Reviewed: February 5, 2003
Released: November 1, 2002
Even as I type this, there is a debate raging in intellectual and philosophical circles. It is a debate that began long ago, before the question of frosted versus unfrosted mini wheats, before the great taste/less filling controversy, even before the whole Ginger or Mary Ann thing. (Yeah, you say Mary Ann, but I know you’re thinking Ginger). This debate concerns whether or not you can have too much of a good thing.
In the case of the role-playing epic Morrowind, and its Tribunal expansion, I insist the answer is “no, you can never have too much”. If you haven’t yet played Morrowind, stop reading this and study my review of that huge and wonderful game. (Then come back and read this review because I worked hard on it and believe it’s both witty and clever.)
For some of us, it’s not a question of want. Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal is a necessity. We’ve played Morrowind long past the main story’s end, improving our characters’ skills and seeing what remains to be discovered. But really, we’re just biding our time, waiting for the next chapter in the Morrowind saga much the way Lord of the Rings cultists keep watching the old movies as they wait for the new release.
To be honest, I’m not saying Tribunal is fantastic. I was pleased in many respects, disappointed in others. I’m only saying (forgive the analogy) that an addicted smoker is going to pay any price for a pack of cigarettes when he needs his fix. Tribunal is like that. Forget the fancy math regarding the price of the expansion pack versus the amount of playtime or the number of new locations or items. The bottom line is that if you can’t get enough of Morrowind, then you need Tribunal.
Put simply, Tribunal is more of the same. It has a solid story line in the spirit of the original, with new quests meant to challenge a high level character. It has two new major locations, the cities of Mournhold and Sotha Sil, and several new items and monsters. That’s it. There are also some welcome innovations, which affect ease of play, but not quality of play.
The result is that Morrowind becomes a larger game, not a better or at least different game, which is a shame because the designers had some good opportunities. Introducing a new player-character race, profession, and/or skill set for instance, would have increased Morrowind’s life span significantly.
Additionally, a better job could have been done integrating the expansion’s mission back onto the main Vvardenfell map. As it is, Mournhold seems like an isolated area. The player is either there, trying to complete the main quest, or back in the original territory trying to improve his skills. Since for most of us Vvardenfell probably still holds a lot of quests and surprises, giving the player a reason to revisit more areas on the original map and tying new quests to old places would have made the expansion feel much larger and more a part of the original.
What of the innovations? Pack animals and non-player characters (NPC’s) for hire are nifty additions, as are an improved journal system and the ability to put notes on your map. In fact, all these improvements retrofit the original game. If you haven’t finished Morrowind, or if you haven’t even started it yet, it pays to buy Tribunal and install it now in order to make the most of these enhancements.
Graphics are pretty much of the same quality as those in the original game. I refer you to my previous Morrowind review for more.
I can add that the new areas each have a fresh and distinctive look to them. My first look at each new city, with its own style of architecture, was a great pleasure in Morrowind. I remember the first time I stepped off a silt rider in Balmora after traipsing around the richly textured but unimaginative Seyda Neen. The city vista from high up on the silt rider platform was just breathtaking, and turned out to be but the first of many visual pleasures.
Talking about silt riders reminds me of a peeve. It’s an inexcusable omission not to include the graphics of a silt rider journey in the game, either from the perspective of the passenger “cabin”, or riding shotgun with the driver. An option to turn the feature off when the effect wears thin could have been implemented as well. But I nitpick here. This does not spoil an incredible game.
Nope, nothing really new here. Yes, the new creatures and items do have new sounds, and new graphics for that matter (if they didn’t they would still be the old creatures and items, wouldn’t they), but the number of spoken phrases uttered by the NPC’s is still way too few for a game this long, and they all have the same few voices.
For an expansion pack, that’s the big question, the value. There’s enough additional play time to warrant the purchase price. The other improvements are worth having as well, but Bethesda should offer them as patches to Morrowind rather than requiring an additional purchase.
Speaking of patches, Tribunal patches the bugs in Morrowind. The alternative is to download a hefty patch, which is at the least a minor inconvenience, especially for those with slower Internet connections. (Ironically, you still need to download a small Trbunal patch). For all of these reasons, it pays to buy Tribunal, and to buy it sooner rather than later.
One last word on the subject of value, specifically on extending gameplay; both the official Morrowind website and Bethesda’s parent site offer some great plug-ins for download. These are like free “mini expansions” which give you some cool missions and items. This has nothing specifically to do with Tribunal, but I thought you’d like to know. Other user created mods and plug-ins are springing up all over the ‘net as well, but as always, be careful what you download.
Most players who’ve invested large chunks of time into Morrowind will want, no, need to continue, and they’ll want something new. (I’ve invested more time and thought into my character’s skills and profession than I have in my own, which is why I’m sitting here writing game reviews instead of making real money at a real job.) Tribunal gives this captive audience what it wants in terms of both quality and quantity, but didn’t surprise us with anything truly new. I just can’t help but feel there should have been more.
Despite my gripes, Tribunal is worth having, so I say, go out and buy the damned thing.