When film critic (and I use that description loosely) Leonard Maltin covered the Friday the 13th film sequels in one of his movie review guides, all he could muster in the way of criticism was “more of the same”. While there’s a grain of truth in that assessment, simply saying more of the same and leaving it at that always seemed to be a cop out to me. It also seemed elitist, since he did it with horror films, but not movies in other genres (and we all know you can sum up pretty much any sequel out there as “more of the same” regardless of whether it’s horror, comedy, or action).
With that in mind, I can safely say that Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Game of the Year Edition is “more of the same”. What this means is that if you liked the original Xbox game, then you’re going to want to run out and pick this one up (especially since it has a nicely discounted $30 price point). Game of the Year Edition (hereby referred to as GOTY to save me some typing) features everything that made Morrowind an intriguing game experience for RPG-starved Xbox owners and expands upon it almost exponentially.
While the main quest of the original game is included here in its entirety (so newcomers to the series can experience the original game firsthand), the real meat of GOTY Edition is the inclusion of two massive expansion packs-Tribunal and Bloodmoon.
PC players had access to these new quests months ago, but it’s very cool of Bethesda to remember their Xbox fanbase and offer up these two new adventures to the console crowd.
While Tribunal and Bloodmoon can be accessed at almost any point in the game (even by low level characters, before or after completing the game’s main quest), the expansions are truly designed for higher-level characters. By the time players reached level 30+ in the original game, things got pretty easy-these expansions remedy that, as witnessed by the fact that my high level tank character died early on in Tribunal. Players looking for a new challenge in the land of Morrowind need look no further than the GOTY Edition. The expansion packs are definitely more challenging than the main game.
Tribunal is a more straightforward expansion, and by Morrowind standards, it’s almost linear. While players can veer off of the main story path at certain points, it’s not nearly as open-ended as the main quest (wherein it’s entirely possible to spend hundreds of hours playing the game and never complete any of the main quest objectives). Because of this, Tribunal would make a really good starting point for people new to the world of Morrowind. Tribunal doesn’t exactly hold players by the hand, but it’s much easier to navigate and keep track of your objectives in this part of the game than it is in the others.
Bloodmoon is more like the main game-it’s open-ended and allows players a great deal of freedom in terms of missions and exploration. Visually, it’s the most interesting of the three large quests since it moves out of the typical Morrowind worlds and places you in a land of snow and ice. The change is a welcome one, as the game world can start to get a little repetitive with its reliance on shades of brown…
The real allure of Bloodmoon is the fact that players can become werewolves. While the main quest offered players the ability to succumb to vampirism, the werewolf disease seems much cooler. And, in typical Morrowind fashion, the game features some specific sets of quests for players who become lycanthropes. So, if you want to do everything the game has to offer, you’re going to be spending some time as a shapeshifter.
The two new expansions add roughly 100 hours of gameplay to a title that was already best described as massive. Completing everything in GOTY Edition should keep the average player occupied for at least several hundred hours-making this a great game for people who want to buy one game a year and play it forever.
And while the addition of new content is certainly welcome, I’m still a little disappointed that many of the main game’s bugs haven’t been fixed. It’s probably to be expected (given how large and open the game is), but Morrowind is certainly a buggy experience. Killing a person and forgetting to search their body can lead to players losing key quest items…forever. The “continental drift” bug (wherein NPCs will fall off their perches or move away from where they’re supposed to be over time) still seems to be around, too.
However, you can’t get too down on Morrowind for these problems. Bethesda has crafted a game that allows players to tackle things in just about any manner they choose. This is an incredibly ambitious undertaking, and as such, it’s inevitable that bugs will occur. No matter how good your testers are, there are things they won’t think of that the average gamer will.
Graphically, the game is showing its age. While the Xbox version never looked anywhere near as good as its PC counterpart, the time between the release of the original and the expansion has seen the level of Xbox graphics improve dramatically. Therefore, seeing the old Morrowind graphics isn’t all that impressive. The animations are still clunky, there’s still a lot of pop-up and draw in, and aside from Bloodmoon, the game still has a bland color palette. Honestly, though, one doesn’t play Morrowind for the graphics-they play it for the gameplay.
In this regard, the game is still a success. Yes, the combat is just as uninvolved as it’s always been, but the sheer breadth and depth of the game is amazing. It’s no exaggeration to say players can do whatever they want, whenever they want. The amount of customization available makes it so that one could play through the game ten times and never have the same experience. The world is massive and filled with places to explore, side-quests to undertake, and things to kill. This is why Morrowind eats up hours of gamers’ life like there’s no tomorrow-it’s so big it’s often hard to figure out what to do next. The options are almost endless.
The game’s sound and music sticks with the “more of the same” mantra that has colored the entirety of this review. Jeremy Soule’s music is back-and just as impressive as it was the first time around. There’s still not quite enough variety (particularly for such a huge game), but what’s there is good.
Voice acting and sound effects are also impressive, particularly when playing the game through a good home theater system. Ambient noise like rain sounds so realistic that I found myself looking out the window on occasion. Voice acting is still included, although the vast majority of the game is text-based…
Finally, a word of warning. To actually play Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition I had to get 3 copies of the game (a review beta and two retail copies) and use three different Xboxs. If you own a launch Xbox with a Thomson drive, this game is almost assuredly going to give you fits. Bethesda is aware of the problems, but seems unable to do much of anything about it. In my launch unit, the game would stutter, freeze, give me dirty disc errors, or simply not boot up at all. Even after clearing the cache, and deleting save files (after saving them to a memory card), the game still refused to run properly on my Xbox. Others have had similar problems. Therefore, if you want to play this game, you’re going to need an Xbox that isn’t a launch unit with a Thomson drive.
Overall, whether or not one enjoys Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition depends on whether they liked the first game. Those who found the original overwhelming or uninspiring will want to skip the expansion. However, RPG fans who liked the open-ended gameplay and freedom of the first game will want to take a return trip-the two expansions with over 100 hours of new adventures coupled with the $30 price tag make this game one of the steals of the year.