Monday, November 05, 2007

Don't call it a dungeon crawl...

Just when I was sure there was no medieval fantasy game that could equal the sheer fun and enormity of World Of Warcraft, I discovered Morrowind. Morrowind is the predecessor of the Xbox 360 game Oblivion. Wanting badly to try Oblivion but unable to play it on my computer (the thing is less than 2 years old and already two generations obsolete in terms of gaming), and not able yet to afford an Xbox, I had Beth get me Morrowind for Valentine's day. Yeah, you heard that right, as in 8 months ago Valentine's day.

To my utter disappointment, the packaged PC version of the game is almost unplayably textured with awful graphics and a tendency to crash my computer so badly that it needs to be restarted. Apparently this game was a graphics hog at the time it came out, and even though it is now gaming software that would be comparable to the original Xbox, my computer choked and choked on it until I gave up. So lousy were the graphics and so frustrating the crashes, that I put it away for months.

Well, this past week I got it out and researched how to make it work. After probably five or six hours of patching, installing, and downloading content for the game, I got not only a playable game, but one with much better graphics and less instances of hair-pulling crashes. Fast forward to today and I'm hip-deep in one of the best role-playing computer games I've ever seen.

Morrowind (and the Elder Scrolls series in general) uses the Grand Theft Auto style sandbox play, where you can complete the main story quests in any order, or you can ignore them completely. You can be a "good guy", a "bad guy" or perhaps even more satisfying, you can be something in between of entirely your own making. Don't like the Imperial law enforcement? Lure them into an alley and kill them! Want to traffic the fantasy equivalent of narcotics? You just need to meet the right people. That merchant has a suit of armor you want that you can't afford? Steal it! It's up to you what you do with your life, the world they've created for you, and your character. If you wanted (and don't think I haven't been tempted), you could wipe out entire towns of characters or you could conquer a garrison fort and plunder the surrounding countryside for things to put into your treasure-rooms. But when a character is dead, he or she is dead, and there are consequences. The law will come looking for you, and if that person was important to some side-quest, you're shit out of luck. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, there is no particular compunction to feel one way or another about behaving in a civilized manner. You don't get more points or advancement for being a brute, all you get is the reputation for being a brute. If you want to join the Empire, you can hunt down illegal drug traffickers, slavers, and thieves. Or instead of bringing them to justice you can kill them, take their money, and bribe the law to look the other way. Or you can steal from the rich and have your thief/cutpurse friends hide you from the law in the meantime.

The game is just enormous. I've put probably 15-20 hours into it thus far and I've seen maybe 25% of the landscape of the world you're put into. As you can see from the screenshots, the draw distance isn't so hot, but if you can see it you can touch it, steal it, move it or decorate your home with it. In contrast to the WoW style graphics which are fairly big and cartooney to make the multiplayer work as smoothly as possible, Morrowind gives you a darker more realistic textured world to explore.

The sandbox style play of the game lends itself incredibly well to its huge and sprawling plot. There are something like 500+ non-player characters to meet and talk to, all of whom have their own agendas and storylines. People who are your friends may suddenly turn into enemies, or not, depending on who you meet and what you think about them. For example, I spoke to a Legion captain about the local politics of a city called Balmora. He told me that the local magistrate is crooked, and constantly bought off by a gang called the Commona Tong, who control the drug and slave trafficking in the city. He told me that the magistrate is protected and untouchable, but that there is a tavern where the local Tong members hang out, and he would turn and look the other way if they happened to come to a bad end. It turns out, this bar was the place where I had first gone when I entered the city and bought supplies. So, here I am, a day or two later, pulling out my sword (I decided this, mind you, it was merely suggested by one of the dozens of different faction characters) and slaying all of them, in addition to anyone else who witnessed it so I didn't alert the law which is made up of a combination of Imperial legionnaires and Commona Tong hired thugs.

Sound complex? It is. Wonderfully so. So much so that I can almost forget about the life-annihilating immersiveness of World of Warcraft. Like WoW, time passes in Morrowind, and weather changes. You might wake up one morning to a rainy sunrise, or a bright clear day, or even the occasional sandstorm, depending on where you are (pictured in the screenshots).

Don't call it a dungeon crawl. Morrowind is medival fantasy living.

I'm dying to play Oblivion, which supposedly has much improved graphics and horses to ride and other additional things to do. Here are some screenshots from Still Life With Soup Can's blog of her Oblivion character. Get a load of the sheen of sunlight on the snow and the super-long draw distance for the background textures. Not to mention the character models look like something out of Pixar.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I never played Morrowind. And at some point I think I will have to. Although Oblivion might have spoiled me.