Elder Scrolls 3: Bloodmoon
Review by Steerpike
There Will Be a Quiz on this Tomorrow
It's been a year since Morrowind
was released. Most gamers who intended to finish it have done
soimmersing themselves in a story rich in the political and
religious intrigue of a bleak and dreary nation full of angry people
who don't like you. Last December, Bethesda obliged us with Tribunal,
the first Morrowind expansion. It further immersed you
in the political and religious intrigue of a bleak and dreary nation
full of angry people who don't like you. Though bleak, dreary, and
full of angry people, Tribunal did spice up the franchise
by including a surprising amount of goofy humor, and despite its
few flaws it was highly regarded.
Now we have Bloodmoon, expansion #2. And where Tribunal
was a pleasant addition but not a necessity, Bloodmoon will
be for serious Elder Scrollersit sets the bar even higher
for any other studio thinking of developing a CRPG, adding levels
of new worth to an already worthwhile game. For those gamers for
whom the thrill of Morrowind has faded, Bloodmoon will
rekindle your excitement. Though it only adds about 20 to 40 hours
of play, they are well worth returning to the world of Morrowind
Bloodmoon shies away from political/religious intrigue,
introducing you instead to a fascinating world of corporate fascism
and territorial exploitation on the island of Solstheim, a new region
coveted by the East Empire Company. The EEC, Tamriel's answer to
the luxury-hungry conglomerates of our own world's colonial time,
is establishing an ebony mine on the island and wants your help.
(Mom and others who read these articles but don't play the games,
"ebony" in The Elder Scrolls series is not a fancy
wood but a midnight-colored metal of nearly unmatched durability
and value.) It's up to you whether you join the Company and help
direct the growth of the new outpost, or join those who'd rather
not kowtow to a bunch of corporate stooges. Since it wouldn't be
Morrowind if there weren't some political/religious intrigue,
toss in a prophecy about werewolves and an ancient curse and you're
good to go.
Solstheim is (wait for it) ... a bleak and dreary area full of
angry people who don't like you. The nation of Morrowind, of
which Vvardenfell and Solstheim are just parts, shares its western
border with the nation of Skyrim. Skyrim: desolate, ice-choked,
forbidding; populated by the Nords, loud Vikinglike brutes who enjoy
drinking, swearing, and clubbing things. They're a far cry from
the scheming Dunmer, with their crafty natures and Byzantine theocratic
tangles. Solstheim is so cold and inhospitable that it's home to
more Nords, who love snow, than it is to Dunmer. And though Nords
and Dunmer may squabble over who the island belongs to, in reality
everything belongs to the Empirewhich brutally conquered it
all centuries before and crushes every breath of resistance with
An American Werewolf in Morrowind
Bloodmoon is more cleanly integrated into the world of Morrowind.
There are multiple ways to get from Vvardenfell to Solstheim,
the new area shows up right on your world map, and though Solstheim
is environmentally rather different from Vvardenfell, it's less
jarring moving back and forth between the two than it was doing
the same with the Tribunal expansion.
Solstheim is mostly arctic forest and tundra, an exciting graphical
change from the boggy Vvardenfell, sporting new weather effects
and flora. I wish they'd polished the graphics engine a bit for
this expansion; though it still looks great, I can only imagine
what pixel-shading algorithms and DirectX 9 features might do with
effects like ice translucencies and blowing snow. I guess we'll
have to wait for the sequel before we see a major upgrade to the
You do see a fairly extensive new bestiary on Solstheim, ranging
from Nord Berserkers to wild razorback boars, snow wolves, multiple
species of bear, and more magical beasts than you can shake a sword
at. New creatures are good looking and pretty well balanced, but
Bloodmoon isn't for beginners and even the simpler creatures
would pose quite a threat to anyone under tenth level. Solstheim
is as steeped in Nordic tradition as it is Dunmeric, so your encounters
are tinged by exposure to this new culture as well. Nordic Fryse
Hags, undead Draugr, and the frustratingly tenacious Spriggans all
smack of Skyrim mythology.
Outside of the wilds, the Imperial presence on Solstheim is very
much under construction. The landscape around you changes as the
story of Bloodmoon progressesthe Raven Rock mining
outpost comes together day by day, and you get the satisfaction
of watching your activities and decisions impact the course of the
outpost's growth. The Imperial Fort Frostmoth, imposing as it is,
undergoes changes of its own as well. All this helps you feel more
immersed in the world of Bloodmoon. Whereas Morrowind
and Tribunal were essentially static environments, Solstheim
grows and changes as time passes. It's really neat.
You're given a choice fairly early on about whether you want to
be "good" or "evil," these items appearing in
quotes because it's open to fairly subjective interpretation. As
usual you're under no obligation to follow the story arc. If you
want to just roam the new area and have adventures, feel free, though
there is a lot more to do in Bloodmoon if you do follow the
story than if you don't.
And, of course, there is the much-talked-about opportunity to turn
into a werewolf. Accomplishing this is not much more difficult than
encountering a werewolf and getting yourself bitten a few times;
some nights later an alarming dream will start you down the path
of lycanthropy. It's an exciting twist, playing as a semi-wild beast
with uncontrollable bloodlust, concealing the dark secret from all
lest you become one of the hunted. Bethesda may have hyped this
one aspect of the game a little too much; it is, after all, just
one of the many branching paths you have the opportunity to follow.
But Will You Fix it in Expansion #3?
