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Massive — The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind Is A Look Back And A Step Forward

by Daniel Tack on Jun 06, 2017 at 07:00 AM

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Massively multiplayer online games are sprawling beasts that grow, improve, and change direction over time. Because of their scope and longevity, approaching them from a traditional review standpoint isn’t often the best fit. Enter Massive, our approach to analyzing and evaluating massively multiplayer online games.

After a lukewarm launch on PC, The Elder Scrolls Online’s first giant chapter update to the game has arrived. There’s a fun new class, a ton of new areas to explore, and small-scale player-vs-player for those looking to sink their swords and spells into other players.  While it's not being called an expansion exactly, all of those elements are in play - you just don't have to already be at the endgame to enjoy the vast majority of the new content.

While the new content and playspace is great, and a perfect place to begin your adventures (putting the other newbie zones that put players off to boring and laborious starts to shame), much of the enjoyment gleaned from my return to Morrowind wasn’t from the big changes or additions found in the new expansion-scale offering, but rather the significant tweaks and alterations that the game itself has experienced over its long run.

Morrowind does an excellent job at catering to a huge swath of disparate players. For players who have stuck with ESO since the beginning, Morrowind is a huge chunk of new delves (public dungeons), quests, and exploration – they already know what they’re in for, up to and including the intimidating new raid within the Clockwork City. New players can (and should) hop immediately onto the shores of Vvardenfell and begin completely unfettered by any of the core game offerings.

Fans of the original The Elder Scrolls III might also find themselves interested in this addition, even as a single-player experience, for 30-some odd hours of questing and nostalgia. The music and settings are particularly impressive in Vvardenfell. While the adventures in ESO take place 700 years prior to The Elder Scrolls III, the world is incredibly familiar, and the attention to detail is meticulous and praiseworthy. Even if you’re never interested in ever doing a dungeon, a raid, or PVP, there’s a meaty experience available that comes quite close to replicating the masterstrokes that make the single-player Elder Scrolls experiences great. 

While many of the quests are uninspired traditional MMO fare that send you around from point A to B to C, there are enjoyable stories to be found, some of which get you invested in cool game systems that weren’t around when the game initially released. Being able to do whatever quests I want and go wherever I feel like as a fledgling warden at my own pace is awesome, and feels natural compared to some games that are still stuck in the "go to this area from X level to Y level, this area from Y level to Z level." paradigm. After being forced to steal to get a slave released from her bondage, I quickly began lifting everything that wasn’t bolted down and pawning it off to the fences, and making a good deal of coin while having a great deal of fun. I especially enjoyed some of the quest chains that directly riffed off The Elder Scrolls III, and while I don’t want to spoil them, there’s some fun ruins exploration and treasure hunting involved.

Core MMORPG fans that have been waiting for a PVP experience outside of the sometimes taxing realm-war can rejoice, as battlegrounds-style combat lets players shine in small-scale, bite-size competitive chunks without worrying about realm allegiance. These battles take mere minutes and are fast-paced, frenzied affairs that offer an optional activity for those who have been waiting ages for another style of offering to enjoy instead of the huge scale and scope of Cyrodiil. If PVP isn’t your thing, there’s still something for the diehards in the form of a difficult, dangerous endgame raid featuring bizarre Dwemer-inspired creations.

The game’s first new class, the Warden, is great for everyone. Players wondering how they should build out their character have three archetypal and easy-to-use nature paths – tanky ice, healing plants, and damaging beast summons. Like all other classes, these skill lines mingle with dozens of existing skill trees like weapons, armors, and magic to create the right build for your playstyle, but the biggest draw to the class by far is the massive bear pet. Unlike other summoned creatures in ESO, the bear does not expire after a certain time, and will follow you into combat, caves, and coves as you explore The Red Mountain and beyond. The Warden has extremely versatile and fun building potential, allowing players to tap into stamina or magicka as resources to fuel spells, making it an excellent choice for players that aren’t really sure how they want to play to start – another welcoming way to bring players into the fold for the expansion.

Morrowind doesn’t fundamentally change what The Elder Scrolls Online is, but it adds a ton of interesting stuff for experienced players to do, and includes some compelling features that should entice completely new players to give the game a try. I was more impressed with the core game’s transformation than any earth-shattering changes offered in Morrowind, but I greatly enjoyed coming back to the Red Mountain with my loyal bear in tow. If you were lukewarm on launch and always wanted things to resonate a bit more like the single-player Elder Scrolls experiences, this is a great time to come back and see how things have changed. If you’re already playing, you can expect a significant chunk of new activities to engage with and areas to explore.