Morrowind: Bloodmoon Review
Bethesda's second expansion pack for their hit RPG, The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, has hit stores. Bloodmoon continues on the open-ended gameplay tradition, with a tighter storyline, more involved quests than ever, and the ability to become a werewolf. Combine this with the branching good-or-evil storyline, and we have a winning game that goes beyond what people expect expansion packs to be.
Sadly, Bloodmoon adds basically nothing on the technology side of things. The engine seems pretty much untouched, although the scripting looks a little bit more robust than previously. The controls, system requirements, and graphics features are all the same - of course, even at a year old, Morrowind still looks awesome.
Since day one I have had issues with Morrowind crashing, and one year (and several patches) later, it seems to have only slightly improved. Morrowind would still drop to the desktop about once every hour or so while playing Bloodmoon, which is usually not too big a deal since I've gotten used to saving often. Still, it would have been nice to see major improvements in the game's stability.
Again, not much has changed here. The game includes all the little enhancements that the first Morrowind expansion, Tribunal, supplied: map markers, an improved journal, and more. That way, you get all the bonuses even if you didn't buy that first expansion pack. There are also some major changes if or when one becomes a werewolf - more on that later.
The loading and saving system is the same as before, and the inventory system also works just fine for Bloodmoon. Despite the lack of changes in these areas, I doubt there really needed to be any. Bethesda already corrected the journal problems, and the rest of the interface works pretty well anyway.
Bloodmoon includes almost a full set of new graphics. Many of the older character/NPC models are still used here, and some of the original building layouts are used, but that's about it. We get brand new content for the enemies, weapons, armor, landscapes, and animations.
For those who thought Morrowind and Tribunal both were too brown: Bethesda noticed. It seems that they made a specific effort to put more colors into their palette, and it shows in both indoor and outdoor environments. The south side of the game's new island, Solstheim, includes forests and streams, while the north side has ice-covered lakes, snow-covered trees, and huge glacier chunks. It adds up to an impressive visual experience that's almost like playing a separate stand-alone game - almost.
The structure for the first expansion, Tribunal, seemed to be a result of people's complaints that maybe the original game was a little too open - that it was too loosely held together by unconnected quests. Tribunal basically locked you into a city and a few underground areas, and then held it all together with a branching storyline. It's good that they tightened up the gameplay a bit, but in my opinion, they did it the wrong way. Bloodmoon, however, strikes the right balance between structured story and the freedom to explore, and in this respect it's better than both the original game and Tribunal.
Yes, the big, open island design is back with lots of nooks and crannies. Tons of side quests are offered up, many of which are harder to find than to complete. We get a whole new storyline that doesn't mess with the Tribunal or the Nerevar elements either, and this story is tightly woven together with some interesting plot elements. On top of this, the end of the main quest actually differs depending on which side you choose.
Low level characters are most certainly going to have a tough time in Bloodmoon. Not only did Bethesda make some tough enemies to fight - they also dumped a ton of them on the island. Now you'll find whole packs of monsters to deal with, many of whom are going to cause almost instant death to a lesser character. Even at higher levels I found the monster placement overbearing at certain points; fighting scores of enemies just trying to walk across the island becomes a chore. I understand the complaints that the original game's landscape felt a bit empty, but this feels like overkill.
The main quest isn't the only involved storyline in Bloodmoon. It also happens that the East Empire Company is setting up an ebony mine, and you can become the quest-doer to help the whole thing get off on the right foot. The mine becomes a whole village by the time you are done with it, and the quests here almost as good as the ones that the main story involves.
Of course, the biggest feature that Bethesda has touted with Bloodmoon is the ability to become a werewolf. The game doesn't really make this clear, but the main quest diverges when you make the choice to cure yourself of the lupine "disease" or not. Both branches of the story revolve around the same events, but the quests become very different (as you can guess, both do involve quite a bit of killing). The finale was quite interesting, but it's nothing truly epic.
Quite a few of the game's new quests are more scripted and believable than ever before, although it seems that the Morrowind scripting system is being stretched to its limits. A few of the quests had some continuity problems that I blame on the limits of the game's engine itself, and even though this doesn't hurt gameplay that much, it makes me want to see a full-on sequel to Morrowind.
As much as I love Morrowind, there are a few fundamental things that always seemed wrong with it, and Bloodmoon makes no effort to correct them. The combat system is still very simplistic, running around is excruciatingly slow, NPCs just robotically wander around outside 24 hours a day, and monster AI and pathing are both pretty bland. Maybe Bethesda is waiting for the next game in the series to fix these, and in the meantime, just supplying more gameplay for Morrowind through expansions. I can't say I really disagree with this - I still had an absolute blast going through the original game multiple times, and Bloodmoon is an excellent addition to the already overwhelming amount of stuff to do.
Do you want the good news or the bad news? While the game includes new sound effects for all of the new monsters, a vast number of the original effects are still used in Bloodmoon. There is absolutely zero new music, which is frustrating - the original music is good, but there just isn't enough of it. Stretching the same old hour's worth of music across the whole original game and two expansions is just painful.
One major improvement that Bloodmoon offers is the voice work. Now, walking up to an NPC will result in him or her saying things that actually have to do with the story. And not once did I hear the word "outlander"! That's gotta be worth something right there. Overall, Bethesda has put quite a bit more attention into the voice work, and it really helps.
The Elder Scrolls 3: Bloodmoon is a fine expansion for an already excellent game; it strives to push the Morrowind gameplay system to its limits, adds new good/evil options to quests, and supplies a fully-detailed new island to run around on. While the difficulty is high, and the AI and scripting could use some work, one would be hard-pressed to find an expansion pack that adds as much as gameplay as Bloodmoon.