Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
11 March 2006
Absurdly Late Morrowind Impressions
Yeah, I realize that I'm a generation behind the curve here, seeing as how the sequel's about to come out, but better late than never....

So far, I haven't enjoyed it much. I roam my single guy around a polygonal world with vaguely Mario-ish controls (it has a jump button), going back and forth, even at run speed, about half as fast as I'd like. When people assign questions, they always do it by using street directions. That is to say, "Go west of the river, head up towards the Temple, then take a right." No icons on the minimap or anything, heavens no.

Almost all the different screens and windows are activated by a dozen different keypresses, with no on-screen clues as to their identity other than a few hints way back in the tutorial sequence. Some, like the Rest and Save functions, are never revealed to the player, who has to go to (gasp) the manual for them, or just try hitting everything. This is an interface that works for Nethack, true, but it's good for nothing else. Nothing else, do you hear me Bethesda?!

To cast different spells, you go to a subscreen (accessed through the right mouse button), pick the spell, then return to the game. Then you press 'R' to enter cast mode, then you click the left mouse button. To cast something different, you go back to the subscreen. You can assign hotkeys to different spells, but they don't actually cast the spell, but just make it available for use on the left mouse button. What is so evil about providing clickable icons? In the middle of a difficult fight, the last thing I want to put up with is having to jump through hoops just to switch to the emergency healing spell.

And the mouse pointer is the bane of my existence. For starters, it's not even visible 9/10s of the time. The mouse's movements are tied directly to the player's POV camera. You select something for examination or use by looking directly at it, then pressing the spacebar. When it is available, its movements are flightly and always seem to dance just short of, or beyond, the thing I want to click, probably as a result of the game ignoring the Windows mouse acceleration settings. I despair of resizing windows (the resizing handles are microscopic), but they have to be resized to avoid constant exposure to the annoying scroll buttons, which are similarly sized.

At this point we come to the game itself, a game that many people have raved about. And speaking on this subject, I must admit, I may be a little biased, so keep that in mind. I'm biased because, at some point during the last five-or-so computer RPGs I've played, I've discovered that I have a deep and abiding hatred of generic fantasy text.

Everything I read in the game is the literary equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard. From the names of the five houses that I'm probably going to have to have memorized by the end of the game but who I think of by their first letter because I couldn't pronounce them if I tried (I'm thinking about signing up with House H), to the various vowel-happy names of quest givers and contacts, to the fake-latin names of the mushrooms I had to gather in a fetch-quest through the swamp, none of them are capable of remaining in my memory for more than three seconds. I'm constantly sent to the journal to remember their accursed names, which especially sucks since it doesn't give you a flat list of the things you've been asked to do and how far you are at doing them, but is instead effectively a text file containing notes on everything you've ever done, in chronological order. That sucks. And although it's been three or four years now since the game came out, I seem to remember it sucking back then, too.

I may have more impressions soon, if I can bring myself to keep going. It's not like I can take the game back to the store.
--John Harris at 19:02
Comment [ 11 ]

Comments on this post:

"I’ve discovered that I have a deep and abiding hatred of generic fantasy text.
...
I’m constantly sent to the journal to remember their accursed names..."

Might need to change that to read, "viral generic fantasy text"!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11 March, 2006 19:23  

Why are all the apostrophes in this fucked up?

By Anonymous zachary, at 11 March, 2006 19:31  

It's Word's accursed smartquotes, which I forgot all about. Trying to get it fixed now, sorry about that.

By Blogger JohnH, at 11 March, 2006 21:36  

If someone knows how to fix this problem globally, I'd appreciate it. I copy HTML from other sites all the time and end up having to fix this. The original site looks fine, blogger's editor makes it look fine, but it's broken when I publish.

Ideas?

By Blogger jvm, at 11 March, 2006 21:45  

As for generic fantasy text, I'd just like to point out this post over at lowspec (by Adam LaMosca of GamersWithJobs, among other places) where he is fascinated by the text within Morrowind.

By Blogger jvm, at 11 March, 2006 21:47  

Ah, interesting. I've seen the inside of a grand total of two books in the game so far, so it's not something I've noticed yet.

By the way, does anyone know what anonymous is going on about?

By Blogger JohnH, at 11 March, 2006 22:17  

I guess you are not patient enough for Morrowind. Personally, I had trouble with it in the beginning too - the game itself doesn't really help you with anything. But let it grow on you, for me, skepticism slowy turned into fascination the more I realized how gigantic the world is, how much there is to see, and how different the various regions and it's inhabitants can be.
It's all about adventure and exploration in it's purest form.

What you describe as lacking comfort was the enjoyable part of Morrowind (IMO), no minimap-help, no quest-rushing - find it out all on your own. The game IS rewarding, once you get over the "initiation phase" and forget all about most other RPGs and nowadays 1st/3rd Person action games.

Also, if you are uncomfortable with the PC version, try the Xbox port. It has a more user-friendly control-scheme that works quite well for the Xbox-controller.

I never played much of a magic user in Morrowind, but I do remember there are hotkeys for assigning different spells to, avoiding the need of switching menus all the time.

Total agreement on the kinda generic NPC text and the lack of personality. On the other hand, it wouldn't have been fun without that many characters running around - it works, until they open their mouth. But then again, show me a game with that many NPCs that all have something different and important to say. I am really curious how they will fix this in the upcoming Oblivion.

I don't understand your critics regarding names of places, house and characters though?! When I think about it, I still remember a fair bit of them. What would you like them to be called? If you go to some foreign country right now, like say - Vietnam or Thailand, you would have the exact same problem!? So, I think that's nothing to blame the game for, instead you should give it praise for that - I prefer this "complex" approach more than, say... Final Fantasy, which would give me the choice between picking "red swamp mushroom", "blue swamp mushroom" and "green swamp mushroom".

