With Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind, the first additional ‘Chapter’ to the MMO (read: expansion), Bethesda seems to have taken a sly tip from Hollywood. This is essentially The Force Awakens of the gaming world: a nostalgic draw that’s broad enough in its appeal to satiate newcomers.
We zoom back 700 years before the events of 2002’s The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind here, and those subtle differences and shifts in time are obvious in-game. Settlements are (conveniently) smaller; a few of the cities you may remember don’t even exist yet, but are hinted at.
You may find a page detailing Vivec’s desire to build Ebonheart anew on the island, a quest spills the first inkling of what an Ashlander settlement named Ald’ruhn would later become, and even the capital Vivec City is still largely a construction site.
That said, ESO: Morrowind still feels familiar, and that’s where its greatest flaw arises. For hard-core players of the 2002 game, for anyone who wrung that map out for every possible quest, every nook and cranny, they may return to this world with a lessened sense of awe. There’s little to surprise here, and since MMOs demand certain constrictions, it can feel limiting when each landmark only really offers a single quest to players.
However, best judgement would state those feelings are rather unfair, even if they’re entirely natural and uncontrollable. This isn’t the same game. And, if you’re approaching ESO: Morrowind as, essentially, a condensed remaster of a classic game through the lens of an MMO, it’s overwhelmingly effective.
The scale may not match Skyrim’s epic vistas, but there’s been an incredible amount of detail added to this world, which is wonderful for veteran players to witness. The intricate ceiling paintings within Vivec City, for example, or the way there’s a luminous red, organic carpet that seems to line the floors of the Kwama Egg mines.
Any illusion this is a straight remaster, of course, dissipates the second you find yourself in a crowd of other players. It’s particularly strange when NPCs are always asking how on earth you managed to find their hideouts, or with what bravery you must have ventured into these abandoned dungeons, when these locations are often as busy and filled with brawling as a bar at happy hour.
Maybe that’s just the price you pay for Bethesda sticking to their guns and ensuring ESO feels as authentically like the rest of the franchise as possible, with previous games’ superior sense of writing certainly not lost in the transition.
There are the same memorable characters (from Sun-in-Shadow, the slave you help free from Telvanni bigotry, or the Ashlander Seryn and her noble quest to stop her power-mad brother), and that trademark sense of humour remains intact, with one quest even boldly dropping a Ghostbusters reference without even a flinch.
Furthermore, Morrowind feels surprisingly like its own entity. Of course, you need ESO as a base game first, but you could very well play Morrowind in its entirety without ever feeling the draw to step on the mainland.
A feeling only amplified by the fact it comes with a unique introduction for new characters, thrusting you straight back into Seyda Neen after your initial escape from slavers, all with the help of a fan-favourite assassin.
Add to that some of the new features offered here; there’s last year’s One Tamriel level-balancing update, for example, which removes all previous limitations when it comes to quests or group gameplay, meaning low-level and high-level players can all happily work together and no part of Morrowind will be initially out of bounds for newcomers.
The new Warden class also offers a brand new approach to skill trees that’s a lot more balanced than previous offerings, combining Animal Companion conjuration (including an ultimate that gives you a little bear friend to help out in battle, always useful), Green Balance healing powers, and Winter’s Embrace destructive magic. All especially useful in dungeon gameplay, since a Warden can perform pretty well across all different roles.
Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind is by no means game-changing. Yet, in that perfect blend of nostalgia and innovation, there’s pure joy to be found within.