Happy Birthday, Morrowind!

Depending on where you are in the world, today or tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The open-world role-playing game was one of a few titles in the early 2000s that genuinely changed my relationship with gaming as a hobby – and kept me engaged when I might’ve otherwise began to drift away. To me, even twenty years later it still represents the high-water mark of the entire Elder Scrolls series, and I’d probably even go so far as to call it one of my favourite games ever.

It can be difficult to fully explain how revolutionary some games felt at the time, especially to younger folks who grew up playing games with many of the modern features and visual styles that still dominate the medium today. But in 2002, a game like Morrowind was genuinely groundbreaking; quite literally defining for the very first time what the term “open-world” could truly mean.

For players like myself who cut our teeth on the pretty basic, almost story-less 2D games of the 1980s on consoles like the Commodore 64 or NES, the technological leap to bring a world like Morrowind’s to life is staggering. Considering the iterative improvements that the last few console generations have offered, it’s something that we may never see again, at least not in such a radical form. Comparing a game like Morrowind to some of the earliest games I can remember playing must be akin to what people of my parents’ generation describe when going from black-and-white to colour TV!

One thing that felt incredibly revolutionary about Morrowind was how many completely different and unrelated stories were present. There was a main quest, and it was an interesting one, but instead of just random side-missions that involved collecting something or solving a single puzzle, there were entire questlines for different factions that were just as long and in-depth as anything the main quest had to offer. It was possible to entirely ignore the main quest in favour of pursuing other stories, and that made Morrowind feel like a true role-playing experience.

For the first time (at least the first time that I’d encountered), here was a game that gave me genuine freedom of choice to be whoever I wanted to be – within the confines of its fantasy setting. There were the usual classes – I could choose whether to be a sword-wielding warrior, a sneaky archer, a mage, and so on – but more than that, I could choose which stories I wanted to participate in… and choosing one faction over another would, at least in some cases, permanently close off the other faction to that character. That mechanic alone gave Morrowind a huge amount of replayability.

To this day there are quests in Morrowind that I haven’t completed – or even started! That stands as testament to just how overstuffed this game was, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, the amount of content in Morrowind eclipses both of its sequels: Oblivion and Skyrim. Morrowind offers more quests, more factions to join, more NPCs to interact with, more types of weapons to use, more styles of magic to use, and while its open world may be geographically smaller, it feels large and certainly more varied – at least in some respects – than either of its sequels.

I first played Morrowind on the original Xbox – the console I’d bought to replace the Dreamcast after that machine’s unceremonious exit from the early 2000s console war! But the PC version gave the game a whole new lease of life thanks to modding – and mods are still being created for the game 20 years later. There are mods that completely overhaul Morrowind’s graphics, meaning that it can look phenomenal on a modern-day PC, and there are so many different player-made quests, items, weapons, characters, and even wholly new locations that the game can feel like an entirely new experience even though it’s marking a milestone anniversary.

Although modding and mod communities had been around before Morrowind came along, it was one of the first games that I can recall to genuinely lean into and encourage the practice. The PC version of Morrowind shipped with a piece of software called The Elder Scrolls Construction Set as a free extra, and it contained everything players needed to get started with modding. I even had a play with the Construction Set when I got the PC version of Morrowind a few years after its release, and while I lack the technical skills to create anything substantial, I remember it being an interesting experience.

I followed a guide I found online and managed to create a companion for the main character, as well as added doors to a specific house so it could be accessed from any of the towns on the map! I also added a few items to the game, like an overpowered sword with a silly name. By this point, Morrowind and its mods were just good fun, and as I didn’t have a PC capable of running Oblivion when that was released a few years later, Morrowind mods were an acceptable stand-in!

Before Morrowind became overladen with mods, though, there were two incredible expansion packs released for the game. This was before the era of cut-content DLC or mini DLC packs that added nothing of substance, so both Tribunal and Bloodmoon were massive expansions that were almost like new games in their own ways. Both added new areas to explore, new factions, new characters, new items, and new questlines. While Tribunal was fantastic with its air of mystery, I personally enjoyed Bloodmoon even more. I like wintery environments, and the frozen island of Solstheim, far to the north of the main map, was exactly the kind of exciting environment that I’d been looking for.

