The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is the third game in the Elder Scrolls series, the first to be rendered in 3D, and the first to introduce the player to Cliff Racers. Unfortunately. The game follows the path of the player character as he/she is dumped onto the island of Vvardenfell, in the province of Morrowind, and his or her discovery of the mysterious Nerevarine prophecy. It is regarded as one of the best roleplaying video games out there.
The PC arrives on Vvardenfell on a prison ship, in the company of another prisoner named Jiub. He/she (hereafter 'he') is quickly directed towards a shirtless crackhead named Caius Cosades in the town of Balmora, where he learns about the Emperor's secret bodyguard organization, the Blades, and is made a member. Caius sends the PC (hereafter 'Jeff') on several irritating errands to fish up information on a secret 'Sixth House Cult' and something called the 'Nerevarine'.
After running around the island, which is primarily inhabited by dark elves (or 'dunmer'), Jeff discovers that he's probably the Nerevarine (surprise!), and it's up to him to stop this Sixth House (and by extension its leader, Dagoth Ur) from doing something terrible. However, he can only do so if the whole of Morrowind stands behind him, and for that to happen, he must complete more irritating quests for both the other Great Houses and the nomadic tribespeople. He jumps through hoops for a couple more hours, accumulates more useless quest gear and meaningless titles, and is eventually granted an audience with one of the province's three Living Gods, Vivec (who resides in the city named after him, where he spends his time writing bizarre sermons filled with wat and buttfucking).
Vivec, in his dichromatic wisdom, informs Jeff that Dagoth Ur and his cronies are readying up some Just As Planned in their secret volcano lair in the center of the island. Apparently, Dagoth Ur has been tapping the fallen heart of a god for power, which is coincidentally the same place that Vivec got his godhood from. But it was totally different, bro, he swears. Vivec gives the player a weird Dwemer Artifact, and tells him to go find a Dwemer. Who are, by the way, all mysteriously vanished. Of course.
In a rather convoluted fashion, Jeff learns about a dunmer named Divath Fyr, who lives at the top of a tower and keeps a basement full of horrible creatures that have been ravished by a Leprosy-like disease called Corprus. For study. You know, science and stuff. In this basement also conveniently resides the last living Dwemer, an old fat bastard who tells Jeff about his race's folly and subsequent disappearance. It involved the same heart that Dagoth Ur currently possesses, as well as a hammer called Sunder and a short sword/tuning rod called Keening, which are used to interact with said heart. The Dwemer also informs him that the weird artifact that Vivec gave him is called Wraithguard, and it (when properly attuned) is used to keep the tools Sunder and Keening from killing the shit out of whoever holds them.
Jeff slouches off, assuming (correctly) that it is now his job to find these tools and use them to somehow avert catastrophe. He heads into a semi-active volcano crater surrounded by ancient zombies, horrific diseases, and fucking cliff racers, kills just about everyone, and finds the tools in old Dwemer ruins. Delving deeper, he finds Dagoth Ur himself, bragging about how he's going to make this huge fucking construct powered by the heart, and it's going to be so incredibly boss-ass sick, and bro, just lend him the tools for like ten minutes. Jeff kills him, too; or tries, until Dagoth Ur pops up somewhere else and reveals that his life force is linked to the heart. Jeff breaks the heart using the tools, then kills Dagoth Ur again, getting tired of this shit real quick.
With the death of Dagoth Ur and the destruction of the heart, Morrowind is lifted from its curse of constant blight storms, though the cliff racers remain. Jeff has a nice chat with a goddess named Azura that has been providing general plot information throughout the game, and sets off for the Bloodmoon Expansion. Then Vivec shoves his "spear" in Azura's mouth and banishes her from the mortal plane. Just. As. Planned.
Morrowind has an in-depth character generation and level-up process that remain fan favorites even after the release of its successor games. Characters chose five major and five minor skills, from a list of twenty-seven, to start with bonuses to them, and leveling up the character was achieved by leveling any combination of those skills ten times. Skills were controlled by overall stats (strength, endurance, willpower, etc), which also determined health, fatigue, carrying capacity, and magicka.
Combat is real-time, but isn't much more complicated then clicking rapidly on the thing you want dead and hoping its health bar goes down faster. There is no such thing as a power strike, and of the 'chop', 'slash', and 'stab' attacks, usually only one (the most powerful for the particular weapon) is ever used. Magic is similarly simplistic, with the player selecting a spell from his list, clicking to cast, and hoping it goes off successfully.
The game has seven skills devoted to mastery of arms alone, and they don't share any proficiencies with one another (for example, a character with 100 long blade skill will still miss more often that hit with his 25 short blade skill). This can lead to some railroading in terms of weapon usage, locking characters out of some of the more powerful weapons.
The scope of the game is much smaller than the procedurally-generated-but-gigantic landscapes of the previous two, but much more detailed as a result of the entire environment being designed by hand. The first expansion, Tribunal, adds a city on the mainland of Morrowind that can only be fast-travelled to; Bloodmoon added an entire separate island to the northwest filled with Werewolves and snow.
Why it's Awesome
Rather than taking place in the same generic medieval European setting as every other fantasy game and it's dog, Morrowind is set on an island composed largely of mud, swamps, ash wastes, and grasslands filled with hateful asshat natives. There are a few European-type Imperial forts and settlements, but most of the towns and cities can be broken down into one of three distinct architectural styles.
- Hlaalu, which is largely Middle Eastern in appearance
- Telvanni, where all the buildings are giant hollowed-out mushrooms that require levitation spells to get around in
- Redoran, where all the buildings are giant hollowed-out dead bugs and crabs and shit (including a city where the ruling district is inside the shell of a Giant Enemy Crab)
Morrowind is inhabited largely by grouchy, racist pricks who call you a filthy n'wah and enslave Khajits and Argonians for shits and giggles. Their preferred pastimes are killing each other over theological disagreements, hating outsiders, turning their dead ancestors into undead guardians, and mining the eggs of giant ant monsters. Their favorite living god, Vivec, is a dickish hermaphrodite who wrote a series of bizarre books about his divinity, his penis, random babbling, and various buttsecks-filled orgies with a Daedric Lord. Needless to say, not your average fantasy Elves.
Instead of generic ruined castles, you get:
- Half-buried Dwarven cities filled with homicidal robots, beardy ghosts, and awesome loot
- Demented Daedric ruins filled with demons and demon enthusiasts
- Dark Elven ancestral tombs filled with fucking goddamn Greater Bonewalkers
- Caves full of bandits, dicks and eldrtich horrors
- In this game, Marksman doesn't just govern bows, it also governs crossbows, throwing stars, and throwing knives
- There are three classes of armor: light, medium, and heavy, as opposed to just light and heavy
- Spears and halberds are a thing, and provide high damage with a much longer reach
- There are a ton of different sub-types of long and short blades, including Tantos, wakizashis, katanas, daikatanas, sabers, cutlasses, and broadswords. Most of these just provide an aesthetic change and perhaps some minor stat differences, but still, it's nice to have so many options as opposed to just "sword" and "greatsword"
- Six schools of magic as opposed to five. Magic has a lot more uses, with spells to open locks, become invisible, render opponents unable to cast their own spells, and fucking levitate because it's magic I ain't gotta explain shit
Morrowind at the Unofficial Elder Scrolls wiki, which has a much better page on the subject.