dorchadas: (Dagoth Ur)
[personal profile] dorchadas
Morrowind is my favorite game. I'll always clarify it when it comes to others. Chrono Trigger is my favorite console RPG. Warcraft III is my favorite real-time strategy game. Unreal Tournament '99 is my favorite arena shooter. Modded Fallout 3 is my favorite brutal post-apocalyptic scarcity simulator. But Morrowind is my favorite game, full stop.

I've been playing it on and off since it came out (in 2002!) and this represents only the second time I've beaten the main quest. A lot of my playthroughs ended up being strangled by mod conflicts and bugs, but I kept trying again and again because I love the game to bits. The lack of voice acting is actually one of the biggest bonuses, in my mind--there are long passages of exposition, argument, debate, theological exhortation, and so on that absolutely wouldn't fly in a modern game environment due to costs (as Skyrim aptly demonstrates), and it also meant that modders could seemlessly slot their own questlines and creations into the game. One group of modders actually took it on themselves to rewrite huge chunks of character dialogue to give hundreds of NPCs unique backstories, rumors, perspectives on the Empire, quirks, and so on, and because it's all text-based it all fits in nearly seamlessly. That's impossible to do in the later entries in the series.

Another great part is the setting. Skyrim is fantasy Scandinavia with most of the interesting bits of Nord culture erased, though they did keep the Buddhist notions of time being cyclical and the Indo-European-style barrow burials (also, they don't actually go a-viking). You would never know from the game that they have their own names for the Divines, for example, unless you run into the one guy in the whole province who still calls Kynareth "Kyne." Oblivion throws out all the interesting tidbits of lore ever said or demonstrated about Cyrodiil before it came out in favor of bland pseudo-medieval Europe, which is objectively worse than the previous characterization of the Roman Empire farming rice in a jungle.

Morrowind has much more interesting terrain than either. It has the variability of Skyrim's climates but with an additional twist of the fantastic, from the swamps of the Bitter Coasts to the savannah of the Grazelands, from the rock pillar islands of Sheogorad to the desolate beauty of the Ashlands, from the twisting rock corridors of Molag Amur to the blight-blasted hell of Red Mountain. And creatures that aren't just the standard fantasy ones, like the guar that are used as pack animals, or the silt striders that also function as the transportation system, or the kwama with their multiple castes and the mines where their eggs are harvested, or the various terrible minions of the Sixth House. Or, yes, even the cliff racers, as annoying as they are. Even when I first loaded it up and the graphics were awful, I loved it.

Nowadays, mods help. Here's an example of what I see when I play Morrowind:


Even just looking at this, I can hear the music...


The alienness of the setting could be confusing, but the game's text-based nature made it possible to explain it in an unobtrusive manner. If you have a question about the wildlife, you can go ask a hunter and they'll happily tell you about how kwama workers are docile unless attacked but kwama warriors are extremely aggressive. If you want to know about the climate or locations on Vvardenfell, you can go ask a savant. If you want to know about the Sixth House or the saints, you can ask a priest.

It's not the perfect game. The beginning is really slow, and not just plot-wise--character movement speed is basically like running through molasses until the player runs everywhere for hours. Furthermore, since running drains fatigue, and low fatigue reduces spell chance, but walking is intolerably slow and doesn't raise Athletics, the skill that affects both walk and run speed, playing a wizard is an exercise in constant frustration for at least the first 15 hours of the game.

Not that playing a fighty character is much better, mechanically. Combat is terrible and consists of two people running next to each other and swinging until one falls over with everything calculated by skill rolls, which I normally like but which mixes poorly with the first-person perspective where it's obvious when you hit or not. I managed to mod Oblivion's combat into something I like, where power attacks clash off shields and stagger the targets, where getting stabbed without armor really hurts, and where footwork matters and it's possible to circle around opponents and make them trip by pressing them back onto a dais or other change of elevation, but I can't do any of that with Morrowind. I just endure the combat to get through to the story.

