up the skill. Even if the NPC had nothing they would still accuse me of stealing. It appeared not to matter that I was using an invisibility potion, had a high sneak skill and entered the room completely unseen – most attempts would trigger the NPC to scream ‘Thief!’. This still occurred after installing patches that were considered ‘essential’ and claimed to correct this issue.
Success in lock picking was hideously inconsistent. There appears to be a percentage chance to unlock a door/container and the rate of success was impressively random. It may take 50 master lock picks (a pick is consumed on each attempt) to open a lock, however if I were to reload and retry then I might open the very same lock on the second attempt. The ‘Security’ skill is increased only on a successful unlock, so failed attempts contribute nothing to your progression. The whole process felt wasteful and just encouraged save scumming.
One quest required that I sneak into a shop basement and steal an item. However, the owner got stuck between the basement door and a nearby shelf and was not able to move, meaning I could not drop from his line of sight. He became permanently stuck in that position. In order to unlock the door (from which he was 2 feet away) I had to crouch directly next to him, wait for the stealth to bug out so his detection mechanic would momentarily fail (randomly occurs even when he was facing me) and attempt to pick the lock in the one second time frame available.
I had to use a bug to bypass another bug.
The rate at which an arrow hit it’s target was frustratingly inconsistent. Shots would sometimes connect and deal considerable damage, while at other times the arrow would zip pathetically through the target into an opposing wall. This appeared to be the case regardless of how high I levelled archery; sometimes the arrow would detect a body in it’s path, sometimes it wouldn’t. This became all the more frustrating when expensive or rare magic arrows were wasted.
Melee combat also had it’s issues but these were more game design related rather than bugged. Enemies that drain stamina can knock you to the ground with one hit, where they will continue to beat you for 5 or 6 very long seconds delivering potentially fatal, unavoidable damage. If the enemy connects with another hit upon your recovery then they can again send you back to the ground. This type of near unavoidable stunlocking can be one of the most frustrating experiences in a game and Morrowind was no exception.
Otherwise, melee combat seemed to be fine, albeit boring. It primarily involved clicking my weapon on an enemy, with little else to make it interesting. There were many types of weapons, but melee never evolved beyond clicking on the enemy with the object I holding.
Magic had a similar problem to lock picking in that there seemed to be a percentage chance for successfully casting a spell. Frustratingly, the mana would still be reduced, so failing to cast a high level spell would result in massive amounts of wasted mana.
The AI also had it’s problems (which continues into the more recent Elder Scrolls games) whereby enemies could not for the life of them reach you when standing on a slightly raised rock.
Another atmosphere breaking issue occurs when exploring the open world. The grand sweeping music would suddenly stop due to an approaching enemy that could not be seen because they got stuck in a wall. The combat music would start and continue to play for minutes onward even though there was no visible threat, resulting in needless anxiety.
The UI is archaically designed. The journal is updated like an actual journal – if an event happened a week ago (game time) then you need to click back page by page to find out the important information. The quest log wasn’t much better and required far too many clicks to get to the desired entry, but at least it could be sorted alphabetically .
Directions to objectives were obtusely vague. I’m not saying that exact map markers were necessary but instructions more specific than ‘find this guy, he’s to the east of the coast’ would have cut down the amount of hours wasted searching empty landscapes and finding nothing.
The quest log also gets confused, such as asking you to visit to an NPC, which you had already killed. Some quests were not removed from the log on completion and just pointlessly clustered the journal.
The inventory is another nightmare. Again, far too many clicks were required to perform any action. When looting a container or corpse you can either take all items, a single item or a specified amount. If there was more than one of an item then you could not just click on it and take the entire stack. You had to specific the mount each time. EVEN FOR GOLD. It isn’t possible to just click on the 100 gold stack and take it all, you had to wait for the pop up to specify the amount and then take it all. There is never a reason to not take an entire stack of gold, it has no weight.
I understand that heavy items like ore and materials take up considerable inventory weight when taken in bulk, but arrows and gold and other lighter items were always more common.
Alchemy and blacksmithing had similar inefficiencies. Often I had to leave a craft/repair window, select an item, and then reopen the initial window to continue the process. Again, another situation where the extra one or two clicks starts to frustrate and make the process tedious.
A lot of these issues could be put down to age, modern UIs tend to be more efficiently designed, but for all their issues, Oblivion and Skyrim’s interfaces are works of art in comparison.
I could go on; so I will. The game has all the usual game breaking bugs too. I fell through the world. I got stuck on inch high rocks. I could not traverse corridors where many NPC’s stood because their collision box inhabited the surrounding 5 feet of empty space. Jumping indoors was a gamble as it was incredibly easy to get stuck in a corner – something that became very problematic when trying to flee from a losing fight.
I was asked to deliver a document to another character as part of a quest. I found myself repeatedly running between the two quest NPC’s (requiring about three to four minutes of travel each way) to find each one request that I again visit the other. It turns out that the document was not placed in my inventory. It wasn’t left on the ground near the quest giver nor had I the option ask for it again.
After some research I discovered that the quest bugged. I had to find the appropriate command, open the console and spawn the item into my characters inventory.
The final straw came while in Solstheim, an island added through one of the expansion packs. I hadn’t played for a few days, so I spoke to an NPC to find information on the island’s main quest. A very vague response was given and my journal stated something around the lines of ‘check the island’. I found my quest log to also be battered with a backlog of disorganized quests.
My heart sank. I felt lost and aimless and knew that for every 10 minutes of fun I would be enduring 50 minutes of frustration. It was too much.
Life is too short
My compulsion for completion and buyers remorse could no longer coerce me to continue. 67 hours was long enough for me to get the Morrowind experience. I know what it’s about now. There is no way this game was going to change drastically enough to change my opinion. I may return once (or if) the Skywind project completes and overhauls the entire UI so that I can see the story’s conclusion, but for now, the game is in no condition to be experienced as it was intended.
I had even installed the essential mods and patches, including those claiming to correct these specific issues – but the bugs continued to infect the experience.
Perhaps with enough research I could find the appropriate mods and community patches to fix everything, even make the game look graphically impressive, but investing even more time into making a game I bought simply work is beyond my acceptance level. It is not fun to fix a game. The only condition I would have found this acceptable would be if the game was going for absolute pittance, whereby the price makes it clear that it is a legacy game and that the developers are no longer addressing issues.
Currently Morrowind is being sold on Steam for €19.99, which I find unreasonable for a game with so many problems. It is not worth €20 in either it’s current state nor in it’s basic patched state. It’s price tag is similar to that of newer, considerably more functional games. I can accept a game with older graphics, mechanics and design trends, but it must at least function.
Though it is apparent that a lot of love and effort has gone into this game; anybody that says Morrowind still holds up are wearing the most delusional of rose tinted glasses.
Still, I played for 67 hours, there were even times when I found myself begining to enjoy it. Times where I genuinely felt I was back in Tameriel, exploring the wonders that it had to offer. This never lasted long however. I really wanted to enjoy this like I had the other Elder Scrolls game so I am genuinely sad. Everything I wanted was there, but required too much frustration to access.