Thursday, 5 December 2013

Morrowind



I really should have thought about reviewing this one sooner rather than later as this is a game I've found to be one of the main reasons I upgraded my computer's graphics card just to get the pixel shading effect on the water surface and was amazed by it as the first true example I'd witnessed of what a decent/good graphics card can DO to a system. (Back before the internet was common place to buy stuff online and having to purchase items based on whether a store had one and the hefty price tag accompanying the graphics card too). But in having played Daggerfall previously to Morrowind, I'd had an idea of what they were going to do with the game and the size/scope but even then, I was still blown away by the openness of the game.

It starts, as almost all Elder Scrolls games do, you wake up somewhere and realise "Oh shit, I'm here and this is a thing now". Daggerfall had you shipwrecked, Morrowind has you as a slave on a ship, Oblivion as a prisoner with no past and Skyrim you're on your way to be executed for the crime of having your head and neck firmly planted on your shoulders. In Morrowind's case, you awaken next to a nearly naked man who may or may not have recently decided you were the prison boat’s bitch, it's not entirely clear, but he does seem rather overly concerned to the point of asking how well you slept and what your name is... Some sort of "hump first, question later" approach it'd seem.

Before stepping off the ship, a guard approaches to check names etc, then you're frog-marched into a registry office and further details are asked of who you are, your star sign (generic stat boost/drain) and what kind of person you are either through generic questions like "If you were an animal would you be a) a pig, b) a cat or c) An Ocean Sunfish" which somehow concludes that your character class is nothing akin to what you answered. I prefer to pick my own for the fact I like to hit things with swords and clubs and knowing that some people out there will hurl fireballs at me, be a little resilient to magical attacks. You could go the potion making route, or thieving bastard route and pinch everything not nailed down, though you tend to find you do that anyway.

Here you can also select your race with its own racial bonuses ranging from being rather strong but dumb, to being gifted with magical power but unable to regenerate it or just being small and very annoying. In tandem with this, not every creature/race can wear every piece of armour either (unlike later Elder Scrolls games) and as such the beast type races can't wear standard boots or full helmets. Probably because the models would look dumb if they did that.

Once you're out the building, that's it. Save for a message saying to meet with Mr "X" in a town at some point, and this is where the game can be a make-or-break situation. You're free to do what you want, when you want and how you want with usually very few consequences. Want to do the main quest? Go ahead. Want to join up with various bands and groups and do odd-jobs and chores for them? Do that instead. Want to go raiding temples and burial chambers? Do that. Want to serve the dark gods and become their champions? Do it. You can even decide that living is for the strong, you're the strongest so GENOCIDE is the best course of action and can systematically slaughter EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER in the game... though some will put up a staunch defence even when you're maxed out on levels.

While you progress through the game you'll level up skills by using them successfully, slashing with a sword does very little, but striking someone will gain some exp. Running everywhere will drain stamina but you'll gain running exp and level up there, likewise with jumping until you're able to leap over buildings and take big falls with minimal damage. Need to learn how to use light or heavy armour? Get hit while wearing it to increase effectiveness on using it but you'll need to repair it soon too.

This can be a case of falling at the first hurdle though, with some people not realising that having level 15 swords is NOT a good thing if you want to actually hit people with the swords. Thankfully there's places to learn and level up skills for cash to save you wasting your time flailing like a madman on fire while a worm systematically kills you via death by head-butting your ankle. Incidentally, the same can be said for throwing items, archery etc. There's a LOT of levelling to be done here and gaining levels in sub categories counts towards the bigger character level upgrades where upon you can designate boosts to other aspects of your character with extra bonuses depending on what you did a lot in the previous level upgrade. Just be warned that short sword skill and long sword skill are 2 different skills and you need to be careful which weapon you use, it can be fatal to be mistaken in that regard.

Main plot wise, you're "possibly" the new born arse-kicker god in "mortal" form. If you're really the god re-born, you cannot be killed, but that doesn't stop people trying/failing. You will investigate into various factions around the volcano-island of Morrowind and meet with various Gods and Demons to try and work out if you are the reborn god, reunite the parted Houses of the Island to then wage war (by yourself) on the demon-god and his immortality machine. With lots of backstabbing, skulduggery and walking around the lush countryside and burnt out ash plains of the land.

And fight Cliff Racers. The game's constant harassment in the form of a flying bird that can follow you anywhere.

There's a whole host of guilds to join from Fighters Guilds, Mages, Thieves (honour even amongst them), Assassins, Temples, Imperials and such all having their own jobs and systems, ranks and privileges and rewards upon reaching the upper echelons of the system. Though the jobs can be rather unbalanced or unfair in that the first mission for one guild can be just to kill some rats (and it's always rats) to using unheard of stealth skills to steal something in which you'll invariable fuck it up and look like a prick while running from the guards or losing some stats in prison.

Amongst all this are the specific missions from people you'll meet and encounter. The odd pervert that wants to see you naked. Someone that wants his ring found. Taxes and debts to be collected. Dungeons to be braved. Slaves to be rescued. Floating rocks and prisons to be visited. Mad cults to be torn apart and rent asunder. Flowers to be picked.

And Cliff Racers to fight.

As a character though, you can do a whole host of things. Become a magician and cast various types of magic from destructive fireballs and ice-blasts, to lock picking and telekinesis, addle people's minds, turn invisible, and negate damage and case shields of elemental types. Make and mix up potions to boost stats, or create poisons. Begin your own line of enhanced magical armour or clothing. Develop magical weapons and shields. Repair everything and sell it. Steal EVERYTHING. There is very little limit in what one can do within the game and even going so far as to explore the more seedy and darker regions of the game to own your personal slaves (and liberate them too). Travel from one place to another and...

