The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon - Review

or, Return of the Kung-Fu Werewolf
By: Lord Craxton

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 5
   Interface 5
   Music & Sound 4
   Originality 6
   Story 5
   Localization n/a
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Hard
   Completion Time 10-40 hours  

"Going to get a big dish of beef chow mein..."
Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon

   The ability to play as a Werewolf is one of Bloodmoon's major selling points, and newcomers to the Elder Scrolls series may wonder what all the fuss is about. Well, the fuss is about Morrowind's predecessor, the legendary Daggerfall. Werewolf characters were very popular in Daggerfall, because they got huge bonuses to their athletic and combat skills. Start off with a martial artist type character, and once you got infected you'd have a character that could go through entire armies. In a game rife with imbalances and overpowered characters, the Kung-Fu Werewolf was the T.G. Cid of its day. I can't help thinking that Daggerfall veterans will be a little disappointed. While the werewolf is still quite playable, he's lost a lot of his power in the name of game balance. In fact, playing Bloodmoon as a werewolf will be quite a chore, especially near the end of the main quest.

   But there's more to this expansion then just howling at the moon, and perhaps it's best to start at the beginning. Bloodmoon is not like Morrowind. Yes, the important parts are the same- same combats, same interface, comparable production values, etc., but Bethesda has taken the game in an entirely new direction creatively. Right from the start, you'll notice Bloodmoon going for a different feel and a very different look then Morrowind and Tribunal. The expansion starts when you travel from Vvardenfall to the newly-colonized island of Solstheim because... errr... well, basically because it's there. There's a trivial quest hook waiting around outside the Ald'rhun mages guild, but Bloodmoon's plot has absolutely nothing to do with the Nereverine business or the prophecy of the Incarnate. The only hint of that stuff you'll get while on Solstheim is the Dark Brotherhood assassins from Tribunal, and then only if you keep Tribunal.esm on. What you will find is a land much different from the dreary desert and swamp landscapes of Vvardenfall and the alien, blight-mutated creatures therein. Solstheim has more of a Norse feel- you get rich green forests, icy mountains, and small towns of wooden buildings. The island is populated mainly by indigenous Nord tribes, including the loopy Beserkers who attack on sight, the superstitious but sensible Skaal, and the hard-drinking, butt-kicking regulars of the Thirsk mead hall. You'll find mainly wolves and bears roaming the land in the south, as well as more formidable boars and Rickling snow goblins to the north. I must say I like this new, down-to-earth feel better. Vvardenfall was gloomy and monotonous, but Solstheim rewards exploring nicely. The island is not only nice to look at, but also very well laid out. Vvardenfall was too widespread and empty, and Mournhold was a bit too compact, feeling a little cramped. Solstheim gets it just right. You can walk off from a town in any direction, and in a matter of seconds you'll find something worth seeing or doing. And with the Imperial shrine at Fort Frostmoth in the south, a ship to Raven rock in the same place, and a Mark easily placed at one of the Nord settlements in the north, getting back and forth to the major population centers is a snap.

   There's lots of new stuff to find, too. There are six new armor types, including Ice Armor (a Medium Armor, for those who unwisely took that skill in Morrowind), Snow Wolf armor crafted by bringing Snow Wolf Pelts to a certain NPC, and Nordic Mail. There are also new weapons made from Stahlrim Ice and Nordic Silver, plus some new quest weapons, including a truly incredible Mace. As for dungeons, they're pretty basic and straightforward. You'll need to be able to pick level 50 locks to get most of the treasures, other then that, they're pretty small and simple. Miscellaneous sidequests are a lot more interesting, as well. A great effort has been put into making the quests less boiler-plate and the rewards more satisfying. You now get large sums of gold or powerful weapons for your efforts, in addition to some more clever rewards. One quest rewards you with a cave literally PACKED with treasure- gold piles, gems, and precious glass weaponry piled up like King Tut's tomb. The reward is as much in getting to SEE what that much wealth looks like as actually having the wealth. In another sidequest, quite craftily, the reward is an alchemist at Fort Frostmoth, so you don't have to go back to Vvardenfall looking for basic healing supplies. A third quest rewards you with NPCs who can craft Ice Armor and Weapons, if you bring them the right kind of ice- thus being both a reward and another quest.

