I step off the boat and take my first breath as a free man. It smells like shit. Volcanic ash and swamp water. I take a look at my surroundings: like five buildings and a cockroach bigger than any house I’ve ever lived in. Feels like home already.
It’s now that I remember I came over in chains, a passenger on one of the Empire’s prison ships. So what is this? A penal colony? Like Australia but more hospitable?
I walk down the dock and meet a few frat boys late for the toga party. One of them asks me for my papers and lets me go absolutely wild with the pen. He invites me to choose a class and patiently explains the intricacies of each and every carefully-constructed character path.
“Fuck that.” I say, shutting this old loser down. “I’m a maverick.” I shrug off his suggestions of Acrobat, Barbarian, and Witchhunter. “Call me Sexy Wizard.”
Imagine my unending surprise when he fucking does. He even asks me for Sexy Wizard background lore. I didn’t think this far ahead, having been high off my ass on moon sugar the whole boat ride here, so I scrawl down some bullshit and throw the paper back at him.
I’m ready to see what kind of debauchery this island has to offer, but he’s not ready to let me go just yet. He has me fill out a wack personality test detailing my strengths and weaknesses, which is a little too close to my day job, so I fudge it and pick all Cs. He doesn’t even notice.
I walk out of the census office and take a deep breath. Fuck, I forgot about the smell. I try to remember what I did to get myself locked up in the first place when this spooky elf dude comes up to me and asks me if I’ve seen his ring. “You mean this ring?” I ask, producing from my pocket the piece of jewelry I’d just stolen from a government building. Like X, I give it to him. I’m new here, and I’m not trying to start beef yet.
But call me Wagyu, because the next dude I talk to asks me to spy on the first guy so he can find and steal from his secret stash. More realistically, call me Tyson, because I chicken the fuck out of that plan. I’m reformed. I don’t steal anymore. As of, like, right now. Besides – I just found this dude’s ring in a fucking barrel. Give him like half an hour and he’ll lose it in a tuna can.
I look around for the types of folks I usually hung around in High Rock: skooma slingers and corner club promoters, but word on the
street swamp is that this place high-key sucks. The hottest place in town is a creepy dollar store you enter from the back.
The sanest guy I can find, the first dude who’s not either losing rings (unfortunately for him) or trying to get other people to lose rings, tells me my best bet is to take the silt strider out of here. Okay, sick, that sounds like a new Rolls Royce model. Seems too good to be true, but fuck it, let’s give it a shot.
It’s way too fucking good to be true. I follow a sign or two and climb up like eighty steps and it turns out a silt strider is that giant fucking bug I saw when I first walked off the boat.
I look at the dark elf (not that I see race – he could easily have been a wood elf) manning the post and ask if he seriously expects me to ride on this thing.
“Ride on it?” He asks, stupefied, “no, dude, you ride in it.”
He steps aside and shows me how he and his bros carved out like an eighth of this thing’s innards and replaced them with faux leather seats. He’s fucking proud of this like it’s not the creepiest thing I’ve seen since that night at the hist tree. But I’m the new guy, and at the end of the day I’m more surprised this thing is still kicking after losing like a third of its vital organs, so I give Shylock here the benefit of the doubt and climb in.
The journey takes like a minute – this place is right down the street; scammed by the bug man – but it feels a lot longer because of all the fog. Visibility here is like ten feet. They could put two cities right next to each other and I wouldn’t even notice.
I clamber out of this festering carcass and head into the city of Balmora. Immediately, there’s a club dead ahead. My kind of town. I walk in and try to make small talk. “Seen any elves lately?” I joke. Turns out it’s not the kind of club I thought it was; everyone in here is in a racist gang and they want to kill me.
I barely make it out alive in time to hear that someone’s looking for me. Seems a little sketchy in this gang-run hellhole, but with the Dunmer Mob on my back, I don’t really have much of a choice.
I head to the creepiest back alley in this creepy back alley of a town and walk into the furthest house. Inside, a ripped, shirtless old man who most closely resembles half of the Democratic Party’s 2016 primary roster, excitedly introduces himself as a fucking spy.
He tells me I can be one too, but I’ll need to lay low for a bit and get a feel for the place. Immediately, I’m in. There is nothing suspicious about a half-naked boomer living out of a skooma den inviting me to join his secret spy club.
