Finding myself with a good bit of unstructured time this week, I decided to revisit a game I haven’t played in nearly sixteen or seventeen years: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The game was released right at the end of my junior year of high school, in May 2002. I was familiar with The Elder Scrolls from picking up a copy of the first game, Arena, in the used games bin at Electronic Boutique in the Aiken Mall sometime back in middle school. Arena came out in 1994; it was probably around 1997 or 1998 when I picked up my copy—including a mousepad map of the Tamrielic Empire and two fat instruction booklets.
That was back when the Internet was not so readily available (I don’t think we had it at home until the year 2000 or 2001), so playing big, open-ended roleplaying games like those in The Elder Scrolls series required a great deal of study before and during play. That also meant actually reading the information characters imparted, and learning by a great deal of trial and error.
When Morrowind released I’d preordered it based solely on how much I enjoyed Arena. Arena is very clunky by today’s standards (it was made for MS-DOS, after all), but the breadth of the world, as well as the game’s roots in tabletop roleplaying games, really drew me in. I figured that if Morrowind was built on the same dedication to pen-and-paper roleplaying, it would be a blast.
Well, I was right. Morrowind is, perhaps, the best game I have ever played. That doesn’t mean it is flawless; indeed, Elder Scrolls games are notoriously buggy. Morrowind is no exception. But bugginess, clunky combat, and a steep learning curve aside, Morrowind delivered on the promise of an open-ended roleplaying experience, while also delivering an incredibly dense story, and a world jam-packed with characters, locations, quests, and lots of random oddities.
Somehow, though, I haven’t touched the game for any significant length of time since probably 2006. The release of two follow-ups, Oblivion (the only time I skipped a class in college—a University Band rehearsal—was the night this game was released) and Skyrim (which came out on 11 November 2011, the year I began teaching again) would continue the series, but see it lose much of its depth of mechanics to become a more streamlined action RPG.
To further indicate this blog’s slide into pop cultural irrelevancy, I’ve decided to chronicle my newest playthrough here on The Portly Politico, doing so on Wednesdays when there is not a sonnet scheduled and when I have played enough to write something of interest. In other words, the second and fourth Wednesdays in the month, and the fifth Wednesday when one appears in a month.
I’m dubbing these posts Morrowednesdays.
Some Christmases ago my younger brother gifted me with The Elder Scrolls Anthology, a massive collection that includes the main ES games: Arena, Daggerfall (the one installation I have never played at length, and the one that purists insist is the best), Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim (each game gets progressively narrower in scope, but I think Morrowind hits the balance just right). Thanks to his generosity, I had clean install discs for Morrowind and its two expansions, Tribunal and Bloodmoon.
I had no issues getting the base game and its expansions installed, and excitedly went through character creation and the brief little opening sequence (more on my character shortly). I went to the tradehouse in Seyda Neen to sell off everything I’d looted in the opening sequence and to outfit myself with some weapons and armor, at which point I decided to save.
That’s when I got this message:
In a game with a sixty-plus-hour main quest—not to mention all the side quests, faction quests, and simple wandering around—not being able to save isn’t an option (and the game crashed, too).
After consulting with my brother and the Internet, I tried a few things. First, I simply rebooted my PC. Second, I created the \Saves folder in the indicated folder, but that didn’t solve things. Finally, I tried running it in compatibility mode as an administrator, which did the trick: the game saved without any problems once it thought it was running on Windows XP Service Pack 2 instead of Windows 10 Professional.
Of course, it took four starts before I finally got things working, so my play session was not terribly wrong. Fortunately, I’d taken pictures of my character’s name, skills, and other important information, so I was able to recreate him identically each time.
When I played and beat the game way back in the early 2000s, I’d played through as a Wood Elf Bard, capitalizing on a mix of stealth and combat to sneak my way through the game. I’d figured out with that character how the major and minor skills work for leveling up and such, and that if your fatigue is low, you won’t hit your opponents in combat!
