The return to Morrowind in The Elder Scrolls Online’s latest expansion was a no-brainer.
“We actually knew pretty early on that we wanted to go to Vvardenfell,” Rich Lambert, Creative Director at Zenimax Online Studios, told Stevivor. “We knew we were gonna go there. At launch we didn’t know when we were gonna go there, and then as we kinda went through and got the game to where we wanted it to be, we were like, ‘okay, yes, now we’re ready to go to Morrowind to do it right’,”
Set 700 years prior to the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, this new expansion serves up a host of familiar locales while at the same time letting players forge their own paths.
“One of the big things we are doing with Morrowind is appealing to nostalgia,” Lambert said. “We took the map of TES III and we put it into our game and then pushed and pulled and stretched it around — if you kind of lay the old-school cloth map from TES III over ours, a lot of the points of interest that are on that map are actually in our game. The hook for those players.”
As much as the return to the region is an appeal to past players, it’s also a great place for new players to jump in too.
“For the new player, we focused more on telling a cool story. Trying to explain why [Lord] Vivec [the Warrior-Poet] is so cool, why Morrowind is so cool,” Lambert said. “To a new player, like, this is alien. Giant mushrooms and bug creatures; that’s a completely different experience from any other Elder Scrolls experience.”
Morrowind offers the chance to enter Vvardenfell as a character you’ve already spent hours levelling up in ESO or as an entirely new one altogether. The introduction of the Ranger-like Warden only adds to the enticement of the latter option. On that, Lambert doesn’t think it’s just the new players who’ll be rolling the Warden.
“What we didn’t really have was a kind of a ranger or druid kind of feel,” Lambert said of the Warden, comparing it to ESO’s other classes. “We didn’t have that kind of character fantasy, and so that’s what the new class fits.”
It seems to fit well. As I ran through the lush forests surrounding Vvardenfell, navigating around the region’s gigantic mushrooms, countless Wardens littered the landscape. I knew this instantly because each and every player had a large bear fighting alongside them, something earned at level 12 in the Warden’s Animal Companionship category. These players, those who’d gained early access to the title, had clearly embraced the Warden and its new charms.
And there I was, a lowly Warden with only a level 4 stat in that particular category. So close, yet so far.
“It fills a different kind of player fantasy,” Lambert continued. “You know, we have the sneaky guy that stabs you in the back. We have the fireball wielding sorcerer and, you know, more of the Templar, and then big tank guy.
“It fits that fantasy that, if I wanna, you know, be a hero or have animals that you know, follow me around and do all kinds of cool things, I can do that. And it’s all kind of in this nice neat little package where I can kind of do a bit of everything and do it well, but maybe not necessarily excel as somebody that just focuses on one tight thing.”
Those who’ve played an Elder Scrolls title but are unfamiliar with its Online version will have no trouble fitting into the landscape. Levelling and UI options are almost identical to that of Skyrim, through its MMO slant is also readily apparent. As a player, you’re unique enough — a character who is helping to shape the world — but you’re certainly no Dragonborn. It’s painfully obvious as you wash up on the shores of Morrowind and head towards your first batch of quest markers, only to find ten other people doing exactly the same thing. You don’t need to refer to your map at this point, merely heading to large groups of other characters instead.
So that’s what I did, meeting the inhabitants of the region and flowing through dialogue trees to forge my own to-do list. Within hours I was laden in quests, edging ever closer to that all-important bear companion. To become a blacksmith, I located iron deposits and pressed the ‘E’ key to mine them. Thankfully, more quests than not offered the chance to head to new regions and beat the crap out of baddies, two-handed sword in hand and two-handed stats increasing with each victory. I decided a Warden with a bad-ass bear should run around as a tank, so I bought heavy armour and added that to my build. I mightn’t be running around with people shouting, “Dovahkiin!” in my wake, but I determined to be renowned nonetheless.
To Lambert, the way I approached Morrowind was the way Zenimax Online Studios wants its players to.
“A huge part of the experience of, or magic of our game is that journey to endgame,” he said. “With a lot of [MMOs] out there right now, endgame is where the game begins. Ours starts at the beginning and goes all the way through, and then we also have endgame at the end. So really, you should play however you want to experience it.”
Morrowind has hours and hours of content – after six hours, I felt as if I’d barely scratched the surface – so there will be something for everyone. I was happy enough lone-wolfing it, picking up quests and completing those that seemed interesting. Often, I’d stop at any structure that presented itself to me, seeing if there were new tomes to read inside. Morrowind offers a world populated with as much lore as there were Wardens and their bears, and I took advantage of that.
“Oh yeah, lore’s huge,” Lambert said as I recounted my actions to him. “That’s basically what our writing and content teams do: focus on those stories and that lore. Our Loremaster, Lawrence Schick — that’s his full-time job: making sure we’re not breaking the lore. Fortunately, we also have the Bethesda guys, you know, an hour away from us [if needed].”
Playing in a group is sometimes necessary – large dungeons are difficult to complete on your own – but systems aren’t as developed as I’d like. Teaming up with a handful of Aussie journalists, we set off as a accomplish much yet did very little. Our dysfunction was a team effort; my error was to forget to speak to a person in the quest line at one point. I thought, from my hours and hours with the likes of Destiny, that if my teammate did so, I wouldn’t have to. How wrong I was. I was forced to backtrack a great distance across the map to fix that error, grumbling the entire way as I did so.
Despite that final experience, I was keen to explore more of Morrowind. I won’t have long to wait to do so, as The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind goes live from 6 June on Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4.