This piece started out to be a retrospective on Morrowind. But somewhere between the sketch of the ideas and the completed work, it morphed into something a bit different. Yes, it is still mostly about Morrowind. But it also focuses on how mods, in general, have added so much to many of the best games any of us have ever played. Indeed, during the writing a profound conclusion solidified for me -- many of the best games became "best" because of their support for mods.
You see, there is only one perfect RPG out there -- it is the one you see in your mind if you were able to write software. No one else on the planet can possibly share your exact view of what makes a game great…except that mods can let you tailor something into a perfect game -- for you! And you can do that regardless of what was delivered by the original designers and regardless of what other gamers might want to play.
How easy it is to overstate how good some games are. There are perhaps five or six truly great titles for those of us who love RPGs that any RPGer would put on his or her top 10 list. We might argue about which release was best in the series (... was Wizardry "x" better than Wizardry "y"...) or about the order of the list (... which was better ... Icewind Dale "x" or Ultima "y" ...) , but some titles just stand out to all of us.
Morrowind is one of those titles. So a while ago when I saw the GOTY version available on the commercial download sites, it was all the incentive I needed to put away my scratched old CDs from so many uses (my new computer cannot even read the TES disk #2 anymore) and get ready to become Nereverine yet again.
It has been a ball. And thankfully, almost all of the old mods are still available for download. After a couple days of downloading and trying various mods, I ended up installing a dozen, and have had hours of fun since. Morrowind stands the test of time and the mods simply revitalize and reenergize it. In addition to all the fun that mods add, I once again come away stunned by the creativity and genius of so many modders.
(Now, if I can only get Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale to play nice in Windows 7, I will be in RPG heaven.)
The same old Morrowind -- thankfully!
Morrowind set a standard for open-ended gaming that still stands at or near the top eight years after release. Your freedom in all three critical areas of character development, exploration and open-ended questing is unmatched, even today. Clearly there are games before and since that have achieved such levels in one, or even two of the areas, but none in all three in the same game. Ironically, two other Bethesda titles -- Fallout 3 and Oblivion -- are among the few who have gotten closest.
Many who play Morrowind set the goal early on to end up heading the three main guilds -- mage, warrior, and thief. It is a lot of work to pull that off, but it is hard to resist the fun of that challenge.
Quest lines: Yes, there is a main quest, of course. But the enjoyment of Morrowind comes from the other 12 optional quest lines. Pick and choose the ones you like. Each line (like the ones to head up each guild) is detailed and extensive -- each involving dozens of quests all over Vvardenfell. Some are escort duties, some major battles, some "kill the rats in the basement" and some simple Fed-X missions. There must be several hundred formal quest opportunities in Morrowind and another hundred or so miscellaneous quests you stumble upon while exploring.
Exploration: If you have a bad leg and limp, Morrowind is not for you. You are going to do a lot of walking and exploring to discover your targets. Morrowind does not use the dumbing down approach so many RPGs have used since where your target appears on the map and sometimes you can just jump to it. There are no "help arrows" showing you where to go. Indeed, you usually have just a rough idea where you are heading, and the target cave or camp often is partially hidden down a ravine or in some rocks. You can be standing right next to the entrance to the fortress you were seeking and have no clue that it is there. You need to search and explore!
But this ain't your father's Morrowind anymore
Thanks to mods, Morrowind today is far better than when Bethesda delivered it to us back in 2002. Modders have taken on just about every aspect of the game.
Remember those ugly characters that looked like they were ready for embalming? No more! Remember soloing impossible battles against a roomful of baddies? Now take a companion along. Want to see something new? Take on any of the dozens of new islands, fortresses, adventures, etc. Unhappy with some of the balance issues or lack of weapons? Just pick through all the mods that address almost every aspect of game play. Fed up with NPCs blocking your path and nowhere to go? Add a command to ask them to move.
With Morrowind and mods, everything is the same, and yet everything is delightfully different.
