I finished up the Morrowind storyline in Elder Scrolls Online last week. I liked it. With the usual ESO caveats.
I’m not entirely sure what to call Morrowind. Is it DLC? Is it an Expansion? It’s not big enough to deserve the title “Expansion” if that’s what they are calling it, but it’s also a distinctly different entity from the DLC that is normally in the Crown Store, because you had to buy it separately. Oh, here it is: They call them “Chapters.”
It took a long time to get around to playing Morrowind, because I wanted to record it all, so I could compare and contrast with the original The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (which I am also still recording-a year and a half and almost 80 videos later, I’ve gotten through only four of the seven trials). Recording a game means I have to both be in the mood to play the game and be in the mood to talk about it while I’m playing it. Also, ESO doesn’t provide the voice of your character, so that means I have to read my character’s lines. So really I have to be in the mood to play the game, talk about the game, and be an act-OR all at the same time.
My first attempt started months ago with my second main (the Nightblade I started after One Tamriel), but I only got to the first conversation with Vivec, and then I sort of lost interest. The audio on those recordings wasn’t very good anyway so I felt like I had to re-do them.
I started again this past weekend with a brand new Sorcerer. I had to stop again after the first conversation with Canon Valasa, because I messed up the recording.
Incidentally, is there no way to start a new character anywhere besides Vvardenfell now? I question the wisdom of taking a game that had three starting zones and turning it into a game with only one starting zone (as opposed to expanding it into four starting zones). I mean, I know you can just wayshrine to the other places, but shouldn’t it be built into the interface somehow, for brand new people who don’t realize you can just wayshrine to the other places? Just a simple screen that says, “Where do you want to start?” would do.
Anyway, I started again with another brand new Sorcerer. I stopped again after reading Vivec’s questions in that mini-dungeon, because I quickly re-discovered after a little bit of combat that I don’t much care for Sorcerers in ESO (particularly when they start you off with a two-handed sword for some weird reason), and beyond that I couldn’t settle on a “voice” for reading my side of the conversations.
For the fourth and final attempt, I went back to a level 7 Dark Elf Nightblade I had created way back at ESO’s launch, whose main purpose had been muling crafting materials. I figured using a Dark Elf would open up some interesting angles in the Morrowind story (due to it being the home of the dark elves), but it turns out you’re an “Outsider” no matter what you play, and there are no “angles” in the story.
It took me 5 1/2 hours to finish the Morrowind quest line, over the course of three days. If I hadn’t been recording, and had skipped all the dialog (which is my normal inclination in ESO, I’m sure you’ll be horrified to hear), I feel like I could have finished it in half that time.
Overall I enjoyed the Morrowind story more than most ESO storylines. It again revolved around misery and destruction, this time on a city-wide scale, but at least it had a happy ending. I still wouldn’t call it anything to write home about, though. ESO’s storytelling feels like it comes from a corporate committee, vetted through several rounds of focus group testing, so the characters feel pretty flat.
I think the voice acting was a bit better than average. It seemed like someone might have been in the booth giving them at least a little bit of direction (“try pretending you actually are this character”). But I didn’t care for Azura’s voice this time. We’ve already heard her voice in not one, but two previous games, and this one sounded different. (Although, when I went back and listened to her previous incarnations, it actually wasn’t as different as I thought. Her voice in Oblivion was more different.)
Plot-wise the story seemed a bit contrived. At nearly every turn, I thought of questions that poked holes in the story. Like, “Say, Vivec, why don’t you sort of move that moonlet over to the side a little bit? Why are you holding it right over the city? And why is anyone living in this city to begin with, when there’s a big moonlet hanging right over everyone’s head? And say, Vivec, since you’re a living god and all, how did you manage to get so easily duped by some puny Daedra?”
Little things like that make it hard to take it too seriously.
I feel like it would have been a much better story if they had skipped over some of the early quests. It should have started right with the divination ritual. Actually it should have started with the moonlet falling on the city. That’s when I felt the most engagement with the story, and actually wanted to see what would happen next. Everything before that point felt like background exposition, and I was just sort of going through the motions to get through it.
Since I didn’t particularly care about Vivec City or anyone in it, I can’t say it would have bothered me if the moonlet had smashed the whole place flat. Vivec himself seemed like kind of a jerk, and deserved having his city flattened. I’m not sure why anyone worships him. Azura was also kind of a jerk, repeatedly taking over Seryn to be her mouthpiece, sometimes interrupting her mid-sentence. Basically all gods and daedra in Morrowind are jerks, and apparently also fairly incompetent, since I had to rescue them.
Now a little bit about how ESO Morrowind compares to Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I’ve played the old Morrowind within the last year so I have it fairly clear in my mind.
The Morrowind zone in ESO does resemble the old Morrowind, but only superficially. Physically it feels about 1/4 of the size of the old game, or less. Vivec City felt like a tiny village compared to the huge sprawling city in the single-player game, where it takes what seems like hours to run from one side to the other. The layout of Vvardenfell island is roughly the same, but it still feels like a brand new, foreign location. There were a whole lot of physical features in ESO Morrowind that didn’t exist in the old game. At best I would describe it as “inspired by” the old Morrowind, sort of like how the 2003 Battlestar Galactica is related to but actually entirely different from the 1979 Battlestar Galactica.
I didn’t feel like I was in the same place at all. I wandered around the ESO Balmora for quite a while before I even realized it was supposed to be the same Balmora that I’d spent countless hours in before. I kept thinking, “I don’t remember a big city in the middle of Vvardenfell at all, what is this place?” ESO Balmora seemed considerably bigger than Morrowind Balmora, a complete reversal from Vivec City.
I did appreciate that they brought back the really bright, colorful sunsets like we saw in TES III, though.
There’s nothing wrong with making changes. It just struck me as odd to base the whole expansion concept around nostalgia, when in practice it looked and felt entirely different. (Not even counting how radically different ESO gameplay mechanics are from Elder Scrolls III.) I never once thought, “It’s just like playing Morrowind again!” I only thought, “Hey I remember these words and phrases also appeared in that other game!” It was much more than just building up with more polygons and putting in more trees, too. There were massive architectural and structural changes. (In real life, I would expect such changes after hundreds of years.)
But despite all that, I was glad to finally play the thing I spent $40 on last year.
I guess it sounds like I hated it*, but I can assure you I enjoyed it far more than Guild Wars 2’s A Bug In The System, which was a chore from start to finish. Morrowind, by contrast, provided the exact right amount of frustration and challenge that I would expect in order to consume a story (ie. little or none, although I did die once or twice I think).
I just wish it had been a little more fairly priced.
I definitely won’t be buying Summerset, at least not right away. Because $40 is a whole lot to spend on 5 1/2 hours of relatively average main story content. For comparison, FFXIV’s Stormblood expansion was also $40, and I spent well over 40 hours playing its main storyline, which was, on average, above average. For another comparison, GW2’s Living World Season 4 Episode 2, A Bug In the System, took me a total of about 4 1/4 hours to play, and while it was also somewhat average, it was also $0.
My point is that Elder Scrolls Online seems to be carving out a niche for itself of providing the least bang for the buck of any of the top-tier MMORPGs around. And somehow it’s working, because I see a lot of people loving this game and spending tons of money on it.
* I feel like I’m going through a phase where everything I write, no matter what I really think or how much I edit, comes out sounding angry and bitter and resentful. I blame the Internet.