My main problem with Skyrim is: why are we going here at all?
Bethesda bored the crap out of me with Oblivion’s setting: medieval Europe. It was a huge letdown after Morrowind’s alien, Eastern-inspired culture(s). Not only that, but Cyrodiil, the capital province where the Imperials live, was in earlier lore supposed to be rather jungley and Roman. Look, I don’t care about white medieval, or in this case, Norse Europe—I can find it anywhere. Bethesda, you have a whole bunch of more interesting provinces to go, go to them!
One thing I’ll say: they bypassed Tolkien, though the influence is there of course, and went back to Norse mythology: what with the whole Ragnarok/end of the world plot, the power of the spoken word, etc. That was almost refreshing.
But we don’t need to go there. Why, oh why, are we back in a place that glorifies violent white guys from north Europe? Why does this story need to be told?
Yes, Bethesda is trying to make a game with solid gameplay and make it flashy and interesting with dragon battles, but any creative work will have something of politics in it… and apparently white burly Gary Stus to appeal to the 18 year old guys are still ruling the genre for game developers, despite that increasingly the people playing games are not all male or white or 18. Look, I’m sure Bethesda, being a big name RPG developer, could still appeal to those 18 year old white gamers with a backdrop of more inventive lore. Goes without saying it would interest folks like me. What about Summurset Isle? The vibe I get from High Elves is a sort of Victorian England crossed with Asia, which is newer. Or Elsweyr? The modders keep setting stuff there. Seems like a lot of (white male?) gamers want to explore the world of anthro kitty cats in an Arabian Nights setting.
I’m still pleased that in Skyrim, I can be any race, and skin colour, and female, with no restriction. I’m pleased that Skyrim, for all the NPCs will tell you there’s sexism, still features a good lot of female badasses. (Although… maybe they are more the minority?)
I enjoy/ed Skyrim, but after the initial several-month rush, I realized that it lacks a lot of in-game depth. Quest lines are incredibly short, uninteresting, and full of plot holes. They are so short, but you advance so fast, that there is no sense of progression.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
Take the Mage’s College.
In Morrowind, you start off as a lowly peon in the Mage’s Guild. Your first task is to gather local mushrooms. Your next is gather local flowers. You get roughly, what, ten quests or so from each main Mage’s Guild quest giver, of whom there are four or five, with tasks varying in difficulty from dangerous dungeon crawling to simple ‘buy this’ quests.
In Skyrim, as soon as you join the college you’re off on an archeological dig where suddenly you’re dungeon crawling and then you’ve unearthed a powerful artifact. Then you’re being haunted by a Psijic mage with very little explanation as to who or what he are and what his motives are, who no one else can see. You fight another dungeon, deal with some nasty High Elf guy, and then the Psijic pops in and says the artifact is too dangerous and spirits it away.
Great! What? Now you’re the Archmage? Huh? Even though there’s people with way better skills and knowledge? Ugh.
While some of the quest lines were fun, they were mostly short. And… left me with a bunch of titles I didn’t care about. Even the main quest was apallingly easy. And over too fast.
I didn’t feel like I was a character role-playing in a world. I felt like a giant Mary Sue, without trying.
Morrowind is chock full of exploits and cheats. It becomes, combat-wise, a very easy game by the time you hit level 30 or so. But I still felt like there was room to roleplay, because to search for stuff to do, I didn’t have to specialize in everything. I could focus on just magic because there were several long questlines for that. On top of that, many of the quests are open-ended depending on what skills or problem solving techniques you have. For example, if you’re tasked with getting an item from someone, you can: taunt them into attacking you then loot their corpse; you can sweet-talk (or bribe) them into giving you the item; you can pickpocket it; you may be given quest dialogue to bribe or blackmail them; you can assassinate them and loot their corpse. In Skyrim, your options are usually just kill or steal, unless scripted otherwise for plot purpose.
Also, in Skyrim you can join these factions:
the Companions (fighters),
Dark Brotherhood (assassins),
Mages’ College (mages),
Thieves’ Guild (thieves, duh),
the Blades (main quest stuff),
Bards (? seems to be just dungeon crawling).
Oh, and the war factions where you just fight a bunch, your choice of Stormcloaks and Imperials.
I’m pretty sure that covers it. 7 factions to join. And you can also choose to do all the Daedric quests, so… ‘8’.
In vanilla Morrowind you had these questline options:
Main Quest questline
Quarra Vampire clan
Aundae Vampire clan
Morag Tong (honourable assassins)
Berne Vampire clan
That’s 14 questlines! Yes, the vampire and legion ones are short, but still, that’s almost twice as many, and the questlines are longer.
But there’s the radiant quests! Skyrim fans might protest. Yeah. Those are cool. But I like them better in theory than in execution: I hate having to clear out the same bandit nest a bunch of times because bosses keep respawning there. It gets tedious. Once you know the layout of the place that’s that.
Also, yes, Skyrim has a bunch of misc quests you can pick up all over… but so does Morrowind. Really, this comes down to personal preference.
Overall, though, I’d rather play a heavily modded, lore-friendly Morrowind to Skyrim. Skyrim has better graphics, is much stabler, loads so much faster, but… it doesn’t immerse me in a totally bizarre, alien culture with so many shades of grey and so much depth.
Also, with Tamriel Rebuilt having just released the third portion of their massive undertaking to rebuild the rest of Morrowind province, Sacred East, making the mainland bigger than the base game…. well, it’s going to take more than flashy gameplay, repetitive settings and dragons to summon me back to Skyrim.
However, just to be clear: I don’t hate Skyrim. It’s given me hours of delight and joy. It’s beautiful, a lot of care was taken with it, and it’s great fun to explore. In my opinion, it’s definitely another solid RPG that any fan of the genre should pick up.