Saturday, 8 August 2015

Morrowind


Ok, this is going to be a big one.

Anyone who knows me, especially my fellow gaming friends, would be able to tell you what my favourite game of all time is. Being brought up on a steady diet of first person shooters and strategy games, the role playing genre never really grabbed me. I couldn’t get my head around spending skill points, the abundance of lore in these games, and a control system that was totally alien to me.


With Deus Ex and System Shock 2 you had the infancy of the Fps/Rpg Hybrid, and I would imagine there were many other gamers like me that those games opened a door for into this daunting genre, but I was still firmly in “intelligent shooter” territory and put off by anything even remotely involving an Orc.



Then sometime around maybe 2004/05 I was browsing through an old copy of PC Gamer. Let’s imagine it was raining outside, a storm lashing against the windows. It was nighttime, my only light source an old gas lamp that playfully flickered in the moonlight that danced in the rain. My fingers moved the pages of the dusty PC Gamer, my eyes scanning across articles I’d already read in search of new sentences to digest. “Top Ten Monitors Reviewed!” Boasts one article. “What Does Your RAM Say About You?” Reads another. I gingerly flip past. The storm outside builds in intensity. A tree branch is heard cracking and falling in the distance. “Was I right to tie the cat to the fence in this weather?” I muse. I get to the “Extra Life” section of the magazine, a selection of pages dedicated to revisiting old favourite games, discussing their relevance, new perspectives on them, and other things like mods and stuff.

That’d make a great idea for blog, now that I think about it.

Anyway. Back to the story. Storm, Night, Cat tied to a fence. Magazine. My concentration wanes as I now idly flick the pages, until I hit an article I’d never noticed before. A two page spread featuring as it’s main image a six foot tall cat person. The image and accompanying text burst into my vision as the storm swells in intensity, and with a thunderous, roaring clap of lightning the windows burst inwards, heralding the dawn of a new experience. The rain lashes in as the curtains bellow, my gas lamp extinguished leaving me illuminated only by the light of the moon. I had found something amazing.

That’s how I remember it, anyway. My actual experience may have been different.

I tried googling the article that originally started this little obsession of mine, to no avail, so I’m going to have to describe it from memory. I remember reading about this game, and yes it was an RPG but this time it was different. It was first person for a start. Skill progression made a lot more sense too (more on that later) but what really intrigued me was a strapline to the article. “You can go off and become a god, or you can just sell drugs to cat people.” (It was something like that).

Ok, how does this work? I thought to myself. Having my only experience of open world games being the GTA series up to this point, It was difficult for me to comprehend the scale of the openness of this game. Looking back I imagine I was bringing a lot of naivety, having never bothered with RPG’s before, but I’m glad of that. The experience was so new and fresh that here I am, many years later, waxing lyrical about it.

Before I start to go into what the games features were, I want to describe some of the things I did in it. I’m going to go ahead and assume anyone reading this has at least played Skyrim, so unbeknownst to you you’ll already be familiar with many of the core concepts that were established in Morrowind. (First person perspective adventuring, Chatting to NPC’s who will like or dislike you based your actions, The various guilds and different quest lines they offer, etc. etc. Yeah ok maybe Morrowind didn’t invent these things, but it was my first time experiencing them and if you don’t like it, start a twitter beef. Seriously, I could use the exposure.)



Here was a game where really early on a Wizard fell out of the sky right in front of me. When I checked his body I found a diary and three “Scrolls of Icarian Flight”. Reading the diary, it was obvious that the wizard had been trying to create a flight spell, and you’d just witnessed the tail end of his first experiment. He’d gotten the “lifting off really high into the sky” and “travelling through the sky really bloody fast” bits down fine, unfortunately he hadn’t thought about the whole “slowing your descent so you don’t end up as a large puddle” thing. Using one of the scrolls to cast the spell on myself, I found myself flying over half the island of Morrowind before coming to a sticky end on the side of a massive volcano. Reload.

