Alright, so after playing nothing but Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood for a week, it took me longer than I’d like to admit to get back to The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind. Both expansions hitting back to back might just be enough to break a woman, but I thought I’d be up to the task.
I was not.
However, finally, I have your review of the expansion in full. And it is, pretty much what you’d expect of The Elder Scrolls Online. A great idea with okay execution. Part of the problem is the main game. The Elder Scrolls Online is a rather flawed MMO. Not that people don’t play it, but there is a reason why the game very very quickly went from a subscription service to a more freemium model – not that it’s perfectly Free-to-Play given you have to purchase the game, but all of the extra support outside of major expansions is free. Unless you chose to go with the premium service that gives you access to all of the content and an assortment of bonus loot. TESO is a fully playable game. And it even has moments where it is enjoyable.
But there are a lot of things it isn’t. You don’t have much support for solo players at all – there’s no way to solo your way through dungeons and trials, although you can enter them alone, and there’s no way to get randomized multiplayer party matching early on in the game.
And aside from the lack of solo player support, flexibility, and freemium, there are the smaller issues. TESO was not built on a scale for characters to use mounts. But mounts they use. And thus the maps feel incredibly tiny, as if you could cross one part of the world to another in mere minutes. And that’s something of a problem for a game series that has prided itself on expansive, realistic, immersive environments. Its hard to immerse yourself into a game world that you can cross in moments, especially when you watch a higher level player cross it in seconds on their shiny griffin mount. Add in the restrictive character classes which completely ignore one of the core tenets of the Elder Scrolls series (that classes and skills are only what you make of them – specifically, you level the skills you use regardless of your set “layout”), and you’re left with an incredibly unsatisfying experience that seems more like just another World of Warcraft clone with some Elder Scrolls bumper stickers slapped on it.
Then, when you consider the game’s release just after The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim which was a critical and commercial success, that took the best parts of the series and made them even more accessible, The Elder Scrolls Online does not simply pale in comparison, in fact it seems like a worse addition to the series than the damn trading card game.
And then there’s the Morrowind expansion itself.
Unlike much of TESO, this is not the first time we’ve been in Vvardenfell. And the expansion suffers so much for that. Because with a smaller map, with greater character movement speed than we had in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the entire island feels like, well. It seems a bit like cruise ship destination. A one-town island with a small volcano in the center, with very little around the edges, and only a few interesting spots here and there. A place you might spend a day, maybe a week, but no more than that.
And that is not how I want to view Vvardenfell.
When I first stepped off that boat as a recently released prisoner from Cyrodiil onto the island of Vvardenfell, I was immediately struck by the awesome sight of a massive continent with incredibly ancient and deadly secrets, and one that was altogether alien from the usual fantasy fare. While the aesthetics are still there in TESO: Morrowind, that sense of expansiveness is not. Red Mountain looms in the distance, but it looks like a hill I could cross in merely a day, and not a massive juggernaut of a volcano that was also the seat of power for a malevolent deity who haunted my every step. The Cantons of Vivec city do not tower over me or feel like they would take weeks just to walk around, but are rather small buildings I can run completely through in a dizzingly short time. In fact, they’re so small on the inside that your character’s movement speed makes moving through the halls rather, well, disorienting.
And while I know the reasons for that difference in scale, it rubs off the shine from the expansion.
And then there’s the difficulty of doing literally anything. If you start off in Morrowind – which you can if you start a new game, or if you pick up TESO with the Morrowind eexpansion already installed – you go straight to Sedya Neen and skip the old tutorial and early-game stages. And that would be fine, if there was any easy way to get a grip on the game from starting off in Vvardenfell.
There is not.
Sure, you can join the guilds, there’s a tutorial, and you can find out the basic information easily enough, but that’s it. There’s nowhere to buy cheap gear, which means you’re running around in castoffs for a good portion of the game, and many of the early levels are not built to be tackled by a lone low-level player.
Every side quest I pick up should not automatically lead to my death, because you’d think there would be level requirements for things. You know, to keep the game in balance.
But that would exist if TESO were any other game. No quest in The Elder Scrolls Online comes with a level requirement. In fact, there isn’t even a level recommendation for any quests. Main story or otherwise. So you can walk into a trial completely unknowingly at level 5 and get yourself slaughtered in a second, simply because the game doesn’t think to tell you that you aren’t prepared. And I wouldn’t mind that so much if there were ways to avoid it. But it’s a pretty easy trap to fall into. And that’s not great.
As for the story, well. It has its moments of entertainment, and is definitely the highlight of the expansion. Especially if you love Elder Scrolls lore. Vivec was never the most humble of the Tribunal, but definitely the most approachable, and he serves as a particularly skilled ambassador to Vvardenfell for the uninitiated. And of course, because this is Morrowind, you will again run into the Nerevarine prophecy and the Cavern of the Incarnate.
However, I found that the only thing this expansion made me want to do was quit and go ahead and open up the original Morrowind and pretend that the expansion never existed. Bethesda may have marketed The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind as Morrowind fans’ greatest wish come true. But this expansion was not made for fans of Morrowind.
Yes, I’d happily go play that cg travesty, with its stilted storyline, ridiculous text windows, lack of quest organization, and terrible UI than play the prettier, newer one. Because for all that TESO‘s UI and quest tracking make it a much more solid experience than the original Morrowind, nothing that I loved about that game has made it into the ESO expansion.
If you enjoy The Elder Scrolls Online, the Morrowind expansion gives you much more of the same. Its a similar game experience, but taking place in a much different setting, with interesting characters and lore. And gives you a new character class and a much slicker tutorial. It’s a pretty decent investment, despite being a relatively short expansion as far as MMO expansion packs go.
But if you wanted to play TESO because you really, really love Morrowind and still play it, but you want more of it. I’d recommend you head on over to fan mod projects Morroblivion and Skywind. Because while the aesthetics are there, and indeed some familiar faces and locations pop up, it just isn’t worth the inveitable heartache of finding out that the Morrowind expansion is not a particularly large part of The Elder Scrolls Online. And starting out in Sedya Neen is actually a disservice to you and to the game. So if you haven’t played TESO before, pick up the Tamriel Unlimited edition, play it, join a guild, and then get Morrowind.
Or just do as I have and boot up the original. I guarantee you’ll be much happier.
UPDATE: Edited to reflect the fact that there is a dungeon finder you gain access to later in the game for online matchmaking.
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