First Impressions: ESO's Morrowind Expansion Just Might Recapture the Glory of Vvardenfell
When Bethesda first announced that they were bringing Morrowind to the world of ESO, my inner nostalgia monster awoke with a powerful screech.
There is a very specific set of Elder Scrolls veterans that hail Morrowind as the greatest game in the Elder Scrolls series, despite a litany of problems that would make it nearly unplayable for a modern gamer.
And though we've had some pretty great Elder Scrolls games since then that have brought new fans to the franchise, few of them have filled the void that Morrowind left when we finally had to end our adventure as the Nerevarine. When Bethesda teased a TES remaster at E3 last year, many of us prayed to the Tribunal that we'd get to conquer Red Mountain in high definition. But we didn't have Azura's blessing, and got a Skyrim remaster instead -- leaving a rift in the hearts of Morrowind fans that puts Oblivion gates to shame.
But months later, the blight (sort of) ended when Bethesda revealed that Morrowind would be the next expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online. And while this isn't the best news we could have asked for, it is something.
The only question is...can it really recreate the Morrowind experience?
For a lot of people, The Elder Scrolls Online is a massively multiplayer knockoff of the main series that doesn't quite scratch the itch. It's lovely and fun to play, but it doesn't really feel like you're playing a TES game. Kind of like drinking ale when what you really want is skooma.
I bought the Collector's Edition of ESO when it first released, but quickly got bored and set the game aside because it wasn't quite what I'd hoped. And while it's gotten a lot better since its move to Tamriel Unlimited, only something like a Morrowind expansion could really bring me back.
And luckily for me, I got to play a little bit of it at PAX East while chatting with Creative Director Rich Lambert. While I didn't get to see nearly as much of the game as I wanted to, this old Morrowind veteran has things to say about it.
First things first, the new Warden class is pretty freakin' sweet.
I got to demo the Warden during a Battlegrounds match and play around with her druid-like kit. According to Rich, this class fills a very specific role that was widely requested by ESO players:
"The Warden fits that kind of missing player fantasy we have right now, which is the druid/ranger...And like all our other classes, it has 3 skill lines. One is ice, which is focused more in protective magic. One is nature magic, so you have the plants and flower type healing. And then the third is the animal companion line, where you're using animals and summoning them to help supplement your damage."
During my play session, I was using the animal companion skill set. And it was a blast. A lot of the creatures we know and love (or hate) from Morrowind are reappearing as summonable allies. You can spawn a Netch to fight by your side, buff yourself with a swarm of Torchbugs, or even rain fury down from the heavens by calling on a Cliff Racer.
That's right folks -- you're in control of the Cliff Racers now. Even if your enemy has never encountered these winged vermin in TES III, they'll soon adopt a familiar loathing as you dive bomb their heads from afar.
All in all, the Warden plays much like your standard druid, but with a nice little Morrowind reskin. The bear companion that stays loyally by your side in and out of battle is pretty cool, too.
And the 4v4v4 Battlegrounds? A smart addition to the game.
Aside from the new class and obvious nostalgia factor, the biggest draw for this upcoming expansion will be the Battlegrounds PvP mode. This mode pits players against each other in 15-minute 4v4v4 matches on 3 different maps.
If you're thinking this sounds an awful lot like a MOBA, you're half right. While there isn't as much as much going on in the Battlegrounds as there usually is in an all-out battle arena, the brevity of the matches and constant brawling is definitely reminiscent of that genre.
In implementing the Battlegrounds, the ESO team wanted to give players the opportunity to hop into the world, get into a quick match, and be able to walk away without having to invest hours of time that they simply don't have. The game's playerbase has apparently been requesting this sort of mode for a long time. And Rich is excited to give it to them:
"I'm really eager for Battlegrounds. In the last six months, I've probably spent more time in PvP than anything else, so I'm really excited about the 4v4v4 Battlegrounds....We have the epic siege 50 on 50 on 50 battles right now. But in order to feel like you're really contributing, you have to play for a couple of hours. But with this, you just get in and play...it'll reacquire those players that wanted more ESO but also wanted more small scale PvP. "
When he says this mode is perfect for short sessions, he means it. Even if no team manages to reach the win condition, the Battleground match will end the moment the 15-minute timer hits zero and calculate a winner based on progress. There's no chance for a game to run longer than you anticipated, and matches are brief enough that you can play one or two during your lunch break.
The map I played on was pretty generic, and I was disappointed I didn't get to check out the others -- especially the high verticality Dwemer map. But even so, I enjoyed the quick and constant action of the Battleground experience. And although the matches are short, I could easily see myself sinking several hours into this mode by playing "just one more".
But that still doesn't answer the question all Morrowind fans are asking. Will it really be the Vvardenfell we know and love?
Talking to Rich made it clear that the ESO team understands the gravity of what they're trying to do with this expansion. When I asked him how he was feeling about trying to recreate such an iconic game in the world of ESO, he admitted that he was "scared shitless".
Rich and his team know that the old-school Morrowind players are going to have high expectations of the expansion. And while rendering the world of Vvardenfell for an MMO was a challenge, he believes that players looking for nostalgia are definitely going to find it.
"We started with a heightmap so we could make sure we were faithfully recreating the space, but we're 700 years in the past. So we wanted to make our own story...our focus was more on nostalgia and giving the player the exploration and doing all those kinds of things."
But I'm not quite satisfied with that answer. So instead, I ask Rich to describe his first experience with Morrowind and what his favorite area was. As he talks about his first time stepping off the boat, his eyes light up like torchbugs.
"When I got the game, I begged my parents to let me upgrade my PC so I could play it. And I was blown away by a game looking the way it looked. It was just unbelievable. And I went straight out of Seyda Neen, and just ran in a direction. So I ended up in Balmora and I was just blown away."
Watching other play testers grin and gush about the resurrection of their favorite Morrowind creatures, I ask Rich the hardest question of all: Are veteran players going to get that same amazing feeling when they first enter the expansion?
"Absolutely. You're gonna get off the docks in Seyda Neen and go 'holy shit...this is Seyda Neen."
So What's the Verdict?
I honestly can't say. I was only privy to the new PvP mode and Warden class during my demo. And while those were both fun and engaging additions to the game, they weren't really what I was looking for. Am I going to get the expansion and test it out? Definitely. Am I going to keep playing? Who knows.
Rich seems to think that this expansion will fill the Morrowind void, even if it's not quite the same world we remember from TES III. But me? I'm going to have to spend a lot of time wandering the Bitter Coast before I can say for sure.
Here's hoping that when the Morrowind expansion drops for ESO on June 6th, the sun's golden honey will gild the land of Vvardenfell once more.