I leave feeling like a bona fide James Bond, but it doesn’t last – I’m strapped for cash. I pick up a couple odd jobs, but some locals tell me the real money is with the guilds. There’s the Fighter’s Guild, which sounds like a solid option, but I tried to stab a worm and missed 30 times in a row – completely whiffed it. Just can’t get the motion down. So I figure that one won’t work.
There’s the Thieves’ Guild, which sounds like the perfect complement to a life as a spy. I set out to develop my thieving skills by pickpocketing a local and immediately feel the strong arm of the law crashing down on me. Turns out I’m not as sneaky as I thought.
So I decide to go with the Mages’ Guild. Being a wizard is in my blood (and my forged passport), so this should be easy. I heard Skyrim’s Mages’ Guild has its freshmen going on sick field trips to recover ancient artifacts. Ready to fucking rumble, I roll into the place with my personality fortified to hell. Everyone tells me to hit up a Khajiit named Ajira for quests. Imagine my face when the most famed magical organizational guild in the empire sends me, the world’s first and foremost Sexy Wizard on a quest to pick mushrooms.
But I’m not proud. I rode in in a fucking bug. So I follow her meticulous directions to a lake where mushrooms are abundant, the journey taking me all of, I don’t know, a month? I guess I must have contracted gout at some point on the boat ride over here, because I’m the slowest man alive.
The way to the mushroom swamp is littered with hostile worms, rats, and crabs, but I feel secure – I’ve put away my blade for good and recommitted to the magic befitting a sexy wizard. So here I am, throwing fireballs left and right, absolutely mercing these guys, when I suddenly find I can no longer fling fire. My mana is gone. ‘No worries’, I reason, I’ll back off and wait a few seconds for it to recharge. So I do, but it doesn’t. I’m empty.
Eventually, I find that sleeping helps. I lay down off to the side of the path, using a rat carcass as a pillow, and let my REM cycles do the heavy lifting. I wake up refreshed. The next time it happens, I’m not so lucky. I’m ambushed by a worm. I take it out and go back to bed safely.
But the next time it happens, I’m assaulted awake by a man in all-black armor. I think back to the stories I’ve heard about the Ebony Warrior and shudder. Taken by surprise, he kills the shit out of me. I roll it all back and try it again.
This time I’m successful. After running a backwards marathon and binge drinking my liver’s fill of magicka potions, I successfully outlive this Kiwi, whom I quickly learn is an assassin contracted by the Dark Brotherhood to, get this, assassinate me.
At first, I have no idea who could have put a price on my head. I just got here. I guess it could be the artisan bug mutilator I shit-talked fifteen paragraphs up. Or maybe it’s someone from my previous life in High Rock, at present a blur because I spent the whole time, fittingly, high on rocks.
Finally, I figure it out: it’s those two-faced fucks over at the Mages’ Guild. Sure, they’re all smiles to my face when I charm the hell out of them, but behind the scenes, they hate this wunderkind up-and-comer with the gall to make a mockery of their craft by breaking boundaries and becoming the first sexy wizard on Vvardenfell. Sorry, folks, some people really do have it all.
I meet up with my spy contact and tell him I’ve been made – he’s gotta get me into witness protection ASAP. Instead, he sends me on a mission to gather intel about a cult from the island’s biggest city. So I head down south in search of information about this volcanic Jim Jones and eventually come upon Vivec: the gamer’s dream.
It’s the biggest city in Vvardenfell, but not a goddamn soul lives anywhere close to sunshine. Your wealth determines whether you live in the sewers (poor), the nice sewers (less poor), or one of several mall food courts (very rich). For a province that hates vampires, Morrowind sure is accommodating.
That’s another thing with these dark elves – what the fuck is their religion? Absolutely every single one of them tells me they hate necromancy (valid), but then they whisper some weird shit about resurrecting Grandma to protect the family tomb. Yo, what??? I can’t have an army of skeletons, but you get to summon zombie Aunt Donna to protect your dad’s collection of Argonian erotica? The hypocrisy.
Against my better judgment, I decide to give the religion a shot. I go to one of Vivec’s, I want to say, three hundred temples and talk to a Priest. He tells me I can start by making an offering at the local shrine. If I don’t have the required offering, a multi-level marketing Priest will be on hand to sell me one for a low price. Sounds like a grift, but I’ve got time to kill, so I go for it. I stroll over to the shrine, offer up some essential oils or whatever, and… what the fuck? I can walk on air now. The gang at the Mages’ Guild can do this for like ten seconds at a time, but I spend five minutes thirty feet above the city and there’s no sign of things changing.