The dairy is not that useless, but could be better - but then again, I don't think Bethesda wanted this more comfortable than it is. Because this is all part of the immersion - you are supposed to believe to read a book where you noted stuff down, not a quick and handy quest-status list.
It's all there (as cumbersome as it may be at times) to create a different world where everything has it's place and name. Where gameplay and comfort were not the primary goal to accomplish, but atmosphere and immersion.

Seriously, I think the game might be not your cup of tea - as it's not rewarding in the classical sense that games do, and the total freedom let's you wander about for days, but you just won't move on - I really enjoyed that, and strayed from the main plot a lot spending more time in the wilderness and enjoying the scenery. (and raiding long lost Daedra-shrines to get those damn cool deadric weapons)

I am a sucker for Tamriel, it's lore and games though - consider this comment a bit of fanboy-writing ;)

By Anonymous Aulbath, at 12 March, 2006 04:22  

I so so so wanted to like Morrowind (as an old-school hardcore frpg nerd) but they made it really hard to do so. It's impossible to know whether you're fucking your character up or not, everything looks the same shade of mottled brown, you have no idea what you're supposed to be doing, etc. If I were 14 I'm sure I would find this "freedom" fascinating but unfortunately I don't have that sort of discretionary time anymore.

That said, the "how to beat Morrowind in six minutes" video is pretty awesome. And Oblivion looks like they took a lot of Morrowind's problems to heart and fixed them. I will stupidly buy it, despite how terrible their internal ficiton is.

m.

By Blogger Michael, at 13 March, 2006 14:34  

Responding to aulbath:

I'll have to keep playing to see if there's anything else there.

What you describe as lacking comfort was the enjoyable part of Morrowind (IMO), no minimap-help, no quest-rushing - find it out all on your own.

But in a game with as many quests as Morrowind, that can rapidly become tiresome. I suppose its excusable if you regard quests as more or less optional, which may be the case... but the game hasn't let on to me that that's the case yet.

Also, if you are uncomfortable with the PC version, try the Xbox port.

No thanks.

I never played much of a magic user in Morrowind, but I do remember there are hotkeys for assigning different spells to, avoiding the need of switching menus all the time.

I already went over those. I wonder what I'm going to do concerning those hotkeys once I get more than nine spells....

When I think about it, I still remember a fair bit of them. What would you like them to be called? If you go to some foreign country right now, like say - Vietnam or Thailand, you would have the exact same problem!?

I'd also have to learn a new language for those places.
But in any case, when it comes right down to it you don't have to remember an awful lot of names in your day-to-day life. Quest travel distances are so great in Morrowind, and it could be so long between the gaining of one and the destination, that unless you drop everything and do it that moment.

Indeed, red, green and blue swamp mushrooms would actually be pretty good compared to what it has, which I had to look up over and over again to make sure I had one of each type of the four I had to get. The best solution would have been to come up with memorable names that also had personality... which, considering the massive amount of content they had to generate to produce all those quests, probably would have taken too long.

Ultimately though, the thing that may have turned me most against it was probably just fantasy RPG burnout.

By Blogger JohnH, at 13 March, 2006 22:52  

@JohnH:

Well, Morrowind does not force you to do anything. You could take moonsugar all day and sit on a roof staring at the sun... for your whole life. So, everything is optional.
The only thing you have to do is the mainquest, if you want to see the ending - there are no other musts. Sure, the beginning forces you to do a thing or two (getting rid of that corprus desease is one of them). But after that, it's totally up to yourself to craft your own story - and that is where Morrowinds charme lies.

You will not need more than 9 spells in battle.

Okay, names and places might be a problem... but, if I remember right - Morrowind lets you fill in own notes in your dairy, doesn't it? And if it doesn't - there is always your old friend, the plain old piece of paper in real life. No good CRPG without taking notes on paper, really.
But for real now, the problem lies not in the names and distance, I think - it suffers more from the copy/paste NPCs. If they had character, you would remember things much better and conversation/meetings would stand out much more, thus making it easier to find your way. The way it is now, it doesn't make any difference if you meet a farmer or god himself - and the fact that a lot of people have nothing to say adds to it.
Personally, I think this is Morrowinds biggest flaw. And I am very curious about the changes they made in Oblivion, regarding this problem.

I really enjoyed the fact, that the different places had different names, and you could tell from their names who was the founder of each city/ruin/temple/village. Cryptic names make things more believable for me, than having something like "Blackrock Mountains". Blackrock may have more personality, it's not fitting to Vardenfell though. I think Bethesda did a darn good job on creating a believable alternative universe.

Also, if you have played the earlier games in the Elder Scrolls Saga, a lot of things will be familar to you. So, that's a definite plus for the makers, that they didn't stray from their roots to make it more accessible to newcomers but instead gave longtime fans what they wanted.

If you suffer from Fantasy Burnout, than you should put Morrowind away for the time being. It will only annoy you, as the story becomes more and more classical fantasy fare... or you should check out the Bloodmoon expansion - it's tough, but very fun and has a wonderfully different graphics set. (Goblins on pigs? Count me in :D)

By Anonymous Aulbath, at 14 March, 2006 03:26  

On the diary, I tend to somewhat organize any long term notes. Being able to do the same in the game would only be fair. Without having to manually adjust/write everything again myself, since removing that tedium is part of the reason for having a journal.

(Similar complaint is held for automaps in games that don't map important info, and don't exist in a form where it is easy to recognize such important info.)

By Anonymous Baines, at 15 March, 2006 01:47  

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