Millions of people around the world celebrate International Workers Day on May 1st, but if you’re a gamer, this date might have a more special significance. You see, 15 years ago to this day Bethesda Game Studios launched a title that would go on to change how we look at open-world RPGs and significantly raise the bar for all other similar games to come. That game was, of course, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Happy birthday!
You don’t need me to tell you how popular Bethesda games have become over the years, but back in 2002 that wasn’t really the case. In fact, Bethesda Game Studios – the development branch of Bethesda Softworks – was only established in 2001, just one year before Morrowind came out. Needless to say, both the publisher and the development studio quickly grew thanks to the release of the third TES installment and have remained some of the biggest names in the games industry ever since. Fast forward to today and Morrowind is still seen by many as one of the best RPGs of all time. And this is in spite of the fact that Bethesda themselves have released several other award-winning role-playing games since TES III came out.
If you’re a younger gamer who was introduced to The Elder Scrolls series by Skyrim, you’ll probably find some of the above statements a bit farfetched. After all, Skyrim is one of those crazy popular games that even your grandma probably plays. Be that as it may, though, neither Skyrim nor Oblivion before it managed to bring to the table a world as unique and outlandish as Morrowind. While Skyrim is clearly inspired by Norse mythology, the province of Morrowind doesn’t seem to have any real-world source of inspiration behind it. From the moment you step off the boat and get your first glimpse at Seyda Neen it becomes clear that this isn’t your typical game world.
Despite its name, Morrowind actually only takes place on the island of Vvardenfell (if you exclude the expansions) and we never get to experience the full scope of the province. And yet, the world was absolutely massive at the time and still feels incredibly huge even by today’s standards. Admittedly, the absence of fast travel or horse-riding meant that exploration was mostly done by foot with the exception of the occasional Silt Strider piggyback or boat ride. Combine that with the fact that the map didn’t feature many helpful landmarks and you would find yourself lost faster than you can say Cliff Racer. But that was part of the fun, though.
Being forced to explore Vvardenfell at a snail’s pace meant that navigating the huge game-world was very challenging but also very rewarding, as ancestral tombs, Dwemer ruins, and strange caves were scattered all over the land just waiting for you to uncover their many mysteries. Accompanying you throughout your adventures was, of course, the iconic soundtrack that feels immediately familiar to any TES fan, even those who haven’t played Morrowind before. Most of the time it felt like you were listening to the same track on repeat (which you were) but somehow it never got old. Sure, the combat was an absolute hassle and the journal was pretty much useless but those were just small inconveniences at the time. Looking back at them now, some of Morrowind’s systems and mechanics were almost completely broken, and yet, the game is a great example of how the end product can sometimes be much better than the sum of its parts.
The game world itself isn’t the sole reason why Morrowind was so special, however. Morrowind featured a number of great systems that were unfortunately removed from the series since, such as Spellmaking or the existence of Medium Armor. And, as strange as it may sound, the game felt like it had more of everything, ranging from unique spells and abilities to its impressive weapon and armor variety. Slowly but surely, the series has been streamlined over the years, with many features added and removed with each new installment. But while we’re certainly grateful for the improvements made to the combat, voice-over, journal, and graphics, the series also lost a bit of what made Morrowind such a unique game. That’s not to say that Oblivion and Skyrim aren’t great, because they are, but compared to Morrowind, both are missing that little spark of imagination, that unique touch of creativity that’s becoming increasingly rare in video games these days. Few games can make you feel like you are stepping in a truly magical world nowadays but TES III somehow managed to do it 15 years ago to this day.
There’s a reason why Bethesda brought back a piece of Morrowind in Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC and why there’s so much hype for the upcoming ESO expansion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get an actual Morrowind remaster anytime soon, which is a shame but also perhaps understandable. It’s hard to recreate a nostalgia-inducing game like this and still make it feel like it belongs on today’s market. Who knows, perhaps the company will seriously consider the idea if ESO’s expansion ends up being highly successful. One can only hope. If any game deserves a remaster it’s Morrowind. Whether or not that will ever happen is anybody’s guess, but at least we’ll always have the original to play around in and today, on the game’s 15th anniversary, is a perfect day to jump in for yet another playthrough. You know, for old time’s sake. And if you’ve never played Morrowind before, well, you’ve been missing out, but make sure to give this old timer a shot because it may still surprise you even if it does feel a bit dated by today’s standards.
Are you planning to start a 15th anniversary Morrowind playthrough today? Let us know all about it in the comments section below.
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