To cover it up front, I love Oblivion and Skyrim. They’re great first person exploration games, but they aren’t great rpgs. An rpg is meant to allow you to role play, to become a character in the world of a game. The way Skyrim does this is by making you the most powerful and famous person in the world. Lead every faction as their Master. Preform Shouts no npc can hope to compete with. And gain the love and adoration of literally everyone. Conversely Morrowind achieves this goal by making you a nobody, well less than a nobody.
You enter Morrowind and are already hated by nearly every race and faction because you’re a foreigner and at a glance everyone knows it. It places you in a racist society. Did you plan on playing anything but a Dunmer? Well in a country where slavery is legal and any non-darkelf can be bought and sold like a tool or trophy, you’re going to have a hard time making friends. Try to get around this by playing a Dark Elf and you’ll find things only slightly easier. See the Dark Elves of Morrowind are so wrapped up in their regional customs, deadra worship, and hatred for the Empire that just having the same color skin doesn’t mean much to them if you’re from a different country. That’s right, no matter what race, what skill set, what class mage warrior or thief, from the moment you step off the boat you are immersed in a world that doesn’t want you there. It takes dozens or even hundreds of hours to gain any recognition. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still a special chosen one like in Skyrim, but there’s no dragon fight in the first hour of gameplay to show you, the player, or anyone else that you’re important. No one gives a shit until you prove yourself through hard work.
Before we move on to factions, let’s look at a real life example to get a baseline. Say you enroll in police academy and become an officer of the law. You’re going to experience interactions with people in a way you never have before. Some will look up to you, treating you with dignity and respect. Others are going to hate you, curing your existence and placing all the blame for decades of violent racist acts and corruption solely on your shoulders. That’s real life. But that ain’t Skyrim.
In Skyrim you can join the College of Winterhold, a place that nearly every npc will tell you is looked down on in Nordic society. But for some reason once you join no one will treat you differently. You’ve broken a taboo in their culture and no one cares, no shopkeeper will charge you more or refuse service, no passerby will make offhandedly comments about how you betray Nord culture, even if you’re playing a Nord. Infact, you can walk right into the Companions and join them, a group of warriors so proud of their physical abilities that they see magic as a weaklings way out, a tricksters attempt to fein strength. So how would you expect them to treat a mage attempting to join? Laugh at him, turn him away, attack him, be harder to haggle with, have a lower disposition towards? Nope, they don’t bat an eye. “Come on in” they say. “Train with us, eat our bread, become our family, hell when the Guild Leader dies why not take the role yourself?” For a group of warriors who stand for honor and strength against a world of dark mages and Thalmor constantly attacking their customs and beliefs, to just accept a spellcaster into their ranks… excuse me for not jumping for joy when I discover that how I built my character and the actions I’ve taken mean absolutely nothing to the people living in the world.
Now let’s look at the factions in Morrowind. Take a deep breathe and put on a fake smile because once again there is no easy way out in Morrowind. When an npc tells you they hate a faction, they really mean it. Join the Mages guild and the Fighters guide ain’t gunna be happy. If you want in you better show them you’ve got the stats of a warrior or you ain’t getting in. So let’s say you’re a hard working gamer and you’ve got your stats high enough to join both the Mages and fighter’s Guilds, well don’t think you can keep that up for long because eventually you’re going to get quests to kill a member of the opposite guild. Yep, and if you don’t handle that situation with extreme care, looking for every possible loophole, you’re gunna kill someone from either guild and get a swift kick out and a major drop in disposition from an entire faction, losing access to many of their trainers and shopkeepers. Ouch. I know it stings, but it’s fair and more importantly it’s real. You can’t just stab your friends in the back and expect everyone to treat you like a saint afterwards. And the best part of this is that it inspires you to find a loophole. It gives your choice weight, it makes them mean something. And if you really want to make everyone happy and lead both guilds you’re gunna have to work your ass off to figure out how.
Let’s drive this point home a bit more by going over the factions you can lead in Skyrim. College of Winterhold. Companions, Dark Brotherhood, Thieves Guild… wait is that all? And you can be the leader of all of them simultaneously. Ok then, what has Morrowind got to offer? Mages Guild, Fighters Guild, Thieves Guild, Temple, Imperial Legion, Imperial Cult, House Hialu, House Redoran, House Telvanni, Morag Tong, Blades.. are you getting the picture? There’s a lot. And you aren’t about to become Guild Master of them all. Join any House and you alienate the rest, never to be able to join them again. Join the Imperial Legion and those ancestor loving Dunmer of the Temple won’t take kindly to your presence. Join the Thieves Guild and good luck not getting kicked out of one of the other Guilds when you’ve got to loot their hidden treasures. Join the Morag Tong and well the Morag Tong is gunna have you assassinate some important individuals in other Guilds so good luck with that. Every choice has a consequence. Your actions in the world effect the way people treat you. They matter.
Maybe some Skyrim fans like the fantasy of playing god and being perfect and loved by all, but you do that at the cost of story, of your decisions holding weight, of interacting with people in a meaningful way. Congratulations you’re god… but you’re god of a world where everything was handed to you on a silver platter and you never had to work hard or make tough choices. All hail the God of Simpletons, Lord of a world where everyone loves you no matter what you do, because you, the player, don’t matter.
I’m gunna take a moment to address the hate I know is boiling up inside some people. Skyrim is a great game. Combat is much better than Morrowind and a solid improvement on Oblivion. Graphics, well shit, we all know the game is beautiful. Terrain, environment, variety, it’s all done to perfection. Skyrim shines when you adventure out into the world, running into every cave, fortress, and evil lair and testing your metal against the enemy. But it fails at its quest-lines. Everything is linear, every situation has a simple solution, everything will always play out in the exact same way no matter how many times you play through the game. Skyrim give you one big choice that matters, Stormcloaks or Imperials, then it puts on the kiddy gloves and holds your hand to make sure everything else in the world is simple, easy, and doesn’t provoke any thought or worry or concern, it just walks you through the quest line taking all decision out of your hands. It’s autopilot for gamers.
So yeah Morrowind is my favorite Elder Scrolls. But I don’t think I’m better than you for saying that. I’m glad you love Oblivion and Skyrim. I hope you continue to love them for years to come. But it is hard to watch a company cut and cut and cut away at the things they did better than anyone else. Anyone can make an action game with swords magic and arrows, anyone can craft a beautiful environment to explore, anyone can make a game where you are god. Only Bethesda can make a world that feels real… but they don’t seem to want to anymore.
Thanks for reading, I hope I didn’t tick anyone off too much. I’ll read any comments you leave but I’m expecting many of them to be negative because I know most people here are sick of Morrowind elitists talking about a game the majority of Elder Scrolls fans have never played, and acting like everyone else is less of a real gamer for not agreeing. That’s not me and that’s not what this post is about. All I want to do is inspire people to think about what makes a game great, what it means to make decisions that matter, and maybe help you decided to pick up Morrowind for the first time, look past the outdated graphics and combat, and see the heart and soul that went into it. Now downvote to your hearts content.
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© Post "I know this sub likes to pick on Morrowind elitists, well I’m by no means an elitist, but I do think Morrowind is the best ES game. Can I explain why without facing your wrath?" for game The Elder Scrolls.
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