Elder Scrolls Online always struck me as a game that reminds its players constantly of the previous titles in the series. The core plot, for instance, is right out of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, only with Molag Bal staging the invasion of Tamriel rather than Mehrunes Dagon (and retconning Dagon into even more of an uncreative dunce). So when I heard that Morrowind would be the next major expansion, I was not particularly surprised.
Not that I wasn’t excited— Morrowind was a successful game I enjoyed immensely. I was returning a prettier Vvardenfell back long before the Nerevarine set foot on its shores (and its destruction during the Skyrim Era, leaving it as only a distant volcano from Solesteim). I didn’t expect it to be so on the nose.
After a structured event serving as an introduction to the basic mechanics (for new players), you arrive in Seyda Neen, the point of departure from the original Morrowind. Almost immediately, a vision from Azura prophesizes your coming as her chosen one. Within the second quest, you’ve met the living god Vivec, and are on your way to the main story, complete with references to the major mysteries of Morrowind. It’s all fast, introducing you to all the major players of the future conflict for a past game. It’s playing on nostalgia hard, evoking these old adventures we had almost two decades ago. You can easily tell who they’re trying to impress.
Aside from a new character tutorial, the new class, the Warden, brings the total options to five. The Warden’s wield nature magic, ranging from calling the native Vvardenfell animals, to green and winter magics. Like the other classes, they lend themselves to specific moves – pets, healing, and crowd control. Their abilities are effective – the first animal ability summons an angry cliff racer for a sizable damage hit, reinforcing the power the hated avians possess. Thankfully, none swarmed me from above, provoking maddening rage and frantic running.
Warden adds something that wasn’t really represented in previous games – a nature class with a lot of association to the wild. It’s basically just a fantasy druid/ranger, sure, but it’s done right. It also strikes me as particularly versatile. While all the weapon and armour types can be used and learned by anyone, the previous classes had some obvious choices (the assassin Nightblade favouring leather and small weapons, or the Sorcerer being associated with light robes and staves). Warden feels like it could use a caster’s gear as well as a knight’s and still be in-character, a good quality to have in a system professing to be versatile.
There’s a great temptation to just write this off as a rehash of Morrowind. Certainly, the similarities are there, with the pyramidal cantons of Vivec City being in the process of construction, the silt striders standing at the city gates, and even the Red Mountain looming in the distance. Even the dungeons are familiar, being in roughly the same locations, only in an earlier time. It’s a rough copy of the map of the original Morrowind, but redesigned to fit with Elder Scrolls Online’s design.
There’s a sparse feeling to the area. Enemies feel spaced out, and the regions empty and barren, with little high concentrations even in dense dungeon zones. What you do see is on point, with all the insectile and reptilian faunae you’d come to expect, from the large-headed Guar to the bug-like nix-hounds. It’s all there, as you remember it, with better graphics and comparable voice acting.
This might excite you. Morrowind was a defining point in the Elder Scrolls series. This was where it really became a popular franchise after the too-edgy Daggerfall and its procedurally generated 3D worlds with 2D sprites. And it’s what was promised by Elder Scrolls Online. But I can’t help but feel that it’s too much of a callback to the Telvanni’s mage towers made of mushrooms, along with backstabbing, ghostly ancestors conjuring, and tribal Ashlanders being caught in religious conflicts with the “civilized” Dunmer society. It makes me nostalgic, sure, but to play the old game, not a recreation in this MMO.
The strongest part of the game is the Warden class, which is a solid thematic entity with useful powers. Freezing people solid combined with summoning animals, and nature to do damage is effective and intuitive, with abilities leading and combining into others. The classes of Elder Scrolls Online have always been its strong point, as they encompass the essence of the powers and roles iconic to Tamriel while avoiding the pitfalls that come with adapting a series where classes are either customizable to entirely absent.
In the end, I think Warden will lend the strongest appeal beyond just returning to an earlier Morrowind, and warrants going through the area from a few character. Being only the game’s fifth class, it manages to make itself distinct without overlapping and being tied strongly to Vvardenfell’s ecology. It makes it worth exploring this island to see what mysteries one can solve now. If the island of Solstheim comes too, we’ll have an area seen in three different time periods. I’d like to see them pull it off.