Morrowind: Go Ahead, Punch the Barkeep

Final Fantasy players can skip this one. Morrowind, unlike most console RPG’s, offers a totally nonlinear role-playing experience, and how enjoyable the game is depends on the player’s imagination.

The game begins with the player waking up on a ship. From there, the usual character creation process begins. The races include three flavors of Elf, Imperial, Nord, Breton, Redguard, Orc, Kajiit (cat-people), and reptile-like Argonians. Some common classes include Warrior, Battlemage, Sorceror, Rogue or Bard.

For more creative players, the option to make a custom class is a welcome choice. After character creation, the player is given an assignment he or she may follow, or ignore completely. If followed, the mission allows the main storyline to progress, but if the player skips this, it’s hardly “game over.”

While the story is gripping, if somewhat clichÃ?©, gamers have the freedom to create their own story. The major guilds — Fighter’s, Mage’s, and Thief’s — offer work, equipment and advancement for the three basic character types. Houses Telvanni, Redoran, and Hlaalu compete for power with one another, much like the familiar Montague and Capulet houses in Romeo and Juliet. Smaller factions, like the assassin group Morag Tong, the Temple, the abolitionist Twin Lamps, and Camonna Tong criminal syndicate add extra depth to the story.

A major aspect of Morrowind is the interplay between the numerous houses and factions. For some missions, a Fighter’s Guild member may be ordered to kill a Thief’s Guild agent. If the gamer is in both factions, he must decide which side he will take.

Of course, with the game’s emphasis on total freedom and control, the gamer can forget the assignment entirely and find something else to do.

That freedom can allow for some unusual, but extremely fun, character possibilities. How about an alcoholic Wood Elf who only stumbles out of taverns to brawl with town guards? Or a socialite who can charm anyone she meets? A murderer who brutalizes victims under the cover of darkness, a witch-hunting crusader, or stealthy burglar with a fondness for Cyrodillic Brandy are all entertaining and, compared to blas�© characters in other games, quite refreshing and liberating.

Morrowind seems to be created with the pen-and-paper role player in mind. While its overarching plot does have the grandeur of other popular RPG’s, players are free to create their own life in the game.

As far as game worlds go, Morrowind’s is impressive, but not without shortcomings. The water effects are instantly captivating. Lakes and streams reflect the sun gorgeously, and ripple during rainstorms. Don’t leave the volume up too loud during a storm; thunder is startlingly loud. Drier climates regularly see dust storms, and characters shield their eyes in reaction. NPC’s are nicely detailed using available armor and clothing, so an interesting character can be imitated.

But after looking at the water, land and swamps seem unequally flat. The game’s theme is interesting for about five minutes, after which gamers will probably hit “mute.” No NPC does anything beyond walking, standing idly, fighting and talking at the player; taverns can be incredibly dull for all the alcohol that flows through them.

Despite the game’s shortcomings, Morrowind is an engaging and fascinating role playing experience. Veteran role players will have an enjoyable time righting wrongs or wiping out Orcs, whatever suits their fancy.

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