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Platform: PC Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: PC RPG Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Format: CD-ROM Released: 11/01/02

Review
12/11/02
Brian Cavner
Brian Cavner

I have long been looking for an excuse to return to the land of Morrowind to conquer more Dremora, explore more tombs, and to raid more houses. And never has a better reason been given than the latest expansion. Addressing the complaints of many fans who report that Morrowind was far too easy for their high level characters, Bethesda answers with a new land centering on the city of Mournhold and the quests held within. Tribunal requires that the player have Morrowind already installed on their systems before allowing them to visit the new land. While it is intended for players who have already beaten the main quest, anyone can install and benefit from the changes and additions to be found in Tribunal. There is no set requirement for when the player must travel to Mournhold, and they are, in fact, free to come and go as they please.

A straight yet quite ornate arrow

The actual expansion does not begin until your character rests. During the night, he or she will be attacked by a black-garbed assassin from the mysterious Dark Brotherhood. From here, a short chain of events is triggered that ends in your character being transported to Mournhold to investigate the strange attacks.

Here, you meet the later two members of the famed Tribunal, a group of three semi-immortals whose responsibility is to watch over the land of Morrowind. The first to be met was Vivec, who was introduced in Morrowind. The others, Almalexia and Sotha Sil, make their first appearances in the expansion.

While the game is restricted only to the city of Mournhold, a location that is not much bigger than Balmora, there is quite a bit to see. Historically, the city was built on top of previous versions of itself, which means that older builds lie in the sewers below. The number of areas below the surface to explore greatly expands the size of Tribunal, but do not expect to find something as large as what was found in the original Morrowind. To some, this size differential is a blessing that means walking long distances between cities is an abolished concept. To others, it is curse that spells out a much shorter, more cramped world than what was to be found in the original. I, personally, did not suffer any from the reduced size and rather enjoyed being able to get to any needed location in just a few moments without having to rely on other means of transportation. Yes, the ability to explore in Tribunal is somewhat hampered by the small size, but not horribly so. And it is my opinion that the quests to be found in the city of Mournhold more than compensate for the lack of space.

Another disappointment to many was the lack of guild or faction quests as were available in Morrowind. Indeed, all that exists are the main quests as well as a few side quests that can be assigned by various members of Mournhold and of the sewers below. However, it should be a comfort to know that the quests of Tribunal are of a much higher level of quality than found in Morrowind. Gone are the usual fetch, or kill-this-person, or get-this-item quests replaced with ones that are far more unique and much more fun to complete. Examples include a side quest that casts your character in the lead role of a live, open-air play in the streets of Mournhold, a journey through the sewers in order to bring holiness to an evilly-possessed area, and completion of many mind-bending puzzles in Sotha Sil's Clockwork City. Each and every one were fun and brimming with life and made me anxious to solve the mysteries that lie within. Whereas some of Morrowind's quests ended up feeling stale and reused, all of Tribunal's quests are fresh and innovative.

Tribunal was also quite linear. Such a finding was incredibly surprising what with Morrowind's extremely open-ended gameplay. With the decision to not add any of the guild or faction quests that were found in Morrowind, it became incredibly difficult to make Tribunal stand up to the level of non-linearity that was expected. But comparisons between the two notwithstanding, the quests to be found in the expansion were of such a high quality that any disappointment to be found in the size of the world or in the linearity of the story are more than made up for.

New features abound

Tribunal plays exactly as Morrowind did, but with a few bonus additions, almost all of which make it worth it to purchase Tribunal before being ready to venture to Mournhold.

Perhaps the most widely asked for addition is a new journal system. The journal of Morrowind tended to get quite messy and complicated quickly. Tribunal fixes these problems by organizing the entries by quest, thereby allowing you to see at a glance which quests have been completed and which are currently in progress. Often times, one will begin a quest, but get sidetracked and never have the opportunity to complete it. Now, with a simple click of a button, all quests in progress are highlighted and you can quickly browse through and find which quests you want to complete. This feature was not terribly useful in Tribunal, as the low number of quests did not mandate the use of any sort of enhanced journal, but for completing the original game, this addition is an immense aid.

Also added was the ability to put marks on your map in order to remember a location that you must return to later. For added ease of use, you can also see your notes if you mouse over the entrance to such an area on your map. For example, if you discover a Nord residing in the sewers of Mournhold but are unsure as to what you should do with him, you can mark him on your map for easy returning later. Then once you have a quest that involves him, you simply return to the sewers and use your map to chart a direct path straight to him. Unfortunately, these markers are only available when the map is in local mode; not when you are using a world view. Thus, the feature cannot be used effectively to mark locations on Morrowind's land map. However, it was a great addition to have in Tribunal and a wonderful aid in several of Morrowind's towns and dungeons.

Traveling to Mournhold will also open the ability to hire mercenaries or to buy pack animals to follow you around. Both can carry items, and both can be useful in combat; however each one has its own unique purpose. For the mage without much strength and a repertoire of potions and scrolls, he might find the purchase of a packrat handy. While it may not give much help in combat, it will be a nice mobile storage closet. Alternatively, for the thief who simply needs a helping hand in battle, he might find the hiring of a mercenary of great aid. For a modest fee, you can pay a warrior to stay with you for 30 days. He will, unfortunately, leave if you are unable to turn a profit in your adventures together, but if you keep him happy and wealthy, he is sure to follow you and aid you in all sorts of combat.

