Morrowind is The Elder Scrolls Online at its best [Review]

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Developer: ZeniMax Online Sdudios

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Platform: PC, Mac, PS4 [reveiwed], Xbox One


Current Price: ~$30

Hours Played: 20-30 thus far

I have no attachment to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. It's a game I always wanted to like that I could never actually get into. I was discussing the game with a friend recently and we both agreed: After playing Oblivion, Morrowind was just too dated. We simply couldn't go back to it. Morrowind was probably a lot of folks first Elder Scrolls game, which is why I think it's so highly regarded. I started Morrowind what seems like countless times, but to me it was simply bad. I couldn't play for more than a couple of hours before I gave up and went back to playing the vastly-improved Oblivion. It's a shame, too, because Vvardenfell, dated as it was, seemed like such a more diverse and interesting location to me compared to the plains and, uh, more plains of Cyrodill. Oh, and mountains. I guess there were some mountains too.

You can then imagine my excitement when ZeniMax announced out of the blue that the island of Vvardenfell was being added to The Elder Scrolls Online, a game that I absolutely love. Finally, I could explore that world the way I always wanted to- with decent gameplay! And let me tell you, I am not disappointed! Well, okay, I'm a little bit disappointed. But that little bit of disappointment isn't going to stop me from declaring The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind to be the game's best content yet.

For those that have already played TES III, there's probably a lot of nostalgia to be found in this expansion. I never got very far in the game, but I do have a very vivid memory of the game's starting location of Seyda Neen since I played through the beginning of the game so very many times. It's basically a completely accurate recreation, even though it may not make complete canonical sense. Vvardenfell is loaded with these, or so I'm told since it was pretty much all new to me. The landmass was literally recreated with the same topography of the original game, with a few exceptions (Vivec City, for example, is under construction at this point in the timeline) which means the Vvardenfell zone should, theoretically, be the same size as the entirety of The Elder Scrolls III. As far as this point is concerned, the landmass seems way too small, but perhaps TES III was just an overall smaller and denser game. Unfortunately, not all of Vvardenfell is accessible. The Ashlands directly around Red Mountain's perimeter are off limits, as is, inexplicably, the entire northern region of Sheogorad despite literally being part of the zone's map. This was the most disappointing aspect of the expansion to me, especially because Sheogorad seems like a prime candidate to be sold off as later DLC. Also, when I tried swimming to the clearly visible nearby chain of islands I was murdered by slaughterfish, which is just insulting!

Telvanni mushroom towers are probably my favorite structures in the Elder Scrolls series.

Battlegrounds- a more intimate PVP

For those into PvP (I'm really not), Morrowind also introduces a new 4v4v4 mode that's honestly more exciting than the giant alliance war battles of Cyrodill. These short competitive matches are more akin to something you'd find in your average shooter with modes like CTF and deathmatch. There's not much to say really, other than it's a welcome inclusion if you're into that sort of thing. Like the alliance war, you need to be at least level 10 to participate, at which point the game will scale you to max level so you can compete fairly.

But like I said, this one drawback isn't enough to spoil this expansion for me. As I quested through the massive island, Vvardenfell quickly became my favorite zone in the game. A lot of it has to do with the "Morrowind chapter" essentially being disconnected from the main game. It has it's own main quest narrative, and the people here seem mostly unconcerned with the horrible calamity befalling their brethren on the mainland. There's no alliance war being fought here and no daedric anchors falling from the sky. Instead, it's all about the people and culture of Vvardenfell. There's enough strife between the Dark Elf houses and the Ashlanders as it is, you know? Even the main quest was better able to hold my attention (I finished it!) than that of the main game, where I essentially did the bare minimum so the game would drop me into the world and I could do whatever I wanted. Here, I felt more connected to the events unfolding so I ended up more invested in the narrative. Azura (one of the Dark Elves' "old gods") basically picks you, a literal off-the-boat traveler, at random to unravel a plot to kill lord Vivec (one of the Dark Elves' "living gods") whose magic keeps a giant asteroid from smashing into the island's active volcano.

Compared to the bombast of the alliance war and Molag Bal's dark anchors, Morrowind is instead filled with moments of quiet discovery. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to wander into a town and not have it be under siege by bandits or monsters or some other arbitrary faction. I didn't have to liberate a single city just so I could use its facilities! Exploration is one of my favorite features of the Elder Scrolls in general, and it's great to see it be the focus here. Vvardenfell is not only liberally peppered with diverse settlements, but it's also absolutely chock full of unmarked locations. In fact, in true Elder Scrolls style, I'd often stumble upon an interesting location only to later discover it was part of a quest I hadn't picked up yet. From islets covered in giant mushroom towers, to swampy ports, to lakes of boiling magma, and serene fungal forests, Vvardenfell is without a doubt the most diverse and interesting zone in the game. You can wander for hours and never get bored.

As with the rest of ESO, you can jump right into your Vvardenfell quest at any time you want, meaning it's a great place for new players to start. I created another character using the expansion's new warden class for this very purpose. After creating the mighty Rudspig and skipping the tutorial because I already did it once, I stepped off the boat and into the world ready to tear my enemies to shreds the power of nature. The warden is a refreshing change, if only because players have been using the same four classes since the game's launch in 2014. Granted, it's not as much of an issue in this game as most other MMOs because there's so many other non-class skill lines you can unlock just by playing, but the more skill lines the better I say!

Bears and ice- it's the warden's way of life.

The warden's trees consist of summoning plants to heal, summoning animals to attack or support, and summoning ice for attack or defense. I like the ice tree the best because it's really the most versatile with skills that add buffs, do damage, freeze enemies, and even heal. The healing tree honestly seems kind of redundant because literally every skill is exclusively for healing. Not only does the templar already have a similar skill tree, I can't image anyone needing that many healing skills unless you really really just want to stand in the back of a large team and do nothing but heal. The animal companions tree is more or less contains the warden's only direct damage skills. Some of the ice attacks do damage over time or deflect damage, but all but one of the animals attack. These skills are pretty good, although the novelty of "summoning animals" wears off pretty fast because the attacks are really more like regular spells in fun animal shapes. You can summon a cliff racer to swoop down at your enemy and, yeah, it looks cool, but it's really no different from shooting a fireball. But why not have a gimmick, right? For what it's worth, the summonable bear is stupidly over powered. It hardly ever dies and can be summoned for free! Either way, I'm having a great time with my warden so far.

Final Thoughts

The Elder Scrolls Online is an excellent game, and Morrowind is the best way to experience it. If you're an ESO player than buying this expansion shouldn't even be a question for you. Get it right now if you haven't! If you've never played before or are one of those people who hasn't given the game a try since 2014, take a chance on Morrowind! It's true, your enjoyment will probably hinge on whether you like ESO, but there seems to be a misconception that the game is bad. If you're thinking of the version you played in beta or at launch, rest assured it's a very different game now. Morrowind is an excellent stand-alone addition to a great game that should appeal to anyone who likes RPGs, whether they play MMOs or not. 

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