That's all the base game, but this is a modded review, so here is my mod list. Though fair warning--it's really long: GameFile0=BT_Whitewolf_2_0.esm
GameFile1=Better Heads Bloodmoon addon.esm
GameFile2=Better Heads Tribunal addon.esm
GameFile3=Better Heads.esm
GameFile4=Bloodmoon.esm
GameFile5=Book Rotate.esm
GameFile6=GDR_MasterFile.esm
GameFile7=Havish.esm
GameFile8=MCA.esm
GameFile9=MetalQueenBoutique.esm
GameFile10=Morrowind Patch v1.6.4.esm
GameFile11=Morrowind.esm
GameFile12=Rise of House Telvanni.esm
GameFile13=SG-MW-ecology-BM.esm
GameFile14=TR_Data.esm
GameFile15=TR_Map1.esm
GameFile16=TR_Map2.esm
GameFile17=Texture Fix 1.8.esm
GameFile18=Tribunal.esm
GameFile19=abotWaterLife.esm
GameFile20=95% Marksman Recovery.esp
GameFile21=AEV_TCA.esp
GameFile22=ASE Bloodmoon Expansion.esp
GameFile23=ASE Tribunal Expansion.esp
GameFile24=Abu Manor v.2.esp
GameFile25=Advanced Herbalism - Planter Add-On.esp
GameFile26=Advanced Herbalism - TR & BM.esp
GameFile27=Advanced Herbalism_patch.esp
GameFile28=Ald Redaynia Extended.esp
GameFile29=All Boat Ports.esp
GameFile30=All Silt Strider Ports.esp
GameFile31=AllSpeeds.esp
GameFile32=Apprentice scrolls and mystical quills v1.4.esp
GameFile33=Art Of War Museum.esp
GameFile34=AtmosphericSoundEffects-3.0-Tribunal.esp
GameFile35=Atronach Expansion X.ESP
GameFile36=BM-Fixes.esp
GameFile37=Balance - Character.esp
GameFile38=Balance - Magic Effects.esp
GameFile39=Balance - NPC Spellcasting.esp
GameFile40=Balance - game settings.esp
GameFile41=Balance - items.esp
GameFile42=Balance - spells.esp
GameFile43=Better Bodies.esp
GameFile44=Better Clothes_v1.1.esp
GameFile45=BirthsignsAMFun_BM.esp
GameFile46=Blight Bounties.esp
GameFile47=Bloated Morrowind.esp
GameFile48=Book Rotate - Bloodmoon v5.3.esp
GameFile49=Book Rotate - Tribunal v5.3.esp
GameFile50=Brian's Edited Artifacts.esp
GameFile51=Brittlewind fix.esp
GameFile52=Cali_StarstoneOutpost.esp
GameFile53=Clean AragonWizardClothes-v12.esp
GameFile54=Clean Better Daedric.esp
GameFile55=Clean CastReduce-v30.esp
GameFile56=Clean Collectible cards.esp
GameFile57=Clean Royal Chargen.esp
GameFile58=Creatures.esp
GameFile59=DB_Attack_Mod3.esp
GameFile60=DN-GDRv1.esp
GameFile61=Dodge Mod 1.2-WD (Enhanced-LD) (Tribunal).esp
GameFile62=ElementalShield_Fix.esp
GameFile63=GCD - Cult of the Clouds patch.esp
GameFile64=GCD Restore Potions Fix.esp
GameFile65=GCD v1.08 with Startscript, fixed [Galsiah].esp
GameFile66=GCD_SS_patch.esp
GameFile67=Gameplay - Dialogue.esp
GameFile68=Gatanas Markynaz Dremora Companion - Female.esp
GameFile69=Get_Diseases_1_00.esp
GameFile70=Gothic Attire Complete v1-1.esp
GameFile71=Havish - Scimitar Update + GCD (no MWE).esp
GameFile72=Havish Mini Patch.esp
GameFile73=Healers.esp
GameFile74=IT Beryl and Constance Fix.esp
GameFile75=IceNioLivRobeReplacerPLUS.esp
GameFile76=Illuminated Order v1.0 - Bloodmoon Compatibility Extras.esp
GameFile77=Illuminated Order v1.0.esp
GameFile78=Illuminated Windows - Bloodmoon.esp
GameFile79=Illuminated Windows.esp
GameFile80=Illy's Dark Sisterhood.esp
GameFile81=Illy's Solsteim Rumour Fix.esp
GameFile82=Improved Lockpicking.esp
GameFile83=Improved Skilled Magicka.esp
GameFile84=Improved Trap Settings (Tribunal).esp
GameFile85=ImprovedTeleportation2.0.esp
GameFile86=KS_Julan_Ashlander Companion_1.3.esp
GameFile87=K_Potion_Upgrade_1.2.esp
GameFile88=Key Replacer Trib & BM.esp
GameFile89=LGNPC_AldVelothi_v1_20.esp
GameFile90=LGNPC_Aldruhn_v1_20.esp
GameFile91=LGNPC_Aldruhn_v1_20_suppl.esp
GameFile92=LGNPC_GnaarMok_v1_10.esp
GameFile93=LGNPC_HlaOad_v1_32.esp
