The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind
Can a return to the series’ celebrated entry revive the MMO’s fortunes?
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