Elder Scrolls III – Morrowind
In the first part of this feature we looked at the early games in the Elder Scrolls series, the titles that laid the foundation for what would become one of the most richly developed game worlds available.
It was with the release of Elder Scrolls III Morrowind that players were shown exactly what Bethesda had planned for them. Fully immersive, sandbox RPG’s in every sense of the term. Where the first titles had offered a large amount of freedom and creativity, the upcoming instalments would blow the doors right off of expectations. Go anywhere, do anything you could think of in a living breathing, filled out world, Morrowind flung open the door to the world of Tamriel that the first games had simply left ajar.
Set to release in 2002 Bethesda promised Morrowind was to be a “true” sequel after the previous two titles which were not RPG’s. Touted as “Full of RPG goodness” to IGN before release and shown off at E3 in 2001. The developers promised a true open world having admitted that Daggerfall became “old fast” once the player realised the sequences simply repeated themselves. What Morrowind offered was a detailed and extensive main storyline but the player didn’t even need to do a single quest within it, instead, they could complete side quests, become a trader, thief, assassin or just wander the land. We know in hindsight that these promises were met and delivered on in great abundance.
The central plot of the game was centred on The Tribunal the godlike rulers of the Dark Elves in Morrowind. Locked into battle with a former ally named Dagoth Ur and his Sixth House who had grown into more of a fanatical cult than a noble house. Dagoth Ur has seized land including the iconic Red Mountain in the Vvardenfell region (the island on which the game actually takes place, within the larger Morrowind area) and has used the Heart of Lorkhan to make himself immortal. Using his newfound powers Dagoth Ur and his followers seek to force the Empire from all of Morrowind for good, seeing the imperial forces as foreign occupiers.
The player finds themselves dropped into the conflict and chaos engulfing the island, pardoned and released from prison by the Emperor himself, arriving by boat to the town of Seyda Neen and tasked with meeting a member of the Blades. The ancient organisation who exist to protect the Emperor. The player is made a member of the Blades by order of the Emperor and is set a series of quests to begin the sprawling campaign.
During the opening quests, the player learns that the Emperor holds suspicions that the player could be the Nerevarine. What this means is the player is a reincarnation of a legendary Dark Elf hero Indoril Nerevar. The player is set to reveal prophecies surrounding the Nerevarine and see them come to be in order to defeat Dagoth Ur.
As Morrowind is still a widely available game we won’t dig much deeper into the plot as there may be a number of you who have yet to experience it for yourselves. Instead, we’ll take a look more at the design of the game.
Bethesda chose a more chaotic and alien look for the island of Vvardenfell, citing inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Alien and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal to name just two. The ash covered land and dark skies gave the game a moody and exotic feel, the architecture also shifted and made use of the new 3D engine, the team choosing to employ a more Eastern feel to the buildings that the typical European inspired predecessors.
While aged by today’s standard Morrowind in its prime was a technically impressive feat and felt truly massive in comparison, there were few games and even fewer fantasy RPG’s that could stand up to it at the time which helped its popularity rise. The game whilst only being the third numbered title in the series brought many newcomers to the franchise.
As well as delivering an incredibly detailed and intimidating, large world the game also offered some interesting easter eggs and items to players, including a super rare sword called Eltonbrand that can only be acquired if the player completes a specific set of actions. This includes the player needing to already possess the sword Goldbrand and then completing the vampire quest “Shashev’s Key”. Upon fully completing the quest the player will need exact 11171 gold which will a unique dialogue option with the NPC Sirilonwe that reads “Go to Hell, Carolina!” selecting this option will trigger Goldbrand to be replaced with Eltonbrand, a vastly superior sword and not at all a pain to unlock!
This Easter egg is according to sources such as VG Facts, a reference to Elton Brand, an NBA star who once played for the Duke Blue Devils college basketball team. Bethesda Designer Mark Nelson attended Duke college and was a renowned fan. The “Go to Hell, Carolina” dialogue line was in reference to the team’s long-standing rivals.