GameFile94=LGNPC_IndarysManor_v1_51.esp
GameFile95=LGNPC_Khuul_v2_10.esp
GameFile96=LGNPC_MaarGan_v1_20.esp
GameFile97=LGNPC_NoLore_v0_83.esp
GameFile98=LGNPC_PaxRedoran_v1_20.esp
GameFile99=LGNPC_Pelagiad_v1_22.esp
GameFile100=LGNPC_SecretMasters_MCA5.esp
GameFile101=LGNPC_SecretMasters_v1_30.esp
GameFile102=LGNPC_TelMora_v1_20.esp
GameFile103=LGNPC_TelUvirith_v1_20_UI.esp
GameFile104=LGNPC_VivecFQ_v2_10.esp
GameFile105=LGNPC_VivecRedoran_v1_50.esp
GameFile106=LOCH_Felsaad_Revamped.esp
GameFile107=Lgnpc_SN.esp
GameFile108=MA_snowprincetomb_v2.esp
GameFile109=MCA - Guards Patch.esp
GameFile110=MCA - More Enemies.esp
GameFile111=MCA - Vampire Realism Patch.esp
GameFile112=MCA Names 5.2.esp
GameFile113=MQB_VictorianGownsAddon.esp
GameFile114=MTC-LGNPC Pelagiad.ESP
GameFile115=MTC-LGNPC SN.ESP
GameFile116=MW_CultOfTheClouds_v10.esp
GameFile117=Master Leveled List.esp
GameFile118=MoragTongWritFix.esp
GameFile119=NEDE v1.2.esp
GameFile120=New Argonian Bodies - Clean.esp
GameFile121=New Khajiit Bodies - Clean.esp
GameFile122=Nirnroot.esp
GameFile123=Nudity Greeting Expansion V1.esp
GameFile124=Nymeria's Monthly Respawn.esp
GameFile125=Ownership Indicator.esp
GameFile126=P.R.E. v4.0.esp
GameFile127=RAMF_Mer_for_NPCs.esp
GameFile128=RKCriminals TR&BM.esp
GameFile129=RoHT Alighiere Patch.ESP
GameFile130=RoHT Havish Patch.esp
GameFile131=Robe_Crowswrath.esp
GameFile132=Royal Chargen Calvus add-on.esp
GameFile133=SG-MW-ecology-BM-plugin.esp
GameFile134=Scripted_Spells.esp
GameFile135=Short Ranged Teleport.esp
GameFile136=Sris_Alchemy_BM.esp
GameFile137=Suran_Underworld_2.5-jms_patch.esp
GameFile138=Suran_Underworld_2.5.esp
GameFile139=Syc_AtHomeAlchemy.esp
GameFile140=TLM - Ambient Light + Fog Update.esp
GameFile141=TLM - Complete.esp
GameFile142=TargetSpellSpeedMod.esp
GameFile143=The Imperial Legion Badge.esp
GameFile144=The Neverhalls.esp
GameFile145=The Sable Dragon 1.5.esp
GameFile146=TheForgottenShields - Artifacts_NG.esp
GameFile147=TheUberCrystalEggHunt.esp
GameFile148=TravelingMerchants_v2.2.esp
GameFile149=UL_MWSE_patch.esp
GameFile150=UL_RoHT_Compatibility_1.3.esp
GameFile151=UL_Srikandy_patch_BM.esp
GameFile152=UL_TLM_ambiance.esp
GameFile153=UL_chess_addon.esp
GameFile154=UniqueFinery_NoRobe.esp
GameFile155=Universal Companion Share.esp
GameFile156=Uvirith's Legacy_BETA1.10.esp
GameFile157=Vampire Embrace MCA Patch.esp
GameFile158=Vampire Realism II - BM Add-On.esp
GameFile159=Vampire Realism II - TB Add-On.esp
GameFile160=Vampire Realism II - VE Patch.esp
GameFile161=Vampire Realism II.esp
GameFile162=Vampire_Embrace.esp
GameFile163=Vampiric Hunger - SU.esp
GameFile164=Vampiric Hunger Base.esp
GameFile165=Vampiric Hunger Extended.esp
GameFile166=Visceral Discernment.esp
GameFile167=Vivec Expansion 2.0.esp
GameFile168=Vurt's Ashlands Overhaul.esp
GameFile169=Vurt's BC Tree Replacer II.ESP
GameFile170=Vurt's Grazelands Unique Trees.ESP
GameFile171=Wanderers of Solstheim.esp
GameFile172=Weather Effects.esp
GameFile173=WeatheredSigns.esp
GameFile174=Werewolf edit.ESP
GameFile175=Westly Presents-Dremora Markynaz.esp
GameFile176=Westly Presents_Aureals.esp
GameFile177=Westly's Master Headpack X.esp
GameFile178=abotWaterLifeTRaddon.esp
GameFile179=abotWhereAreAllBirdsGoing.esp
GameFile180=almalexia armor.esp
GameFile181=bcsounds.esp
GameFile182=constance1_0.esp
GameFile183=farrp_Quivers-FletchingKit_V2-5.esp
GameFile184=k_weather (louder sounds).esp
GameFile185=mana_recharge_enchantment.esp
GameFile186=propylons1.1.esp
GameFile187=sm_summonexpanded.esp


