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The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal Review

/ Nov 7th, 2003 No Comments

Given that I spent nearly three months playing Morrowind and saw and did maybe one-half of what there was to see and do, the thought of an expansion for Bethesda’s amazing role-playing game seemed a little like overkill. Was it really necessary to add a new story and more quests to a game that I could easily spend another year playing?
Being an RPG fan, of course I would check out the Elder Scrolls: Tribunal expansion, but I had to temper the usual wide-eyed frog-in-flashlight routine over Morrowind’s incredible visuals with the thought of the necessity of Tribunal’s additional hours of content. Once finished, I was transfixed again, this time over Tribunal’s challenging, high level gameplay, huge dungeons, and suspense-ridden story (meanwhile, the graphics are still the best-looking this side of the big first person shooters).

Morrowind players can begin the expansion at any time, although it is designed for higher level characters and the price of entry is an initial difficult fight. Centered in the city of Mournhold, characters will quickly find these new stomping grounds beset by the suspicious ascension of a new king and the erratic behavior of an old god. As players explore the city and the dungeons beneath it, they become rapidly entwined in the intrigue within these two factions. This eventually leads to a showdown that will change Morrowind forever. Tribunal sets some serious challenges before the player, well-suited to those who have completed the main Morrowind quest.

Originality

Morrowind’s first-person game play, chop-chop combat, and character development are unchanged for Tribunal. The big changes are the huge sometimes breathtaking dungeons and the highly-detailed, truly tough new monsters and items. Some additional features include the ability to hire a bodyguard, strangely appropriate pack animals, manual map annotation, and a new journal feature that tracks quests both new (of which there are many) and old (of which there are very many).
Better than all these new features though is Tribunal’s story, one as complex and intriguing as Morrowind’s. Morrowind is one of the very rare RPGs (like Ultima VI) with an actual culture wired into all its diverse non-player characters and settings. Tribunal emphasizes that by dealing with the cornerstones of that culture – religion and politics. Because of this, jaded RPG fans who have played through one too many orcish or demon invasion will be delighted by the complexities and personalities of the rich Elder Scrolls world.

Gameplay

Player characters in Tribunal find the same first person game as Morrowind. There are many character in Mournhold to talk to, many offering side quests or letting slip some important information once the main plot starts leading to player paranoia. As in Morrowind, players are free to go their own way, choosing and executing quests as they see fit. The quests are the usual sort involving fetching, exploring, or bashing, however many are wrapped in mysterious circumstances and questionable motives that may leave the character seriously pondering whether to go through with them. The Elder Scrolls is a series for those who prefer their kings, heroes and monsters shaded morally grey.

Key to the new game play are the high level monsters. In the original Morrowind, once a character – particularly fighter types – achieve a certain level and equipment, the combat becomes laughably easy. Tribunal makes a serious effort to change this, and they almost succeed. Dungeon denizens (and city guards) are much more difficult to best. Even still, a fully armored high level fighter can still cut them down – it just takes a little more effort. There are a few much tougher combats, such that it takes some strategy to succeed; it was the first time in many Morrowind months I had to think about combat before charging and chopping. Tribunal also includes an adjustable difficulty setting previously available in the Morrowind patches, allowing tougher fights. I shudder to think about winning some of the Tribunal fights on higher levels.
The employable mercenary is a fun new addition to Morrowind, as character’s must keep him paid and healed, and may equip him with better weapons and armor. In turn, he helps in combat – something mage and marksmen characters could grow to appreciate. Tribunal makes improvements in NPC pathfinding as well, such that there are fewer instances of ditching the character you are escorting or your mercenary companion.

Graphics

The city of Mournhold itself is not as visually memorable as many of the cities in Morrowind, but it still looks good. One particular dungeon was the greatest sight I had seen in the entire game (you’ll know it by the statues), and Bethesda rightly assumes more waterfalls equal more interesting dungeons. Inspecting the Tribunal monster corpses or new weapons and armor shows their incredible detail; watching the monsters move shows the excellent animation.

Sound

Nothing changed from Morrowind except for new character voice clips, which are high quality, sometimes funny, and strangely catchy.

Longevity

The main story in Tribunal plus many of the side quests take about 20 hours to complete. Given the Elder Scrolls standard of free ranging adventure inherent in Tribunal, plus some quests that encompass the main Morrowind world, Tribunal can add a whole lot more to the committed adventurer. This is not even getting into the replay possibilities.

Final Word

For any Elder Scrolls fan, Tribunal is well worth the price for its story, new quests, and new underworlds to explore. The new journal feature in particular make it a worthwhile purchase for those first stepping onto the shores of Morrowind, although it may be a long time before they actually get to visit Mournhold.

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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