A map you have to both love and hate
Okay, up front, maps and mapping is a religious issue to diehard RPGers. No one will agree with this section, so start the flames! To purists, (to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart and Alfonso Bedoya) "... we don't need no stinking maps..." - a purist thinks you should use pen and pencil and make your own; "after all, handmade maps were good enough for Zork, why not for Morrowind?".
At the other extreme are today's RPGs that think players are so dumb they must provide a GPS for every mission - every destination is on your maps, arrows lead you by the nose to it and often you can fast-travel to anywhere you want. Ugh! My perspective is as an 80% pure RPGer: I want a good map that at least shows basics, that shows anything significant once you discover it, that you can annotate but with no "helpers" to get you to your goals.
The Morrowind map can both add to the fun of the game and drive you crazy. You can annotate the "local" (close range) map, but not the main map. The main map has no zoom and only shows perhaps 10% of the sites you discover.
The problem is that things are really, really, really, really hard to find! (Really!) Picture a continent roughly the size of Spain or Japan. You have nothing on your map except rough topographical features. You are told that you need to find a hidden fortress "... somewhere southeast of Madrid...". It might be 25 miles away, or 250. It is hidden at the end of a ravine behind a clump of trees. Good luck!
Occasionally -- Find the bird playing a flute and take it to cure the king
One thing I personally never liked about Morrowind is a pet peeve shared about almost every RPG before they started dumbing them down a few years ago. I cannot stand quests that simply are so non-intuitive or difficult that you need a cheat book to have a chance to do them.
One quest in the original legendary King's Quest series 25 years ago was a great example. I still remember it well today as I tried to help my "treasure" (every dad thinks his daughter is a treasure!) find a cure for a king. Turns out you had to search all over (probably looking for a potion or healer, as I was) and then notice a lark singing in a tree, discover it was playing a flute, and then take that flute back to play a healing song for the king. Now, my recollection of the details might be foggy, but the concept is spot on. There is simply no way a rational player could solve that quest without a cheat book. Boooo!
The good news is that 75% of Morrowind quests do not fall in that category. Perhaps (this is a total SWAG -- scientific wild-ass guess!) 15% of quests are so difficult to find you need a cheat map to find them, and another 10% of the quests are simply not possible without a cheat guide.
Searching can be impossible. You are told to look for rocks shaped like twin teeth marking the start of a path to a critical destination. Kewell ... except you are looking for them in an area the size of Texas with twin spires all over the place.
The worst example of an impossible quest is searching for the propylon indices. I dare anyone to claim you found more than one - and that one was totally by accident. Anyone who claims they found more than 2-3 on their own is certifiably a liar! They are tiny, hard to see, and hidden away. For those who have not played Morrowind, picture searching for 10 pencils spread somewhere in Spain. As an example, one is in one of a dozen rooms in the basement of a building in Madrid (Vivic) in an empty warehouse behind some boxes. Yeah, right.
Oh -- and enemy archers and casters still can run backwards at world record speed ... ugh!
Dope slaps -- stuff I can't believe I just learned this time
There are times we all get a lesson in humility -- whether we want one or not. It was my turn the past two weeks when I discovered things I never picked up in all the times I had played Morrowind years ago.
Map resizes: The maps (world and local) can be dragged to a larger size. How did I miss that! None of the other UI boxes resize, so I never noticed.
Back door to the north: (Minor spoiler here) There is a better (and more fun) way to get to the Northern area without having to swim from Khuul. The path near Maar Gan and Falasmaryon is a no-brainer for a shorter walk with a lot more challenges.
Travel mods: I wonder if the three great travel mods (see below) were even available when I first started. One of them is an "Official" plug-in that I never discovered.
Annotate local map: Duh! I knew you could not annotate the main world map -- but you can annotate the local map.
Yeah -- I am some great RPG guru -- didn't even know you could drag a map window! /smack
The only perfect game is the one you wish you knew how to write
So -- why is Morrowind so good? Why can it still command sales eight years later when other "leading" RPG titles already are in the $9.99 ($US) bargain bin discounted to a $4.95 weekend special with no DRM? Is it because of what Bethesda delivered in the original retail packages, or that you can download from the online game sales sites?
