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The Backlog: Elder Scrolls III & IV

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The box that The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind comes in boasts that the game has “Over 300 hours of gameplay”.  I presume that the publisher Bethesda considers a 300 hour game to be a good thing, but all I think when I look at the box is I’m going to die in a few decades; I don’t have time for this.  When you add in that Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion packs in a good 100 hours of content too, playing these games is like working a full-time job.  I bought both of them years ago, but never had a motivation to spend such a sizeable chunk of my precious, precious life pretending to be a vampire elf wizard, or a werewolf thief lizard-man.  With Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim out, I no longer had any excuse and I finally pulled these games out of my Backlog.  When I am an old man in a nursing home, I shall look back on my hundreds of hours in the land of Tamriel with mixed feelings.

Morrowind was released in 2002, and this Elder Scroll has not aged well at all.  It doesn’t support widescreen, and the graphics look like something from the PlayStation One. After a few minutes with it, I hit the internet in search of some graphics mods.  I can play old games with archaic graphics, but Morrowind is an ugly game, even for its time.  Characters are blocky with segmented joints that make them look like cheap action figures, and the world suffers from a terrible draw distance and pop up.

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Lucky for me, it’s a wonderful time it is to discover Morrowind; only a few months ago, some modders decided to release a graphics overhaul mod.  This fixes a lot of the problems with the world and environments, plus it contains the Morrowind Graphics Extender mod, which puts the game in widescreen.  Some other mods I’ve found to be essential are Better Heads and Better Bodies, which combine together to make the NPC’s tolerable to look at (A warning, Better Bodies does have a nudity option).  The game is also available for the original Xbox, although console players will have to make do without the benefit of mods.

Once properly modded I set forth again and found that my character could barely fight off a baby rat.  After besting the rat in an epic struggle, I was promptly killed by some sort of worm. The continent of Tamriel is a dangerous place, and the designers intended slow exploration.  Gaining a single level can take hours, the character’s running speed is quite slow and locations are often very far apart with treacherous land between them.  Also, there is no glowing arrow to tell you where to go; you must listen closely to NPCs to find out where you’re supposed to go, then read road signs along the way to make sure you’re on the right track.

Of course the phrase “where you’re supposed to go” doesn’t really apply to Morrowind.  Sure, there’s a main quest line, but really that’s just to kick you out of the nest and get you exploring the world.  The main story is just a tiny sliver of what there is to do here, and the NPCs are very clear that you should just go outside and play rather than sticking to the story.

This sort of gameplay isn’t for everyone; in fact it’s only for a small segment of gamers.  Leveling up is painfully slow, combat is awkward, and even experienced RPG fans will need hours to get their bearings. It doesn’t help that almost all of the narrative comes from text, and you’ll have to carefully read your way through volumes of exposition to figure out how the game works.

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Oblivion, on the other hand, was built for current gen consoles and modern PCs.  It has a much more up to date look and feel, and the design takes players through a solid tutorial before sending them on their way.

Compared to Morrowind, it’s much easier to get into.  Immediately upon starting the game, I had saved an Emperor, and minutes later I was blasting goblins with fireballs, and swinging a gigantic warhammer.  While there are some HD graphic mods for Oblivion, they aren’t needed.  Despite being over five years old, it still looks and plays excellently without any need for modding.

A major feature that makes Oblivion stand out from Morrowind is… OMG Ponies!

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Just like in Skyrim, you can ride horses in Oblivion, and they make exploring the world faster, safer and more fun than the slow pace of Morrowind.

Morrowind is a very dated game, both technologically and in terms of gameplay.  It isn’t something to be popped into your Xbox and taken for a spin to get ready for Skyrim.  Time-wise it is a big commitment and is only really for hardcore fans of free-roaming RPGs.  Despite the fact that I can see its merits, it isn’t the sort of place where I want to spend 300 hours.  It’s returning to my Backlog.

Oblivion, however, has proven to be much more friendly to those looking to try out the Elder Scrolls franchise at a bargain price before sinking sixty dollars or more into Skyrim and its DLC.  I’ll definitely continue to explore Oblivion, but it will be astride my noble steed, and at a rapid pace.

Next week on The Backlog, I finally get around to learning about Assassins and their various Creeds.

Charles is a proud contributor to Default Prime, as well as the Xbox/ PC Department Lead at Player Affinity, a reviewer for The Indie Game Magazine, and a Special Agent at the U.S. Department of Electronic Entertainment.