Morrowind isn’t just a game to me – it’s grown into something much more in the course of my history with it. While there are plenty of other games that I adore – Blood Money, Sup Com, Dragon Age, etc – Morrowind is in a different place. Not necessarily because it’s better, though I’d argue that it is or at least was – time is often cruel – but because it changed me from really liking games a lot, to being fascinated by games and what they can do.
The first time I saw Morrowind, I had no idea what it was. It was during a Saturday morning while I was in secondary school and a friend of mine – Arron Walker – had picked it up for the xbox. It was in that weird, innocent time of my life where I actually used to go out with friends and see them in person so I sat on his bed and watched him start it up. I quickly descended into snide mockery; “This is Lord of The Rings” I jeered as he chose whether to play as an elf or an ork, “The next character you meet will be called Flilbo Flaggins”. Arron agreed, laughing, but then a man started asking questions.
The customs and excise officer – I don’t recall his name; he’s mostly bald, his remaining hair pure white with a small beard. He stands stiff behind a desk in with a draping brown robe, and speaks in a tone that shows he does ok for money – especially compared to the gruff guards that led us off our prison boat. He pounds us with morally ambiguous questions – “A man is running down the street with a purse, a group chasing him, he asks for your help – what do you do?” This is where me and Arron started to differ. He was all about strength and doing strictly the right thing. I was all about stealth and defining the right thing by the price.
I watched Arron play for a bit that day. Wandering around the opening port of Seyda Neen, talking to people, doing little quests. My mocking comments had long stopped. I had never seen anything like this before. It wasn’t like Zelda – the only game I could draw a reference with at the time – you could pick different bits of armor to go on different bits of your body; shops were stocked with loads of items and you could sell them anything, which was doubly impressive when you could pick up or steal everything that wasn’t furniture. When Arron got called for lunch I grabbed the controller and bought a full set of armor to dazzle him with when he returned. Then I found a Silt Strider.
What fast travel systems were like before Morrowind I don’t know, but nothing better has come after. Silt Striders are basically giant fleas with a hollowed out shell that you can hire to take you somewhere in an instant. And when I say giant, I mean Giant. They are bigger than most buildings, their spindly legs propping up a massive, disgusting torso to carry you around. Seeing the Silt Strider was the first time that Morrowind had started to show it’s weird side. There could easily have been horses, or ‘guides’ or anything. Hell, it already had mages that can teleport you around (so long as you are in favor with the mages guild, of course) and boats that you can hire, and with Morrowind being based on Vvardenfell – an island with an abundance of rivers and canals – they could have exclusively used these no problem. But no, instead you have giant fleas.
That’s a silt strider. Eeewwww.
Shortly after Arron returning, full of lunch, I couldn’t take it any more. We had gotten to Balmora – the first big city that you are gently pushed towards by the main quest to meet Casius Casades – an ex spy now balding and with a drug problem. The city was immense. It’s full of buildings – all of which you can enter some way or another and all fitting the same architectural style that was distinctly different from Seyda Neen. There were bars, shops, mansions, and most importantly people that you could interact with. You can talk to them all, you can even attack them if you’re happy to deal with the guards. Arron went and joined the fighters guild and started doing jobs for them, completely veering off the main quest at the first opportunity. I had to have this.
Explaining my intent, I left his house, went to mine and went through my games collection, pulling ones from it that were no longer needed. Then I gathered up some cash and headed for the bus stop. It was still earlyish, plenty of time to get into town, grab a copy and then get home. About an hour later, I was in the store. GameJam was a little outside of the town, an independent place that would give you a better price for your trade-ins than GAME. GameStation didn’t even exist to my knowledge back then. Stuart, the guy behind the counter, was playing it on the Xbox they had when I went in. I asked for a copy, he wasn’t sure if he had any more. Not now. Fortunately, for once, they had one out the back. I traded my games in and took Morrowind home, studying the instruction manual on the bus.