MMOs are big games. They’re huge, long, sprawling adventures that need major time commitments to fully understand and assess, and even then their constantly-updating nature makes a ‘final’ verdict on them difficult at best and useless at worst. Even though I’ve spent a decent amount of time in The Elder Scrolls Online’s new Morrowind expansion, I don’t think I’ve seen enough to give a definitive score of whether it’s good or not.
With that said, so far I’m pretty impressed, ignoring a few significant caveats.
Morrowind lets players return to the setting of the much beloved Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the island of Vvardenfell. It isn’t a remake, what with it set many, many years earlier, but features more or less the whole island in an open-world map to explore.
I have to admit I haven’t played as much of the original Morrowind (hereby referred to as ‘TES III’, because somebody at Zenimax didn’t think naming their expansion the same thing as a previous game would be awkward at all) as I should’ve done, having gotten into The Elder Scrolls with Oblivion. Even then, I felt weirdly emotional at seeing the likes of Seda Neen and Vivec City recreated in a modern engine. All the landmarks I remembered were there, in what is probably the most expansive map in the whole of TESO. It’s not as big as a standard Elder Scrolls game, but it’s a nice midpoint between the sprawling sandboxes of the single player games and the comparatively smaller zoned areas that typify the rest of Online.
Recent Elder Scrolls games have been criticised for losing some of the fantastical, alien nature that TES III had, falling back on more traditional fantasy tropes. This expansion finally breaks that curse once more, offering up vistas of towering mushrooms, bizarre creatures, and of course the Stilt Striders, whose bellows fill up almost all the major settlements. I’ve always found TESO’s environments kind of bland, with the most interesting one being the snowy camps of the Orsinium DLC. It’s lovely to see that Morrowind blows it, and every other area, out of the water in its visual design.
The expansion also plays more like a traditional Elder Scrolls game than anything I’ve encountered in the rest of The Elder Scrolls Online. It features a fascinating campaign (that can be played solo) that pushes you right the way across Vvardenfell’s diverse geographical and political landscapes in an attempt to save a god-poet. It does a good job of avoiding both the constant dungeon-crawling of Skyrim and the more MMO-like quests of the rest of TESO, with plenty of missions just taking place in the overworld, such as infiltrating an Ashlander camp or carrying out investigations that take you across the whole island.
The MMO-y bits are, unfortunately, the areas where I’ve spent less time. The new class, the Warden, a magic-focused style that lets you control nature in a variety of ways, is neat. My Argonian character I rolled for the expansion stomped around Vvardenfell, summoning all sorts of animals to take down his enemies, and I had a lot of fun with it. How it plays at the end-game I’m still not entirely sure, but with the introduction of TESO’s first small-scale PvP mode, that’s something the community is yet to figure out, either.
Battlegrounds introduces new PvP modes to the game that often borrow more from shooters than other MMOs. There’s currently three game types available: team deathmatch, capture the flag, and Domination, a Battlefield-style point capture mode. There’s nothing particularly creative about it, being designed as a quick burst of PvP for those who have limited time, as opposed to the lengthier offerings already in the game, but it’s a welcome addition none-the-less.
My big concern about Morrowind is its foundations. TESO’s always sat in the weird middle-ground between the hack-and-slash nature of Skyrim and the more number-crunching, hotkey-bashing combat of standard MMOs, and sadly struggles to pull either off particularly well. Morrowind’s improvements to the world and storytelling are much appreciated, but a single new class isn’t enough to overcome how stilted and janky The Elder Scrolls Online as a whole feels to play. The game’s had improvements over the years – most notably the Tamriel Unlimited and One Tamriel overhauls -, but still suffers from just not feeling right. Server latency, bugginess (even by TES’ standards), bumpy combat, poor optimisation, and a monstrously large file size are all problems that Morrowind couldn’t fix.
For all intents and purposes, the Morrowind expansion could well be considered its own game. New characters can begin on Vvardenfell straight away (even coming through Seda Need, as it was in TES III), and there’s so much to see or do that some players could easily get enough enjoyment out of it to never touch the rest of the game. It’s a finely crafted world and compelling story, and the new additions to the PvP are much appreciated.
However, with its high price tag and dependency on owning the core TESO game, it’s difficult for me to recommend it to players who like The Elder Scrolls, but bounced off the MMO in the past. Those creaky foundations really let Morrowind down, and I’m not sure if that’s something that any amount of patches or overhauls will be able to fix.
I’m nowhere near done with Morrowind yet, and I’m itching to get back, but I can’t help but think this was a wasted opportunity to do something really great for the little MMO that could.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind is out now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
A copy of the expansion was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this article.