A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Some words about Elder Scrolls

When I was in upper secondary school, we were asked to write an essay about a hobby of ours for our English class. I picked up videogames as my hobby and as I was at the time ranging somewhere between Balmora and Ald'ruhn, the title of my essay ended up being "Many Fall, but One Remains". I do not think I have the essay anywhere safe anymore, but I do remember writing something about people dismissing playing videogames as a hobby, because it was stuff for kids, but glorifying sports, because it is stuff for bigger kids, or something such. And naturally, I also wrote about Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, because that game was my chief love at the time.

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was published on Xbox (no number after it) in 2002 by Bethesda (in North America) and which received the Game of the Year nomination and was repackaged with two expansions in 2003. I do believe it was in 2002 when I first bought the game and 2003 or 2004 when I also bought the GotY version. Again, this was quite by chance - I think I chose the game as my Christmas present from my parents (me and my brother each got to choose one game for Christmas present that our parents paid for and if we wanted any more games during the year, we had to buy them ourselves.) My brother got it for his PC after playing it a while on my Xbox and years later, I also played it as a PC version with several mods intended to make the game smoother to play and prettier to watch. The game did last several years for me (meaning that I kept playing and playing it) and was one of the most enjoyable games I've ever played and will probably remain to be one till the day I die.

Morrowind was for me the first rpg genre game - having been a long time console player, most of the games I played were action adventure, such as Resident Evil series. I was rather overwhelmed by the idea of a sandbox game, where I could stumble upon ancient ruins of Dwarves or Daedra worshipping sites and be killed by an Orc bandit wielding a huge-ass battle-axe - when I was still on level 3. So far, that games I had played became more difficult gradually and only allowed you to progress when you got better at playing and purchased or gained new skills and talents, or equipment along the way. I have to say that when beginning to play Morrowind, my English skills weren't really up to the level with the game, so I learned mostly by trying and dying. But learn I did, and hundreds of hours of learning I did too.

What I loved in Morrowind was the openness of the world, the possibilities it gave to the player and the unique world you set out to explore. During my first ventures to the isle of Vvardenfell I really couldn't compare the scenery, the people or the stories in the books I read to pretty much anything I had encountered before. When the fourth installment game out, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I was rather disappointed in how "familiar" everything in it seemed - I longed for the creativity and natural beauty of Vvardenfell, with its unique flora and fauna. Oblivion seemed too much set in the "real" world, with elves and lizardmen strutting about on the streets.

As for the system of play, it took me years to figure out how to play different sort of characters - in the beginning I was just concentrating on fighting skills, because those seemed for the most part to keep me alive. Then at some point I realized I could start sneaking around backstabbing my enemies and started to train a character in a more thief-like manner - after that came the spells, because in Morrowind, spell casting was somewhat frustrating if you didn't generate your character to be a mage from the beginning. In Oblivion your spell meter fills up constantly, not only when drinking potions and resting in a bed, as it did in Morrowind.

Trading skills were the last ones for me to learn and use, since in Morrowind, you play around to level 10 or so, hauling everything you can carry from pits and dungeons and caves and shrines and you have enough money to buy healing potions for the rest of the game. You even started to collect valuable things in houses, because there was no merchant alive who could pay you 30k for the Daedric longsword you just looted from the Golden Saint you encountered in the fields. Not to mention the unique equipment you received when you completed the quests for the Daedra princes - the first one I stumbled upon quite accidentally when nicking jewels from his shrine; I accidentally clicked the statue and when it started booming to me about testing my valour, I nearly fell down from my chair from surprise.

In later installments of the series, the skills also get a bit more in hand than they were in Morrowind - you had about 50 different skills, or so, which started max. 50-60 and min. five and you could get each of them up to hundred by using them and over with enchanted items. Your character leveled up whenever you got 10 major or minor skills up a level, and the rest were misc. skills - they didn't speed up your levels, but they did affect which attribute you could then buy better advancements in. For instance, if you had Illusion as a misc. skills and trained 10 levels in it, your Personality attribute could then be upped by 5 points the next time you gained a level. If Illusion was a major or minor skills, however, by the time you got 10 levels in it, it was time to level up and you didn't get any more bonuses for attributes - if you hadn't trained any of your misc. skills. There were several weapon related skills, like Axe, Long Sword, Short Sword, Spear and Marksman, as well as a skill for each type of Magic found in the world; Destruction, Alchemy, Enchant, Alteration, to name a few; and naturally all the movement related skills, the interaction related skills and the stealing related skills.