So that’s it for today, really. I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the anniversary of one of my favourite role-playing games, to celebrate some of the things that made it great – and continue to make it a game that I’m happy to return to and to recommend to fans of the genre. Regular readers might’ve seen Morrowind on some of my “PC gaming deals” lists around Christmas or in the summertime, and when Morrowind goes on sale on Steam, for example, the game-of-the-year edition with both expansion packs can be less than the price of a coffee. It’s also on Game Pass following Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda – so there’s no excuse not to give it a try, at least!

In the twenty years since Morrowind was released, many other games have imitated its open-world layout, its factions, its branching questlines, and its diversity. Some newer games have bigger worlds, more characters, and so on… but Morrowind will always be a pioneer. It may not have got everything right, but it’s a landmark in the history of video games that showed us just how immersive and real a fantasy world could feel.

As one of the first games of its kind that I ever played, I have very fond memories of Morrowind. Often when I pick up a new open-world, fantasy, or role-playing title, I’ll find myself unconsciously comparing it to Morrowind, or noting that Morrowind was the first game where I encountered some gameplay mechanic or element for the first time. It really is an incredibly important game. So happy birthday, Morrowind! Here’s to twenty years!

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is out now and can be purchased for PC or via Xbox Game Pass. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Some images above courtesy of UESP.net. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten games to play instead of Cyberpunk 2077

Highly-anticipated (and almost certainly over-hyped) role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077 releases today. If, like me, you don’t really have £50/$60 to spend on a single game this close to Christmas – or you don’t have a PC or console capable of playing it – I thought it could be fun to go through a few alternatives.

I don’t hate Cyberpunk 2077. It’ll most likely be a decent game, and I’m sure I will eventually give it a shot. But there are many fun titles out there that offer comparable experiences – and most don’t cost as much! Here’s ten options for those of us who aren’t indulging in Cyberpunk 2077 on day one.

Number 1: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic & Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (2003; 2004)

Coming after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had left the franchise in a pretty disappointing place, Bioware’s Star Wars epic and its Obsidian-produced sequel were outstanding. At a time when I wasn’t enjoying Star Wars’ cinematic output, these games came along and did a lot to save its reputation. For around £15 (on Steam) you’ll be able to pick up both titles and enjoy two of the best stories in the entire franchise. The two games are significantly better than several of the Star Wars films, so if you’re even slightly interested in a galaxy far, far away but haven’t given either title a try yet, it could be a great time to do so.

Number 2: Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2011; 2016)

When I think about many of the components of Cyberpunk 2077 that people are most excited about – such as the ability to augment your human character, first-person gunplay, and different ways to reach objectives and complete missions – I’m reminded a lot of the Deus Ex series, especially its most recent offerings. Though a far more linear experience, for a lot less money you could play through a couple of solid stealth/action games that offer at least some of the same features as Cyberpunk 2077. It’s even set in a dystopian future where corporations are in charge!

Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)

The Witcher 3 was CD Projekt Red’s last game before Cyberpunk 2077, and it’s widely hailed as a masterpiece. Though the two games are certainly different in terms of setting, point-of-view, and the like, if you’re like me and haven’t yet got around to playing one of the generation’s best role-playing games, this could be a great opportunity to do so. The Witcher 3′s huge success and positive reception is a big part of why Cyberpunk 2077 has seen such a massive hype bubble.

Number 4: Shenmue I & II (1999; 2001; re-released 2018)

Though its story disappointingly remains incomplete, if you’re looking for a game with a truly engrossing narrative Shenmue could be just what you need. These two ambitious titles were originally released for the Dreamcast, sadly sharing the fate of that console and being underappreciated. Both were re-released for PC in 2018 as a single bundle, and if you missed them when they were new it could be a great time to jump in. Shenmue pioneered the idea of an open world before anyone even knew what that meant, and was the first game I ever played that felt genuinely cinematic. I think I’ll be recommending these games to people for as long as I live!

