PC fans of the Elder Scrolls universe can rejoice that, at least for now, they will be getting an exclusive addition to last year's hit RPG, Morrowind. Admittedly, I had a difficult time imagining how a title so vast in content could be expanded, but the developers have implemented Tribunal in a sly manner.
Instead of simply tacking on a new island, as the unimaginative folks for online titles tend often to do, Tribunal inserts its story straight into the plot. Wherever and whenever you might be, after you've fallen asleep, you'll find yourself at the other end of an assassination attempt by members of the Dark Brotherhood. Until you seek to resolve this, the assassinations will simply continue, and this acts as the artificial prod for you to start Tribunal. It's as seamless and clever as it could be in a title like this.
Through the course of resolving this, you will be taken to the capital of Morrowind located in Mournhold, which errs on the strange side considering I thought Vivec would qualify better. Here, the same
Imperial versus indigenous species schism exists and the developers take the time to flesh out some new architecture and design motifs. Mournhold, however, is isolated from the rest of the Morrowind landscape. You won't find it on the world map, but it is a fairly enclosed capital city and certainly doesn't offer as much to see and do as the great city of Vivec. But the real meat of the game will involve patronizing the royal courtiers and then going into the vast subterranean areas located under Mournhold.
The main difference between Mournhold and the rest of the Morrowind corpus is the fact that it is so focused. In Morrowind, you could accept a quest and come back to it days later. Perhaps that was part of its charm. Many Morrowind fans consider the whole game an experience, rather than something you move from beginning to end. Tribunal, however, is different. It has a definite beginning. And while you don't have to stick around in Mournhold indefinitely (you always have the option to go back or even abandon the place), the whole plot in Tribunal will also come to an eventual end. Unlike Morrowind, Mournhold is so isolated that there won't be much chance to mill around further and complete additional side quests. That conversations with Tribunal's characters have very little to do with the inhabitants outside of the capital city makes it a less attractive place to dwell in once everything is said and done.
With that said, the material in Tribunal is nothing to be ashamed about. Clearly, a large portion of it is geared towards higher level players. The underground dungeon, for example, is the equivalent to a new "spawning" area in an online game. Getting to Mournhold and getting through the initial quests with the royal courts is relatively easy though. So there is room for starting characters to tread on. As you delve further into the conspiracy and the religious Temple quests, it becomes more difficult. Completing Tribunal will require splitting some big and very well equipped heads.
Vis-à-vis the quests and objectives, the developers have stuck to the tried and true formulae. There are Fedex style deliveries from one person to another. There are also objectives like seek and destroy, assassinations by writs of execution and easter egg hunts in Tribunal.
Some of the more stirring portions of the story include defending
Mournhold when it's under attack. But these novelties are far and few in between. The endgame involves questing under the goddess Almalexia herself, which, unfortunately, is not as gratifying or interesting as it sounds. I would have rather fought off dragons standing atop at Vivec. Alas, such epic landscapes will have to be reserved for later.
Since Tribunal runs on practically the same engine as Morrowind, the visuals are still breathtaking. The caveat is: you still need a powerful machine to crank them out. Nothing is worse than looking at a grand vista only to see most of it is fog because your draw-in is set low to keep a good framerate. Mournhold itself doesn't suffer much from this because of its centralized design but there are few improvements for the rest of the world in terms of graphics. Most disappointingly, there aren't any significant amounts of soundtrack pieces or audio effects added with Tribunal. The former is most disconcerting since the original's soundtrack piece, phenomenal as it was, seriously needed some extension, especially during long playing sessions.
I did mention that Tribunal practically runs on the same engine as Morrowind. There are several new additions to the title. The most interesting is the addition of pack animals and mercenary companions to help aid you with inventory and combat respectively. The former may be used a lot, but considering the high level characters that should exist by now for potential Tribunal players, I have to question how effective the mercenaries will be.
More practical is the ability to annotate maps with pins. Simply tag a location on the map with a pin and type in some text to describe the location. The journal has also been revamped to meet user demands. You can now easily locate open quests without flipping through pages of your journal; particularly useful when you want to store a quest in the backburner for awhile.
There continues to be some difficulty in getting Morrowind to run stably, though, especially if you have many other applications open.
Unexpected drops to the Windows desktop can happen occasionally and they're almost always untimely, causing frustration and lost progress.
Ultimately, Tribunal was a lot different than what I expected it to be.
I thought it would be a new land where you could simply go exploring again. Instead, it's more like a mini-series set in Morrowind. Travel distances are shorter. Quests, dungeons, characters and objectives are more densely packed together. This makes the game more focused but you also lose out on the wonders of traveling from one point to another. One of the charms of Morrowind was questing from one city to another only to stop by half a dozen places on the way and for added effect, clear out an entire tomb full of ghosts. To paraphrase a character from Tolkien's classic, you never know where your feet might take you.
Getting to a definitive buying recommendation is tough with this title. If you're buying Tribunal to get a better copy of Morrowind, there isn't enough included to justify that decision. If you're buying to go to Mournhold and add another twenty, thirty or maybe even forty hours of playing time for your character, it is well worth it -- provided you stick with the game.