The answer is yes. And no. Yes, clearly Bethesda delivered a great foundation, but the hidden gem in the release was the ability to create mods.
You want to waltz through the game in god mode? Download mods that give you an armor class of a zillion and a Sword of Paralyzing and Destruction +1000000. Like nice looking outfits or sexy companions? Go for it. Want the mobs to be more challenging? Then download a rebalance mod. Want new quests or no transportation or all transportation or, or, or .... go for it! Tailor Morrowind to be the perfect game for YOU whether that is the game originally designed, or the game other gamers would want to play.
The brilliance and creativity of Modders
Even eight years later there are hundreds of mods still available. You cannot help but be stunned by the brilliance and creativity of the modding community.
In Morrowind, of course, you have the standard kind of mods you would expect. There are armor and weapon mods of all shapes and sizes. New quests. Rebalance mods. Mods that change textures and sounds. Mods to add new faces and hair.
And, of course, body replacers to add nudity. Before you discount them, nude mods add a lot more to games like Morrowind than the obvious. I would guess that a huge majority of the players who DL nude mods do so because of how much better they make the fully clothed NPCs look. Many of the armor sets require it.
But what is really amazing are the legion of small, focused mods. There are mods that fix the signposts throughout Vvardenfell. Mods that change how you can travel. You can have your own house, fortress, or castle. There are mods that simply change the look of bottles that are on tables throughout the game or the way gems look.
One of the most intriguing mods (that I did not install) eliminated all cliff racers after you had killed 200. Anyone who has grimaced at yet another stack of cliff racers poised overhead thicker than rush hour airplanes at Newark Airport will appreciate why someone would think to make such a mod. About my third time playing through Morrowind I seriously considered printing up a bumper sticker to sell -- "Honk if you hate cliff racers."
My hat is off to you modders. Thank you for taking good games and making them outstanding.
Dragon Age versus Mass Effect -- a question of mods
Okay -- this is nothing about Morrowind, but it follows and supports the idea. For just a second compare Dragon Age with Mass Effect. In terms of long-term replayability, what is the major difference between the two?
Dragon Age will have a far longer shelf life and sell far more copies for more years (at a higher price!) than will Mass Effect. Do I have some great crystal ball? No. But I know the power of mods. Dragon Age mods have already added greatly to my fun of the game. One in particular, called "Advanced Tactics" is so close to how I like to play a party-based RPG that it is one of the best mods for any game I have ever seen. Perhaps it is useless to someone else based on their play style -- but that is the point. (I will avoid the temptation to discuss other DA mods -- that is for another time, perhaps.) The bottom line for Bioware is that someone named "Anakin" wrote a mod that was so close to what I seek in a "perfect" RPG that he/she doubled my satisfaction with Bioware's game.
Dragon Age already has such a large mod selection that I can tailor it almost exactly to my own personal preferences. You can to yours. By definition that makes it even a better game than Bioware originally delivered. And all the fresh new content via mods means that we all have years of extended replayability.
Morrowind Mods I Ignored
A quick comment -- I had no interest in god mode mods. There are tons of them. I downloaded dozens of Armor mods because I liked the look, but had to throw out most of them when I saw their stats.
I also did not look at any of the tons of "cheat" mods available, or the rebalance mods. Flying carpets or a Pegasus to get wherever you want are interesting, but not my game style. They might well be your style, so go for it. The rebalance mods were simply too hard for me to judge whether I would like them without trying each extensively. Sorry if those are your interests -- they are not covered here.
My goal with mods was to incrementally tweak the game closer to my "perfect" ideal.
Mods recommended for all players
Here are some of the mods I downloaded that I think many/most Morrowind Gamers would like.
NPCMove: (NPCMove) Simple and powerful: it adds a dialogue option for all NPCs to ask them to move. Having a shopper blocking the only door out of a room can drive you bananas after a while…
All Boat Ports: (All Boat Ports) Allows you to take a boat to any of the available ports without having to switch boats 2-3 times. It does not add any new destinations.
