The two biggest milestone releases in Bethesda's flagship Elder Scrolls franchise are arguably The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim. With the span of nearly a decade between them, the franchise certainly saw no shortage of evolution, as The Elder Scrolls sought to continuously refine and balance its formula to broaden its appeal with every release. But while it has obviously been largely successful in that regard, it has definitely shed some of the charms that made Morrowind such an endlessly compelling game.
That said, it isn't as if Skyrim didn't push the envelope in its own ways, despite enduring plenty of criticism levied at its alleged "dumbing down" of the Elder Scrolls gameplay formula. Given that Skyrim is the title largely responsible for making The Elder Scrolls a household name, what is it doing that Morrowind didn't? And what has the series lost since Morrowind to stir up so much contention among fans? These are the questions we're looking to dissect today as we examine five things that Skyrim does better than Morrowind, and vice versa.
10 MORROWIND: Custom Spells & Enchantments
Morrowind featured a robust system for creating custom spells and enchantments, allowing the player to create nearly limitless combinations of effects. Whether they were useless, absurdly powerful, or totally ridiculous, there was little limitation beyond what magic the player knew and their own imagination.
Custom spells had been done away with entirely by the time Skyrim rolled around, and though enchantment was still very much a prevalent mechanic, it was heavily deprecated and limited to specific combinations of predetermined effects. Of course, Morrowind's system was notoriously imbalanced, but the fun that it offered is sorely missed.
9 SKYRIM: Fully Voiced Dialogue
Oblivion actually introduced fully voiced dialogue to the Elder Scrolls series, but anyone familiar with its NPC inhabitants is sure to remember that the quality was spotty, to say the least. And Morrowind, for the purposes of this comparison, didn't really have any at all.
Skyrim took major strides in perfecting this, and although most conversations followed predetermined scripts, they felt much more natural and less jarring. Morrowind may pack in more dialogue per NPC as a whole, but with Skyrim, players no longer need to sit down and scroll through what is essentially a self-contained book every time they want to advance the plot.
8 MORROWIND: Unique Setting & Atmosphere
Although Skyrim's Nordic fantasy setting is immersive and engaging, it's familiar and rooted in aesthetics that most fantasy fans are plenty intimate with. Morrowind, on the other hand, truly transports the player into an almost alien landscape of mushroom trees and ash storms. It's foreign, alluring, and absolutely begging to be explored.
The landscape of Morrowind and the culture of its Dunmer inhabitants are endlessly compelling, toeing the line between conventional and dark fantasies while introducing unique elements all its own. Exploring it truly felt like exploring another world, and that's a big part of what renders it so memorable.
7 SKYRIM: It's Pretty
Drawing a graphical comparison between titles that were released nearly a decade apart might seem pedantic, but it'd be awfully naive to think that Skyrim's breathtaking graphical fidelity isn't a factor here. Morrowind might be a fine game, but visually, it didn't age too well.
Going back to Morrowind after playing Skyrim hinges heavily on the nostalgia factor. Even then, the transition back to Morrowind's nearly polygonal models can be more than a little jarring. For those that didn't initially experience Morrowind's magic in its heyday, it's almost impossible to get past.
6 MORROWIND: Skills & Attributes
Skyrim's skill and progression systems have been heavily streamlined over those found in both Morrowind and Oblivion, and it practically does away with their governing statistics entirely. To contextualize this, Morrowind featured twenty-seven different skills and eight attributes. No one character could do everything, making each playthrough feel personalized, unique, and special.
On the other hand, Skyrim features a total of eighteen skill trees and only three original derived statistics of health, Magicka, and stamina. Consequentially, Skyrim playthroughs seem to experience little in the way of variety, with the player character fitting more into a "jack of all trades" archetype, and racial selection amounting to little more than an aesthetic choice instead of an important, role defining selection.
5 SKYRIM: It's Accessible & Forgiving
Although there's definite legitimacy to the claim that Skyrim has "dumbed down" the Elder Scrolls formula, the less popular side of the coin needs to be considered: That this isn't necessarily a bad thing, in some cases. Morrowind's mechanical complexity made it entirely possible to ruin your character.
Choosing the wrong skills in character generation or improving the wrong statistics as you progressed could have dire consequences that left your character less than viable, if not downright unplayable. Skyrim's streamlined and less restrictive skill system eliminates this issue, ensuring players wouldn't find themselves heavily invested in a character who proved dishearteningly frustrating to play.
4 MORROWIND: The Immersion Factor
Morrowind truly encourages the player to thoroughly explore its game world. It doesn't lead the player by the hand to its quest objectives and fast travel options are limited, with cryptic directions being offered in place of quest markers and HUD icons.
Traveling through Vvardenfell is truly a journey, with the player setting out into the unknown, making exciting discoveries, and having a truly organic experience as they make the trip from point to point. There was a reason to optimize routes and discover shortcuts, rather than make a single trip to their destination and never worry about the road leading to it ever again.
3 SKYRIM: Much Improved Combat
Combat in Morrowind, especially melee combat, really boiled down to a pretty dull and uninspired affair. You picked the best attack type for your weapon, you spammed it until the thing in front of you died, and you repeated the process until everything that wanted to hurt you was dead.
Skyrim, while still a far cry from perfect, took some major steps in refining the combat system to make it more engaging, immersive, and most importantly, fun. Combat is more timing oriented, power attacks and dual-wielding flurries add interesting dynamics, and of course, instant kill executions made low health engagements equal parts deadly and visually rewarding.
2 MORROWIND: Player Freedom & Agency
One of the most well-known hallmarks of an Elder Scrolls title is the immense amount of player freedom offered. Morrowind definitely has Skyrim beat when it comes to the amount of freedom that is truly in the player's hands.
Though it seems ridiculous, the best example is the fact that Morrowind will actually allow the player to completely ruin the main quest if they so desire. Where all of the plot-critical NPCs in Skyrim are made invulnerable until they're no longer necessary, no essential NPC in Morrowind enjoys such a luxury. If they're killed, the player will simply be alerted that they've broken the game, and then allowed to persist in their doomed world if they so desire.
1 SKYRIM: Here Be Dragons
Because who doesn't want to slay dragons over the course of their medieval fantasy adventure? They're an absolute cornerstone of the genre, and fans were enthused to no end when they found out that dragons would be a central adversary and plot device during the course of their adventure through Skyrim.
While dragons had made appearances in previous Elder Scrolls titles and spin-offs, never before had they been presented with such grandeur and spectacle. The encounters were every bit as epic as they needed to be. Morrowind may have had you squaring off against an ancient demigod, but even that has a hard time comparing to the pulse-pounding action of a good dragon-slaying.