Back in June of 2014, I reviewed The Elder Scrolls Online. At the time, it was not much more than a middle of the road MMO hoping to cash in on the Elder Scrolls name. To be honest, it still feels like a game trying to find its footing in the shadow cast by its more beloved older brother. There’s been a lot of work done, with the three intervening years between then and now allowing for the additions of more Elder Scrolls-y type things, like the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood.
On top of the extra content, Zenimax also rolled out the “One Tamriel” initiative, a series of sweeping changes that removed level restrictions from its zones, essentially bringing it closer to the level matching of games like Skyrim and Oblivion.
Of course, there was one other game that followed that same course which I’ve purposefully left out, and as it happens, is the reason I am writing this. You see, the first expansion for ESO has been announced, and I had a chance to play in its closed beta. I went back to Morrowind.
So, full disclosure. I’ve never actually been to Morrowind. My first Elder Scrolls experience was the green tinged landscape of Oblivion, so short of the research I did prior to jumping into the closed beta, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew that Morrowind was talked about in hushed tones and hallowed whispers, and I knew that ESO would have to do a lot to reach those particular heights.
I am pleased to say that my first experiences in Vvardenfell weren’t terrible. I know that comes off as some kind of backhanded compliment, but given my feelings on the base game, I was nonetheless surprised at how quickly the content piqued my interest. To start, Morrowind has a brand new tutorial, which places your character in a pirates camp, requiring you to plan and carry out a slave revolt/escape. This was easily better than the daedric prison of the main game, and presented a fitting home for teaching a new player the ropes.
Need to learn how to fight? The assassin who breaks you out insists on testing your skills so she knows that you being loose won’t get her killed. Need equipment? Learn how to pick locks and break into pirate huts where, among their spoils, is a host of every standard weapon and armor you could want. It’s all worthless from an ingame monetary perspective, so you’re not going to load up on gear only to sell it later, but it’s a great way to try a couple of different weapons to see what fits your style best.
After the escape, I found myself guided to Vivec City, the home of one third of The Tribunal, a group of three living gods who form Morrowind’s system of government. Telling me this was one thing, but walking right into the “throne room” and seeing Vivec floating above his chair, casually joking about the daedra that seem to have found their way into the surrounding lands. He quickly pawned me off on one of his cronies to perform a fetch quest or two, but the introduction was at least worth the time I spent running through the city itself.
My journey took me into the wilderness around Vivec City, which was far more fantastical than the majority of places on Tamriel. I sent time against the picturesque coast, amidst ruins found both along the main path and dug into the side of a mountain, oh, and GIANT MUSHROOMS. Like all over the place. I also fought everything I came across, which ranged in size from tiny crabs to larger, spider legged, reptile things. If I can go without seeing those again, I will. Happily.
On the less positive side, I rolled a Warden, the new class introduced in the expansion and the first addition to the original four since the game was released. Billed as a more customizable class then the others, the Warden have a lot in common with Druids from Dungeons and Dragons. Their three skill sets are keyed to different parts of nature: the destructive power of a winter storm, the healing potential of greenery, and the protective spirit of animals. As this is an Elder Scrolls game, you are free to go down whichever path you choose, even if it means picking between the various skills to use only the ones you want.
The key skill out of all of these, or at least the one most advertised, is the Animal Companion Ultimate ability, which summons a Grizzly Bear to your side. Now this is a beta, and by the screenshots alone you can see that there is a lot of graphical balancing that needs to happen, but the Grizzly looks otherworldly, with glowing eyes that make it feel more like you’ve claimed this animal through the force of magic rather than summoning a companion to share your adventures with. Magical slavery aside, the bear does its job in a fight, but as a signature ability for a class, I expected a bit more.
On top of that, and this is probably more a me thing than a problem with the class, I had no real idea of where to go with it. See, the other classes tend to lend themselves to a look and a specific set of weapons. You expect a Nightblade to pull out a dagger, or a Dragon Knight to come at you with a sword and shield. A warden? In my time playing, I tried everything from a magical staff that shot ice to a two-handed mace, and nothing felt like it struck the right balance for the character I had created. What does someone that can call fiery beetles from the ground or birds from the sky use?
As a first look into the expansion, I see a lot of improvements over Elder Scrolls Online proper. The new land looks properly mystical, with its GIANT mushrooms and what not, and the new storyline, with its floating gods and daedric influence, grabbed my attention enough to pull me in. I have no doubt that if you were a fan of The Elder Scrolls Online before, this new content will be right up your alley. I don’t know if it's enough to bring in more fans or make them stick around if they buy their way in, but I am nonetheless encouraged by what I have seen. Morrowind has promise. I hope it finds a way to build on it.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!