Revisiting old haunts, places tied to fond distant memories, often leave us swept up in whimsical regret and warming nostalgia, and then regret again as we curse at our brain for seeing the past in the bleak, cold light of day. Of course, sometimes there’s merit to the nostalgia. Take The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. For those that first discovered the Elder Scrolls series with Morrowind, it marks the point where ambition met a sense of wonder head on, and any subsequent sequel represents the ‘dumbing down’ of the series. Morrowind is Elder Scrolls at its peak for many, so Elder Scrolls Online’s latest chapter going back to Morrowind may be somewhat bittersweet.
It’s been three years since Elder Scrolls Online emerged, fumbling into the MMORPG coliseum, barely avoiding being fatally-wounded by the competition before dragging itself up, and battling on. It’s now got a decent player base, and that’s down to multiple tweaks and revisions over that three year period, including expansions, a change in subscription model, and greater player freedom. Morrowind, described as more of a chapter than an expansion, brings a whole new area in VVardenfell, a new class, a new story, and additional game modes for PvP.
ESO: Morrowind’s main story thread sees you travel to the isle of VVardenfell enlisted into an investigation to uncover the reason for a god-like beings diminishing power. That jump off point sees you uncover a great threat, and naturally, only you (and a few million others) can ultimately save the realm of Tamriel from peril.
When you arrive in VVardenfell, it quickly becomes obvious why Morrowind is so revered. It’s quite unlike any other part of Tamriel, despite the lush colorful forestland that makes up a large portion of it. Mushrooms the size of buildings loom over the skyline, strange insect-like beasts, and darkened ash-coated roads close to the volcano that makes up the focal point of the island. There’s a balance of the familiar and the exotic, and while it isn’t quite the same as going back to Elder Scrolls III (not least because Elder Scrolls Online is set well before the events of that game), it’s the closest fans are going to get, and it does inarguably look better than ever before, albeit with a small caveat currently in place
During the first week in VVardenfell, busier areas, such as towns were struggling immensely as scores of players spawned around it, causing some significant slowdown. As time went on and more players spread out, getting deeper in exploring the area and taking on later quests, the slowdown issue subsided, but anywhere where more than a handful of players show up still ends up a touch stuttery. Compared to the base game, performance is a whole lot choppier in Morrowind right now, but I fully believe that will become less and less of a problem as launch dog-piling fades out. Beyond that, Morrowind is bursting with vivid colors, but the basic feel of the ESO engine means it doesn’t truly pop.
ESO: Morrowind might add to the base game, but it doesn’t truly alter the fundamental problem it has. The combat remains largely unsatisfying, if at least adequate. The feeling of disconnect brought on by mouse and keyboard friendly controls being shoved onto a controller is still very much apparent. The lack of weight to strikes continues to feel like something that’s almost frustratingly close to being solved, but alas, three years in, it remains a sticking point.
What new things ESO: Morrowind does bring to the table are largely welcome though. The new Warden class not only seems like the perfect class for newer players given its balanced, yet flexible, skillset, it adds some much needed variety to the existing pool of roles. It helps that this class comes with a ferocious attack bear companion, ready to unleash Baloo fury (sorry) at your command. The potential downside for veteran ESO players is that you have to start a new character from scratch to become the Warden class, and gain access to that fuzzy bringer of death, but on the upside, the Morrowind expansion doesn’t lock out low level players, so it’s a good excuse to start over.
The Warden class also brings a pretty sweet armor upgrade that you can apply to any of the other classes, giving your avatar a thematically appropriate makeover.
The meat of ESO: Morrowind of course, is in the quests, and this fresh selection features some of the most varied, funny, and interesting ones yet. While combat remains a core focus of most quests, some tell more personal stories that do a great job of fleshing out the game world. Some are touching, some are darkly hilarious, and others give a glimpse of the mundanity of life outside adventuring. A common criticism of early ESO was how vapid the quests felt, and while there’s been small improvements in the years since launch, it’s Morrowind that truly pushes ESO to be a better MMORPG in a narrative sense. The main questioned may follow the same old pattern of saving the world from doom, but it is told in a far more interesting way than the base game’s quest line did.
The other hefty addition ESO: Morrowind brings is new PvP scenarios, modelled on the online competitive modes of shooters. PvP has been something of an afterthought in ESO to date, and the continued effort to make it feel more a part of the package is commendable. Modes like Capture the Flag are enjoyable enough, sadly, nothing grabs you enough to feel like it’ll be a popular mainstay, but if Zenimax and Bethesda can keep at it, then it’ll only serve to grow the undernourished PvP aspect of ESO.
There’s no denying Morrowind adds plenty of significant value to the Elder Scrolls Online package, even if it doesn’t solve the problems it sets out to, it does at least make a dent in them. Established ESO players are likely to be satisfied by a wealth of new quests, scenarios, and more, while newcomer’s enticed by a recreation of Morrowind will never have an easier time to jump into what has become a solid, if unspectacular MMORPG. ESO is a different, much improved beast now compared to the stark launch model, and with Morrowind, it takes its biggest leap forward to date.