These forests make for much better scenery then Vvardenfall's swamps

   As for the story, it's pretty basic, but well implemented. There are two major quest threads to follow. The main one starts out with you dealing with some nuisances for the local Captain of the Imperial Legion, then escalates when an attack on the fort leads you to the Skaal village in search of answers. The second major thread has you joining the East Empire Company faction and helping to build a new town, a mining colony of Raven Rock. The Raven Rock thread is by far the most interesting part of Bloodmoon. The Raven Rock quests consist of various chores and missions where you act as sheriff for the colony and eventually take sides in the power struggle between the site boss and the company man at the fort. As you complete quests, the colony grows and changes in response to your actions and decisions. It gives Morrowind what it's been lacking all this time- a way to actually affect the world around you. This is blunted somewhat by the fact that the Raven Rock NPCs are as generic as anything else in Tamriel, but even so, it's great to finally feel like I'm doing something significant. The main quest is more conventional, with the usual prophecies and dire portents in evidence. It eventually splits in to two branches- one where you become a werewolf and start receiving quests in your dreams, and another where you join the Skaal in a campaign against the wolves. The werewolf angle is something that I'm extremely ambivalent about. On the one hand, the werewolf quests are an interesting turnaround- they're mirrors of the Skaal quests with you playing the bad guy, and they're introduced and concluded by some very nice CGI cutscenes. On the other hand, the quests are honestly just too damn hard.

   Before we go on, let me explain how werewolves work in Bloodmoon. First, you have to get a disease called "Sanies Lupis". It's a common disease, a simple potion will cure it, but if it's not attended to, three nights after infection you'll transform, and every night thereafter you'll wander the lands as a werewolf, seeking to maul and kill other human beings (or elves, argonians, what you will). You'll catch Sanies Lupis as a plot event later in the game, which is a problem right there- you have to wait until the game is almost two-thirds done before you get to the main selling point. Now, there are wandering werewolves around Solstheim that can give you Sanies Lupis much earlier, but this derails the main quest. A certain crucial NPC can detect that you're a wolf and won't talk to you. If you ask me, this doesn't make sense, either from a design standpoint or in light of a certain eleventh-hour plot twist. There's a quest that will make you human again, but that's a whole other can of worms.

They don't build airships like they used to...

   Anyway, as a werewolf, there are certain rules you have to follow- you'll lead a double life, human by day and hunter of men by night. If anyone sees you transform to or from your wolf form, the jig is up and you'll be hunted and persecuted for the rest of your life. On top of that, your health will decrease every few hours, you can't use magic or inventory items, and you can't recover by resting. To stop the weakening effect, you'll have to kill at least one NPC a night. This stops the hunger, helps you regenerate, and gives you disease resistance. Without hunting, you won't die, but you'll be very weak by morning. That's the bad news. The good news is- you've got claws that are like unarmed weapons, but damage health. You can run fast, and jump like no one else. You can sneak about very effectively, allowing you to stalk prey instead of charging in. You can smell creatures in the vicinity (Detect Creature with a magnitude of 4000 feet), and see in the dark. And you keep any racial/birthsign effects you may have in human form. The problem is, that's it- you gain a few small enhancements for completing the wolf quests, but your stats and skills are static. They're not based on your human stats with hefty bonuses like in Daggerfall, they're completely seperate from your human stats, and they can't improve. Basically, if you were hoping to remake your old kung-fu werewolf from Daggerfall, you're out of luck.

   In fact, you're out of luck twice, since Bloodmoon is meant for high-level characters, and though the basic enemies won't be so hard, you'll soon run up against a brick wall if you try to take the main quest with a fresh-from-the-box character. Adding to this difficulty is the lack of trainers on Solstheim, meaning that building your levels requires commuting to Vvardenfall looking for trainers, which is just silly. Tribunal had this same problem. Making Bloodmoon a high-level adventure was the designer's prerogative, but I don't think it was wise. By now everyone's Nereverine characters are both godlike and mod-enhanced. Seeing that Bloodmoon has no relation to Morrowind or Tribunal, why not give players an opportunity for a fresh start? As it is Bloodmoon requires you either reuse your old characters again, go through the same tired old Morrowind quests for the umpteenth time to gain levels, or play as a low-level character and make the trek to someplace on Vvardenfall when you need to train.

   But I digress. Here's the problem with werewolves- seeing that the werewolf character is static and unchanging, why couldn't the designers have tailored the enemies to it? The wolf does quite well out in the forests or dungeons of Solstheim, but is pathetically underpowered against the foes you face in the wolf quests. For some reason you can't sneak up on them, and they're so much stronger than you that you have no chance without resorting to cheap exploits like making the AI lose track of you by jumping straight up in the air. You can use your human form against them, true, but I didn't become a lycanthrope so I could beat up my enemies as a human.

   Despite my complaints, I'd have to say that I enjoyed Bloodmoon quite a bit. Though the learning curve is steep and the werewolf game could use some revision, it still introduces some unique challenges and worthwhile new material. Moreover, it represents a new direction for the Morrowind franchise, one that produces a much more satisfying game. If you have any interest in The Elder Scrolls at all, I heartily recommend it.

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