I got to the second town most players will visit, Balmora, and found that there were two traders dealing in general goods. I murdered one and bribed the other to really REALLY like me, then across multiple journeys between the two shops I sold all my murder victims’ inventory to my now sycophantic admirer.

I found an Orc on the side of a hill with a really powerful sword, who in conversation told me that he had lived a long warrior’s life and wanted to die in battle. I granted his wish and took his sword. I then enchanted that sword with a powerful fire spell, so that when I struck the sword it would create an intense explosion in a radius of about twenty metres around me, incinerating anyone within the circle. It was fucking badass, but way overpowered even in the context of the game. I would try to kill an enemy, accidentally annihilate a hundred civilians, and have every guard in town chasing me down with murderous intent.



I met and killed two gods that I can remember. I fought off an assassination attempt, and followed the clues on the dead assassin’s body to take down the organisation that tried to kill me. I built a house. I met a talking crab and sold him everything I had stolen. I met a naked man by the side of the road and helped him get his stuff back from the witch that had stolen them. Then, because I liked the look of his weapon (it was an axe, ok? a two handed axe. Don’t have such a filthy mind). I killed him for it. I joined, completed quests, and rose through the ranks to lead the guilds of the mages, fighters and thieves. I became a vampire AND a werewolf.

I think you can see my point, this was not just a game, this was a second life to live in a fantasy world. For a single player game to be so deep and varied was something I certainly had never experienced before, and while other games have come close, not even the elder scrolls sequels have matched the magic of that first adventure.



There’s a sentimentality to morrowind for me as well. I first played it on quite a decent machine for the time, running on a 1.3Ghz processor with a massive 512mb ram and a beast of a Voodoo 3 graphics card. We had no landline at home so there was no internet, and because of this my main source of patches and mods for games in the dark days before everything was Steam integrated, were whatever I could find on PC Gamer cover discs. It’s because of that that I never got to experience any MMO’s back then, so I never had the pleasure of being part of a community centered around a game. Morrowind changed that for me too, despite being a singleplayer game.

My little brother Charlie is ten years younger than me, So when I started playing Morrowind he would have been about nine or ten years old. While we shared an interest in computer games he would play more console oriented stuff as opposed to my PC interests. While we might have a chat about what the other was playing, I don’t think either one of us was ever going to bother trying out one of the other’s games. Add to that the natural distance that comes with such an age gap it’s best described that while we both lived under our mum’s roof, we inhabited different worlds. Then along comes Morrowind. Charlie used to regularly pop in to my bedroom to see what I was up to on the computer. I’m going to guess I’d been raving about this game to him, so he came to watch me on it, and so started a tradition that lasted a long time.




 

With me working the controls and Charlie sat behind me on the sofa, we would adventure through Morrowind together, deciding what quests to take our character on, what organisations to join and which ones to piss off, and the different merits and drawbacks of light vs. heavy armour. It became a social event for us, and it drew us closer in a way that no other form of media could ever achieve. I eventually let him start his own character on my PC and then the conversations evolved into a more competitive but friendly “Have you been there yet? Have you done that?” Weighing up each other’s character progression and trading stories of our adventures.

The memory is kind of tainted after I caught him wanking over an Oblivion preview, but still, good times.

You start Morrowind, as with every Elder Scrolls game, as a prisoner. This time on a prison ship, you are quickly released and immediately create your character under the guise of filling out your release information to the guards. You move quickly through the guardhouse, stealing anything that isn’t nailed down if you’re like me, and are given a package to take to a guy called Caius Cosades in Balmora. And that’s it, from there you have full free reign to travel anywhere across the entire island, and visit any one of it’s nine regions, four cities, eighteen towns, and innumerable forts, settlements, caves, mines, dungeons etc.

I think it was in PC Gamer’s Oblivion review that the writer said about how hard it is to review the game because everyone’s experience will be different, and the same applies to every Elder Scrolls game, especially Morrowind. You really need to just start the game and explore it for yourself. Become a light and agile cat thief, or a mountain of a nord warrior, or an elf with the magical power to bend the world to your will. Anything is possible and any playstyle is provided for and rewarded.



