The Elder Scrolls Online has come a significantly long way since its first betas, through numerous expansions and console integration, to now, a relaunch with the title’s largest expansion to date. There’s a lot to love about what the game has become, but it’s not without some glaring flaws. Here are 10 things we love about this MMO excursion into Morrowind, and five things that we hate.
While The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind will always have a very special place in my heart, ESO’s return to the island is refreshing. It’s been 15 years since the first journey to Vvardenfell, and while it was an incredible one, it’s nice that this iteration is more of an homage than a remaster. ESO was never meant to be or play like the traditional Elder Scrolls games cult-fanatics like myself have come to know and love, and the Morrowind expansion’s ability to stand on its own as a story and environment stands true to that.
It doesn’t matter if you’re level one or 50, this expansion will have something for you. Right out of the gates of the new tutorial level with a brand new character, you’ll be able to fast travel to the Seyda Neen wayshrine and pick up from there thanks to last October’s One Tamriel update that removed the game’s level requirements on quests. Everything is scaled to your level. We definitely recommend being at least level 10 before heading out, for abilities sake, but even without making it that far, the world isn’t going to pit you against absurdly difficult bosses.
These giant bugs are a godsend in the lush and wild world of Vvardenfell. Not only do they make it incredibly easy to get to one wayshrine to another for easy fast travel later on, they make the doors to exploration that much easier to open. Each one can only take you to specific locations, but go to them all early on and you’ll have a much easier time bouncing from one side of the island to the other. Did we mention that you don’t have to pay for them either?
Right out of the wayshrine, there’s enough to keep you running for a solid few hours in Vivec City alone, which is one of about seven or so major settlements. Hop a ride on a Silt Strider, get to another settlement, and you’re ready to start running there too. Of course, these are predominately side quests, but they definitely don’t feel like they’re just trying to keep you busy. They feel like you’re doing something.
There’s something special about every part of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls universe; ESO has been the catalyst in creating the parts of that world that haven’t been seen before. When the game launched in 2014, we got our first tastes of the arid lands of Elsweyr and lush forests of Glenumbra, but both of those have spaces that seem repetitive and unused. While this is natural in any MMO, the Morrowind expansion greatly improves upon unused space and really captures how dynamic and unique this region of Tamriel truly is. From the swampy, mushroom-laden marshes in Vivic City to the Ashlands surrounding Red Mountain, there’s not a second that isn’t visually interesting. Even the first delve, Zainsipilu, has a hugely dynamic shift of environments within its small space and sinks its teeth right in to the feral world that Vvardynfell is.
There’s a good bit of lore that exists within the scope of Morrowind already, but this expansion adds to that in the simplest ways. From quests that are directly associated with the worship of the living gods versus the Daedra, to the small, glowing papers scattered about Vvardenfell that explain the reasons behind this, everything is kept in check. ESO’s overwhelming amount of lore has always been handled in this subtle, yet obvious, way and it’s comforting that this hasn’t changed. It’s there for those who seek it out, and for those who only stumble upon it.
Aside from the difficulty in actually finding the main questline, ESO: Morrowind’s story is set 700 years before TES III. The Red Mountain is dormant, and legendary warrior-poet/god-king Vivec is having his godhood siphoned away from him. At the same time, the capital is set for certain doom because the meteor above it is at risk of crashing down if you don’t help him. There’s a good amount of urgency with this story and it actually feels as if your choices and actions have an effect on saving this world. It’s also not a short solo campaign; it easily has over 30 hours worth of content.
The first new class since the game’s introduction, the Warden class introduces a different way of playing through ESO, but not necessarily a new way. Wardens have the power of nature magic. They make decent healers and secondary tanks, and are nicely balanced to fit in with the order of other classes. They’re a little weak in battles against more than one enemy in the beginning, but they’re a good, all-over balanced class that has the potential to become a very strong character build.
If there’s one thing ESO: Morrowind really does right, it’s every aspect of the environment. Pulling from what we said before about environments, this expansion really gets right what TES: III couldn’t do in 2002. Every part of what was imagined in the original game feels so much more real and tangible this time around. It doesn’t quite hold the same magic as the original RPD did for pre-10-year-old me, but to see the things as I always imagined them to be actually come to life is special in itself. And as a bonus, the cliff racers aren’t nearly as terrifying? (Lies)
It’s not the first time we’ve had a peek into the world and culture of Vvardynfell, but ESO; Morrowind offers a much deeper exploration of both. Ancestral tombs make a return, being in the middle of the feud of the five great houses is a war within itself, and experiencing the height of the Tribunal’s control and their struggle with the Daedric prince Azura is entertaining, to say the least. There are loads of new cosmetic items and crafting recipes to tinker with, making a part of the game that become a very stale grind feel fresh and somewhat renewed.
The first thing I always do in game is go after the story—I mean, I write for a living, I like stories—but I wandered around for a good five hours or so before I got any clues on how to even begin ESO: Morrowind’s main questline. The start isn’t even in Vvardenfell itself. It’s in your faction’s starter city, and finding the fellow to get started is more complicated than it should be. You can play the expansion without ever touching the main questline, but it’s a huge part of the experience that is necessary to get everything out of it. If you can’t find that, it’s almost not worth playing.
Contradictory to our point before with there being a ton to do, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. ESO: Morrowind is just a hair away from doing this. The quests are good, and don’t feel like busy work, but it’s almost too overwhelming to want to dive in. The One Tamriel update made it easier to pick up and play ESO, but the endless amounts of quests and things to do eventually feels futile.
There are a lot of great things about ESO: Morrowind’s new 4 v. 4 v. 4 arena, but they’re greatly overshadowed by the bad. The biggest flaw is the matchmaking system, as it pits very, very low-level characters against maxed out level 630 champion builds. The odds are obviously stacked here, and it’s frustrating to be put in a game where you have absolutely no chance of victory. The benefit is that is has more focus than the war-like battlefield of Cyrodill, but it still has a very long way to go.
If this isn’t your first time in Vvardenfell, then things are going to feel familiar. It’s an incredibly faithful recreation of the island, with some era-related changes, but for the most part, it’s almost exactly the same. I found myself intuitively knowing some of the layout, and while it was nostalgic, it was also a little too familiar. Granted, it still encourages a ton of exploration, but it doesn’t have the same sort of magic for TES: III devotees.
When you’re running through Vvardynfell, exploring the cities, the delves, the dungeons, and the other million things that there are to explore, you start to notice that a decently sized handful of them are completely closed off. The settlements are actual buzzing metropolises, not vast, estranged congregations, but you can’t actually explore half of the buildings in them. In an expansion that encourages deep exploration of so much of what surrounds you, this aspect feels half-hearted and disappointing.