Watching The Elder Scrolls Online grow and improve over the years has been a curiously rewarding experience; almost as rewarding as playing the game itself, if not more. After a middling launch that seemingly squandered all the promise showed by the game’s announcement, the developers have since revamped the levelling system, added instanced player housing, gotten rid of the monthly subscription fee (and thank god for that), and rolled out a vast number of subtle quality-of-life updates over the years. Not to mention DLC. So much DLC! The point stands, however, that ZeniMax isn’t really to give up on this game yet. However having left the game some time ago, none of those improvements ever felt like a substantial reason for me to recommit 89 gigabytes of my PS4 to this game.
They weren’t enough, that is, until ZeniMax placed the prospect of returning to the world of Morrowind in front of me.
The one thing that differentiates Morrowind from ESO’s other expansions – and indeed most MMO expansions overall – is that you can create a new character (or your first) specifically to explore this world and this story. There is no level requirement gating you from the wonders of Vvardenfell. Given all the hoops most MMO’s make you jump through (looking at you, Destiny: Rise of Iron), this is a great relief and a clear extension of ZeniMax’s “One Tamriel” update.
For the purposes of this review, I created a fresh character and explored Morrowind under the guise of a new player to see if the experience was as newb-friendly as advertised (it was!). Starting as a small Breton Warden, I set out to fully immerse myself in this realm of giant mushrooms and steampunk machinery. The game doesn’t waste time before thrusting you into Vvardelfell, the most prominent section of Morrowind, some 700 years before the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The game also doesn’t waste time putting you face-to-face with familiar figures, most notably the poet warrior Vivec.
While I appreciate ZeniMax’s efforts to throw the fans a bone, not all of them stick the landing. A lot of the writing falls completely flat. In recent memory MMO’s like Destiny and The Division, have risen to the challenge of providing interesting and engaging scripts to contextualize your gameplay, but most of the narrative beats in The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind lacks a level of engagement that even the core series sometimes manages to give despite its flat voice acting and poorly aging character models. For one thing ESO is still stuck in that ancient immersion-breaking MMO trope where a character will be telling you how you’re “the only one” who can do something while there are 25 other identically clothed players standing right next to you.
That having being said, ZeniMax absolutely nails the fantasy of being a resident of Tamriel.
Stepping off the ship into Seyda Need was like traveling back in time and soon after, I was exploring the city of Vivec that, as of this timeline, is still under construction. Over the course of the 30-ish hour campaign, found myself falling in love with Vvardenfell all over again. It isn’t even just because of the weird aesthetic. This is still the mind blowingly xenophobic world of Morrowind, after all, which makes it even better when juxtaposed against the rest of the lore of The Elder Scrolls’ universe. Reliving the heated political feud of the ruling Great Houses was such a rush that I barely even noticed the Silt Striders or the bands of undesirables congregating on the streets.
The Elder Scrolls Online itself has evolved considerably since its buggy launch state. Day-to-day action is much smoother (though it still feels a bit distant and imprecise compared to the single player games, of course) and I absolutely love the option to go into first person. The post-game Champion system and the ability to phase anywhere for leveling makes adventuring more enticing than ever and all of that comes together to give you even more opportunities to just fanny about in the game’s world.
What’s less impressive, however, is the new Warden class.
Taking a page from the Druid from World of Warcraft, the Warden can handle any role (tank, healer, DPS) with three distinct skill trees. The problem is that while most of the Warden’s abilities are as impactful as expected, none of them is anything special outside of the new ultimate that lets you summon a bear companion for combat. The bug powers and animal summons feel puny and look kind of cheap and useless.
So, while The Elder Scrolls Online has improved through the release of this new expansion, it still isn’t enough for me to jump back in full-on, or even to fully recommend it to even the most hardore of fans without some hefty caveats. The 4v4v4 PVP mode is barely even noticeable enough to talk about here. It exists if you want it, but I don’t see how anyone would. If you already own the game and check back in to coast on the free-to-play fumes, you might want to upgrade to the pointed, more focused land of Vvardenfell. For everyone else, I think Destiny and its expansions are on sale again.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind was reviewed using a code provided by the publisher.