This is insane. Yo, fuck the nine divines. What can they do? Cure disease? I got the Covid vaccine in January – I’m invincible. The Tribunal lets me fucking fly.
I look around me and marvel at the fact that I’m the only one up here. Are y’all insane? This should be your only method of transportation. It’s not until the greef hits my bladder at forty feet up that I fully understand why this whole city has ceilings. It rains a lot on Vvardenfell. One scroll of Chameleon and no one would know the difference.
Until now, moving back and forth between Vivec and Balmora to deliver a ring of infinite gas or a book about Argonian Maids was an unbelievably unattractive chore that involved winding paths and regular worm attacks. But now I can fly. I soar over the swamps and hills, not a shit to give to the confined road-walkers beneath me.
On a return trip, some cliff racers, the asshole pterodactyls of Morrowind, catch a whiff of me passing near Seyda Neen and take to flock formation right on my ass. Joke’s on them, this fly boy’s far too speedy for those wings. I let Vivec’s lonely guards take care of them as I accost another innocent citizen for the Mage’s Guild.
I roll around Vivec for a bit, doing some spy missions for my boy back in Balmora and vigilante-killing a murderer for the inept city guard. A near-death experience in the Vivec sewers helps me rediscover my pride: I’m way too good to die for these pretty errands. If I continue down the path I’m currently on, it’ll be a brainless zombie in some nameless family crypt that does me in.
So I decide to shoot for the big leagues: the great houses of Morrowind, House Hlaalu, House Redoran, and House Telvanni. Having spent most of my time in Balmora so far, I’m already well-acquainted with House Hlaalu: their family theme is corruption and their house dance is kowtowing to the Imperial government and then pretending that they’re not kowtowing to the Imperial government.
In search of some new faces, I take the long road to Ald’ruhn, an even shittier city condemned to constant ash storms where the resident members of House Redoran are too noble to admit that they live in a big tortoise shell. I entertain briefly the idea of joining their ranks as a frontline warrior before remembering that their primary enemy is a band of infectious lepers. No thanks, y’all, it won’t be disease that takes me out. I grab my things and leave this ash hole.
Word on the street is the Telvanni are the coolest of the Great Houses because they’re mysterious and live in mushrooms. An astute mind like mine knows that mushrooms are toxic and so are these guys. Telvanni apologists will talk your pointy ears off about how it’s “cool” and “rad” that these dudes live by a code that says killing each other is okay because might is right. What the fuck is that? How is this even a house?
“Hey, Dathmoran, the boss needs your help moving a couch.”
“I killed the boss, now it’s my couch!!”
“Oh. Do you need help moving it?”
Listen, sometimes, when people live in mushrooms, it’s not by choice. Killing everyone in the mortgage office is fun in the moment, but it doesn’t pay off when you’re brushing spore juice out of your hair for the fifth time this week.
I’ve heard enough and I’ve decided my path: I’m not going to decide. The radical centrist option. All three sides are bad, I reason. Best go with none. Everyone will see me as uniquely enlightened and beg to hear the story of how I defied petty factionalism.
That story’s next chapter begins when I return to Caius Cosades, regional director of the Blades Faction and, surprisingly, the most eligible bachelor in Vvardenfell. I’ve had enough of my time teleporting between the island’s corners, picking up odd jobs from uniquely-ineffective Mages’ Guild offices. My time in Ald’ruhn was cut short when an Argonian asked me to steal something from the guild. “Sure”, I shrugged. As it happens, big fucking mistake. I forgot Mages are clairvoyant. Every time I walk in the front door, some bozo Narc-romancer turns on the sirens and blasts me to ash. With my wanted level way too high, I had nowhere to go but back here to Caius.
He’s happy to see me, too, because he’s got big news.
Super Spoiler Alert Incoming!!
I’m god. Or the second coming of a sort of demigod. This is a convenient revelation for me, because my total failure to progress in every guild I’d joined had imparted me with my first dose of insecurity. I didn’t like it. It tastes how the island smells. Now, being a god and all, I’ll never have to try it again.
I’m all the way in on my power trip, and I think Caius can tell, because he starts stammering over his words and mumbling something about not being totally certain or whatever. In order to be totally sure about the whole “I’m Dark Elf Jesus” thing, he tells me, I’ll have to go seek out some cultist nomads who live way up north. The journey is dangerous and far, so I’ll need to be prepared.
