The Moment That Makes Morrowind A Masterpiece

The Moment That Makes Morrowind A Masterpiece

Skyrim: Special Edition is a mess. It’s full of glitches, and even if the base game offers interesting stories, the remaster misses the mark. The Elder Scrolls can do much better. In fact, it already has. Let’s take a look at the series at its best. Let’s talk about Morrowind.

People often praise Morrowind for intricate systems and its bizarre, vibrant world design. The main story can get lost in all the exploration and faction quests. But the story is actually Morrowind’s most important contribution to the series. It all comes to a head in one moment during the finale.

Be warned, there will be spoilers.

In Morrowind, you play as a prisoner sent on a quest to fulfil an ancient prophecy. Local legend claims that the reincarnation of an ancient elven general named Indoril Nerevar will return to the land to cast out evil. When you arrive on the continent of Vvardenfell, you find it ravaged by a plague. The source is Dagoth Ur, the one time adviser and confidant of… you guessed it, Lord Nerevar.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding Nerevar and his generals. The Tribunal Temple preaches that Dagoth Ur betrayed Nerevar by refusing to hand over magical tools that granted godhood. They claim that Nerevar died fighting him. Other accounts say that his advisers were the betrayers and Dagoth Ur fought against them.

The bi-gendered god Vivec was one of Nerevar's generals.

The bi-gendered god Vivec was one of Nerevar’s generals.

To rally forces against Dagoth Ur, the player must be acknowledged as his reincarnation. They carry out various deeds and complete quests until local tribe chiefs and leaders of the Temple declare they are the second coming of Nerevar. Throughout this, the player never learns whether they are the reincarnated lord or not.

Eventually, you confront Dagoth Ur. He asks if you truly are Nerevar reborn. This moment is the moment that makes Morrowind great. There are a variety of answers to the question. You can declare that you are Nerevar. You can claim to be a loyal agent of the Empire. You can claim to be your own, self-made hero. Or you can say that you don’t know.

I guess I am the reincarnation? I dunno. Gosh.

I guess I am the reincarnation? I dunno. Gosh.

Consider Skyrim. You are the goddamn Dragonborn. You have magic that no one else has. You are the legendary hero who will slay all the dragons. In Morrowind, it’s possible that you are some schmuck who got really lucky. The ancient prophecy might be little more than a lie or local superstition. And even if that were the case, it still might not matter.

This is getting into esoteric lore territory, but there’s a concept called “mantling” in The Elder Scrolls. The saying goes: “Walk like them until they must walk like you.” In completing the main quest, it is entirely possible that you acted like Nerevar so fucking hard that you became him regardless of the truth. Even when you make a choice to say that you are self-made, it might not matter.

RPGs often eschew ambiguity in favour of quests with clear villains and understandable motives. Ghaleon wants to be Magic Emperor and rule the world? We need to stop him. Valua is going to take over the world? Plucky sky pirates will save the day. These stories are emotionally resonant but that often comes at the expense of feeling reductive or elementary.

Dagoth Ur is also trying to build a giant mech. Don't ask.

Dagoth Ur is also trying to build a giant mech. Don’t ask.

Morrowind doesn’t do that. In a single moment, the game’s narrative becomes infinitely more complex. The writing leverages intense metaphysical concepts that cast further doubt about the story. These rich underpinnings and bold player choices never survived the transition into Oblivion or Skyrim. The setting was sanded down, and the beautiful ambiguities were thrown away.

The Elder Scrolls often deliver grand stories of unambiguous good and evil. Armies clashing against each other, demon lords fighting bastard princes and dragon invasions. But the series works best when it plays with well-known fantasy tropes. Subverting the notion of the chosen one and undercutting the player’s journey as a hero was a bold decision. It helps make the setting interesting, complex and mysterious.

All it took was a simple dialog tree.


