The Elder Scrolls Online never looked so tempting for those looking for an MMORPG not called WoW or FFXIV to hook onto for the long haul. The vanilla version of ESO that we reviewed a few years back did its best early on to capture The Elder Scrolls structure and feel, but was left short on content and gave too much in difficulty to make it fun day-in/day-out. The newest expansion to the ESO family not only looks to make the adventure through Vvardenfell beefier, but also make it more meaningful.
Welcome back to Morrowind.
If you’re not familiar with Morrowind, then more than likely you’re young or hit The Elder Scrolls right around Skyrim. Back in 2002, Bethesda released the third title in their Elder Scrolls series called The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This featured adventures in Vvardenfell and was considered one of the best games out of the series — you know, until Oblivion and Skyrim showed up (some people still debate it is the best). In addition to the PC version of the game, there was also a Nokia N-Gage version in 2002 titled The Elder Scrolls: Travels, which might have been the most legitimate gameplay experience on the little system that didn’t have a prayer.
History lesson aside, the new Morrowind expansion for ESO, which is a full-blown title of its own, introduces a new class of characters, including the Warden that has a strong nature connection, as well as pets. Having played this character for the last month or so, including for the preview we posted a little ways back, I can still say that I have enjoyed the character and its ease of use. Given the variety of nature that has been thrown out there for the world ZeniMax Online built for the game, the strong ties to nature makes sense within Morrowind and the ESO family. Plus, the class looks cool. Looking cool in the ESO world is a must.
As for other additions coming from Morrowind, there are new adventures/quests to go on, a bigger world so far to randomly discover things (like armor/sword — out of nowhere) and a new way to do PvP, which is called Battlegrounds. While I can safely say that I didn’t spend a lot of time in Battlegrounds, as I’m not a huge fan of PvP in the ESO series, mainly because I’m not used to it in the original games, I did spend quite a bit of time adventuring. Most people currently playing or joining up ESO are more focused on the ‘old familiar’ acquired from the likes of Skyrim/Oblivion/Morrowind experience anyway. If you’re looking for a good PvP review, might I suggest going to your favorite review aggregate and choosing another review, as you won’t find a good PvP opinion here.
Anyway, the adventures/quests this time around for ESO are scattered into single-player and group experiences. What this means is that in addition to what the original game brought to the table, a journey with The Prophet and saving Vvardenfell from terrible destruction, there is more fun to be had.
You start the game off with being unshackled from the bonds of a non-slaver, who is deadset on freeing slaves captured by corrupt government officials and captains. Morrowind, unlike the original ESO, doesn’t feel the need to waste much time getting you right into the thick of things. It assumes you’ve been here before, though you do go through an option brief tutorial (thank you for the briefness, ZeniMax). You’ll spend the first 4-5 levels of your character exploring towns trying to find evidence that a corrupt government has begun to sell its own people. It’s a deep experience right out of the gates that doesn’t pull back from there. As you go deeper into the story of Morrowind, you’re going to find some endearing adventures and some very neat people along the way. Much like the original release of ESO, you’ll still be able to get help from fellow adventurers during the story and even crash fighting parties to get help getting through tough trials and enemies. I like that part of ESO, as it makes sense in the scheme of things, as well as how The Elder Scroll series works.
On the quests side of things, you will run into a bevy of opportunities to go on side quests while you’re achieving the main story. The side quests, which are short stints of fun, are all over the place. You’ll be hard pressed to find a moment where you aren’t doing something for someone for some reason when you’re not on pushing forward with the story. It very much mirrors the structure of The Elder Scrolls series in general, as well as the vanilla version of ESO. You can certainly get lost from the main story from the side quests, which isn’t a bad thing. Well, mostly not bad.
Now, having said that, there are some quests that seem very purposeless other than leveling. That’s not a bad thing, as it does give you a break when you’re adventuring, but sometimes it can feel like a throwaway. There are a lot of things going on, so the adventure never feels like it is running out of quests to perform.
As for exploring in the game, it took me a whopping hour to bump into some armor and a fantastic sword that was off the beaten path from the story part I was on. I was fortunate enough to arrive at this ‘out of nowhere’ place near a volcano ridden land when another player found it, so I dispatched the baddie there without a hitch thanks to the help of the other powerful player and reaped the rewards. The goodies were nice and unexpected, as well as powerful to push me through my adventures pretty seamlessly. As mentioned above, there have been more than a few moments like this in the game, so it was a nice reminder that other players that could help me populated this world.
Having said this, I do take issue with how powerful the bosses can be in some quests and story missions. I have always had this complaint since day one of ESO, where you spend 20-30 minutes dispatching enemies in a cave or a war torn land only to come face-to-face with a nearly impossible enemy at the end. You should never feel like your efforts were for nothing and sometimes ESO: Morrowind does this to you. I know that’s the MO for most MMORPGs, even in MMOFPS games like Destiny, it’s better to travel in groups, so you can work together to take down the bad guy at the end, but I still don’t enjoy the fact that the game steadily gets you through a dungeon and then cranks it all up to 11 at the end. Having no payoff for your efforts can leave you feeling enormously empty. Morrowind does this and ESO has always done this. I do understand and appreciate that the good folks at ZeniMax want you to play with friends, but if you’re going to taunt players with progress, then you have to give the player a chance to wrap things up solo. That is my biggest complaint with Morrowind and with Elder Scrolls Online. That should be improved to provide the chance for meaningful gameplay in single player mode or simply don’t allow a quest/mission to be performed without a group. I know the Dark Souls players out there probably enjoy challenges like the one mentioned above, but the rest of us want some consistency.
As for the controls, macros and such — they’re all intact and seamless from the first original release of the game. They still work, they’re slick as hell and I wish Square Enix would take some notes from ZeniMax about how an MMORPG should look and feel onscreen and in your hands. The HUD is visually pleasing, it doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay and it’s not overcomplicated at all. I know there doesn’t need to be much said about this part of the game, but it’s solid and wanted to assure everyone out there that the tradition was continued.
Shifting gears, the presentation of Morrowind is far more visually exciting than ESO’s initial game. The forest world you encounter at the beginning really sets the tone, as it is teeming with life and in ultra high it looks detailed and spectacular. When I saw ESO back in 2013, I felt like it was a bit bland in the visuals department, even when it finally released for retail. Morrowind is nice, pretty and certainly a visual upgrade from 2013’s looks. I know there are some visual limitations about online games, but ZeniMax did a solid job in this part of the presentation, especially if they were intent on capturing the world that the offline ES established. The music and audio were equally as good, as was the acting from the NPCs.
Outside of the above, I can still say without a doubt that I have enjoyed Morrowind better than the initial release of ESO. The world seems a bit more alive and explorable. There also seems to be more polished adventure/quests going on in the initial release of Morrowind, which tells me that ZeniMax has learned a few things from past ESO lessons. Despite my disdain for some of the boss fights that are incredibly difficult when going solo in the game, the overall package of Morrowind really does provide an upgrade to the ESO family in several areas. If you haven’t played ESO, but have enjoyed The Elder Scrolls series, then this might be the right time to jump in to see what it is about.