In many ways, the newest addition to the Elder Scrolls universe is the exact opposite of what was previously introduced in Elder Scrolls III:
Tribunal. Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon opens up a new island on the frontiers of the original Morrowind geography for exploration, fame and conquest. Bethesda's latest expansion pack carries the spirit of the first title and in its open-endedness is night and day different from the more scripted, rigid, and story-driven Tribunal expansion.
On the island of Solstheim, you'll find a more extensive use of the arctic theme. There are new character models for NPCs. This is where the Nordic people roam but you'll mostly encounter wildlife, most of which are hostile. Some parts of Solstheim are completely untouched by civilization (at least if you don't count the berserkers). In these isolated pockets are the toughest creatures in the Morrowind saga, no doubt to challenge those who by now have very high-level characters already. For characters who are aligned with the Empire and those who are of Imperial bred, like me, you'll find a lonely Imperial outpost situated in a sea of enemies.
It would appear that Imperial expansion plans have gone awry. Once you have the expansion pack installed, you're tipped off by rumors that an
Imperial settlement is having problems on Solstheim. A quick trip to
Khuul will grant you access to the island via boat. It's a bit of a trip for lower level characters; one that you can make using public transportation nonetheless - and quite affordable unless you're really just starting out. The path you take to the expansion pack is less imaginative than Tribunal - where a dream ensues and an assassin breaks in to officially kick the story off. But that's the main difference between Tribunal and Bloodmoon. Here, there is a main story but instead of being thrust into it, you'll have to learn the lay of the land, explore the root causes of faction-to-faction animosity and then make a reputation for yourself by solving problems and completing objectives. Tribunal, on the other hand, was much more linear. This should give people a breather, especially those who like to traverse off the beaten path.
The main problem, of course, always rests on the presence of the Empire in places the Empire shouldn't be meddling in. But in Solstheim, a lucrative mining prospect has attracted the East Empire Company. Until a few local problems are sorted out, though, it's not going to be a profitable venture. For starters, the soldiers themselves are a demoralized bunch. I'm reminded of Harry Faversham in the recent remake of A.E.W. Mason's The Four Feathers; the soldiers' wonderment as to what a godforsaken island in the middle of nowhere has to do with the emperor himself. What captivates me about the Elder Scrolls lore is how it never hesitates to plunder from our own histories to, quite literally, fill its own tomes and chronologies. East Empire Company? Sounds pretty much like the East India Company to me. Imperial and Empire? Pax Britannia or Romana anyone? Bloodmoon's plot, without revealing too much, has more to do with these histories than the more fictitious Tribunal. This pseudo revisionist history makes it all the more interesting - at least to a historian buff like me. With so many parodies and satires of human history, I am almost reminded of the classic Star Control 2; another fantasy title that doesn't hesitate to use human backdrops as the basis for its content. We are, after all, most fascinated by complex beings like ourselves. Why else do all the aliens look humanoid and all the fantasy creatures speak English?
Werewolves are one of the new additions to Solstheim. And like the other diseases that plague Vvanderfell, the weary hero of Morrowind and
Tribunal must catch it and then overcome it. Catching the disease is similar to becoming a vampire. You're ostracized when people find out your identity, which begins to happen when the sun goes down. The few
NPCs that roam around provide a source of food until you break the curse. Like vampirism, you're able to refuse a cure for this disease when the opportunity presents itself. You're free to return to Vvanderfell to finish your Tribunal and Morrowind quests using your new identity, although it will most likely be more difficult and time-consuming; that is, if you want to quest without leaving a wake of destruction behind you like Godzilla.
It has been more than a year after Morrowind's release. The graphics continue to be stellar, even in the face of new competition from the likes of Neverwinter Nights. One of the things I wanted the developers to expand on is the soundtrack. They had a wonderful soundtrack to begin with but one that became easily overplayed. When you want people to sink tens of hours to hundreds of hours in a world, something that plays for a scant fifteen to twenty minutes just won't hold up.
Still, there are technical aspects of Morrowind that need to be corrected. For a game that has seen three iterations, I would've expected a bit more stability than my experience with it on my computer. I followed the Morrowind, Tribunal, and then Bloodmoon installation scheme. I finished Tribunal before even starting Bloodmoon, so I think I'm in the majority of players that should have received QA/testing attention at Bethesda. Understandably, the absolute freedom is tough to test, since the actions possible in the world approach limitless. But this is also a single player game, which should reduce the complexity of all this work. In spite of this, the game has a tendency to drop out to Windows for no apparent reason, especially when moving from one area to another. I advise closing all unnecessary applications before sinking quality time into the game. Need I remind players to save often?
The other point of complaint is the price of the expansion pack. It's not outrageously expensive. However, considering the Xbox will be receiving a full-priced compilation of all three products, it appears the PC players are getting the short stick here. But PC players can at least get a head start on Solstheim compared to their Xbox counterparts, who will have to wait until this autumn to set foot on the icy isle.
All in all, Bloodmoon is an expansion pack that successfully recaptures the zeitgeist of the original Morrowind. It's more objective driven, partly due to the smaller geographical area, which means less filler dungeons and crypts and more relevant characters and locations. From an Imperial standpoint, the backdrop motivates you to complete its quest and discover solutions to problems indigenous to the new island. For higher-level characters, you'll meet your match here - if only until you master domination over the cast of bestiary. And finally, the addition of the werewolf path will provide challenge and amusement to those who have already experienced most if not all that Vvanderfell has to offer.