Pic of the day: You can view your character from behind, but the behind is not much to write home about, even though I chose a Nord woman as my character... On second thought, this may be just as well. Nice ponytail, though.
Morrowind has arrived. Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls 3, the successor to the cult hit Daggerfall. DF was elected "RPG of the year" 1996, so it's been a while. Learning from history, Bethesda Softworks has made a game that is playable only on high-end machines this year. Next year, those are going to be standard machines, and then budget. Bethsoft clearly expects Morrowind to be popular two years from now. They may just be right. Not only is it the most open-ended RPG ever released for Windows, but each game comes with a developer's kit similar to the one used by the game developers. The Net will probably be flooded with add- ons and modified versions for years to come. If I know my humans right, "adult themed" add-ons should be available already from fan sites.
But Morrowind is good to eat right out of the box. You pop in the CD and agree to not make too many backups, and soon you are about to enter a new world. This time, character creation is not a separate set of screens; rather the game begins at once, and you choose your name, race, class and birth sign as you report to the census officer. (Birth signs are sets of advantages and disadvantages that you choose in addition to your race and class. Kind of like simple zodiacal astrology, but more powerful.)
Morrowind is a much smaller game than Daggerfall, in terms of square miles. It has much fewer cities, villages, dungeons and so on. Then again, after 5 years with Daggerfall, I had probably not visited 10% of the locations on the map. In Morrowind, all places are supposedly unique. Even the NPCs seem handcrafted. Most people will say that's a good thing ... But it reminds me painfully of the old Sierra adventure games: Beautiful pictures and music, gameplay that required a hint book as one wrong step made you fail the game. (As a matter of fact, Sierra once boasted of selling more hint books than games. This is indeed a nifty way of countering software piracy, but it is also the opposite of "open-ended". I don't ever intend to buy a hint book for an Elder Scrolls game.)
Speaking of beautiful graphics: I guess my expectations were simply raised too high by the praise from various reviewers. Or perhaps it is truly astonishing if you have a GeForce 4 rather than 2, as I have. Oh, it is atmospheric; but in a rough way. It is not as beautiful as the online game Dark Age of Camelot, for instance. In particular, the player character is rather ugly, and the NPCs are not about to win any beauty contests either, most of them. My best guess is that the designers opted for a "dystopia" style of graphics: Dark, dreary, ugly. Morrowind is not really meant to be an upbeat, cheerful place. Still, I wouldn't mind a bit more beauty and harmony. Speaking of harmony: The music is good; it is quite impressive in places, and unobtrusive elsewhere. Good work.
Performance issues: The game runs at an acceptable speed in 1024x768, 32bits color, on my Siemens with a 1.1GHz AMD Duron and 368 MB RAM. (Well, I think it was 1.1 Ghz. It was just over 1 gigahertz anyway.) Evidently having a primitive "GeForce 2" 3D card instead of the target "GeForce 4" does not slow down the game much, if at all; it just reduces detail.
The control system is changed from Daggerfall. I don't know why, since it performs mainly the same functions. Having to use the mouse (or mouse equivalent) to turn the character is a drag on wrists, and means I won't be playing the game as much as I otherwise would. On the bright side, combat is somewhat simplified, if you choose it to be. Basically all I need to do is hold in the mouse button and release it. The longer I hold it in, the harder the weapon strikes, so you have a trade-off between weapon speed and weapon damage. Genial. But the random assignment of new keys to the same functions seems like pure marking territory. Which is acceptable in dogs but bad in software developers.
As for the gameplay, it is too early for me to comment on it yet. Whether I am going to play this game long enough to ever report on it, remains to be seen. It will depend largely on the wrist, I suspect. On the bright side, I don't pay per minute for playing it, as I do with online games. If not for that factor, I'm pretty sure I would be back to DAoC pretty soon.
Rain part of the day.
Visit the Diary Farm for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.