It is the story of Bloodmoon that makes it so good: the
story, combined with the new environments (the forests are really
something to behold), the new monsters, and the quests and adventures.
The Nords are an interesting people with a fascinating culturehopefully
they'll be explored further in a later Elder Scrolls title.
And for those who got a little tired of the often ridiculously intricate
plot of Morrowind/Tribunal, with its dozens of significant
characters, living gods, messianic rumors, false prophecies, true
prophecies, forgotten cults, power grabs, aboriginal rituals, betrayals,
religious disputes, clandestine activities, secret societies, ancient
lineages, lost artifacts, imperial thuggery, books worth of information
to digest ... well, Bloodmoon is easier to follow, though
no less devious and clever. It has a different tenor than the other
two, a sort of Lewis and Clarkish colonial expedition feel to it.
This new, pleasing flavor stands as a nice break from the occasionally
tedious exposition of Morrowind and Tribunal.
The flaws in the game are not, for the most part, Bloodmoon's
specifically. Bethesda uses these expansions as an opportunity
to patch the game as well, and unfortunately they didn't address
a few issues that still desperately need attention if Morrowind
is to become a game that people keep playing long after they've
finished the main quests. And though these issues are fairly inconsequential
in the grand scheme of things, they are irritantsand irritants
should always be dealt with.
3D pathing, for example, remains ghastly. NPCs who follow you are
bound to become stuck on something or left behind because they cannot
climb a step or clamber over an outcropping. Other NPCs, programmed
to wander randomly, occasionally will come to a dead stop in a hallway
or passage too narrow to accommodate two people abreasteffectively
blocking the corridor. The only solution in some cases is to draw
your sword and hack the obstacle to pieces: distasteful from a roleplaying
and immersiveness perspective.
There also still is no way to effectively edit your spellbook.
I want to be able to rename spells I already own and sort them according
to my own scheme, rather than alphabetically. I want the ability
to delete some spells from my book. I want to color-code. It would
be a simple enough thing to add an applet that allows a player to
export his or her spellbook to Excel and do the editing there; why
hasn't it been provided? The same goes for the journal system, which
was improved slightly in Tribunal but is still weak and unwieldy,
offering mediocre cross-referencing and clumsy organization tools.
In a game as complicated as Morrowind, a linear journal isn't
There still is no provision for horses or other riding animals
to speed up movement. This is something that should have been included
with the original Morrowind but wasn't; its absence now is
almost unforgivable. A horse+saddlebags plug-in should be the next
project Bethesda works on.
Bethesda has, however, corrected some issues that were problems
in the past. A number of new armor and weapon materials have been
added to Bloodmoon to supplement the usual components. A
great quantity of new alchemical ingredients are also available.
Some of the traders on the island have large sums of money on hand,
so you can sell extremely valuable items for something closer to
their actual worth. And the creatures in northern Solstheim are
sufficiently challenging as to pose some threat, however minor,
to even very high-level characters.
But Bloodmoon does not balance the game. Super-difficult
monsters are still confined to a very small geographical area. And
a high-level character still is not seriously challenged by the
end of the gameunless you've done something wrong, by the
end of Morrowind/Tribunal/Bloodmoon, you've amassed several
hundred thousand pieces of gold, a vast armory of magic and exotic
weapons, an unstoppable spellbook, and chestloads of equipment.
In fact, most players plug in a lair or receive a stronghold from
one of the in-game Noble Houses to store all their booty in, since
much of it is too valuable to sell. The result is that by the end
of the game, you are a steamroller in a land of carnival glass;
even the final confrontation with Lord Dagoth isn't challenging,
The Last Unicorn
But as I said above, these complaints are not Bloodmoon-specific,
so while I wish the new expansion had addressed them, I won't penalize
it for failing to do so. Bloodmoon is a tremendously valuable
expansion to the world of Morrowind, adding a new story and
an environment of real depth and complexity. Frankly, had Bethesda
chosen to make Bloodmoon much longer and more involved, it
could have been a sequel rather than an expansion. It brings that
much originality and value to the table.
I'm going out on a limb here, but I'll guess that Bloodmoon
represents the final Morrowind expansion. Expanding a
game that's already more than a year old doesn't make much sense,
since the replayability of any story-driven RPG is dubious (ultimately
you are just experiencing the same story again in a different way).
Furthermore, Bethesda has a lot on its plateit's making the
Pirates of the Caribbean movie tie-in, an adventure game
based on Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu stories, and, amusingly
enough, The Elder Scrolls Travelscompact ES games for
your cell phone.
Once these franchises are on store shelves, we can expect Bethesda
to turn once again to the world of Tamriel and begin thinking about
The Elder Scrolls 4. Morrowind was a shockingly huge success,
selling very well on both the PC and Xbox platforms. Reviews were
outstanding, its return rate was low, and customer satisfaction
was enormous. So while there's little doubt that the Elder Scrolls
series will continue, I think gamers have seen the last of Morrowind,
that bleak and dreary country full of angry people who just
can't seem to like you, however much we like them.
Release Date: June 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
Win 98/ME with 128 MB RAM
Win 00/XP with 256 MB RAM
500 MHz Intel Pentium III, Celeron, or AMD Athlon processor (800
MHz PIII or AMD recommended)
8X CD-ROM drive
1 GB free hard disk space
32 MB Direct3D compatible video card with 32-bit color support and
DirectX 8.1 compatible driver (Nvidia GeForce 2 GTS or ATI Radeon
DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card
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