Morrowind Level 1

I’ve been Firgus the Fury in Oblivion, an orc who just wants to expand his library collection, that’s all. I’ve been Diego the dark elf in Skyrim, a mute and grim figure married to a burly, scarred up blacksmith who bakes pies for me, because that’s what husbands do, apparently.

But the Morrowind Overhaul just came out, and what is Skyrim? What is Oblivion? Compare these pretenders to a chance to replay a game that’s never eked out of my top ten with nicer graphics, and let’s not even mention I haven’t chanced the expansions yet.

And you know what. It’s still special. You always want to check your nostalgia. I know I try to boot up Daggerfall and find the UI borderline unplayable and the combat both dull and miserable and is there anything else but dungeon crawling to look forward to. There are plenty of people who boot up Morrowind and hate it within hours. Morrowind demands a certain patient play style, a certain tolerance for NPCs who are often literally walking in-game wikipedias, for combat that’s about as visceral as clicking and occasionally praying, for running and jumping and swimming for miles.

But it’s special. It’s special in a way that Oblivion and even Skyrim will never approach for me. Skyrim is lovely, and it has its surprises, its jumpable waterfalls and its wandering headless horsemen who offer no quests and no combat, just run while you chase them. But it’s still no Morrowind.

How can I explain this. I haven’t reached level 2 yet. I’m a high elf mage. I use only magic. This is how it plays. I explore a submerged cave outside Seyda Neen. Treasure’s at a premium. I’m poorer than a church mouse and I’m out of lockpicks and without money, I don’t get better spells, and I don’t get alchemy gear, and I badly need both. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a swimmer and the cave dead-ends deep underwater. I’m drowning. I’ve just been attacked by a slaughterfish. Normally, I can take enemies this weak out, but I’m spending all my clicks and mana on healing my lungs. I’m running out of mana.

I have a single scroll of Divine Intervention, which immediately teleports you to the nearest temple – of the Nine, not the Three, but I’m in no position to be theologically picky, and the Nine are foreign interlopers like I am. I use the scroll. I end up in Pelegiad fort, miles away. I sell all my worldly goods (mostly flowers and mushrooms and restore attributes potions I wince getting rid of – there’s disease everywhere here) to join the Imperial Cult and get a few more spells. Then I go wandering, looking for coin. I make a few minor thefts in empty parts of the fort, but I’m not much of a thief either, and Pelegiad isn’t rich.

I run into a key shrine of Vivec, one of the Three. I need muck to sacrifice. I don’t have any. I happen upon a tiny farm close by, run by an unpleasant and unfriendly man. He likely has muck. Farmers always do. I don’t have the skills to steal in front of him. So I look right, I look left. I murder him with a newly bought temple spell. There’s some nasty irony in that, I’m sure. And I was right. Muck in his possession. I go back to the shrine and my first sacrifice to Vivec is complete. The shrine praises me for understanding humility. Ho ho.

I find a Bosmer a few meters away, looking for a friend of his. No sooner have I promised to find the man when I’m attacked by two territorial and mating kagouti (which look kind of like tusked triceratops with two legs) and there’s no way I can fight them. An unarmed farmer in cloth is one thing, these guys are tough. So I run. I run for the farm, healing myself all the way. I shut the door and sleep to regain my strength. I open the door and there they are, waiting for me. I run for the lake. I leap off the dock. They’re still on the dock, waiting for me. I swim across the lake to a plantation, too large and well-guarded to make murder an easy prospect, but I think my karma needs some recovery anyway. I think I’ll walk back to Seyda Neen.

That’s Morrowind. That’s just the start of it.