My main curiosity about Morrowind was whether the large scale of the world translated into greater immersion or greater tedium during play. Having played it extensively for close to a month I think I can say without equivocation that in this case more is more. Unlike any game I can think of, wandering around in Morrowind and bashing things for experience points gave me a real sense of place, and created an equivalent-sized mental space in my mind. Even better, I interpreted this space not just as distance, but as depth of setting.
Here are some of the things that I think helped create that effect:
With the exception of the large mountains, there were no locations in Morrowind that seemed so similar as to reek of tilesets or recycled polygons. I don’t know how the world was created, or how much hand-crafting went into the placement of each bush and rock, but the simple fact that I never confronted a recognizable physical space in more than one location kept my suspension of disbelief intact.
It’s a delicate balancing act, but in order to create a real sense of space I think you need to have areas of interest surrounded by a good deal of relative blah. Morrowind does this perfectly, and because most of the nonessential spaces are still unique, walking around in Morrowind just feels right. And while the game provides several means by which you can avoid having to walk to and fro on foot, quite often I found myself hiking simply for the pleasure of literally seeing the world.
One of the most basic and important techniques in interactive entertainment, discovery involves exploiting the innate human pleasure of finding things and seeing new places. In Morrowind, nonessential dungeons and monsters populate the landscape, making walks in the wilderness rewarding both visually and within the context of the game. For a narrative game, they got this about as right as I think you can get it: I never felt like I was on a treasure hunt looking for powerups, but instead felt like I was discovering ancient ruins, etc.
In fact, I got so wrapped up in just wandering and experiencing the world that I let much of the plotted story slip for a quite a while. When I finally got around to pursuing the story, the mechanics of language interaction that the plotting hinged on actually seemed constraining, and made the world less enjoyable. At one point I was forced into an action that I didn’t want to take because of the limited number of choices available to me, and it was only at that point that I really felt like the world broke down. I stopped playing soon after, but I do intend to begin a new game in order to experience the story the designers intended to tell.
The moral of the story, if there is one, is that Morrowind does an excellent job of simulated an interesting fictional space, and that that in itself was compelling for me.
— Mark Barrett
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