As you may have guessed, we love single-player games. We share our love every day through the work that we do, but the pace of this industry means that we rarely get the opportunity to stop and look back.
Join us this week as we celebrate the best that single-player gaming has to offer as part of Single-Player Appreciation Week.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind will always have a special place in my heart. It allowed me to escape from the painful realities of an abusive childhood into a classic RPG fantasy world with endless freedom, beautifully crafted open-world, and fascinating lore. The ability to transcend my existence to the captivating prophecy of Nerevar, the ‘Chosen One’, was bitter-sweet but invaluable.
The first time I played Morrowind was on PC, and I hated it. I could not figure out the controls, where to go, or what to do. I was immediately overwhelmed because I was more familiar with playing short, linear games. When Morrowind dumped me at Seyda Neen on the shores of Vvardenfell (the Dunmer—Dark Elf—province of Morrowind) and left me to decide what to do next, my brain could not cope with the freedom.
I clearly remember the first time I arrived in Seyda Neen: I entered a building and was immediately killed by enemies. So I put the game down.
A year later, I reluctantly picked up the Game of the Year edition on Xbox, and it changed my life.
One of Morrowind’s strongest attributes is how quests intersect and can break each other. Morrowind punishes players for trigger-happy, reckless, and short-sighted choices. I was forced to consider every possible outcome before making key decisions or killing NPCs. Several times when completing guild side quests, I was tasked to kill an NPC, only then to find out later I could not finish another side quest because of their death.
The game also has essential NPCs who can be killed but must remain alive until Caius Cosades (the Blades) gives his final quest; otherwise the main storyline completely breaks and prevents progression.
Morrowind treated guilds like factions, all vying for power and control, similar to Fallout: New Vegas whereby progression with one faction directly affected players’ reputation with others. The result meant that players would break quests, kill people they could have befriended, and miss out on content in order to further guild leaders’ ambitions.
In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, each guild was more like a self-contained mini-adventure. The problem with this is that each guild feels isolated from world events because all other story and side quest lines did not overlap. For example, in Skyrim, I could join the Dark Brotherhood and fulfil my destiny assassinating the Emperor, but then then hop on the Civil War quests siding with the Empire.
Morrowind, however, emphasised that I was just a member of a guild set in a constant state of flux that would continue without me, but the level of immersion made me feel truly part of the world. Ultimately, adding consequences to simple and complex choices, and punishing the player for their actions, made the world feel real.
Morrowind’s geographical and architectural design was breath-taking, specifically the towering Red Mountain permanently on the horizon, and the Islamic-, Middle Eastern-, and East Asian-influenced art design. Additionally, the Hlaalu, Redoran, and Telvanni Houses offered a unique religion (the Tribunal), buildings, clothing, and insights into cultures hardly ever seen before in games. Vivec City’s architectural scale and beauty were unparalleled in my eyes. I cannot recall the amount of times I got lost within the city. I once found Vivec’s library by mistake, but then spent hours reading every book, soaking up the lore, mini-stories, and the mythology of Nerevar.
The real beauty of Morrowind, however, was that it encouraged exploration; it did not demand it. Modern RPGs have an increasing tendency to put collectibles in a map’s far corners for no other reason than to make the player travel there.
The title lacked a conventional fast travel system, but journeying around the island of Vvardenfell, from Seyda Neen to Dagon Fel and every town in between, seeing diverse flora and fauna was magnificent. I wanted to explore everywhere, read every book, talk to everyone, hear rumors of treasure, pick up side quests, and learn everything about the world I felt a part of.
Furthermore, the Game of the Year edition came with an extraordinarily detailed fold-up world map which allowed me to physically charter my way around the terrain, and enhanced the realism of feeling like an adventurer.
Morrowind created a formula of immersive realism at the expense of convenience, sacrificing practicality with the journal system. The game did not include quest markers, so finding the next stage of a quest meant flicking through countless pages of logged quests, conversations, and updates to find a name, clue, or location. This system was frustrating at times, but also thoroughly enjoyable because it felt real. Life does not provide people with quest markers, or an infinite store of knowledge. Morrowind’s journal system replicated real life; conversations would have to be paraphrased and written into concise notes containing key information. This level of engaging, immersive reality has only been replicated successfully since by Red Dead Redemption 2.
The Elder Scrolls series has been a part of my life since I was young, and I hope that it will remain as a constant feature. Looking to the future, The Elder Scrolls VI is due for release in the next few years and I can not wait to explore new lands. However, no Elder Scrolls or any other game has matched the immersive reality, beauty, gameplay mechanics, and significance of Morrowind. It opened my eyes to classic sandbox RPGs, and ignited a life-long passion for expansive single-player experiences.