I wasn’t overly impressed with the initial release of TES: Online. I found it to be a hollow shell of the license it’s built upon. A plain online MMORPG with an Elder Scrolls skin applied, but missing the heart and soul to go along with it. TES: Online wasn’t a bad game, but I found it could have been any MMO, and taking the Elder Scrolls name away from it wouldn’t have made any difference.
Since release, the game has improved, but often at a cost. The Thieves Guild, my favourite content, for example, wasn’t in the core game. Despite always being present in some form in previous TES games, here it was only added at a later date, and for an extra cost. Updates also improved some elements of the game, and the title gradually added extra content and features to fill-out the adventure.
Even with all of the updates, which admittedly improved the game, there was, in my opinion at least, always something missing. The game just never managed to capture that Elder Scrolls feel, and lost something in the translation to the online sphere.
It’s been a while since I ventured onto the TES servers, but the latest DLC, an actual, proper expansion was enough to pique my interest once more, and all it took was a return to one of the series’ most beloved lands, the volcanic region of Morrowind, and the central island of Vvardenfell.
In this new DLC, we get the chance to return to the region we last visited way back in 2002, which is also the home of the Dark Elves. As with the original Morrowind, this expansion focuses on the island of Vvardenfell that makes up much of the land. This DLC reproduces the old game’s adventure perfectly, even beginning with an arrival at Seyda Neen via ship, with a stroll through the Customs and Excise office before you’re let loose on the island.
If you’ve played the original solo adventure of Morrowind, you’ll quickly appreciate the level detail here, as the dev team have recreated the classic land of Vvardenfell brilliantly, if on a smaller scale than the original game. This is important, as the setting of Morrowind is, and always has been by far the most unique and fantastical of all of the region’s we’ve seen in The Elder Scrolls. It’s covered in all sorts of alien flora and fauna that are much more distinctive than those found elsewhere, such as in Skyrim or Cyrodiil. Giant mushrooms, alien-looking trees, strange creatures, and a greater amount of diversity in architecture in the various towns and settlements make Vvardenfell and instantly more engaging location to explore, and it’s just what TES:O needed, being built as it was with areas that lacked a good deal of identity.
There’s also a new character class in the form of the Warden. This is a hybrid warrior and magic user that focuses on nature and the ability to call upon other creatures to aid in battle. The ultimate of these skills being a bear companion you can summon who will fight alongside you. It’s a fun character to play as, and one of the easier to get to grips with, although the ultimate isn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, and isn’t as useful as you’d expect a giant bear fighting on your side would be.
The area of Vvardenfell, whether you’re a fan of the original game or not, is a much more interesting world to explore than various generic deserts, forest, and ruins. Each area has something different to offer, and there’s far less in the way of empty space. There’s also a good deal of diversity in NPCs, as the island is controlled by a number of different houses, each of which have different personalities and direction. Hlaalu are focused on financial gain, Redoran are a more militant organisation, and the Telvanni are mages with few morals. There’s also the introduction of another assassin guild, the Moran Tong, an officially sanctioned guild of assassins who carry out legally authorised writs.
The storytelling and content here is also more engaging, with a far more interesting quest-line, and the appearance of characters we’ve met before, who benefit from this familiarity as you care about what they have to say, and what they need of you. You actually listen and take note of what the God-king Vivec says rather than some random solider you’ve never seen before, and so you’re already more immersed in the story.
This use of a familiar, and fan favourite area is the shot in the arm TES:O needed, and it was just what the game required to get me back into the world. Of course, there are plenty of hardcore TES:O fans out there already invested, and who love the game as is. I’m just one player after all, but I certainly feel that I’m not alone in my lack of enthusiasm for the overall game before now. If you’re one of these, I urge you to give the game another go with the Morrowind DLC. It’s a definite improvement, and hopefully the first of more updates that refine and improve the previously generic feel.
That said, there are some problems the DLC still carries with it that haven’t been addressed. One of the most glaring is the series’ focus on a singular hero. As with the vanilla game, here you’re still called the only hope for the land, and the lone hero by NPCs, only to be surrounded by a myriad of other heroes all on the same mission. It’s more than a little jarring in terms of story, and Bethesda really needs to move away from the solo RPG formula for TES:O, and instead shift the focus towards an online, community-driven adventure, which is what the game is.
I also still find the combat to be generally poor. There’s just no feel or impact with any of it, whether you’re swinging a sword, axe, shooting a bow, or slinging spells. It all feels flat and just not all that interesting. Animations are clunky, there’s a good deal of combat lag, and there’s a general disconnect between you and what’s actually going on onscreen.
Despite the shortcomings, though, the quality of the quests, and the far more interesting locations found here improve the experience, and make a trip back to Tamriel more than worth it, and if you’re looking for a reason to get back to TES:O, Morrowind is certainly it.