(THIS WILL BE LONG!) All last night I sat in my little cubicle at work, knowing that Morrowind sat at home in its gorgeus Collectors Edition black box waiting for me to rip it open and get to playing. Well that is exactly what I did. I'm sure if you have been following this game with any kind of regularity you have heard it all. Some examples: "Your going to need a monster system to run this" "The game really doesn't look that great, its really foggy" "I feel sorry for those with lower end systems" My suggestion is to keep these in mind when reading this review because I'm going to do everything within my power to blow these nonsensical statements out of the water! Story and History Morrowind is the third part in the vaunted Elderscrolls series. Spanning almost 10 years and 3 very large games (The first game was known as "Arena" and second title "Daggerfall") this series has been known for its open ended gameplay which allows you total freedom to do as you wish. Nothing has changed here my friends. The voice of a what can only be a Dark Elf woman is the only thing heard at the outset of Morrowind. The intro is short but it sets things up nicely. She speaks of the history of a hero and that she is ever watchful of you. You being a prisoner that has been released by order of the emporer himself for unknown reasons. Suffice it to say you have a destiny to fullfill and one that will take you on a huge journey. You awaken on a boat to voice of another prisoner who asks you your name. This is where Morrowind begins.... Character Creation There is no other way to say this so I will just say it. Morrowind has the GREATEST character creation system of any RPG ever created. Please whatever you get out of this review do not take that statement lightly. That is a bold commentary on Morrowind and one that is rightfully deserved. Once the Dark Elf asks you your name a box pops up on the screen where you can enter your name. Once you do a guard will come to fetch you. He will advise to go to the main deck. Upon exit another guard will be waiting for you at the bridge. He will ask where you are from. At this point another popup will appear. You will be able to choose your race and your characters appearance. There are a total of 10 races in Morrowind. Each with its own bonuses and look. You can select from different hair, faces and sex. Once you have completed this portion the guard will escort you to the Census house. Inside you will need to obtain your registration papers. The census taker will give you several options for registration. First option: He will ask you a series of 10 questions and then generate a class for you depending on the answers you give. (Again, The character creation system is astonishingly in depth) Second option: You can give him the info by selecting from the list of available classes. Morrowind comes with a list of 20+ classes. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. The list is almost mind boggling. Third option: Create a custom class. Yes you read that right. You can name your class. Give it the bonuses and skills you want to. Select what the main attributes for the class is. You can spend 1-2 hours here alone. You want to be a "Jester" you can create it and give him the speechcraft skill which will make him easier to talk to and allow him to persuade others easier. Class creation is at your very whim! Once you select a class the Census taker will give you your papers. You need to then visit the captain to get your release and then you are off to live and live free. Controls Morrowinds keyboard setup is your standard firt person shooter setup. W,S,A,D move your character. The spacebar opens doors. So forth so on. You can right click the mouse button at any time to enter the menus in the game. The menu's consist of your character sheet, inventory, magic window and map. All of these windows are resizeable and you can place them in whatever configuration you would like. Even better everything is drag and drop. Once you leave the Census office you will slowly be introduced to each of these menus. You will find a dagger which will open the inventory window, a magic ring that will open the magic window. You get the idea. The first thing you will notice about Morrowind is the fact that you can pick up and take EVERYTHING! All you have to do is hit the spacebar to grab it. If you see a candlestick and several plates on a table. You can take it. Everything here is yours for the picking. Its amazing. Once you get accustomed to the windows and playing the game you will learn to fight. You hit the F key to get into battle position. You then click the left mouse button to attack. The longer you hold the attack the harder you hit but you will become more fatigued. To enter the casting position you hit the R key. Your hands will appear in front of you and you can then cast a spell. You can set the active weapon and spell in the correct menus. You can also set up to 10 hotkeys by hitting the F1 key for your favorite spells. Its all very elegant and well defined. You should have no trouble navagating the menus or playing your character. In terms of view point you can hit the tab key at any time to change from first person to third person. Both have their advantages. You can also hold the tab key and move the mouse to pan the camera around your character. Again its a very simple control scheme to learn and a fun one to play with. Gameplay You will truly be astonished at the amount of detail and care taken in character dialogue and interaction. Once you speak with an NPC you will have a ridiculous amount of options to speak about. You can ask them of the local rumors, seek advice, ask them their occupation..Its undending at times. There is also a persuasion button which allows several options. You can bribe a person, admire them, intimidate or taunt. Each NPC has a meter with a scale from 0-100 which shows how much they like you. The higher the better. The more they like you the more information they give and in the case of merchants the cheaper the items. Quests are given almost immediatetly and they are quite