The way that Morrowind handled your skill progression was unique amongst other RPG’s as well. Skills improved with practise rather than earning any sort of skill point, which you could then spend on any talent, sometimes completely irrelevant to what your character had been doing up to that point. For example if you were to want your character to be shit hot with a bow and arrow, you’d use your bow and arrow a lot and gradually your accuracy and range would increase.

This could throw up some frustrating results in the early game though. If you were building your character to use any sort of melee weapon, the system would take into account your proximity to the target and the damage of the weapon, just as any other computer game would. However on top of that it would cast a virtual dice roll based on your characters’ stats, and this could mean that your attack would not cause any damage. This is a tiny smidge of an issue though, and one that resolves itself after your first few hours playing.

There was a small amount of defining which skills you should focus on, dependent on what character you chose in the very beginning, Nords were better suited to warrior type roles, Khajit, the aforementioned cat people, were more skilled in stealth, and so on, but this in no way dictated how you were to play the game. If you’d spent fifty hours in the game breaking skulls for the fighters guild and suddenly felt the urge to go off and become the greatest necromancer the world had ever seen, you could do that.

Getting hold of the game today is nice and easy, thanks as ever to Steam. It currently sells for £14.99 as it’s GOTY edition, which includes the Bloodmoon and Tribunal expansion packs. I’ve not gone into it much here as I’ve shown my love for this game enough already, but Bloodmoon is possibly the greatest addon pack i’ve ever played. Its got werewolves and shit.
 



As you can probably guess I’m more than happy to recommend the game at that price almost fifteen years after it’s release. It’s also on sale very often, so if you don’t fancy spending fifteen quid, firstly I think you are a silly bumhead, but secondly, if you see it for under a tenner there really is no reason to not try it out.

Thanks to the inclusion of the Mod Construction set (not included in the Steam version of the game, weirdly) there has been a wealth of mods released for the game. There’s only one you need to worry about getting though, and that is the Morrowind Overhaul mod.

Currently in its 3.0 release, it’s not technically a single mod, but a compilation of the best mods out there that were ever made for the game, all wrapped up in a neat little installer package. Everything it includes is lore friendly, you’re not going to start bombing the shit out of elves from a harrier jet or anything. It’s mostly system and graphical upgrades that make the game more palatable to the modern eye. Water now actually looks like water, and the characters no longer walk around like they pooed themselves. I’ve linked a video below that demonstrates the differences in the overhaul mod, (just to be clear it’s not my video, I just found it on youtube).




The installer is really simple and straightforward to use, allowing you to set the different graphics and system options depending on your personal taste and the capabilities of your PC. One word of warning though, I encountered a slight glitch during the install owing, I think, to my PC’s security settings.

As the installer is essentially an umbrella launcher for multiple installations of the different mods, every time one of the “sub” installations launched, windows would do its whole freak out thing and pop up that “Are you sure you want to run cheekynandos.exe?” but it would launch that window UNDER the main launcher window, and not allow the sub installation to do its thing, appearing to all intents and purposes that the PC had froze. If you find this happening to you, ctrl+alt+delete to the task manager, bring the windows warning message to the front and click ok. You’ll have to do that multiple times during the installation but it really is just a minor inconvenience. Really hope I explained that clearly enough.

Ok, well, that was a beast of an article. If you made it this far then well done you! Now go tell all your friends about it and get them to follow me on twitter. Especially Dave, you know Dave right? The one with the solid banter? Dave. I’m off to play some Elder Scrolls Online, which is pretty bloody enjoyable actually.

As usual, feel free to come hurl abuse, praise, and your comments about the article @themightyodog or in the box below. If you have an idea for a relic from PC gaming’s past you would like me to tackle, get in touch on twitter and I’ll do my best.

Olly.