Matt really hit the nail on the head when he said that one needs a particular sort of mindset to truly enjoy Morrowind. It is non-linear in the extreme, and the sheer size of the world and the number of quests can be staggering. Many may find such immensity and open-endedness intimidating or even ridiculous, but I found it liberating.
Morrowind is a role-playing game in the truest sense of the word, and those who are expecting to sit back and be told what to do, get shepherded from scenario to scenario and click through endless scenes of scripted dialogue will be in for a shock. I find it very interesting how the term "role-playing game" gets thrown around and applied to many games that dont even follow that basic criteria; where instead of "playing a role" of some sort the player merely controls a party of characters whom they may or may not actually relate to or care about. Morrowind, on the other hand, gives the player the opportunity to assume a personality and profession of their own choosing. Herein lies the key to getting the most out of Morrowind: one must role-play a character. The game throws so much out there all at once that its easy to get overwhelmed by the number of different avenues to pursue and the fact that its common to have 10 or more quests running simultaneously. Sticking to a persona helps to determine which quests to take on and which to leave behindfor example, if I decide to play a thief or assassin with questionable morals, I am likely to ignore the peasant woman on the side of the road asking for help. Those trying to be the go-getter who does everything will get hopelessly bogged down.
The weaknesses in logic brought up by Matt are all valid; however, I wouldnt go as far as to write off the games attempt to let the player "live another life" as a total failure. Unlike Matt, I felt that a big part of "living another life" (in other words, role-playing a person) was in fact tied directly to the profession and other variables involved with the character generation process at the beginning of the game. As for the personality itself, that is really up to the gamer to create, and more importantly to stick to throughout the game. In this way Morrowind itself isnt much help, because almost all of the moral and behavioural decisions and environmental interactions are left to the player, who can choose to react "in-character" or not as he or she chooses. In other words, it takes a certain kind of pro-activeness to assume a personality in Morrowinds world and, Im ready to admit, it requires a fair amount of creativity and imagination on the part of the gamer. Is this a carefully crafted challenge on Bethesdas part to make the gamer participate non-passively in his or her environment, or merely laziness which demands more out of the gamer than is fair to ask? I dont feel that Im able to answer such a question.
I would also mention that Morrowind is far more sophisticated than its predecessor Daggerfall in terms of believability and non-player character (NPC) interaction. It is no longer possible to steal all the items from a store one night and sell them back to the same shopkeeper the next day. Merchants have a fixed amount of gold and cannot afford to buy the most expensive items, making it harder to amass ridiculously large sums of money. NPCs still have their quirks, to be sure, and when it comes right down to it are still moulded from the same finite number of character templates. However, the pool from which they are drawn is much larger than in Daggerfallso large that the game must be played for some time before the repetition of phrases or similarities of appearance become noticeable.
The PC version comes with a feature called the "console," which is in my opinion a mixed blessing. The console is a little window that can be called up during the game and gives the player access to the game code, so that by entering programming commands they can artificially alter aspects of the game environment such as adding or removing items from the characters inventory, changing the characters location, and raising or lowering stats or skills. I question the motivation behind the inclusion of the console; likely it was put there to provide an easy way of fixing potential bugs or glitchessomething Morrowind has its fair share ofbut of course once it is used once its very hard to ignore. I found myself using it with increasing frequency as a sort of "fast travel" option to move my character to the various cities instantaneously, rather than suffer by walking from location to location (which can take 5-10 minutes of real time).
Also included with the PC version is a separate program called the Elder Scrolls Construction Set, which allows the creation of custom-made "modules" that use the games templates and can be added on to the existing Morrowind environment. I chose to explore neither the console nor the construction set in great detail, partly because I felt that it was like ripping the skin off the game and exposing the skeleton underneath. In a game that strives to be totally immersive, it seemed that these things merely reinforced the fact that what I was playing wasnt actually real. Nevertheless, I will not deny the fact that they are both powerful and potentially useful tools.
If Morrowind is any indication of where The Elder Scrolls series is headed, I would say that it is certainly moving in a positive direction and I am very excited to see what will happen with The Elder Scrolls IV. I feel that the Elder Scrolls is a work of arta bastion for serious gamers amid the full-motion video driven, linear, autocratic "go here now!" RPGs that both insult my intelligence and annoy me. I agree with Matt that there are some fundamental issues with the game engine that need serious tweaking if the game is to achieve, as he so aptly phrases it, the "dream of the Ultimate Non-Linear RPG." For this to happen really comes down to whether the developers acknowledge the issues or care to do anything about them. It would be very easy to get into a "waiting for Godot" mentality, believing that the perennial "next one" will finally achieve the perfection that Bethesda has come so close to achieving with Morrowind. I suppose I am more willing than Matt to believe that they can and will do it.
(Disclaimer: This review is based on the PC version of the game)