Number 5: Doom & Doom Eternal (2016; 2020)

If Cyberpunk 2077′s big draw was its first-person shooting, Doom and Doom Eternal could be great substitutes. If you want to feel like a total badass, kicking butt and taking no prisoners (literally) then there’s no better choice. The rebooted Doom series ditched the horror vibe of Doom 3 and went back to its roots – shooting demons in the face by the absolute boatload. The two games both have fantastic soundtracks that perfectly suit the fast-paced, explosive gameplay. And Doom Eternal introduces a grappling hook. Need I say more?

Number 6: Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Because of the ridiculous hype bubble that’s grown around Cyberpunk 2077, a lot of players are going to be disappointed when they realise it isn’t “Grand Theft Auto in the future.” So why not play the most recent entry in Rockstar’s crime saga instead? It’s a huge open world, there’s plenty to do, and if you want the experience of running amok causing havoc in a densely-packed city, this is about as close as you can get right now. There’s even a first-person mode (except on the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.)

Number 7: Titanfall 2 (2018)

A fun, futuristic shooter with mechs. That’s what Titanfall 2 is, and this underappreciated gem was sadly released at a very competitive moment in the first-person shooter genre. That led to underwhelming sales, but if you’re willing to give it a shot you’ll find a truly exciting, action-packed experience. Part of the appeal of Cyberpunk 2077 is its first-person perspective, and while you won’t find as many customisation options or a branching story, what you’ll get with Titanfall 2 is some of the best gunplay ever put into a game with weapons that have a realistic kick.

Number 8: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)

One of the best role-playing games every made, and the high-water mark of the Elder Scrolls series in my opinion, Morrowind is packed full of fun and interesting quests, random NPC encounters, and a diverse set of locations and environments across its open world. Eighteen years after it was released there are quests I’ve never completed and whole storylines I haven’t seen; it’s just too big to fit everything into a single playthrough. Despite being released a decade earlier, Morrowind has much more going on than Skyrim – more weapon types, more factions to join, and even more NPCs to interact with. You just have to look past its text-based interface, which can admittedly feel dated in 2020.

Number 9: Pillars of Eternity & Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2015; 2018)

Both Pillars of Eternity and its sequel have a decidedly old-school feel, thanks in part to their visual style and use of an isometric perspective. Each game takes 40+ hours to beat – longer if you play more side missions and take your time – so there’s a lot of role-playing to get stuck into. It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the experience, but if you’re looking for an in-depth role-playing experience with fun customisation and where your in-game choices truly impact the story, look no further.

Number 10: Halo: The Master Chief Collection (2014; 2019)

When I think about “futuristic first-person shooters,” one series springs to mind ahead of all the others: Halo. The Master Chief Collection brings together the first six titles in the series (or every game except Halo 5) for hours and hours of single-player or co-op gameplay. Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t offer co-op! The exciting tale of humanity’s war against an alien alliance known as the Covenant is detailed in these games, and although the quality of the series has waned somewhat in recent years, even Halo at its worst is still light-years ahead of many other games.

So that’s it. Ten games you could play instead of Cyberpunk 2077 while you wait for the day-one bugs to be patched out and for the game to drop in price! Or because you aren’t interested in one of the biggest releases of the year.

If nothing else, this was an opportunity to talk about some fun games and highlight them in the run-up to Christmas. Remember that the Steam holiday sale is likely coming up in a matter of days; it could be worth waiting to see if any of your favourites will be on sale. I highly doubt Cyberpunk 2077 will see even a 5% discount so soon after its release, but you never know!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten more games I’d remaster (if I could)

A little while ago I looked at ten games from years past that I wish would be remastered and brought up-to-date. That list was fun to put together, but I ended up leaving off a number of titles that I had considered including. This new list will make up for that!

The same methodology applies as last time: more recent titles – which I’m defining as anything from this console generation or the one preceding it – are excluded by default. And the rest are games that I’ve personally played… albeit I haven’t touched most of them in years or even decades. Remember that this isn’t me saying that these games will be remastered. I’m just saying that, if I had unlimited resources, I’d like nothing more than to bring them up to date and give a new generation of players a chance to experience them.

Number 1: Super Mario Kart (SNES, 1992) and/or Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64, 1997)

I’d love to replay the classic tracks of the first two Mario Kart titles using the more modern engine used for Mario Kart 8. A few of the tracks from these two titles have reappeared in recent Mario Kart titles, but not all of them and the two games have never been remastered in their entirety complete with all of the tracks and the same roster of characters.

