The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – Retrospective

I am a thief and a murderer entrusted with the task of saving the world. A task I have distanced myself from for an otherwise weary life. The world does not need saving. It is dying of a corruption, no less than a disease. The corruption seeps through its leadership. Vvardenfelll has sunk in venality, I am breathing it each day and yet nothing can be done. There are no gods here only men and women – survivors. They greet each other, and grow cold. They steal from their neighbors. I don’t discriminate. I steal from the rich and the poor. Shadow hides my past and darkness looms ahead.

I would have never played Morrowind had it not been accidentally recommended to me. It was not the game which enticed me; it was the world through which it presented itself. The world of Morrowind has rules and within those you have a free will of your own.

The best stories in video games are not concocted; they are discovered and experienced – simultaneously. Morrowind presents a canvas in every direction for you to paint. If you are not in the mood for an adventure, the townsfolk will be ready with adjurations in the form of quests.

Being an open world game, Morrowind lets the player follow an emergent narrative and not chase the plot. It can be best described as an immersive sim, the seed of which can be traced back to Origin Systems – the makers of Ultima series. To elaborate further, an immersive sim is a world where the player is free to choose his approach towards a certain objective. ‘Objective’ here is a goal or a purpose and the player is free to define that by himself. It gives him an opportunity to create and experience random but emotionally powerful experiences. There is a conveniently placed plot that he ‘can’ follow, whether he ‘must’ is upto him.

Morrowind cannot shed away its lineage. The game begins with a storm and a strange dream. A prophecy dictates your destiny. It’s confusing, “how can the fate of this world depend on me?” – you’ll ask. The game takes you to a character creation system where you define your race, class and other details. These affect your skills and attributes which will change as you progress in the game. This system lets you create the most suitable character to begin the game. Whether you want to continue as the same character or evolve him into something else is a choice you will always have.

These events then dump you into the open world with an objective. Hereon, the entire world is available to you. You can free roam anywhere. You can go on a killing spree across towns massacring everyone or be a hero. You can become vampire and stalk your prey in the nights. You can kill plot specific NPCs and end the quests there or simply ignore it personal interests. During my time with the game, I conveniently ignored the rules and lived a quite life of an explorer; plundering tombs and coming back home at the end of the day for some mead and a well deserved sleep. Sometimes I’ve been a serial killer – emerging from the shadows, stalking people and murdering them in their sleep; and once I’ve been a beggar, collecting scraps, herbs to earn some gold – too weak to be a hero.

Most interesting of my adventures was during this phase when I imagined the universe to be in an eternal time loop. I started the game, and played it until the point where I would die. Instead of reloading an older save, I restarted the game, with a different character, and play all over again. It was exhilarating, the whole metaphysics of the world changed with that. The world was the same, the adventures were not. The new character in the imaginary realm of Morrowind, lived a whole new existence.

Standing high, overlooking the sea; the past seems like a void with fragments of memories, like disconnected islands. I lived my life among capricious souls. I’ve been an adventurer, a survivalist, a magician, a beggar but not a hero. And there was the time when I was tormented by sickness, trapped in a hellish prison of bitterness and self-loathing. The sun burnt my skin and the moon soothed it, it made me stronger. Slowly I learned to live with it, I embraced it. The power looms as I stalk my prey, unseen and unheard. I kill it with a blade serenaded by the sounds of death.

The island of Vvardenfelll is a strange one. It’s divided into 9 regions which are further split up into different cities, towns, forts and settlements. All these regions have their own culture which is reflected through their inhabitants and the architecture. Add some caves, tombs, dungeons and mines and the world becomes alive with a rich lore, active politics and an impressive day-night cycle. It’s a much more diverse world than any of the Bethesda games; definitely not as big as Daggerfall and not as pretty as Oblivion but richer than both.

The world does keep Morrowind alive. But then, after you’ve completed your hundredth hour it becomes way too familiar. The quests become mundane and vapid. The game does not hold any challenges or surprises and eventually, it is forgotten. But for the time it lasts, Morrowind is exemplary for all modern free-roam games.

In my last session of the game, after sinking in a lot of time that I am too ashamed to admit, I killed my character by jumping off a cliff, ending any association with the game world. It was the first time after the Ultima Underworld II that I felt content with another life.

It threatened to rain as I stepped out through the weak doors of a lost cave which had been abandoned by its own history. I looked up to the sky, not a star in sight. And then it started to rain. There was no warning, no drizzle; just a torrent of hostile droplets waiting for me. I did not feel the scathing; it washed away the blood from my blade. I ignored the foolishness of the weather and walked ahead towards a cliff resolutely. The rain does not stop, nor do I.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind released on May 2 for PC, and June 6 for Xbox, back in 2002.