For this playthrough, I wanted to try something different: instead of playing a rogue-ish thief skilled with a bow and a longsword, I wanted to roleplay as a wandering mage with a religious bent. I’d always wanted to create a character skilled in Spears, an unconventional weapon class that the developers somewhat neglected (it’s clear that other skills like Long Blades are preferred), and I wanted a monk-ish class that didn’t just rely on Unarmed combat.
I also wanted to play a Breton, a magical humanoid race that are meant to be the game’s version of the French (Imperials are the main human race, modeled loosely on the Roman Empire). Bretons lend themselves well to magic builds, but they also have that great bowl cut hairstyle that monks used to wear (there is a formal name for it that I can’t remember, but it’s the Friar Tuck cut—bowl around the outside, bald on the top).
Thus, Harold du Bournais, the Wandering Acolyte, was born (the old man is not my character; he is the character that lets you create your character):
Wandering Acolyte is a custom class, rather than one of the game’s premade classes. I wanted to create a character that wouldn’t be super overpowered at Level 1, but who had a good balance of skills, while still focusing on magic.
A handicap of this build is that my character, while quite intelligent, is not very strong. Even the main weapon I chose, Spear, is governed by Endurance, not Strength, so as I level up the skill, it will result in increases to Endurance, not Strength. My other non-magic offensive ability, Marksman, is governed by Agility, so while my character will get better at dodging attacks, he won’t be getting stronger.
That is kind of the point, though: I wanted to play around with a character who relies more heavily on support-based magic and unconventional weapons who won’t breeze through the game. I also wanted to adjust my style of gameplay to a character that can’t simply sneak around every obstacle.
In keeping with the roleplaying aspect of my character, I think I will have Harold join the Imperial Cult, the official religion of the Empire, and complete its quests. I never did many of those quests with my Wood Elf character, so I think it will be fun to explore that part of the game. I toyed with the idea of him joining the Tribunal Temple, which worships the three main gods of Morrowind (the province), but it’s too incongruous with my character, and the Temple doesn’t get along with many other factions. Also, the Imperial Cult seems to fit in better with my character’s skill set.
Once I got the troubleshooting done, I outfitted my character with a spear, a bow, some arrows, and a partial set of chitin armor, a light armor made from insect exoskeletons. I did a short quest involving stealing a magic ring back from someone I returned the ring to in the first place, then I started traipsing about the countryside around Seyda Neen.
Seyda Neen is a ramshackle fishing village, so it’s right on the coast. I used my spell of Water Walking to run out to an island, and then to another, where I discovered a shipwreck. Not relishing underwater combat, I skipped it, and instead harvested various flora growing around the area, while also dispatching some pesky mudcrabs.
After a night on this little spit of land, I ran back to Seyda Neen, then set off for the fishing village of Hla Oad. The Main Quest really starts in Balmora, a larger city on the island of Vvardenfell (Vvardenfell is an island within the larger province of Morrowind, and the island contains the famous volcano Red Mountain), but I decided to take a less direct route and walk to Hla Oad, then following the Odai River up to the city.
Along the way I stumbled upon a cave with an incomprehensible name, and was promptly stomped by the bandits within, so I reloaded my save and decided to skip that cave for now. I made it Hla Oad in one piece, and sold some items I’d picked up along the way.
Hla Oad is a seedy little place. There’s a boat there that travels to other parts of the island, but otherwise there’s some ramschackle huts, with one shack serving as the local merchant shop. It’s also a front for a smuggling operation run by the Camonna Tong, a disreputable gang operating in Vvardenfell.
That’s about where I left off with my first session. It’s not much, but it is a start. My character is still at Level 1, but he’s making some gradual progress, and I’m figuring out how to make the most of magic. During my next session I will walk up the river into Balmora, and hopefully drop into the neighboring Imperial fort to join the Imperial Cult.
Well, that’s it for this first installment. I know this won’t be to every readers’ tastes, but I hope you’ll indulge me as I take this self-indulgent trip down memory lane.