  • I loved Morrowind when it came out, played the snot out of it, it was the reason I got into upgrading my computer over and over in the first place. That being said, I’ve gone through the process of upgrading the game using mods to the highest possible graphics, and going back into it with the knowledge it won’t have the same visual impact as modern games. What kept me from playing it wasn’t the graphics, it was the mechanics.

    The story line might be on point as you state above, but the game play is so clunky by modern standards. The endless walls of script to get across a simple point…gah!

    The dialogue trees were at best the illusion of choice, and at worse, a time sink that most players just clicked past because they wanted to get back to PLAYING the game (gotta collect my pillows man!), rather than reading about stuff. That is, the purpose of the trees was lost because players weren’t engaging with them, and as such, the reason they were to go collect x number of mushrooms was because it moved the game forward and helped to level the character, rather than because of story line. Morrowind still had player choice via game play, but the walls of text are what were so exasperating (e.g. going and killing a town of people because your character is a psychopath apparently).

    Oblivion brought about dialogue that was much more straight forward, and also got to the point a LOT faster. It was still clunky in some places, but was a far improvement over the walls and walls of text from Morrowind. The illusion of choice remained, but was generally kept to a minimum number of paths, which usually made sense. All true player choice was left to game play, e.g.: be a good person and go help people, or be a maniac and kill all the things.

    Skyrim carried this forward, yes there are bugs, but oblivion had bugs too. I think the only reason Morrowind didn’t have bugs ( many [ ]), was because the engines of that time were so much more simple. Trying to compare a game that was 1gb (at most), to a game that starts out 23GB (Skyrim Special Edition), as a download, is a bit unfair.

    Now, should we accept bugs in our games…no. Should Bethesda have fixed the bugs in SSE? YES OMG WTF WERE THEY THINKING?!!? Am I surprised that they didn’t? Lol, no…

    The thing about their games is that they are FUN, even their bugs are fun. The story is great, yes you are a kind of mary sue, but it’s about the escapism. Technically in Morrowind you could be nobody from the start, and remain that way to the end, but really what kind of nobody is able to fight gods and survive?!?! A nobody named Nerevar…which I think translates to Mary Sue if I remember correctly.

    • Totally agree with you. Ask anybody the time of day in Morrowind and they answer you in about six paragraphs. Most of the dialogue wasn’t very interesting and was just way too long. In fact it all reads like a very long monologue rather than dialogue. There seems to be some misconception that simply having gore words or more buttons equates to greater complexity, but games like Morrowind prove that wrong. It’s an awesome game, possibly the best in the series, but it wasn’t good because it had so many words.

      Also th combat was awful.

      • Idk, combat, spell and potion making was so open to tweaking it was what you made it. But i loved the story and meaty dialogue. But im that guy who reads everything. Every book, descriptor, potion, road sign, whatever. Hell i read the pc requirements while it loaded because ive already read the rest of the box twice. What stumped me (and i hope its just my solo brainfart for others sakes) was the title of the Nerevar reborn, the Nerevarine. It made my brain trip over all the E’s n R’s and that damn V in the middle that derailed my reading evey time. just mentally trying to say it, let alone verbally f’ing spannered me. By the end my eye would twitch whenever it appeared it bugged me that much.
        TL:DR- i like words n stuff.

    • I wonder what the SkyWind mod is going to do about all the dialogue in Morrowind?

      Are they going to voice it, or is it all going to be text based.

  • More like jump glitching your way through the brick walls to avoid being deemed a citizen of Morrowind, and allowing dubious things to be done without the worry of consequences. Take that Caius Cosades or what ever his name was.

  • Morrowind let you build swords that would one-shot kill gods. It had mage dwellings that could only be travelled around by levitation. It had giant mosquito/tick things for use as mass transit. It was horribly flawed and dangerously addictive. I loved it.

  • I just want to point out that this article is wrong and it seems the author didn’t pay attention to the story or in fact a key moment in which the player is identified as the Neverine. The item that proves this is in found here

    Yes I know it’s an old article I’m posting on, I just stumbled onto it by chance of googling Dagoth Ur for nostalgia.

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