All Strider Ports: (All Strider Ports) Same as boats -- go to any strider port without switching
Master Index: (master_index) An "official" Morrowind plug-in from Bethesda. This is a quest that links the Caldera mages guild to any of the propylon locations. It is a huge assist when you are travelling all over creation searching for things. The one problem is that the propylon indices are almost impossible to find without a cheat list of locations.
Propylon names: (index_fix) Simple mod that lets you see the portal name for any index in your inventory.
Better Bodies: (BetterBodies V2.2) This mod is required by almost all of the armor, hair, face, etc mods in the game.
Better faces: (Qarl's Faces) A mod called that adds a lot of new faces for your NPC creation. Male and female mods for this are common.
Better hair: (Loch&Sil) Dozens of new hair styles.
Other Mods I downloaded
The following are mods I like, but might not fit your specific tastes in gaming.
Mana Regen: (Mana_Regen_v13) Adds a very small regen to mana when in the world map. (Mana_Regen_v13)
Laura Craft companion: (t_lauraromance_2_2) Based on the write-ups and early use this seemed to be a slam dunk as a companion. The author did an outstanding job giving her character and storylines. Laura really is a whole quest series in herself. You need to keep on her good side, and follow her quest requests if you want her to stick around. And do NOT forget her birthday. Maybe the second best part (after the RPG quests she involves) is that she is not an uber-warrior. She can kill rats for you, but don't expect her to ruin balance by soloing bosses. However, half way through I sent her home. Even well-equipped it was hard to keep her alive once I got to the mid-level mobs. I am not sure but perhaps her leveling algorithms need some work.
Mercenaries: (Mercenary Pack v4.0) Adds dozens of mercs you can hire. If you like party-based RPGs this is an easy way to transform Morrowind. I never ended up using any of them because I so enjoyed Kendra (and Laura, at first) as companions.
Kat's Kastle: (KatsKastle) Download this even if you only visit once! If you have any female characters (your NPC or companions) it is an amazing castle filled with clothing shops. Very little is "practical" but Mage Companion Kendra seems to love their dresses and has maxed out her credit card with the National Bank of Balmora! :-)
Timisoara Experience: (TimisoaraExperience) Aaaargh this is a frustrating mod! I think it might just be the best "quest/adventure" mod out there but I m not sure. The first three-fourths is excellent. It is a new island and adventure that is extremely well-written but I got stuck towards the end on something I simply cannot figure out, so I can't play the ending. Still, for those cleverer than I - if you like well-written quest lines - I strongly recommend this. I hope you can work out how to get the key from the Keeper of keys!
A handful of useful links
Okay, a couple links that might be helpful.
Official Plug-ins: http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Morrowind:Official_Plug-ins
Mythic Mods: Excellent overview and lists: http://www.mwmythicmods.com/
Telesphoro list: http://www.mwmythicmods.com/telesphoros.htm (One of the items on the mythic list worth its own listing)
The bottom Line
Replaying Morrowind the past couple weeks has been a ball. It is one of those great games that stands the test of time. If you still have the CDs -- reinstall them, patch them and start sifting through the mods again. If not, head to the major online game distributors and download a copy. I just purchased a replacement download GotY version (Morrowind, Tribunal and Bloodmoon all included) for $US 20.
Morrowind still sets the bar for free-form RPGs. There are few limits on what and how you can play, and the designers clearly had no concept of what "linear game play" or "dumb it down for the masses" meant.
With the extensive mod libraries available, you can tailor Morrowind to just about anything that you enjoy in gaming. Ignore what I like, or even what the designers had in mind for you. Make it easier - or far more difficult. Solo it or go with a small army. Solve the original quests, or ignore them and try the dozens of new adventures that have been created.
And don't forget to hug a modder today! If you like their mods -- provided free to you and the result of weeks of hard work, at the least post a comment in their forums. After all -- they just did something Bethesda, Bioware, Sirtech or Origin never can and never will do -- they helped deliver to you the "perfect" RPG.
Information aboutElder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced
Regions & platforms
· Platform: Xbox
· Released at 2002-05-01
· Publisher: 2K Games
· Platform: Xbox
· Released at 2002-06-06
· Publisher: 2K Games