You can't do everything in every playthrough, at least not without taking even long than I did to finish this one--roughly six years playing on and off, maybe 400-500 hours in total--and I started this playthrough with the intention of focusing on a few specific sections: The Bloodmoon expansion, which I had started multiple times but never finished; the LGNPC Pax Redoran, LGNPC Vivec Redoran, and LGNPC Indarys Manor mods, which add roughly 75+ quests for members of Great House Redoran, with less amounts for non-members; Havish, which adds an island off the west coast of Vvardenfell with a Daggerfall-sized city and its own branches of the Fighters', Mages', and Thieves' Guilds; Julan, Ashlander Companion, which adds a companion who asks you join him in his quest to become the Nerevarine; and Darknut's Greater Dwemer Ruins Volume 1, which revamps the final dungeons of the main quest so they go from small areas with less than a dozen rooms to enormous, sprawling, multilevel complexes filled with traps, puzzles, mysteries, and the servants of Dagoth Ur.


Not super impressive, but it's home.


Those LGNPC mods are why it took me so long to finish this playthrough. Doing Bloodmoon took maybe 10 hours total, including running around the island doing the miscellaneous quests, which is about how long it took me to work past all the puzzles in the new final dungeons to beat Dagoth Ur (those stupid secret doors in Vemynal...grr). The LGNPC mods were probably almost half of my total playtime, though that's including some other LGNPC quests I picked up in various other places around Vvardenfell. I also spent a while faffing around and exploring what was over the next hill, though even then I only ended up visiting about half the map. That's not entirely representative, though, since that half includes all of the cities where the vast majority of the quests and interesting things to do are.

