At least it was cheap...

One of my co-workers is really into PC gaming, and more than once, recently, he’s asked me anxiously, “Have you ever played Morrowind?” I heard about it when it came out, and I thought, “That doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.” It’s an RPG, which makes it pretty questionable to begin with, in my book. I’ve always thought that microcomputer-based RPGs that try to actually model non-static storylines are doomed to failure.

Still, he was really enthusiastic about it. I had a small gift certificate for EBX. Morrowind is now an XBX “Platinum Hit,” so it was only twenty bucks to begin with. The planets seemed aligned to encourage me to buy this game. I did!

When I got home and started playing, everything I dreaded seemed to come true.

The graphics are bizarre; everything looks like its real-world equivalent, except crappier. Characters look like decent models with awful “faces” stuck on them, and their walking animation is strangly choppy and unnatural.

The controls are lousy. Halo’s controls were pretty good, for Halo. Why am I using them in an RPG? Well, because it’s first person with real-time combat. Even if I were to think that a FPS (first-person swordfighter?) RPG was a good idea (which I don’t), I would want it to have controls that reminded me that I’m in an RPG, not a shooter.

As for the RPG elements, they do seem deep. There’s a conversation system, including “pursuasion” and tasks and other neat stuff. It looks good, one one hand, but it’s lacking in polish. I can’t find easily tell about what I’ve already asked a given NPC. This means that if I’m involved in a deep, branching conversation, I’ll eventually need to go back and look through the (alphabetical) topic list and try to remember what I’ve asked already – or I could just go through everything again.

I got involved in some combat accidentally. I accidentally picked up a lamp in someone’s house. The homeowner attacked me. He was a peasant with a stick. I was an orcish barbarian in full armor with a two-handed battle axe. He killed me. Something is wrong here, and it’s just not my orc’s manners.

Playing Morrowind does, at least, serve to caution me against MMORPGs. If I can’t stand them offline, they can only be worse online, full of idiots who can’t be written off as poor AI.

I’m going to give the game more time. It’s possible that once I’ve gotten my footing and am able to defect myself against elderly cobblers, I’ll enjoy going out into the world and barbarizing things.

Written on July 26, 2003
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