Monday, July 21, 2014

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - 13/20 hours

Morrowind's storytelling is a bit hard to pin down. The main quest is fairly straightforward - you perform a series of tasks that progressively reveal the mystery surrounding the Nerevarine prophecy and set the stage of your conflict with Dagoth Ur. The faction side-quests are a bit different. They don't, at least in the initial stages, seem to have a "point."

I think it may be because the factions have multiple quest-givers, and thus the order in which you might complete the quests can be semi-random. At Fort Darius near Gnisis, I can rescue my comrade by slaying the Telvanni mage Baladas, and uncover a conspiracy by the cult of Talos to assassinate the emperor, but the game can't assume I've done so, when the legion officer in Balmora asks me to retrieve some scrap metal, or the one in Ald-ruhn asks me to find a smuggled Dwemer artifact.

In a way, it's disappointing, because I'm not getting much sense that I'm advancing the Legion's goals, or taking sides in the Legion's internal political struggles. It really just feels like I'm doing odd jobs for various Legion commanders.

It's not that bad, though, because at least the missions themselves are pretty fun. With only a couple of minor exceptions, most of the Legion missions have been of the "go to place and kick ass" variety (even the scrap metal collecting mission sent me to a dungeon - specifically some Dwemer ruins that prove important to the main quest - I actually found the Dwemer puzzle box while poking around, but the game did not let me pick it up - it was a major bummer).

It's a nice contrast to the Redoran quests, which have mostly been delivery or escort missions. Currently, house Redoran wants me to recover a stolen helmet - without "murdering" the thief. That means I can taunt him into attacking me, and then kill him, or at least I could, if my speechcraft wasn't useless.

Sigh. Sometimes, this game. . . I've been spending all my money on Speechcraft lessons from Caius Cosades (the annoying shirtless Blades guy, whose quest dialogue I've been assiduously not triggering), and I've bought more than 30 points in the skill.(confession time - I said at the beginning that I would play through this time without exploits, and I feel like I've technically kept my word, but I have manipulated the leveling system a bit by waiting until I've gotten a level-up, traveling to Balmora without resting, training 10 points in Speechraft, and then sleeping in Caius' bed to trigger the level-gain, so as to maximize the Personality Stat boost.)

However, these 30 extra points seem to have done jack all to my social standing. I've noticed some difference. When I had to bribe Hainab Lasami to return Hentus Yansurnummu's pants, I was able to do so in increments of 10gp, instead of 100 gp, a benefit that probably saved me around 150 gp. On the other hand, I've been taunting the hell out of that guy who stole the Redoran helmet, and he has so far ignored me completely. I wonder what the reasoning was behind making low-level skills so incredibly useless.

On the other hand, my Spear rank is up to 60 now, and I'm finally starting to feel like I can survive a bit of exploration. I recently poked my head into Sishi (I don't know if it was a mine or underground bandit hideout, or what), and was able to clear it out and free the slaves without breaking a sweat. I've also been able to survive indefinitely off the beaten path, though maybe it was just RNG shenanigans, but it felt like I was being swarmed with monsters once I left the roads (especially cliff racers, argh! - like many Morrowind players, I've found them annoying, but I never realized how much aggravation I was sparing myself with my mile-long jumps).

I am, however, starting to wonder about the viabilty of a no-magic playthrough. After fighting through certain caves, I've had to quit and reload a previous save, not because I died, but because, despite "winning" and killing all the monsters, I was only able to defeat them while suffering multiple strength-damaging attacks. And attribute damage in this game is impractical to heal at the best of times (try surviving long enough to get back to a temple with damaged agility or willpower). Under a worst-case scenario, where you have to deal with damaged strength and virtually irreplaceable heavy armor, the challenge is nigh impossible (and not in a fun way). A quick and cheap set of restoration spells is really the way to go.

If it sounds like I'm complaining, well, damned right I am. Sometimes playing this game is like sticking your hand into a box of rusty tacks. And yet, I put up with it, because no series of games is better at drawing you into an imaginary world, and Morrowind in particular is filled with fantastic sights:

That is what passes for public transportation on Vvardenfell. Creepy giant bugs that you mount by ascending weird, alien architecture. And in the shadow of the Red Mountain (when it is not spewing ash everywhere and limiting your visibility to a couple of feet), there are stranger sights still.

(Those things float around all over the place. I've never quite figured out what they are, or how they fit into the ecology and economy of Vvardenfell. I've also always wondered if there is some great reward or treasure for killing them, but they are difficult to target, let alone bring down)

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