- Euro-Morrowind.com Morrowind Preview
 
- Part 1 - First Impressions
Systems Tested on:  

1.

p4 2.2ghz
512mb DDR ram
gf2 64mb
Soundblaster audigy player

2.

p4 1.4ghz
640mb RD ram
gf3 ti500 (oooo pretty water)
Soundblaster audigy platinum


Overview:
There are few games in development out these days that can grab my attention and keep it there for week after week, and eventually month after month. Bethesda's Morrowind is a game that has succeeded in doing that, and has it been worth the wait? Well read on to find out :)

Technical:
It would be difficult to preview Morrowind without at least glancing back to Daggerfall, part two of the Elder Scrolls which was horribly infested with a plague of bugs. To put the fears of many at ease, it has to be said that even despite the fact that I'm previewing Morrowind from an early beta version (beta 1 in fact), it has been more stable than many final releases that I've encountered (I will name no games, almost everyone who plays games often will have come across one or two titles). In fact I've only encountered a couple of very minor issues, which for a beta version of a game, especially and RPG of Morrowind's size, is absolutely exceptional, and those issues have been fixed therefore those of you who buy this game are definately in for a treat.
A picture of a chitin clad assassin in the Vvardenfell wilderness, yesterday.

I attempted to play on 1024x768 resolution and maximum settings on both of my PCs. The extra processing power of the p4 2.2ghz system seems to pay off, there is no slowdown at all in the game even though the card is a Geforce 2 and the settings are at maximum. There is however slowdown on the p4 1.4ghz system. Again the settings were at maximum and there was a frame rate drop visiting towns, along with a slight choppyness (the wilderness was absolutely fine). I didn't feel that the performance drop really threatened my enjoyment of Morrowind however as it was only minor and as the character I was playing was frequently solving quests and exploring and therefore always on the move, I was never really in a choppy area for any significant length of time, at lower resolutions the game ran smoothly on both systems in all areas visited. It is of course possible to achieve a better performance without switching resolution by lowering various options contained within the game settings such as shadows, and active AI distance.

In the Beginning:
The character and class choosing process is surprisingly fun to go through, there are 10 races to choose from (you can read about them here) and a wide variety of skills and classes encompassing magic endorsed mages, sneaky thieves and combat favouring warriors. Its basically a mix and match till your hearts content system where you can choose to play as one of the stereotypes through to a mixture of all three. This gives the user complete freedom in how they want to progress through Morrowind and, for me at least, offers a breath of fresh air having just played through Baldurs Gate 2 for the umpteenth time.

So far I have experimented with a few of the character classes, for review purposes I have elected to play as a Nordic Assassin. My characters for RPG's are typically warriors, so a sip of refreshing Bird Seed Beer(tm) by playing as an assassin will help this review stay as objective as possible. The skills of the character being played are thus:

Major Skills: Minor Skills:
Sneak
Security
Marksman Long Blade
Light Armour Alchemy
Short Blade Block
Acrobatics Athletics
   
Birth Sign: The Atronach  


The stats of the assassin have a reasonably good balance and they appear to make sense. The basic attributes, such as strength, willpower etc. are affected by the choice of character race, and knowing that a Nord assassin would prove to be a challenge, I accepted the character and continued forth into Vvardenfell.

Another reason I have chosen to play as an Assassin is that they are typically light armour characters, I have done this in the hope that Morrowind has variety enough for the heavy armour variants and spellcasters not to be the be-all-and-end-all of the game, such is the common affliction of so many other Computer RPGs. I was pleasantly surprised on this count and shall return to it in Part 2 of the preview.


First Impressions:

After loading up the game my very first thoughts were of absolute delight, I was playing Morrowind, who wouldn't be delighted about that? :P My second thoughts whereas soon as the character stepped outside were about the graphics. None of the screenshots really do the game justice, and the environment of Morrowind is absolutely absorbing.

There is a noticeable difference when playing on a Geforce 3 as opposed to the Geforce 2, the reflective water looks that extra bit nicer, the guards armour looks sharper, the buildings look that touch more realistic. The Geforce 2 graphics are still of a very high quality (check out the screenshot on the right hand side below), but investing in a Geforce 3 or even a Geforce 4 is certainly advisable if you wish to get the most out of the game.

The area of Seyda Neen, the village you begin the game in, offers luxurious amounts of opportunity for eye candy, and amongst the most impressive is the giant Silt Strider, shown in the first of the screenshots below, one of the various methods of fast travel in the game.

the giant Silt Strider, living ferry of the Vvardenfell wastes.
As you can see, the Geforce 3 water looks nothing short of astonishing.
Morrowind still looks great on a Geforce 2, as shown by this evening shot.


Character Control:

I could ramble about the graphics all day however, about the architecture, the fact that NPCs have teeth, the planning that has been put into the layout of the region, and no least about the great skies that can be seen everytime you choose to look up. However one of the most important features of any first person game, is how the character feels to control. Its a central concept with regards to the enjoyment that one can get from the game, and fortunately, it appears to have turned out all right.

If your character has a low speed and athletics skill you might feel as though you are plodding along rather than getting anywhere, and this was certainly the case when my inventory was loaded down with all sorts of accumulated merchandise. The same is true if you have a relatively weak character who wears heavy armour and it is close to his encumbrance threshold. However if your character is strong and fast you will find that you can move pretty swiftly even when burdened with a mountain of junk.

There is of course an option in the menu where you can change the mouse sensitivity and that allows you to adjust your characters turning speed to whatever you are most comfortable with. The feel of the character control is therefore tied in with your decisions during the character creation, and this is no bad thing. In fact it is very good because it certainly, I felt at least, adds significantly to the immersion of the game and will have a noticeable effect on how you play through the game itself.

Another factor dealing with the control of the character is the third person mode. Much debate has raged regarding whether its better to play in first person or third person. In this respect I believe that Bethesda have succeeded in achieving both perspectives to a high standard. If I am wandering in the wilderness I might switch to third person mode to get a greater view of my surroundings and to admire my characters costume, or in battle I might choose third person, particularly when facing multiple enemies as I can then see everything that I have to deal with. Whilst third person is more advantageous graphically, functionally first person has a slight edge. It is easier to target and collect small objects when using first person mode, and it is certainly easier if you choose to play as a class such as the archer where ranged weapons are the order of the day, as targeting those enemies is made somewhat easier. In truth though both viewpoints are very effective and well made, and it would have been a shame to have only one of those perspectives available for use.

In Part 2 (which will be made available on Monday) I intend to discuss the depth of game interaction examine the interfaces available to the player. In the meantime here are three more screenshots for your perusal.

Another gorgeous water shot near Seyda Neen.
The Hlaalu guard looks menacing in his bonemold armour.
Dusk begins to engulf the Nordic Assassin

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