As Vivec, the poet god-king of Morrowind finally falls under repeated fire from Samus Aran’s arm cannon, I take stock. Low health, better slam an Estus Flask real quick. Some Cheetos wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Ten minutes later, I wander into a building named “House of 1000 Scamps” and am greeted by so many of the gremlin-like creatures that I can barely move. I don’t know what I expected. Morrowind crashes.
I’m playing the Tribunal Code Patch, a deceptively-titled mod for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The mod adds a staggering number of changes to the game, large and small. Some are noticeable right from the start — I selected the “Blessing of Corporate” as one of my character perks, which gave me the guidance of a young Todd Howard rather than a more traditional Elder Scrolls deity. Some only become obvious over time, like the fully-functional weed-smoking system, the characters from the original game given new roles and dialogue, the loot crates containing items like Warcraft III‘s Frostmourne and Vash the Stampede’s trench coat from Trigun.
It’s a lot of fun to just wander around this world, taking in the madness. I’m not sure if the creator made all of the assets and systems in the mod, but it’s still an impressive achievement regardless. And what’s even more impressive to me is that even laden down with goblin barf, Lightning McQueen from Cars, and a poster of Larry David that takes you to a cursed dimension of darkness, Morrowind is still better than most video games.
I was absolutely entranced by Morrowind as a kid, back when running it on my family’s Dell meant turning the settings all the way down and using console commands to fast travel because the computer struggled to render the game’s massive outdoor scenes at more than a single-digit frame rate. It was the first game of its kind I ever encountered, offering an immense world to explore, complex systems to master and exploit, and a narrative that played with the “chosen one” trope to tell a unique story.
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Morrowind‘s world doesn’t look like any other fantasy game before or since. Unlike Skyrim and Oblivion, which lean into typical fantasy European aesthetics, Morrowind has a more organic look — buildings and armor are constructed out of bone and glass, travel is accomplished via gigantic insects, and the dominant race is the Dunmer rather than humans. It feels like a René Laloux animated film in playable form, and if the world is somewhat difficult to understand as a result, it inevitably draws you into its politics and societal intrigue.
Yes, it may be difficult for players more familiar with modern games like Skyrim to go back and enjoy Morrowind. The combat can be frustrating, with each attack abstracted into a random chance to hit rather than the physics-based simulations that FPS games have conditioned players to expect. But we’re talking about a game where you can blow off the first plot-critical NPC you meet, get loaded on booze and fantasy PCP, and kill god — and then still successfully complete the main objective.
If you like fantasy games and can deal with the lack of some of the mod cons of adventure games, then you owe it to yourself to play Morrowind. If you haven’t played it before, you probably want to start without the Tribunal Code Patch. But if you have, check out the mod or my playthrough of it on YouTube. If you’d like to hear more about my experiences with the mod, I talked about it on this week’s episode of Channel F, “Un Soupçon D’ouragan,” which you can listen to in the player below or in your podcast app of choice.