Other additions that players might find useful coming from an unpatched Morrowind are an enemy health bar indicating the level of hit points your current opponent still possesses, brand new weapons, armor, and items, and a sliding difficulty bar that allows you to make your game more difficult or easier depending on your needs. Setting the difficulty to 100 will prove to be a challenge for even an extremely high level character with a full array of magical weapons and armors, whereas a difficulty of -100 will make Tribunal a possible option for even beginning players.

While it would have been nice to see new races, classes, or birthsigns as well as a revamped combat and magic system, Bethesda has stated that Tribunal was made for high level character of Morrowind to have more quests to accomplish, not to add more features. Do not expect any drastic gameplay changes with Tribunal; it is merely an extension to indulge those lusting for more.

Beauty of the highest degree

While nothing was significantly changed graphically in the transition from Morrowind to Tribunal, it has to be admitted that the expansion simply looks better. The highly praised graphics of the original Morrowind have been, somehow, improved to make the world of Tribunal come to life in a vivid display of color and texture that rivals almost everything else I have ever seen. I found myself literally in awe of the power and splendor of several of the areas. It was, at many points, difficult for me to concentrate on the battles before me when my eyes kept being drawn to the amazingly detailed graphics of the areas that I was in.

In particular, the two final areas of the game command so much attention due to their sheer size and detail. It seems that no pixel was spared, and Bethesda's meticulous attention to the texture designs of Tribunal's areas paid off and created some wonderful visual splendors.

Creature textures remain the same, and with the exception of the few new weapons and armor, item designs are identical to those in Morrowind. The new equipment looks quite nice and follows Morrowind's style of fitting each character model incredibly well.

True love for the audiophile

Tribunal's music, like that found in Morrowind, is wonderfully fitting to the overall theme and greatly enhances the ambience of every area. While sometimes overshadowed by the rest of the game, I made sure that I always kept my speakers turned up in order to constantly hear the wonderful compositions that grace Tribunal. In addition, sound effects are equally well done and help to flesh out encounters with stunning realism. There were not many changes made audibly in the transition from Morrowind to her expansion, but then again, not many changes were needed.

There was one major improvement, however, and that was in the area of voice acting. As I mentioned in my review of Morrowind, given the sheer number of characters in the land and the limited space for vocal effects, it was hard to go anywhere without hearing the same repetitive greetings and comments from the NPCs. In Tribunal, however, there seem to be an equal number of statements for a much smaller pool of NPCs. In fact, I would venture to say that it almost sounds as if each character has his or her own unique pool. The verbal statements of the NPCs actually coincide with something they would say. Gone are the endless streams of "What do you want, Outlander?" and "You talk to much" replaced with more realistic comments that both fit the personality of the character and match his or her current mood and setting. Voice acting certainly improved in Tribunal and this fixed one of the only holes that I found in this category of the original Morrowind.

Power of the fingertips -- Now fully automatic

In the realm of control, not a whole lot has changed since the original Morrowind. The only notable change was also added via a Morrowind patch, but those with unpatched versions can benefit from the addition. Instead of having to press and hold shift+w in order to walk forward, players can now press Caps Lock to toggle an "autorun" which puts your character into a constant state of running. Holding down shift will change the mode to walking; exactly the opposite as when not in autorun mode. Likewise, pressing q will cause the character to continuously walk forward until another key is pressed to stop the movement. Used together, a player can press Caps Lock and Q a single time in order to set up an automatic run across the entire map without tiring ones fingers or wrists. This is quite a helpful addition to those who become fatigued after a cross-continental jog.

Tribunal retains Morrowind's fluid and clean control, but unfortunately also carries with it the occasional problem with a control glitch. These problems are extremely rare, and I experienced problems only once or twice, and these errors have been promised to be remedied in an upcoming patch, but as these errors were already patched and fixed for Morrowind, it is a shame that the fixes couldn't have been included in the boxed version of Tribunal.

Improving on a great thing

If you were a fan of Morrowind, it is likely that you will enjoy the 30-40 additional hours of pleasure that Tribunal has to provide. If you or someone you know has been looking for a reason to return to the game, this expansion may be an excellent excuse. While not nearly as long or as full as the original Morrowind, the additional hours are of an immense quality and should be a wonderful and very enjoyable time for any Morrowind fan. While not recommended for lower level characters, the difficulty slider allows for characters of almost every level (no matter how low or high) to find something to enjoy in the city of Mournhold. If you and your high level character have been wandering the lands looking for a challenge, you may find what you are looking for in Tribunal. I highly recommend this to anyone who was a fan of the original, and I can guarantee that it will provide a great many hours of enjoyment from start to finish. It may be exactly what you need to reignite your passion for the land of Morrowind.



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© 2002 Bethesda Softworks
Graphics: 98%
Sound: 100%
Gameplay: 91%
Control: 95%
Story: 89%
Overall: 94%

Click to Enlarge
The new dungeon designs of Tribunal are incredible in their sheer size and detail

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The spectacular sky of Morrowind returns

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The architecture of Tribunal's cities is simply remarkable

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With the new modifications to the journal, it is now much easier to keep track of quests

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