Among other Easter Eggs is the quirky nod towards Icarus. When starting out from Seyda Neen, players can come across a Bosmer NPC named Tarhiel who will fall from the sky. Checking his corpse the player can take the Scroll of Icarian Flight, and his journal. This tells a story similar to the legend of Icarus. There is also a skeletal corpse crushed by a boulder in a tomb, in obvious reference to Indiana Jones and as this was the early 2000’s a Pokemon reference also appears in the form of an NPC body named Peke Utchoo.
Morrowind has since struck such a cord with Elder Scrolls fans that Bethesda has launched a new chapter for Elder Scrolls Online (more on this later) that returns players to the dark ash covered lands at the mercy of the Red Mountain, the expansion was met with positive response from the community and ESO players who clearly still hold it dear.
Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion
In 2006 the next chapter in the epic Elder Scrolls saga was launched on PC and Xbox 360, with a PlayStation 3 release following in 2007. Set six years after Morrowind, Oblivion takes its name from the game worlds version of hell. Oblivion is the plain of existence within which the evil, scheming and primal Daedric princes hold dominion. Each dark prince, sometimes referred to as the old gods, deep in the series lore, has their own special type of wickedness be it lies and schemes, murder, enslavement or simply control of fate and the twilight hours.
In Oblivion it’s the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon that is the threat, the lord of destruction and all things that come with it. The player begins the game as a prisoner, continuing the pattern of how most Elder Scrolls game open. Once you set up your character you find yourself in your cell, underneath the Imperial City in the province of Cyrodill where your adventures will take place.
You’re a nobody, a petty criminal but your cell just so happens to hide a secret entrance to a system of tunnels beneath the city. The Emperor Uriel Septim VII is being rushed out of the city after the assassination of his sons, he is accompanied by his personal bodyguards, the Blades and the party need to pass through the player’s cell. You’re told to stand back and out of the way but once the way is open you’re pretty much told you can leave if you wish, which of course you do.
You follow the emperor and his guards, Uriel takes a shine to you and reveals he has seen you in dreams along with his own death. You join the party as they usher the Emperor out of the tunnels but ultimately he is killed and it falls to you to deliver the Amulet of Kings (the relic all Emperors must wear) to the master of the Blades, and so begins your quest.
You learn of a cult called the Mythic Dawn who was responsible for killing the Emperor and his heirs in order to sew chaos into the Empire and the leave the Ruby Throne empty. With nobody on the throne the Dragonfires that keep the plains of Oblivion from invading Nirn burn out. The cult can now open gates to Mehrunes Dagon’s world realm and lead his dark army to conquer the world.
The player is tasked with joining the Blades, tracking down the lost heir of Uriel Septim VII and using his power to relight the Dragon Fires, seal shut the jaws of Oblivion and restore order to the world. Again we won’t go too deep as this is still a game many people are still to play and may not know the entire plot in detail.
Oblivion launched too much expectation, hot on the heels of Morrowind which had set a new bar for first-person RPGs and it didn’t disappoint. It boasted a 26 square mile play area, lush and vibrant textures with roaming wildlife and NPC’s. Over two hundred quests and dungeons, plus twenty-one unique skills, an all-new original, dynamic soundtrack and use of the Havok Physics engine.
A collector’s edition, game of the year and 5th-anniversary edition were all released due to the success of the title. Oblivion stood out as the game that bettered Morrowind, a feat most thought was going to prove tough but Bethesda hit the right note and released a game that still stands the test of time today. While it may look a little dated and feel a slight bit clunky the overall game and story still hold up and it’s still very much an enjoyable game, I speak from experience having recently fired it up again to relive what was for me, one of the most impressive games I’ve ever played and one that left its mark on me and I’m sure, many others.
An interesting piece of trivia and testament to Bethesda’s attention to detail, Oblivion was first teased during the opening cinematic in The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard (see pt1) Several books on a shelf can be seen in the background: The Elder Scrolls: Arena, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and finally The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.