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Morrowind’s Everlasting Appeal
Why is Morrowind so beloved compared to later Elder Scrolls titles Oblivion and Skyrim?
The question might seem more than a little obvious but the point is to get beneath the obvious. Since Morrowind released, Oblivion, and subsequently Skyrim, has rolled out a number of improvements both to the visuals and to the combat’s fluidity. From discrete dice rolls that decided the outcomes of every attack to the (questionably) tactical combat of Skyrim, it’s clear The Elder Scrolls series has made some big strides forward.
So why is Skywind a thing that exists? For all of the progress Bethesda has made, there is something about the 2002 RPG that has sustained its modding community to this day. You get a cookie if you knew the answer was Morrowind‘s setting.
Morrowind was, like many cult classics, an experiment in Darwinism. Anyone who wouldn’t or couldn’t tough it out through the tough times (clunky console menus and clunkier combat) got weeded out. Those that remained found a land overflowing with milk and honey. Or flin and scrib jelly, as the case may be.
As was mentioned before, that answer was pretty much common knowledge. But few have deconstructed and reassembled the pieces that made Morrowind great. It starts on the ground floor. The land has a grand history and every corner of the island of Vvardenfell is peppered with it – and occasionally peppered with the bodies of eccentric mages that didn’t calculate the duration of their Alteration scrolls correctly.
That flin was sweetened after trekking for a good hour of real time, after getting sidetracked on the way from one city to the next. Skyrim, and to a lesser extent Oblivion, gave players that experience but it was diluted by the presence of fast-traveling. Introduced in Oblivion, fast-travel has clung to the heels of players like shadows; always there when you turn around. I’m not against fast-travel and in fact I believe it was necessary so players didn’t quit Oblivion outright because the landscape was too generic to hold interest. Not so for Morrowind; mushroom trees, nixhounds, and kwama caves were all fixtures in a land that blended more normal locales like swamps with twisted landscapes corrupted by corprus. Vvardenfell was a land of alien beauty despite the fact that number of polygons could be counted on one finger.
It was that beautiful because it was before fast-travel was implemented. Like a glass of iced tea after a day in the sun, the journey was sweeter because you had to work at it (I’m not counting you speedrunners because you defy all logic). Morrowind rewarded your time with more game for you to play. Games today front-load all of the gameplay to make the barrier to entry about as tall as a line of paint. There are a lot of games today and few people are as forgiving of a slow-burning game as they once were. I would guess Bethesda knew how popular fast-travel would be because they added a compass whose not-so-hidden function was to guide you to somewhere new. The compass listed areas just out of sight because the chance any random player that made regular use of fast-travel would stumble across it was very low. You had no reason to go over that mountain because a loading screen later you were standing at the front gates of wherever you had wanted to go.
It’s because Morrowind gave you a reason to love the land that you loved it. You loved it because you walked its roads for hours on end, cutting through swamps or leveling Acrobatics over mountains. You loved it because a wizard plummeted to the ground in the middle of a road. You loved it for the journey, not the destination. And you sill love it.