…fuckin’ psyche! I’m god, remember? I recharge my mana outside Balmora and start the hike…
…back into Balmora, where I climb inside the rotting, miraculously-still-alive thorax of the silt strider to bring me first to Ald-ruhn, where I keep an eye out for the Wizard Feds and quickly hop on my transfer bug to the town of Maar Gan.
That’s where the cushy ride befitting a god ends, and I take to my own two feet. I alternate between bunny-hopping into peril and trying to savor my own stamina in the interest of being better prepared to fight any worms and pterodactyls that come at me. That bores the shit out of me, so I end up trending toward the rabbit roleplay.
Eventually I reach the northern coast of Vvardenfell and, after looting a shipwreck that teaches me nothing about the perils of the region, I take to the sea, swimming, as directed, around the adjacent promontory. I’ve been in the frigid water for all of a minute before murderfish start prematurely digesting my extremities. Luckily, as a Mage, I’m prepared for this. I cast Water Walking (the Jesus comparison writes itself) and make my brisk way through the waves unperturbed.
…until another cliff racer comes out of fucking nowhere to peck my halo off. I vigorously swing my summoned blade at him, launching fireballs intermittently, but nothing seems to make much of a difference. Eventually, after several near-death experiences with this Pee-Wee’s Playhouse regular, he falls dead on the ground in front of me. And I start vomiting blood.
For the first time since I landed on this rock, this ungodly testament to the power of E. Coli and gonorrhea, I’m sick. I chug one of the few panaceas I accidentally keep in my pocket and start to feel better. Cool. That will never happen again. I move on past the beach, headed east toward the nomad camp.
As I get closer, I see massive black spires start poking from the fog that starts ten inches past my nose. These are the daedric ruins Caius warned me about. He told me they’d be too dangerous for me, and I know better than to unnecessarily involve myself in danger, so I skirt around their edges, artfully avoiding the eye of the demonspawn within.
Closer to my destination than ever before, I notice a small structure just off of my path. It fits the mold of most of the ancestral Dunmer crypts I’ve ransacked so far. I figure adding to my personal wealth before I attend my own deification ceremony can’t hurt anyone, so I head in to hurt everyone.
Inside, my reception by the locals is pretty par-for-the-course. I take out some zombies, rob some graves, yadda yadda. Eventually, I reach a locked door. I cast Alohamora on it and waltz in. Another zombie, but this one looks fresh from Wrestlemania. I smell what The Rock is cooking (flesh rot) just in time to be on the receiving end of a zombie punch. I don’t have much choice now, the battle is on.
He starts hurling punches, I start hurling fireballs. More punches, more fireballs. I down magicka potions like never before as this guy absolutely inhales my damage output. The insecurity thing almost comes back, but my ego is rocksolid. I’m dancing around the room fighting this guy, but then, all at once, I’m not. I’m still flinging fire like it’s going out of style (it’s not – it’s fire), but my legs don’t work anymore. I’m stuck where I stand.
No matter, I figure, I’ll still take this guy out. So I alternate some more between fighting, healing, and binge drinking until, like his raptor friend before him, this hulk of flesh falls over on the ground in front of me. I stand, statuesque in victory (mostly because of the whole “can’t move” thing) and wait for this effect to wear off.
But it doesn’t. I keep waiting, but I still can’t move. I feel weaker than ever. Finally, I come to realize I’m sick again. This place is more of a disease hotspot than a Yooper Anti-Vax Convention. I sigh and take another gulp of my cure-all potion. I take a few breaths and go to stretch my legs, but – nope. They’re still firmly planted in the ground.
I start panicking a little. Is god testing me? That doesn’t really check out – I am god, right? Maybe Caius was wrong. Is he actually a spy? Is there any way an elderly skooma addict who can’t demonstrate proof of owning a shirt could have lied to me? Only one way to find out: I have to get to that village. But I can’t move. That’s right. Shit. Is the village even real?
I’m disheartened. I go through all the stages of grief right there in that room. I wonder what’ll happen to me if I die here. Maybe the family will take me in. Maybe they’ll resurrect me and I’ll get to take Great Uncle Dino’s place as the terrifying hulk who roots people to the floor. I’m a petty enough guy for that to be an attractive proposition. In fact, I’m all but convinced by it. What does the realm of the living have for me in Vvardenfell? Where is the place of a god if not among the dead?
I think about it long enough to fall asleep. I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll wake up.
Read my Morrowind review here.
Or, for another piece like this one, check out Stardew Valley: A Completionist’s Retrospective.
What do you think? Should I keep playing? Let me know on Twitter @ExLudico.