varied. Here is one for instance: You speak with a gentleman that is looking to gain some money from a subordinate of his. He know this person has been skimming from the top. He asks that you watch this subordinate to find the hiding place for the money. There is a light tower where you must watch him from. The subordinate only checks this position at night. I went to the light tower and watched this gentleman until he moved to the hiding place (Very spy like and I loved it). I then retraced his steps and found the hiding spot. I retrieved the money and returned to the quest giver for reward. That is just one of many quests you can do. Morrowind reportedly ships with almost 200 hours of content. The fighting and spell engine are easy to get used too but enemies in the beginnning can be difficult. You will need to train and become accustomed to things before tackling the starter foes. One thing that does bother me is that enemies have no life meter. You really dont know how much you are hurting your foe or even if you can or cant take them. Its a bit disconcerting but it rang the same in Daggerfall so its not a suprise. The world itself is HUGE. Its all pretty seamless with a small loading time to change areas (ala Halo). It can be very easy to get lost if not for the wonderous map system in the game. The map is of full landscape. It even goes so far as to mark all doors with the shop names so everything is easily accessible. Its your choice how you move along. You want to stay in the first town and complete quest? Go ahead. You want to leave and explore? Have at it. You want to assasinate the local denizens? You can but you'll probably end up in jail. Yes Morrowind has a jail system. If you commmit any crime the guards will come to you and ask you to either pay a fine (40gold), go to jail, or flee. Going to jail degrades one of your main attributes so you definitely DO NOT want to go there. I hope this gives you some idea of the scope of the game. Its a richly populated, enormous world that is at your fingertips. Its just so happens that it looks beyond belief gorgeus..... Graphics Anyone who says Morrowind is not gorgeus is either blind, in denial, or just plain crazy. The moment you step on the deck of the boat you will be greeted with pixel shaded water that has to be seen to be believed. It ripples and moves so naturally that you just want to stand still and look at it. When it rains the drops register and the water moves accordingly. The textures in the game are almost to detailed. There is texture work here that rivals and at times surpasses Halo (A totally different game but a good point of reference). The character models are highly detailed and some of the texture work on the armor is just amazing. You can see the rivets and dents, the robe flowing underneath the plate. This is the pinnacle of PC graphics right now IMHO. Draw distance can be set in the options as can real time shadows. Let me take this time to deal with the performance of the game. My system specs are as follows: PIII 700mhz 256mb (sdram) Ram 30gig HD Geforce 3 Soundblaster Live 5.1 Win98 With this system I have my draw distance set to about a little below half. The resolution is set to 1280X960 and realtime shadows are off. The game plays absolutely beautifully. I get what appears to be a good 30 FPS in densely populated towns and cities. (Of which I have been to 3 major ones) There is a bit of choppiness when turning though but it really is negligible. The framerate can be hit down to 25 at times when it loading content or there is allot on the screen but its only for about a 10 second spurt. Indoors the game runs butter smooth for me. No hiccups or anything. That also includes dungeons. I have yet to see any chop in the dungeons. (I have been to two) Mind you these framerates are what I see to my untrained eye but I've played enough PC games to at least be able to make an educated guess as to what kind of FPS I'm getting. For reference sake I took the game to a friends house and loaded it on his P4 1.8 with a Geforce 3 and 256Mb Rdram. We set the draw distance to full and left the shadows off. Resolution was set to 1280X960 and the game ran a tad smoother than my machine at home. Suprisingly it was only a small difference. I expected Morrowind to run much better but the difference was really small. What does this tell you? Very simply that those without a monster system can enjoy this game. There is some choppiness at times and when in town turning can be a tad chuggy but this is infinitely playable and its not a detriment to the game. Even at lower resolutions the game is still utterly gorgeus and needs to be seen. I would reccommend you go and get at least a Geforce 3 because I couldn't imagine playing this without the pixel shaded water. Sound The music in the game is conducted by the award winning Jeremy Soule and its some of his best work. Its a cross between his score in Icewind Dale and Giants Citizen Kabuto. Very moody and it fits the game perfectly. There is a ton of voice acting in the game and it is all well done. Some good high quality stuff here. No complaints in the sound department. Conclusion This is a must own game. No two ways about it. I already consider this a top candidate, if not a shoe-in for RPG of the year. We still have Neverwinter Nights to look forward too and I know many are in utter anticipation for the game (including myself) but I have to say that Morrowind has really increased the bar for PC RPG's. Neverwinter will have to be something extraordinarily special to top this (I cant believe I'm saying that). Though i do have faith in Bioware. I'll need to play with the Morrowind TES contrustion set too. Haven't done that yet. For those with an X-box you are in for a treat. The X-box version supposedly has a smoother framerate and is identical to the PC minus the higher resolution. Also the X-box version support 16:9 and 480p as confirmed by Bethesda. I will be picking up that version as well and all X-boxers should RUN not walk to get the game. This is too easy to reccommend for the hardcore roleplaying fanatic.