Super Mario Kart was one of the first games I bought for myself in the early ’90s; I think I’d played a demo of it in a shop and desperately wanted my own copy! Mario Kart 64 is probably my personal favourite entry in the series; it had such an amazing set of tracks. If you want to see some of the best racetracks from these titles and others that I think would be great for the next Mario Kart title, I have an article all about that. With 2022 being the 30th anniversary of the series – and with Nintendo’s love of anniversaries – they could certainly take that opportunity to bring one or both of these titles fully up-to-date!

Number 2: Space Harrier (Arcade, 1985)

On my first list I didn’t include any pre-1990 titles. Partly that’s because I haven’t played all that many games from that era, but partly because a lot of older games were rather basic. Space Harrier is undeniably in that category; it’s an on-rails shooter without any real story, the only objective is to shoot at aliens and creatures. But there aren’t many games like that in 2020, and perhaps with a major visual overhaul it could offer something different to players. The other option would be to take its main character, settings, and alien races and expand on them – turning Space Harrier from a run-and-gun shooter into something more like a story-driven action/adventure title in a unique sci-fi setting.

I never had the chance to play Space Harrier in a real arcade. The closest I got to that experience was playing it in Shenmue – that’s where I first encountered the title. But nostalgia is a big deal these days, and perhaps some people would be tempted to see a reworked version of this classic.

Number 3: Spirit of Speed 1937 (Dreamcast and PC, 1999)

Racing games are a lot of fun, and some modern titles do make an attempt to include older vehicles – classic cars from the golden age of motor racing. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s been another game like Spirit of Speed 1937, though, which was set in that era and exclusively featured pre-war vehicles.

I played the Dreamcast version of this game, and it was a lot of fun. It was also something wholly unique among racing games that were either fun but un-serious kart racers in the vein of the Mario Kart series, or modern-day racers and rally games featuring up-to-date cars. I believe that niche still exists today, and it would be a lot of fun to have a classic racer like this to fill it!

Number 4: Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force

I’ve had an article in the pipeline for a while that I haven’t knocked into shape yet looking at the state of Star Trek video games. To make a long story short, while a number of them have been pretty good, practically none reached out beyond Star Trek’s preexisting fandom. Elite Force was different, and some fans of first-person shooters who didn’t give a hoot about Star Trek played and enjoyed the game when it released in 2000. Its multiplayer mode in particular was something gamers at the time appreciated.

Elite Force had a great single-player campaign too, which included down time in between missions where the player character – Ensign Munro – was able to explore parts of the ship. The story was perfectly Star Trek in its theme, and Voyager would even go on to use a vaguely similar premise for an episode called The Void which aired about six months after the game was released.

Number 5: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Xbox and PC, 2002)

It would have been hard to imagine in the 2000s, but there hasn’t been a game released in the Elder Scrolls series for almost a decade. Though Bethesda have promised us that The Elder Scrolls VI is in development, it seems years away. The company has remastered Skyrim several times and ported it to every platform under the sun, and while we continue to wait for The Elder Scrolls VI, why not bring Morrowind up to date?

Morrowind is undoubtedly my favourite game in the series. It massively expanded on previous entries, with a huge variety of quests and styles of play. It was possible to be a wizard, sneaky assassin, warrior, and all manner of other things. Beginning with its sequel, Oblivion, Bethesda actually began cutting content, and the most recent Elder Scrolls titles have far fewer NPCs, weapon types, factions, and so on. While we can argue about which game is “better” and get nowhere – such things are subjective, after all – for my money Morrowind offers players the biggest choice of things to do. It’s been eighteen years since I first played it, and I still haven’t completed every quest!

Number 6: Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)

I kept this title off my first list because there had been rumours floating around of a remaster being worked on. Sadly, as I noted when I looked at Nintendo’s lineup for Mario’s 35th anniversary, Super Mario 64 was only included in its original form as part of a bundle. But replaying this amazing game in the Super Mario Odyssey engine is something I really want to experience, and with the game’s 25th anniversary coming up next year, perhaps Nintendo will finally bring Super Mario 64 up-to-date.