The main thing LGNPC Pax Redoran adds that I think is sorely needed are additional quests after the PC becomes Archmaster of the house. Morrowind has a much more interesting set of factions than the later games--there's the standard trio of Fighters' Guild, Mages' Guild, and Thieves' Guild, of course; but there's also the Imperial Legion; the Morag Tong, which is the Dunmer legal guild of assassins, used in inter-house wars; the foreign Imperial Cult of the Nine Divines and the local Tribunal Temple; and one of the three Great Houses active on Vvardenfell, either Redoran, Hlaalu, or Telvanni--but the result for the getting to the highest rank in any of those is pretty much just a hearty "good job!" and maybe a single magical item. LGNPC Pax Redoran adds several quests that only the Archmaster can do, from finding the Belt of the Archmaster that the Archmaster before the previous one lost to deciding how Redoran will vote on breaking the Mages' Guild monopoly on offering magical services to the public.

Faction leadership has been a perennial problem in the Elder Scrolls games, and it's not really any better in unmodded >Morrowind. Rarely are there actually any opportunities to feel like a real leader, like ordering other faction members to perform duties, making decisions, or affecting the world in any way. One of the major problems I remember is that part of the main quest involves proving to the Tribunal Temple that you really are the Nerevarine, but if the PC is the Archcanon of the Temple, they can't just declare themselves the Nerevarine, they have to go to the retired Archcanon and get him to do it for...reasons. You could say it's for plot reasons, but it's possible to be an Omnicidal Maniac and still beat the main quest, so it seems like a very strange omission. LGNPC Pax Redoran doesn't fix all of that, but it went a long way to making me feel like I actually had some authority.

It also delves into Dunmer culture, which is another one of >Morrowind's strong points. Oblivion barely had any distinguishing Cyrodiil culture at all, and Skyrim pared the Nords down into fantasy Vikings. I'm not going to claim that the Dunmer are a well-realized and amazing cultural study, because they're not, but the tension between Ashlander and Velothi, or the way they bind their ancestors to guard their tombs but hate necromancy, or slavery being legal, or the distrust of outlanders are all really interesting and they all play a part in the mod. The last one especially, as you become the Archmaster of House Redoran. Even if you're Dunmer, you're still an outlander, and some people react...differently to that.


Isn't he dreamy?


Julan Kaushibael, pictured above in the set of Aureal armor I laboriously collected over the course of hundreds of hours (and I still never got the shoulders to match!), is fighting clannfears outside the Ghostgate when you first encounter him, having been there for a week without the courage to enter and ascend Red Mountain. You see, he was born under a certain sign to uncertain parents, and his mother raised him to know that and know that he had a special destiny to fulfill the prophecies and overthrow the Sharmat Dagoth Ur. When you run into him, he asks you to train him, since he has a special mission to fulfill, and if you want to play the mod you accept. Of course, then it turns out that there's more to his mother's story than she's told him, and hanging out with the actual Nerevarine does a number on his worldview.

Just like Vilja for Oblivion, though, the most interesting thing about Julan is that he has commentary for everything. He has unique dialogue for all the quests in the three Imperial guilds, the Tribunal Temple (which as an Ashlander he has...strong opinions about), the Great Houses, the Morag Tong, the main quest, and nearly every unique or interesting location on Vvardenfell. The version I have installed doesn't have commentary for the Imperial Cult or the Tribunal main quest, which is why I didn't do those quests, but the latest version does.

He'll get drunk and need to be taken home, disagree with you about what to do on quests, suggest other solutions, ask for food, and wonder why you seem to love spending so much time graverobbing. His AI is about on the level as the AI of any Morrowind character, but there are some added bonuses to make sure he doesn't get lost, like a teleport script to make it easier to follow you or how he'll levitate and water-walk whenever the PC does. I still had my share of reloads after Julan gracefully took a swan-dive into lava, though. I eventually gave him a daedric bow and kept him stocked with arrows to make sure that he never ended up getting too near anything dangerous.

His ex-girlfriend is also included in the mod and apparently is a companion too, but I never took her with me anywhere, so I can't speak to how that turns out.


Vengeaannncce...wait, wrong game.


