The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal - Review

Second verse, same as the first.
By: Lord Craxton

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 6
   Music & Sound 4
   Originality 2
   Story 3
   Localization NA
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Moderate
   Completion Time 15-30 Hours  

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Don't pick a fight with this guy, m'kay?
Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal

   Come on, we all knew this was coming...

   By now it's more or less public consensus that Morrowind is, by itself, a fairly weak game. Between a bland story and lackluster implementation, it effectively killed any interest in the main quest, and the various faction quests were non-starters due to endless courier assignments and lack of real impact on the gameworld. The real boon and salvation of The Elder Scrolls III is in plugins and user-created expansions. With that in mind, of course Bethesda is going to produce an expansion. If everyone else is releasing new material for their game, why not do the same? Not to mention the opportunity to tie up some of the loose ends left dangling after the end of Morrowind.

   Anyway, Tribunal picks up where Morrowind left off. Having defeated Dagoth Ur, you've fulfilled most of the Nereverine prophecies, but you still have to deal with the Tribunal. With their powers quickly fading, the once-immortal sovereigns of Morrowind are now quite vulnerable, and already a power struggle has begun between the Imperial-backed King Helseth and the goddess Almalexia. An attempt on your life by the Dark Brotherhood brings you to the capital city of Mournhold to investigate, and you're drawn into the conflict.

   BethSoft's main goal with Tribunal was to shore up where the failures of Morrowind. The most welcome improvement is the journal- entries are now indexed by quest, with completed quests deleted from the index. This makes keeping your itinerary straight a lot easier- pencil and paper notes are no longer necessary. Bethesda also neatly sidesteps two of the most difficult atmospheric flaws of Morrowind- the constant sense of emptiness, and the bland outdoor landscapes- by having the story take place entirely within the city of Mournhold. The main areas of the game consist of the five aboveground districts, and an intricate web of interconnected sewers, ruins, and tunnels below. This smaller, tighter playing field ensures that every minor detail can and does get attention. NPCs are no longer mere info dispensers- they have their own lives and concerns to worry about, and you can lend a hand if so inclined. Likewise, there has been an effort to make quests more interesting. There is much less pointless FedEx questing- everything feels important, and most of it involves combat. Combat is challenging, too. Enemies are tougher and more numerous, and even a level 50 character will have trouble with them. Magic is resisted more often as well, meaning the cheap Jinkblade fighters will have to develop some skills. Most significantly, enemies can now use healing potions, meaning you'll have to learn to go for the kill swiftly.

A new variety of Dwemer robot.

   With all the improvements in the quests, I wish I could say I enjoyed them more. The plot has you playing both ends against the middle with the Royal Guard and the Temple, not sure who to trust, but determined to thwart your enemies somehow. I got into it at first. But as time went on, I got the distinct impression of designer laziness. It became apparent that the intricate plot boiled down to two strings of quests, one the main plot, that other a running subplot. It culminates in one of the lamest final dungeons ever- essentially a single long corridor with no treasure, endless copies of the same enemy, and annoying one hit kill traps- spikes and swinging blades and such. I felt like I was playing Super Nereverine Brothers. And you're blind if you don't see the final plot twist coming a mile away.

   The plot isn't helped by occasional unclear goals- on one occasion, I got sent to an NPC to pick up a quest that didn't exist and on another, and the goal was achieved using a method completely different from what the questgiver implied. The plot is helped even less by more-then-occasional game crashes. Actually, Tribunal isn't coded very well at all. The slowdown problem from Morrowind is still here, although the smaller playing area means it's less pronounced. Though the various other bugs are usually minor, they lend an air of sloppiness and unprofessional coding to Tribunbal. I expect this from user mods, not from a commercial expansion.

The Clockwork City of Sotha Sil. Watch out for swinging blades.

   Ah, yes, we should probably talk about user mods. Overall, the effect of Tribunal on modders has been positive. There were some problems with backwards compatibility for a while, but those have since been worked out. Modders have a few new toys to play with, as well- there's a script for items that teleport to multiple static locations, character heights are now variable instead of fixed, and there's a few new models and textures for graphics hackers to play around with. This is good, but I can see it setting a problematic precedent. Should devoted Morrowind fans be made to shell out $30 or more every six months for another lame expansion, just so that they can use the latest and greatest mods? Unless the quality of expansions as stand-alones improves, this will get old real fast.

   As for the general look and feel, well, Tribunal feels very much like what it is... an addition to an already-existing game. Aside from the noted improvements, it's pretty much Morrowind: The Epilogue. Graphics are pretty much the same in terms of resolution, slightly improved as far as design goes. Sounds are identical, except for the addition of some new .wavs for NPCs. Level design, aside from the final dungeon, is more then adequate, with twisty passages and challenging foes. The interface is the same as you remember. Very short plot, very linear too, add weak writing and you have low replay value, if any at all. It's pretty easy, despite some difficult combats. Honestly, though the improvements are commendable, Tribunal has a very half-assed feel to it. Overall, I'd say I liked Tribunal about as much as I liked Morrowind, which is okay for an expansion. But if you never managed to get your hands on Morrowind, don't buy it just for this.

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