I first played Super Mario 64 when it was released; it was the first Nintendo 64 game that I owned. I’m not sure if it was the first ever true 3D game I played, but it was certainly one of the earliest titles I got to enjoy that wasn’t 2D. It has a special place in my heart as “my” Mario game – I played the SNES versions of classic Mario titles, but even at the time they were “old” games, and Super Mario 64 was the first that I got to play when it was new.

Number 7: Medieval: Total War (PC, 2002)

Medieval: Total War is almost certainly my most-played game of the early 2000s. It followed on from the also brilliant Shogun: Total War, but took the setting from feudal Japan to the more-familiar western Europe. It was a game that was very easy to mod – I remember opening up the game’s files in Notepad and editing things like the year the game began, which factions controlled which province, and even the names of provinces! I loved the dual gameplay, which was unique among strategy games at the time – both a grand strategy game that required detailed faction management and real-time battles were present in the same title.

The Total War series is still going strong in 2020, and recent titles like Total War: Warhammer and Total War: Three Kingdoms are carrying the flag for the franchise on a massively improved engine. Medieval II: Total War did bring the series back to this setting in 2006, but even that game is rather outdated compared to the latest entries, and it would be amazing to see a remake of Medieval: Total War using the technology at the franchise’s disposal today.

Number 8: TimeSplitters 2 (GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, 2002)

Out of all the games I’ve ever played, TimeSplitters 2 may have the best ever multiplayer mode! It was certainly something that was a huge amount of fun to play on the original Xbox, with its goofy time-travel narrative taking players from Prohibition-era Chicago to futuristic Toyko and beyond. The TimeSplitters games were never going to be on par with other first-person shooter titles like Halo or the Call of Duty series, but the series had heart and did what it did incredibly well.

The recent remake of Destroy All Humans shows that there is a market for early/mid 2000s games with a sense of humour to be remastered, and I’d absolutely love to welcome back TimeSplitters 2 after all this time.

Number 9: The Simpsons: Hit and Run (Multiplatform, 2003)

Talk to anyone who was a gamer in the mid-2000s and I bet they’ll remember The Simpons: Hit and Run with a sense of nostalgia! I didn’t actually own this game for myself at the time (being a broke student) but a friend did and we played it regularly when I was at university. The game is basically a Simpsons-themed Grand Theft Auto-clone, playing on the popularity of that sub-genre in the wake of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City, and while fans of Grand Theft Auto will find the more extreme violence of that series decidedly toned-down and cartoonish, it’s a solid game nevertheless.

Recent games have steered away from tie-ins with films and television shows, and the days of a big-budget game based on a popular series are all but gone. There was a time when many popular titles got video game adaptations, and while as a whole tie-in games picked up a (not undeserved) reputation for being pretty poor, there are some real gems too. The Simpsons: Hit and Run is absolutely one of them!

Number 10: Operation WinBack (Nintendo 64, 1999)

Despite languishing in relative obscurity in 2020, Operation WinBack – known as WinBack: Covert Operations in the United States – is an incredibly influential title. Doom was the father of the first-person shooter, and similarly Operation WinBack is the instigator of the cover-based third-person shooter genre. Titles like Gears of War and Mass Effect would not exist without Operation WinBack, and while its cover system – which was so unique at the time it debuted – is now a standard feature, there are still plenty of reasons to bring back this fun spy adventure.

Operation WinBack had a good story, one that would be at home in films like the Mission: Impossible or James Bond series. 2016’s Doom has proved that there’s an appetite among gamers for going back to the roots of established genres, so it could be time to return to the world of Operation WinBack.

So that’s it. Ten more titles that are – in my opinion – worthy of a remaster in 2020. Will any of them ever get one? Let’s just say if I were a gambler I wouldn’t put any money on it! Well… maybe one or two? Some of the biggest companies in the games industry have recently put lots of money into remakes and remasters, and some games that I’d never have expected – like Destroy All Humans and Command and Conquer – have been brought up-to-date. So there’s a chance. There’s always a chance!

Though several of these games are undoubtedly out of print, each one is worth playing in its original form if you’re able to track down a copy, and even though it’s been years or decades since I got to play some of them, I recommend every title on this list!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective developers, studios, and/or publishers. Some screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.