Havish is a throwback to Daggerfall, at least in its area design. It's on a small island with a city taking up a big chunk of the eastern part, the terrain in the rest of the island looks mostly the same (though there is a neat large tree model), and the city has a ton of buildings, most of which are admittedly just "Havish, Residence" or maybe "Havish, Abode," but that's how Daggerfall was too and it does admittedly make more sense than magically knowing everyone's name.

As an aside, that's one aspect I liked of Morrowind. Even the random bandits in caves had actual appropriate names instead of just being called "Bandit" or "Marauder" or whatever. Sure, it makes no sense that you'd know their names, but it adds an additional layer to plundering because you don't actually know if people are going to be hostile because they aren't named the equivalent of "Kill me on sight."

Anyway, I originally installed Havish because I saw that it had an entirely separate Guild of Thieves with its own 20+ quests to do and I wanted to get in on that. It starts with entering a tavern and having someone try to pickpocket you, and depending on your response, you'll end up getting inducted and then the fun begins.

The mainland Thieves Guild has a kind of Robin Hood vibe to it, because the Camonna Tong exists and they're a bunch of total bastards, so I suppose the developers wanted to provide a contrast. A lot of the quests involve stealing, but it's often stealing from people who are clearly the bad guy. There's even an option to join a secret explicitly-Robin-Hood-esque group called the Bal Molagmer that fights for the common people against corrupt nobles and all that.

Then you go to Havish and the Guild of Thieves gives no fucks. Here's an example of one of the quests I did:


Trololololololol


That's me dumping a bag of cockroaches into the highest-class inn in the city because they refused to pay their protection money and were agitating for reforms that would have reduced Guild income from other inns. I also robbed the city bank, pickpocketed an heirloom from a visiting noble and then sold it back to him after threatening to sell it to another bidder, pulled off a jewelry heist even in the face of a trapped floor with poison gas, an alarm, and a patrolling guard, learned why a roulette wheel (that you can bet on and that, impressively, actually spins in game) seemed to always stop on the numbers a particular patron was picking, and several more I can't remember now, because pickpocketing is so difficult in Morrowind's engine that I had to leave and do a few dozen hours of other things and then come back to be able to successfully pickpocket that noble. I did a lot of them so long ago that I don't have much to say about them, but they're incredibly well put together and actually make you feel like a member of a group of thieves and not an embezzling charity organization.

There's a main quest too, where you try to figure out what's causing all the strange events on the island, but after not being able to find it for years I finally hit my limit of frustration, opened up the Construction Set, and poked around to see where it began. What I found out was that there is no separate main quest, it's a part of the Fighters' and Mages' Guild quest lines on Havish. And since my character isn't a member of either of those guilds, and I'm not going to join them, I'll save it for another time. But it's worth it for the Guild of Thieves.


There's more than smoke on the water here


I've started Bloodmoon half a dozen times, but until a couple weeks ago I always stalled out around the same place and never actually finished it. Even having done so, I'm not sure I'll do it again unless the new version of the Julan mod adds a lot of interesting commentary that'll make it worthwhile. The plot is about the Daedra Lord Hircine calling a hunt and looking for the worthiest prey, as well as the Empire founding a colony on the island and the native inhabitants dealing with the island's dangers, but none of it really caught my interest. It didn't help that, admittedly probably do to a mod conflict, fighting the werewolves was an exercise in massive frustration since they could kill me in two hits and I had to hit them 30-40 times. Each. And sometimes they came in packs of five or so. Yeah, that was awful.

I was kind of surprised when I joined the Skaal and did their missions, though. There was a lot of dealing with the spirits of the land, and harmony with the earth and sky, and the sacred hunt, and other things that are part of many real-world cultures but which I don't remember being reflected anywhere else in the Elder Scrolls even though a lot of fans, including me, think Morrowind is the high point of the series lore. I wonder if it's that Bloodmoon is an expansion that did it, or maybe just that a lot of fans prefer the really bizarre stuff like high elf spaceships made out of the sun, wood elves being religiously obligated to practice cannibalism, the Redguards having to come to Tamriel because one of their sword saints created a weapon with such a sharp edge that it could split atoms and then blew up their original homeland, or Queen Ayrenn from Elder Scrolls Online being a robot from the future, and shamanism that's similar to the real world doesn't fit into that very well.

