Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - 4/20 hours

Ragnar the Nord may well be the world's worst guardian of justice. Commissioned by the Balmora Fighters' Guild to take care of a rat infestation, he grabbed his iron spear, strode into the bizarrely pillow-filled house of his client, and promptly died while flailing away uselessly because the designers of Morrowind made the strange and frustrating choice to have a starting character's abilities fail 75% of the time.

That made doing the Fighters' Guild missions a farcical exercise. I was able to finish a few, thanks to a combination of stubbornness and spending every single gold I earned on training, but there's no pretending it was not, at times, ridiculous.

The apex of this problem came when I tried to retrieve a code book from a thief named Sottilde. She would not give it to me, obviously, but she also wouldn't fight me. When I tried attacking her, the entire thieves' guild ganged up on me and I died. I then decided to be tricky and taunt her into attacking me . . . but my abysmal speechcraft skill made that futile. I eventually wound up spending 200 septims in bribes in order to complete the mission . . . and earn a 50 septim reward.

Total bullshit. I thought it was the Fighters' guild, and not the Pretty-talkers' guild. Whatever.

My next foray into vigilantism was no more successful. Following the rumors about the death of Rale Hlaalo, I discover that his maid, Uryne Nirith, may know something, but his manor is locked, and my security skill isn't even close to good enough.

So, I decided to get the hell out of town, and perhaps hit up Larrius Varro in a nearby fort, to aid him in his quest to rid the land of corruption, but he wouldn't give me the time of day. Nor would anyone in the fort let me join the Imperial Legion, telling me that I had to go to a different, vaguely-located fort, because just giving me a quest would make this too much like a game.

Anyway, the trip wasn't a total bust, because a random guard game me a piece of advice that seems obvious in retrospect, but had never really occurred to me - when playing a light-blade specialist, it is more weight efficient to carry extra weapons and swap out when they break than it is to lug around a bunch of repair hammers. I'm playing a spear specialist now, but that's definitely on my list of things to remember for next time.

In between failing to find new quests and barely succeeding at Fighters' Guild assignments, I wander the countryside a bit. It's my resolution for this game to use fast travel as little as possible, in order to get a good ground-level experience of Vvardenfell. And it's a resolution that serves me well, because on my way to Caldera, I encounter an NPC I've never seen before.

Hlormar Wine-sot is a near-naked nord standing beside the road. He tells me that he was traveling with a witch who robbed him of his ancestral axe, and also all his clothes. We track her down and she tells a different story - she drugged him and took his stuff to teach him a lesson about getting "too friendly." She offers to give his stuff back in 3 days, at the Caldera Mages' Guild, but Hlormar won't hear it, and I have to choose sides. Ultimately, I choose Nord solidarity, and Hlormar rewards me with some training before we go our separate ways.

In the end, as much as I complain about Morrowind (and believe me, you have not heard the end of my complaints), and as much as it frustrates me (more even than Ride to Hell, if you can believe that), I can't stay mad at it. It's just so big and alive and filled with these charming little stories and vistas and other things to discover, so that even after a hundred hours, I can still find things I've never seen before.

Another example - the town of Suran. I've never been there before. The Fighters' Guild gave me an assignment to collect some debt money in Suran, but I had no idea where it was. Luckily, a random NPC mentioned that it was connected to the silt-strider network. It was a bit frustrating to be forced to rely on fast-travel, considering my commitment to walk more, but I think, in this case, it was worth it. I arrived in Suran around sunset, and the silt-strider platform overlooked the town, allowing me to see the whole thing - a charming little village, nestled in the hills beside a lake - and it was quite spectacular.

For all its faults, no other games deliver that kind of experience quite like the Elder Scrolls series.

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