The Elder Scrolls On­line: Mor­rowind

Can a re­turn to the se­ries’ cel­e­brated en­try re­vive the MMO’s for­tunes?

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Xbox One

De­vel­oper ZeniMax On­line Stu­dios Pub­lisher Bethesda For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin US Re­lease June 6

Since The Elder Scrolls On­line’s trou­bled PC re­lease in 2014, de­vel­oper ZeniMax On­line Stu­dios has em­barked on an­nual at­tempts at re­boot­ing the MMO. In 2015, it dropped the monthly sub­scrip­tion fee, added an en­tire new suite of fea­tures and repack­aged the game as The Elder Scrolls On­line: Tam­riel

Un­lim­ited ahead of its con­sole re­leases. In 2016, the team un­leashed the One Tam­riel up­date: a com­plete restitch­ing of the game’s frame­work to re­move level bar­ri­ers, open up the con­ti­nent’s bor­ders and al­low play­ers to ex­plore the world as they wished. But for 2017, with the base game fi­nally meet­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of its play­ers, the fo­cus has shifted from fix­ing ESO’s of­fer­ing to ex­pand­ing it into fan-favourite ter­ri­tory.

That ter­ri­tory is none other than the iconic prov­ince of Vvar­den­fell, which is mak­ing its long-awaited re­turn af­ter a star­ring role in The Elder Scrolls III: Mor­rowind. Land of the Dun­mer, the gi­ant vol­canic is­land has been faith­fully re­built for a new chap­ter in­side ESO in what’s ef­fec­tively the MMO’s equiv­a­lent of Des­tiny: The Taken King –a pre­mium ex­pan­sion for ex­ist­ing play­ers avail­able dig­i­tally through stan­dard-for­mat dis­tri­bu­tion ser­vices rather than the in-game Crown Store, and an all-new re­tail game for new­com­ers that hap­pens to in­clude the base ad­ven­ture as well. Home to a new tu­to­rial and an es­ti­mated 30 hours of new quest­lines, the in­ten­tion is for a new raft of play­ers to re­live their Mor­rowind mem­o­ries from the off, and then tum­ble into the rest of ESO after­wards.

Al­though the words ‘nos­tal­gia’ and ‘re­dis­cov­ery’ are tossed about mul­ti­ple times dur­ing our stu­dio visit, ESO’s place­ment within the se­ries’ lore means a sim­ple re­tread of 2002’s RPG isn’t pos­si­ble. “We’re 700 years in the past, so that’s given us free­dom to de­velop our own story,” cre­ative di­rec­tor

Rich Lam­bert says. It’s also given ZeniMax the free­dom to un­pick the world it­self and en­vi­sion it in a brighter, pre-Ghost­fence era.

Ma­jor Daedric Shrines and dun­geons are present and cor­rect, as are the world’s key set­tle­ments and cities, and silt strider travel net­work, al­beit in dif­fer­ent forms; only the grand palace and three of Vivec City’s eight

Can­tons have been built at the time of ESO, for in­stance, with the rest of the cap­i­tal in vary­ing stages of con­struc­tion. Far­ther north, nearly a mil­len­nium’s worth of fewer Red Mountain erup­tions means the ash­lands are smaller. With Mor­rowind vil­lain Dagoth Ur deep in slum­ber be­neath the tow­er­ing vol­cano, a small part of that area will re­main in­ac­ces­si­ble to rule out para­doxes but, even so, Vvar­den­fell has a foot­print more than 20 per cent larger than any pre­vi­ous ESO re­gion.

At ev­ery turn, ZeniMax is aim­ing to fore­shadow the events of The Elder Scrolls III for the fans, whether it’s by ask­ing you to slay one of the false Nere­varine ghosts or meet up with Di­vayth Fyr in his ap­pren­tice­ship days. But what of the many play­ers too young to ap­pre­ci­ate all these de­tails? “The team has gone to painstak­ing de­tail to make sure that the game stands on its own,” Lam­bert says. “You re­ally don’t need to un­der­stand why the Tri­bunal, or Mor­rowind, is im­por­tant.”

For those peo­ple, the repack­aged MMO is in­stead lean­ing on its raw con­tent to im­press. Be­sides the new realm and its main quest­lines,

Mor­rowind also in­cludes two pub­lic dun­geons, a 12-player Trial based in Clock­work City, fresh loot and achieve­ments, and two ma­jor game-al­ter­ing ad­di­tions: a small-scale PvP mode, and the new War­den char­ac­ter class.

“We didn’t re­ally have that druid, ranger­type class,” Lam­bert says, smil­ing about War­den abil­i­ties that in­clude po­si­tional-based heal­ing spells and a raft of an­i­mal sum­mons cul­mi­nat­ing in a griz­zly-bear-con­jur­ing Ul­ti­mate Skill. Handy in PvE, it’s a class ca­pa­ble of dev­as­ta­tion in the Bat­tle­grounds mul­ti­player ga­me­types: leader­board-sup­ported, 4v4v4 team bat­tles set in­side com­pact are­nas with very few places to hide. “In gen­eral, when you sit down and play

ESO’s Cy­rodiil PvP, it takes an hour-plus,” Lam­bert ex­plains. Con­versely, no one game of Bat­tle­grounds, be it any of the three modes at launch or a newer ga­me­type to be added later, should last longer than 15 min­utes. Fast­paced and less at­tri­tional than Cy­rodiil’s meat grinder, these arena-based skir­mishes are a ma­jor step for­ward for ESO. “It’s some­thing that play­ers have con­stantly said they wanted.”

Mor­rowind isn’t the end point – fu­ture quar­terly DLC packs are al­ready planned – but it isn’t the sav­ing roll, ei­ther. In­stead, last year’s One Tam­riel should take quiet credit for

ESO’s im­prove­ment. It’s now Mor­rowind’s job to en­tice new and long-de­parted play­ers to the MMO to fi­nally dis­cover the game that Bethesda al­ways in­tended it to be.

“The team has gone to painstak­ing de­tail to en­sure the game stands on its own”

Though Vvar­den­fell is sep­a­rated from the rest of ESO’s world, af­ter the tu­to­rial play­ers can tran­si­tion to and from Mor­rowind at will

New quick­fire 4v4v4 mul­ti­player mode Bat­tle­grounds was born out of ob­serv­ing play­ers in Cy­rodiil who de­lib­er­ately avoided all ob­jec­tives and found quiet spots to en­joy or­gan­ised, pri­vate du­els

Rich Lam­bert, cre­ative di­rec­tor

The team was un­able to im­port as­sets from

Mor­rowind, but in­stead used the height map of Vvar­den­fell to re­con­struct the is­land’s to­pog­ra­phy

ABOVE Fan favourite Ebon­heart Pact NPC Naryu Virian re­turns from the base ESO game to be your early guide through Mor­rowind

TOP LEFT The start­ing se­quence should be in­stantly fa­mil­iar to Mor­rowind vet­er­ans. Pay at­ten­tion in the Cen­sus and Ex­cise Of­fice for an Easter egg.

LEFT Though some dun­geons have been recre­ated us­ing maps of the orig­i­nal game­world, plenty are en­tirely new

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