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The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon Review

/ Jun 3rd, 2003 No Comments

Morrowind. No game yet has equaled its combination of immersive first person graphics and free-roaming game play that keeps a player’s imagination working. The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon, the new expansion to the Morrowind world, keeps this foundation of open-ended game play firmly intact, but then adds many new features, including new scenery, monsters, equipment, and quests. Bloodmoon also adds a major new role playing element that’ll thrust players – if they choose of course – into life as a monster.

Story/Originality

Typical of Morrowind, Bloodmoon begins any time the player feels like traveling to Solstheim, a new island located north of Vvardenfell. Unlike Tribunal, the new island is contiguous with the main continent; a player can take a ship or even swim there as they choose. On this large mostly frozen landmass, the Imperials have established a fort and Morrowind’s equivalent of a megacorporation – the East Empire Company – are trying to develop a mining colony to extract the rich minerals available in the area. Further inland, players who follow the main plot line will encounter the barbarian people of the island and get caught up – one way or another – in their struggle against Solstheim’s greatest menace: werewolves.

Unlike the previous Tribunal expansion, I found Bloodmoon’s main story to be more straightforward. Considering that it deals with barbarians and wide open frontiers, it’s not surprising that the main plot lacks the claustrophobic sense of intrigue that made Tribunal so intense. Even so, Bloodmoon does add another rich layer to Elder Scrolls lore. Typical of Morrowind, players can choose among the game’s factions, leading to different paths through the main plot. And that’s just the main plot, which I estimate to be about 1/3 of the total quests in Bloodmoon that a player can pursue.

The game is still the same as it was in Morrowind, with player’s wandering with or without purpose through the lands of townpeople, monsters, and dungeons, most of them related to some quest. Otherwise, everything in Bloodmoon is new. New monsters populate Solstheim; a player won’t find a single one from the Morrowind mainland. New snow-covered terrain, snowstorms, and ice caves make up the new scenery. This in addition to the enormous number of quests offer plenty new for any player, even if they choose not to partake of Bloodmoon’s main innovation: the ability to become a werewolf. If a player becomes infected with lycanthropy, they’ll have to enter a whole new mindset toward playing their character.

Gameplay

Becoming a werewolf in Bloodmoon works similar to becoming a vampire in the original Morrowind; to wit, players (even those immune to disease) can contract a disease that will eventually transform them. If a player doesn’t find a cure, they’ll thereafter find themselves sprouting fur, claws, and a mean streak every night. Werewolves move and slash just like other Morrowind characters, with some major exceptions. Most prominently, werewolves are extremely fast and strong. As a werewolf, players can literally hurtle themselves like a missile at most tough enemies and cut them down in three to four slashes. Since a werewolf can also sense human type characters on the overland map, the game delivers an outstanding sense of hunting down prey, something a player will need to do as failing to kill a human character in game results in the player losing health as the night progresses.

Despite killer claws, being werewolf actually makes combat far more challenging than being an uninfected high level character. Werewolves cannot use items or magic, leaving their own innate regeneration ability as the only option for healing. Since silver weapons – which most barbarians of Solstheim wield –inflict double damage to werewolves, high level Morrowind players could find themselves dying far more often than they would if they just kept their armor on.

While werewolf combat is exciting and challenging, role playing as the werewolf is the most interesting part of the transformation. If any non-player character sees the player transforming into a werewolf, every single other character in the world will attack on sight. Yes, it’s contrived, but this feature does force werewolf players (who still value the game’s non-combat aspects) to keep an eye on the game time and retreat into the wilderness for their nightly change of skin.

Two major paths exist down the main plot, one each for the werewolf and non-werewolf player. In addition, Bloodmoon is packed from coast to coast with various quests, including ones specific to the werewolf form introduced by some effective videos. Stand alone dungeons abound as well. One large side quest involves the construction of the East Empire colony. Players who quest on behalf of the colony soon find themselves involved in the intrigue that surrounds it and its unscrupulous director (who the player can always help). As one path of the quest progresses, the player can choose what buildings to include in the colony, sort of like a simple Morrowind city-building program.

Bloodmoon’s new monsters present a tough challenge, most noticeably since they’ll attack in packs. New dungeons include ice caves and new crypts, with most of these being small or uninspiring straight runs down mostly straight tunnels. Compared to Tribunal’s awesome multi-leveled caverns, this was something of a disappointment. The Soltsheim wilderness balances it out though, providing an enormous new area stocked with plenty of fights and landmarks.

While a player can go to Solstheim anytime, they likely won’t last long unless they are a high level. At a high level, the challenge is much greater than the original Morrowind. Though the mightiest characters who completed the original’s prophetic quest can still hack their way out of everything except the final dungeon (which’ll cut down anyone), they’ll have to heal afterwards. Any less-traveled/leveled character, werewolf or otherwise, should expect tough frequent fights as they travel across the island.
I did encounter a few quest bugs in the game, but only after completing the main plot with no problems. Bloodmoon does already have a patch available at www.elderscrolls.com.

Graphics

At first glance, Bloodmoon’s graphics seemed to be showing signs of age. After progressing across the entire island, encountering the detailed new monsters and diverse structures, plus those scenes of sunrise after a snowstorm, I’m still highly impressed. Nothing beats a first-person perspective for immersion, and Bloodmoon’s attention to graphic detail adds to that immersion like no other RPG.
Similar to the ash storms from the original game, the snowstorms represent the best new graphic effect. Equally impressive are the werewolves, who look especially menacing and monstrous.

Sound

Bloodmoon has the same limited music as the original Morrowind. Sound effects like prevalent wolf howls are alright, but nothing notable. About the only change in sound involves the voice overs for the major NPCs, who will recap the player’s progress on their quests.

Longevity

Bloodmoon’s main path adds about 20 hours of game, but that’s only for players who have a powerful character who can march straight through the main plot. The huge wilderness, additional side quests and random dungeons, plus the opportunity to replay as another character, make Bloodmoon a huge new addition to Morrowind that meshes with the original better than the more limited Tribunal. Like becoming a vampire in Morrowind, the challenge of playing as a werewolf in the main quest adds an even bigger incentive to replay the whole game.

The Final Word: A Steady Grip! Devoted Morrowind fans will want to pick up Bloodmoon for even more high quality RPGing set in the unparalleled Elder Scrolls world. While it has a lot more definite content than Tribunal, Bloodmoon is geared for high level characters, which make it a more forbidding purchase for new players. SCORE: 86%.

Roy Rossi

Roy Rossi

Roy Rossi was a long time major contributor to Gaming Illustrated before disappearing of the face of the Earth. His service to GI will never be forgotten.
Roy Rossi

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