I liked dealing with the Imperial colony, but I didn't care about the main quest of the mod at all. I was sent to go ingratiate myself in with people I'd never heard of, with customs that didn't seem similar to anything else I'd seen in an Elder Scrolls game, all to foil the plot of a Daedric Lord. And sure, I'm also describing Shivering Isles and Shivering Isles is amazing, but the setting matters. The terrain and settlements on Solstheim weren't very exciting at all, being a choice between pine forest, snowy pine forest, and frozen wasteland, and none of it was anywhere close to as evocative as Vvardenfell's landscapes. I mostly finished it because I had already started it and wanted to see the end. There are mods that require it, but otherwise I don't know that I'll bother doing it again.

There was a modded dungeon I installed called The Neverhalls on Solstheim that was quite good, though. I guess it's worth it for that.


This one room is probably bigger than all of Vemynal is in the unmodded game.


Darknut's Greater Dwemer Ruins Volume 1 modifies Odrosal, Vemynal, and Dagoth Ur so that they're orders of magnitude bigger than normally are. It's obvious in fluff that they're supposed to be bigger, because Dagoth Odros tells you that Keening is well hidden and you'll never be able to find it and your quest is doomed, and then after you kill him you nip around the corner and up a ladder and oh hey, is that Keening, why yes it is. That sword is still there in the modded version, but it's a trap that instantly kills you if you try to use it, which is kind of a theme in this mod. "Save before you touch anything" is a good maxim. Though Morrowind's engine doesn't allow too much interactivity so the potential for mischief is somewhat diminished, that doesn't stop Darknut from including barrels that explode if you touch them for no obvious reason.

The actual level design is fantastic, though. Odrosal is a (relatively) small facility over a lava cavern, with several towers, a giant sealed vent into the cavern, and a secret tunnel into Dagoth Ur. Vemynal has multiple elevators and a section with shifting walls, and it really feels like you're descending into the depths of the earth. Dagoth Ur is enormous, with giant towers and a huge facility dedicated to funneling lava throughout the facility and huge vaulted chambers and a system of teleportation chambers that connects all of Odrosal and Vemynal and Dagoth Ur and the great chamber of Akulakhan, Dagoth Ur's patchwork new god powered by the Heart of Lorkhan.

It's much, much more interesting than the original dungeons, even if they are filled with Screw You deathtraps. Corridors with collapsing floors and magical shields that kill you I can understand, but the barrels that randomly exploded when I looted them were a bit much. Not to mention all the levers and buttons and dials that were interactive but did nothing.

However, I do have to give them props for the trap where I thought I was rescuing prisoners but they were actually Ash Poets in disguise.


"Welcome, Moon-and-Star, to this place where destiny is made."

Let's talk about Dagoth Ur.

I mean, Vivec gives you a briefing detailing his plans, and since Vivec knew Voryn Dagoth back in the day, he probably has a pretty good handle on exactly what it is that Dagoth Ur wants. And at least the beginning phases don't sound so bad. By the point you get a copy of his plans, you've done enough quests that you know that the Empire is actually exploiting Morrowind through colonization, and that the Tribunal are false gods, and that maybe the Sixth House has a legitimate grievance. It's the high point before the main plots of Oblivion (about which the less said, the better) and Skyrim, both of which feature someone who wants to destroy the world because reasons.

And that's not all. The bit about how he "recapitulates the ancient blasphemous folly of the Dwemer" in the plan requires you to be a bit of an Elder Scrolls lorehead, but that's one of the more interesting parts of Dagoth Ur's personality to me. Both the Dwemer and Dagoth Ur have direct experience of divinity through their interactions with the Dreamsleeve, and both of them have poor opinions of the gods. The Dwemer sought to turn themselves into gods through uncreation (well, maybe. It's not entirely clear what Kagrenac was actually trying to do) and the unification of their people as Numidium's golden skin, and Dagoth Ur uses Corprus for the same principle. Corprus infection places a piece of Dagoth Ur in its carriers, thus performing the same sort of unifying function as Numidium.