Kill Cliff Racers...

That is a rather large gripe in the game. You can't sleep (and heal... usually..) if there's enemies nearby and with Cliff Racers they can fly and therefore follow you a long distance and over most terrain obstacles that every other enemy cannot do. They tend to attack in swarms and with the repeated hitting and staggering, will knock seven shades of shinola from your body and kill you before you can even begin offering a retort. Some gamers will employ the use of a mod that removes them completely from the game and find it becomes and much more enjoyable experience. Though I personally found it hilarious when meeting several barbarians in the game that had encountered a witch and needed help, one was basically an obnoxious man who "claimed" she was a witch, another actually was a witch, and the third took the piss out of me for assuming there's always a barbarian fighting a witch. A wonderfully amusing inside joke within the game at itself.

Getting married to a cat-girl however was a bit odd. Though I can think of a multitude of idiots that would relish that prospect. While rising to the head of a guild only to fight and kill the leader was a good chuckle. Incidentally, the conversation aspect of the game is all based around talking to people and clicking keywords they (might if they like you enough) tell you about and inform you of upcoming events. Alternatively you can scare them if you're convincing enough but they'll hate you later, and bribe them a lot of cash to make them like you like some sort of emotional happy pimp. Or taunt them into fighting you and making it easier to kill them for free with no consequences (unless it's someone key to the story/plot) in a sort of "you swung first, I get to do what I want" kind of ruling.

The game however, for all its flaws and bonuses, reeks atmosphere almost from every pore of its fine and slightly pock-marked skin. The ambient music adds almost perfectly to the theme and setting of the game and giving a subtle grandeur to the game's production, to the point that the key theme features in later games too, most noticeably in the Skyrim add-on that takes place in an Island just off Morrowind itself, a wonderful little throw-back nod to this game. Music changes gradually to fit pace and setting, so a quiet wander through the lush forests and mountains will be rather soft in approach, while combat and fighting takes an almost faster pace with heavier drum accompaniment but nothing that ever becomes overbearing or taking the forefront in the game, always as a quiet aside to whatever it is featured before yourself.

The game does leave us with various choices throughout, some of which are obvious, others are a bit more judgemental and not as clear cut black/white in the morality issues. Most people will free every slave they find though one or two might play as in character as they can and keep slaves for themselves as pack mules in carrying around large amounts of loot and treasures from the dungeons. Other choices may leave you racking your brain over whether either decision is really the "better" choice, especially if there's not a clear cut solution to the situation and very little indication to the rewards either. "Take this diamond to my sister" and get mugged by their compadre who lifts the diamond back and returns it in a sort of star-crossed lovers idea. You can look past the misdemeanour and help them, or butcher the pair of them in their sleep, steal all their items and clothes and sell it for profit at the local trade/exchange for a nice new pair of shoes with +1 "fuck you" factor. (And -2 charisma, berk). But maybe helping them out well enough will net you a perfect, flawless diamond and their grace and favour.

Or kill some cliff racers.

Invariably some will compare this game to Oblivion and to be fair, that is the next game. But we can't compare an old game to a new game like that; we can only really compare to the previous game and showcase improvement. From the generic lands and awkwardly broken realms of Daggerfall, we've now this fully mapped, fully 3D world (Island...) with some of the most mind-blowing views and visions to grace a computer at that time (more so with the better textures sets available out there) While I shouldn't strictly do this, but the involvement of further add-ons that are officially made, open the game up into looking into the 2nd and 3rd of the "mortal" gods and their involvement and development since the end of the main game (or not as the case may be), or a huge sprawling Island just off from Morrowind where it's based more around a colder climate with its own setting featuring werewolves that haven't really made a return since the Daggerfall game, until the final big update from Morrowind's extra mods.

It's said that variety is the spice of life and there's certainly a lot going on in this game, various different weapons and materials to make those weapons from iron, steel, glass, obsidian etc, long swords, short swords, daggers, knives, axes, spears etc, magic as mentioned before, potions to boost any and every statistic, armours and makes of armours in great variety while also there's every precious metal one could expect to locate and find from steel plate to "demonic" sorts of armours (weapons too for that matter). A virtual library of ingredients to play around with to make potions, and all within a solidly made, gaming environment that doesn't utilise randomly generated areas.

Enemies range from worms and bugs, to larger lizards and beasts, to ... Cliff Racers... demons of fire, ice, storms, poisonous creatures, draining creatures, enemies to be made and defeated, of which, each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Buildings to take over and purchase, populate with your own decor and use their bonuses and extra features to impress... yourself. There's no online function or series here it's just you and the game and while in this age of online participation and social gaming, it can be a little daunting to be JUST yourself in this situation and nothing really coming in from the outside world.

Though to others, it's ideal.

There is a lot of game under the surface with a very well written storyline and plot progression if you can stand to read it, rather than being told it through voice actors. Meaning there is likely a LOT of information regarding the story on the assumption the gamer has the patience to read, tolerate, comprehend and deduce the situations. Such a sentence likely scares off a lot of people but that's how it goes here. It's not for everyone and will require some people to accept some big initial failures until they realise the way they wish to play and tweak boosts and initial staring points until they get the character that works best for them.

And killing Cliff Racers.