During our interview with Bethesda Softworks, RPGfan had an opportunity to sit down and play an almost final version of the impressive action-RPG for the X-Box.
Those who are familiar with the recently released PC version will be pleased to see that all of the quest freedom has been retained for the console port. The extensive character creation and class development was also unscathed. Alas, the in-depth Construction Set that shipped with the PC version, an impressive feature that allowed the player to change various aspects of the game world, will be absent from the X-Box release. Bethesda stated that it was fundamentally impossible to create such a powerful editing tool for any X-Box game and that Microsoft is extremely protective of the X-box’s HDD. Allowing gamers to change code that is resident on the X-Box hard drive has a great potential to corrupt the unit, leading to game instability and possibly console death. So much for RPG Maker on the X-box! Even though The Elderscrolls III: Morrowind utilizes the X-Box hard drive, the game suffers from long initialization times as the data is streamed to disc.
The player interface has been streamlined to utilize the strengths of the X-Box controller. While the inability to have a plethora of convenient hotkeys was a bummer, Bethesda did an admirable job at making the game easy to pick up and play. All the menus are simple to navigate and the extensive conversation system has been streamlined to automatically tag new subjects, allowing the player to open new topics of conversation without the repeated pointing and clicking of the PC edition. Controlling your character in Morrowind was a breeze, though the lack of true analog movement made me a bit wary. Combat is carried out in real-time though the game suffered from collision detection issues that will hopefully be resolved before final release.
All of Jeremy Soule’s magnificent music has been perfectly retained, as have the extensive character dialog throughout the adventure. I wasn’t able to tell if the audio was available in Dolby Digital, but was impressed by the remarkable score nonetheless.
Sadly, the most disappointing aspect of Morrowind was the graphics. While the PC version was breathtaking, though required a hefty machine to run smoothly, the X-Box version was lackluster. Severe aliasing was present on both the backgrounds and the character models in addition to extremely grainy visuals. The end result was equivalent to the PC version running in low resolution with 16-bit textures. The background pop-up was another annoyance, though the attempt to mask the limitations of the hardware through fog was almost laughable. While the PC version was notorious for haphazard frame rates and polygon clipping/tearing, the X-Box version was considerably more cohesive, even with animation in the ballpark of 14fps.
The painfully plodding frame rate, the lackluster visuals, and the slipshod collision detection were serious issues that I doubt can be completely rectified before the game goes gold. After playing the PC version on a capable gaming rig, I can honestly tell you that the X-Box version is little more than a stripped down port of an amazing game. There has been much speculation as to why the X-Box version of Morrowind had been delayed time and time again, and I wonder if Bethesda bit off more than they could chew with the limitations of Bill’s Box.
The Elderscrolls III: Morrowind is a fantastic role-playing experience that every RPGfan should avail themselves of…on the PC. The fact that the X-Box fails miserably in capturing the full effect of the game is a testament to Bethesda Softworks cutting-edge PC development and the limitations of PC-to-console ports in general. Like the old adage says, some things are better left alone. Those who are unable to play the game in it’s more impressive incarnation will probably find the X-Box edition an entertaining adventure, but you don’t know what you’re missing. For those eagerly awaiting the port, Bethesda promised that the game should be available at a software retailer near you in June.