Both Kagrenac and Dagoth Ur were tired of the games Aedra and Daedra play with the lives of mortals and wanted to free the world from divine tyranny, and do that by directly exposing the populace to divinity and taking them beyond the need of faith. It's both similar and different to the Thalmor approach of returning the world to the mythic through uncreation to end Lorkhan's mistake, but continues the seemingly-constant difference between elves and men, where elves seek collective apothesis and humans are content with Mantling as a means to attain divine power.

And that was probably pretty opaque unless you've played the Elder Scrolls games to an obsessive degree.

That doesn't mean Dagoth Ur is secretly the good guy, though there's enough of a case made that there are multiple mods that let you take him up on his offer to join the Sixth House and drive the outlanders from Morrowind. However, I have to admit that the whole "sending dreams to drive random Dunmer into racist murder frenzies" thing does reduce my sympathy for him, as does the fact that a lot of people infected with corprus don't become transhuman god-monsters, they become mutated freaks in constant horrific pain. Like so many utopians, Dagoth Ur thinks that the ends justify the means, and tells you so himself you ask him:
If, by my crimes, you mean the inevitable suffering and destruction caused by war, then I accept the burden of leadership. The Sixth House cannot be restored without war. Enlightenment cannot grow without the risk of upsetting the tradition-bound and complacent herd. And the mongrel armies of the Empire cannot be expelled from Morrowind without bloodshed. As I have charity and compassion, I grieve. But our mission is just and noble.
"I did it for the greater good, and history will look on me kindly" is the cry of brutal dictators everywhere, but there's enough truth in his words that it does make you think. I mean, the Empire conquered Morrowind by force--or at least, forced them to submit by treaty under threat of force--are imposing a lot of their customs on them, sending in Imperial missionaries and trading companies, and so on. He's kind of similar to Frantz Fanon, actually, and it's difficult to really think that he's that much in the wrong.

Especially after later games reveal that Azura didn't set up the Nerevarine out of great concern for the Dunmer and a desire to free her people, but that the entire Nerevarine prophecy is a revenge scheme on the Tribunal by Azura, who is pissed that the Tribunal killed Nerevar and doesn't give a shit about the Dunmer anymore. That makes your actions seem a bit less heroic.


Actually a jerk.


That kind of ambiguity is, at its core, the reason I love Morrowind's story. Is Dagoth Ur justified in his crusade, or not? What really happened at Red Mountain that day when Nerevar died? What's the impact of the Empire on the Dunmer--are they ruining the native culture and diluting their religion, or are they providing a good influence by working to eliminate slavery? Were Vivec's methods in opposing Dagoth Ur justified when they required the suppression of the Dissident Priests, who were actually right all along? And that's not even getting into any of the faction quests.

In the beginning, you don't even know why you're in Morrowind. All you know is that the Empire hauled you out of some dungeon and shipped you off with a package to deliver, and when you deliver it, Caius Cosades doesn't know why you're here either, or at least won't tell you, and the first part of the game is figuring how who this "Dagoth Ur" guy is, what's up with the Nerevarine that these Dunmer are going on about, and why the Tribunal suppresses the Ashlanders and the Nerevarine cultists. The scope is revealed as you play, until you realize that you are the Nerevarine, the prophecied savior of the Dunmer against the Sharmat Dagoth Ur, and by that point you're invested in the fate of all the people you've met.

Morrowind is a masterpiece even before mods are added, and with mods...well, see the beginning of this post. I could easily have made this post twice as long as it is if I had talked about what happens when Julan finds out you're the Nerevarine, not him, or the struggle to free House Redoran from Bolvyn Venim's ill-ruling, or the Arena in Molag Mar and helping found a new tribe of Ashlanders, or how the game is about the Heart of Lorkhan and Nerevar Rising prominently features a heart-like drumbeat, or any number of other things. I'm not going to say that you're a worse person if you haven't played it or anything like that, because the combat is horrible and there is a lot of it, but if you can get past that, it is legitimately the best game I have ever played.

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dorchadas

September 2017

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