As such, the game was not so complex as one might think - it just had so much of content, that you didn't bore of the little things easily. After all, most quests could be completed by killing things, but some were of the kind where you just had to pick something up, or escort someone somewhere, or steal something without detection. The main story involved fulfilling an ancient prophecy about a hero-reborn, who would rid the island of evil and such and such, which is actually still quite compelling plot-wise, as the story did not develop too linear and even though there was certain "these guys are good and those guys are bad" mentality that was explained to you by the NPCs, when you actually got to meet the man-become-god Vivec and the would-be god Dagoth Ur, you sort of didn't know whose claims to believe... Which was naturally further enhanced by the expansion Tribunal, where you got to meet the other gods of the Tribunal, Almalexia and Sotha Sil.

In the beginning of the game you were automatically installed in Blades, the emperor's eyes and ears in the Empire, and you could also join a number of guilds and factions, as well as one of the Great Houses of Vvardenfell, which would equip you with enough gabbabe picking quests to last a life-time. I remember, the first time Caius Cosades, my spymaster, told me to join either Mages' or Fighters' Guild in Balmora to get more experience, I couldn't even find the damn guild houses - not that they were in any way hidden, like the Morag Tong guild house was. (Accidentally stumbled down there too, but that's probably how it always goes with those.) Thieves' guild was also available in Balmora as was the Temple of Tribunal and the Great House Hlaalu - for the Imperial Cult you had to cross a short way over to Fort Moonmoth, where you were also told that if you wanted to join the Legion, you had to trek all the way up north to Gnisis and Fort Darius. House Redoran could be joined in Ald'ruhn and House Telvanni in Sadrith Mora - which was probably the last house I ever joined, as it is on the other side of the island from where you begin the game. Morag Tong is the secret assassins cult that did not try to kill you, unlike the Dark Brotherhood which opened up the option to go to Mournhold (the Tribunal expansion) - to get to Soltsheim you just heard rumours of a frozen isle to the north, when the Bloodmoon expansion game to be - and each of these you could also join up factions. The Ashlanders were joined as a part of the main plot, so before that happened, you didn't really have the necessity to have any dealings with them. And yes, you would get quests from each and every one of them, though with Ashlanders you only got a couple of quests. (Oh, and it is also possible to join a vampire nest, but I never got around to doing that.)

Joining a faction always gave you a higher influence rating among the other members, so dealing with shopkeepers and traders belonging to your own faction was always good. It also affected the way people talked to you - when I joined the Temple for the first time, another falling to the floor experience happened when I was walking around Vivec (the city named after the god) and a random passing-by Ordinator greeted me with "Hello friend, how does the day greet you?" instead of the usual growling "Scum" or "If you're here for trouble, you'll get more than you bargained for." Most factions gave you quests according to your level, so you got to do only beginner stuff first - one of the exceptions in these is the quest you get from the Mages' Guild Arch-Mage, but, even though advanced, that one is a bit silly to begin with. And naturally, you would get quests from different places; the Fighters' Guild for instance had chapters in Balmora, Vivec, Ald'ruhn, Pelagiad and Sadrith Mora, each with a guild master head full of things for you to kill. There were sometimes even choices you could make within the faction, when you were given two opposite goals by two competing guildmasters, for instance. Of the factions, there were only a few limitations: you could only join one of the great Houses and you could only join the vampire nest where your sire originated, meaning the vampire you got the disease from. Other than that, you could join anything and everything, although I seem to remember that in Morag Tong they were reluctant to let you join, if you didn't have at least few assassin-like skills to boast of. And after all the factions and Houses and such, there were of course all the random NPCs in the wilderness, who would ask for your help, so no shortage of quests in sight.

It is true that compared to Oblivion and Skyrim, Morrowind is not as pretty a game. However, there are several mods you can install on your PC version that smooth out the graphics, if you like to do that. And apparently, there are still people making mods for it, which speaks it own language about how popular a game it is. I wouldn't recommend the Xbox version for purchase anymore, as the download times were sometimes very long and there was the possibility of crashing or falling down a pit -clitch when running around the mountains - also, you'd get no benefit of the mods people make for it. For PC the requirements are not high at all and most laptops are quite capable of running the game, if not all of the graphics mods available. For content mods I recommend the one with modified star signs, as they make the character creation more flexible and fun, even. Although, after enough playing, the levelling up system forgives quite a lot of the mistakes made in the character creation process, so don't worry about it so much.

I heartily recommend Morrowind for anyone who hasn't tried it before and would be glad to chat about it with people who have - even though I have played some Oblivion and I have Skyrim on my PS3 now, I don't think they have quite captured the magic which was ever present in their predecessor.

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