Morrowind & Where I Stopped Playing Morrowind

by Ice Cream Jonsey

I've been known to make the occasional bad decision when it comes to the "Computer Game." Oftentimes, I know I am setting myself up for frustration and / or anger, but I go ahead and make the purchase or install the ware anyway. This explains why -- after playing as much Final Fantasy VII as I could and finally setting it permanently down due to the inane amount of time it took for the rather-uninteresting battles to complete -- there is a copy of Skies of Arcadia on my television stand, with the $59.99 price tag still attached to the jewel case. And learning that the battles in Arcadia were exactly like those of the Squaresoft Role-Playing Games wasn't exactly like skulking about the last five minutes of an M. Night Shyamalan flick. No, I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for.  

Even worse, that kind of willful ignorance is not remotely close to an isolated incident. A few years back when the magazines published by Imagine Media were still keeping each other honest, a copy of the Handbook of Evil was included with PC Gamer.  This is an extremely useful novella to have... and to have with you. How many times has one felt the tickles of the beginning of an evil scheme only to find oneself unable to implement the necessary steps for a vindictive conclusion? I'm not specifically talking about doing in helmetless motorcyclers on Interstate-25, but I'm not specifically not talking about it either, dig? So you can imagine my surprise when, with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand thumbing through the Handbook, that I discover that the thing... is nothing more but a fricking Dungeon Keeper Strategy Guide!

I'd like to quote a bit of the prose on the back cover, which helps to set the scene and explain exactly what my mindset was when I picked this thing up and added it to my daily inventory.

"Many have denied its existence, but the dread Handbook has finally surfaced. Found within this thrice accursed volume are the darkest rituals, secrets and forbidden formulae for evoking incredible things, beings and unholy powers into physical manifestation."

And that's all I'm talking about, really. A little physical manifestation of evil formulae and such. But nothing like that was to be had. However, PC Gamer was totally up front over the fact that just possibly the thing wasn't going to send a wake-beacon to the slumbering Chtulu residing in Greeley, Colorado; I just missed it. Though that would explain the Greeley stench, the blurb about the fucking Theme Hospital tips kind of attempts to clear things up for everyone involved. 

(For the record, I think when the Handbook of Evil states in Chapter Five: Theme Hospital, that the line "a totally new feature of the multiplayer game is the ability to poach your opponent's staff," is probably the dark ritual that they were speaking of on the cover. I've never played Theme Hospital, but I'm sure that the game popped up with some kind of equivalent to "Your creatures are under attaaaaaack!" for that -- either "Your doctors have considered the attractive financial proposal from your competitors and willnot be baaaaaaack!" or, if Bullfrog were simply attempting to mimic the sheer annoyance factor of the line from Dungeon Keeper, a guy from the dev team simply breaks into your house and crushes your nuts with his bare, British hands.)

So, Morrowind can be said to be the latest in a long line of disappointments that I absolutely should have known that I'd be in for in advance and yet deserve have coming to me.

Not that it's 100% my fault. Maybe 95%. Morrowind uses a fabulous form of copy protection that, in addition to being completely ignored by the Lite-On 32x CD Burner, actually slows down the game so that any attempts to get any sort of reasonable frame-rate out of it are laughably futile. I'd say that I just don't understand how the boys at Bethesda can allow themselves to get bent over by their publisher if not for the fact that Bethesda Softworks published it. It's maddening: even though I'm about to rip the shit out of it for various reasons, the thing is absolutely gorgeous and has the best graphics I've ever seen as of this writing. It runs... barely... on my Geforce4. After installing the unofficial user-made patch to strip out the running Safedisc checks it ran a mite better. Why cripple yourself like that?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Morrowind is the third role playing game in the Elder Scrolls series.  The first two installments were Arena and Daggerfall. Daggerfall sort of had a reputation as a buggy game but the thing was incredibly deep -- a traversable landmass greater than that of, er, Great Britain, with no (forced) restrictions on class or behavior.  Oh, sure -- you could play the part of a heroic, sword-wielding Paladin all you liked, but there was absolutely nothing stopping you from becoming a silent serial killer either (and later skipping to another town where your reputation was not nearly so brutal).

Daggerfall was a lonely game, but Morrowind even moreso. I tried to brace myself for this fact, tried to keep myself set with the understanding that I wasn't going to have fantastic conversations, or any real "friends" in the game (and when you don't have the knack to making them in real life, you do kinda hope you'll have better success in video gamedom). But interaction in that regard got much, much worse in Morrowind: it's not that you have any less ability to really impress someone in the game world or get under their skin, as you just don't care due to how cardboard the NPCs are, and how often that fact is thrown in your face.

The non-player characters no longer have any hint of a "schedule." One of the very first side-quests in the game has you making a decision on whether or not to bring the hammer down on a friend of yours who may be up to some slimy dealings and possess a certain MacGuffin. I attempted to get into his house and see if the trinket was there, only I didn't have the "thieving" skill. Fair enough -- I decided I would wait until my "friend" returned to his home for the night. But he didn't. He didn't, even when the frigging rain came. Instead, he remained outside, bored as all hell with life, the thunderstorm, my attempts to get information out of him. (I could have kind of understood if dude was wandering around the game world looking at the shore or something, because the water looks as stunningly lifelike as water is going to get for us gamers, but no, he was just loitering outside some barn.) I eventually left that town for one of the, literally, thousands of other quests, but just an hour into Morrowind I had seen its limitations and had its purported "openness" thrown directly in my face. There was plenty of fun to be had (and in truth, I played right along for much of the next two weeks) but rarely have I been into a game whose walls have fallen down so easily, especially since it was such a step backwards from the game that preceded it.

It is gorgeous, though. I can put up with a lot of senseless horseshit from a pretty girl, and even moreso from a pretty game, so I know that I'll eventually be back. The game is so achingly close to being the ultimate game you take to a desert isle. But the thing is, when you're on that desert island you've got more than enough scenes of sunsets and reflecting water. What you don't have is a soul nearby, and this is even more true when playing Morrowind.

So, right, I'll be back, but maybe not until my PC can handle the game and I can get into the mindset necessary to slog through it. Until then, I'll just hope that I can manage to play these things on their own terms and not hold them against their hype -- even when they regressed from their predecessors. Now, I'm off to plug in the Playstation and load up some Fear Effect 2 that just came in the mail. I hear there's tons of great chix-on-chix scenes in it.