Morrowind and the Modern Games Industry
You may recall that I’ve discussed a game called Morrowind in the past. I wrote a post about it in my trademark retro-review-with-a-fresh-perspective format (don’t steal that idea, it’s MINE!) and I also streamed some sessions of it with my superstar tag-team partner Jarenth. You want to know why I stopped doing those stream sessions? I didn’t want to play the game anymore.
I’ve already said some mean things about Morrowind in that original post, but to recap: The movement speed is painfully slow, the combat is the epitome of a dull slog, and the stealth does not work properly. In the hours I spent with the game since then I began to learn more about it: namely, that it likes to bog you down with MMO-style “Collect X of Y” and “Go to X and interact with NPC Y” quests, which beautifully complement the atrociously slow movement speed, that the in-game economy is very easily breakable by exploiting potion brewing mechanics, and that the leveling system is convoluted, counter-intuitive and overly punitive.
Whenever people preach about how “old games were so much longer than the crap we play now” I roll my eyes, and this game is a perfect example of why. Yes, it occupies a lot of time, because it flagrantly wastes your time with slow movement and tedious fetch quests. Are we judging quantity over quality here?
Look, I did some digging through Morrowind and I just do not see any appeal. The game is revoltingly ugly (and I’m not just talking about graphical fidelity) and the combat is some of the worst I have ever played. Getting past that, the leveling system and economy system are both broken, and the quests provide no sense of engagement or satisfaction.
Is this really what we should hold up as the height of game design? Completing a million repetitive, meaningless quests so you can one day become the King Of Mages in a world of buggy robots? Exploiting an easily breakable economy and potion brewing scheme to get all the money in a dull, monotonous, overly brown world?
Is it out-of-line for me to call Morrowind a bad game? No, I don’t think so. I won’t begrudge you for your enjoyment of it, but it just does not function like a good game should. People have praised it for its setting and lore, but how much does that really mean when the game you’re playing is a fundamentally broken mess?
You know, back when I wrote that first impressions review of Fallout 1 and my site’s popularity [relatively] skyrocketed, people said I was being “unfair” toward the game because I was judging it by today’s standards rather than the standards of the time.
My response would be this: Yeah, I suppose I am being “unfair.” But if you want a “fair,” “unbiased” review of the game, I suggest you go back and find a review of it from the year it was released, because that’s the only way you’ll be satisfied. And I’ll also add that if you’re willing to criticize me for being unfair, you’ve missed the whole point of my retro review scheme.
A few months ago a certain blog post spread around the gaming community called “Fuck Videogames.” It’s a gross over-exaggeration of some genuine issues in the industry, but one part in particular really bothered me:
“Fuck developers for slapping a new coat of paint on an old game and selling it at full price. Fuck them for doing this every year, like clockwork, for the better part of two decades. Fuck developers for not taking risks.”
I’m not yelling about how these old games suck because I like yelling. I’m doing it to show that that line is bullshit. Many aspects of games have been steadily improving over the years. When I point out how egregiously flawed many of these so-called classics are, you respond with “Well, we have different standards today than we did back then.” And my reply is, “Yes, we do have different standards, because developers now have decades of experience and technology to make better games, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Many gamers complain that new games suck so bad and old games were so much better and the industry is totally stagnant and hasn’t improved in any way for like a decade. These same people will then turn around and tell me I’m being “unfair” in my criticisms of decade-old games simply because they’re a decade old. They don’t seem to be aware of the contradiction.
I understand if you think the industry has gone in a direction you don’t like. That’s understandable. It’s a very different place now than it was a decade or two ago, and I’m not going to argue it’s better in every way. But if you’re going to argue that everything about games is worse, then you’re literally, provably wrong. That attitude of yours doesn’t contribute to discourse. It’s thoughtless, pointless, ignorant, indignant bile masquerading as wisdom, and I do not have the patience to listen to that shit anymore.