The second-greatest game of all time was released 10 years ago today. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was, until Skyrim, virtually unchallenged as the most complete and enjoyable video game experience possible. I say “virtually” because Fallout 3 was the better game if not the better experience. It’s all semantics, ultimately: three times Bethesda have challenged what could even be imagined in a game (four if you count Oblivion, six if you count Arena and Daggerfall). They’ve made the game equivalent of Lord of the Rings – a universe so detailed and convincing that you could believe the characters live on when you’re not looking. With Radiant AI, they actually do.
Morrowind was the make-or-break game for Bethesda Game Studios, and its success (to the tune of four million copies) allowed the studio to expand at an eye-watering rate and make bigger and better games. Without Oblivion and Fallout 3, there could be no Skyrim – but if there’s one game that the latter most resembles in its strange beauty and endlessly engaging atmosphere, it’s Morrowind. Here are some of the best bits.
(Note: some of these clips are from a heavily modded game)
10. Just going for a walk
Even its stark volcanic desert was beautiful. I particularly loved the ambient sound effects in the Ashlands – the stark howls that would be carried on the wind, and the sound of wood-chimes in the nomadic camps.
9.The Dwemer ruins
The desolate remains of the dwarven ruins were the game’s first real “wow” moment for me. Yes, that bloody puzzle box was infuriating, but wandering around the ancient steampunk fortress to find it was one of the most magical game experiences of my life.
8. The monastery of Holamayan
Jump to the 14-minute mark for the interior, though I can’t find a clip for the animation. At dawn and dusk, a giant exterior shell opens and closes around the building, in animation that was fairly cutting-edge for the time. I found it absolutely jaw-dropping the first time I saw it. Such a simple idea, but so utterly unforgettable.
7. Sadrith Mora
The Telvanni are a resourceful bunch: they grow their own houses. Magic mushrooms, indeed. Another OMG moment when I first paid a visit.
6. Cavern of the Incarnate
Here be main quest spoilers. When I first played this, our computer wasn’t powerful enough to run the cutscene.
5. Urshilaku burial caverns
It’s just a standard dungeon crawl, but it’s one of the most beautifully-designed dungeons I’ve ever seen. It’s a genuinely creepy place, with fabulous lighting and sound – it’s impossible for me to watch this without the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I remember wanting to just grab the loot I’d gone for and just get the hell out.
4. Bloodmoon: The Hunter’s Maze
I’m not going to show you a clip here, because the unexpected plot twist left me reeling. Let’s just say that in the middle of a race to the death against werewolves in an icy labyrinth, one of your friends has a last surprise.
3. Tribunal: Sotha Sil
Again, here be spoilers. In Morrowind’s expansion, you get to visit the clockwork city of the reclusive Sotha Sil. One of the traps took me about 30 attempts to get past – I was almost in tears with frustration – but the whole experience (not to mention the surprise at the end) was worth every second.
2. Getting off the boat at Seyda Neen
Great – I’m here. What do I do now? (Answer: anything you like.)
1. “Uncle” Crassius
The best-loved character in Morrowind is a strange old pervert who keeps hitting on you and making inappropriate demands. Despite this, Crassius Curio is one of the truly noble characters in the game, and his plays are entertaining enough for the sequel to appear in Skyrim (alas without the playwright).
Bethesda have just announced the first DLC for Skyrim, Dawnguard, which will hit the 360 this summer. While I’m looking forward to exploring more of the realm of the Nords, there’s part of me that will never really leave Morrowind behind.