Harrowind: How the grand tour came to a grand end

Well, that ended pretty abruptly.

Yes, when last I chatted with you about Morrowind, I was talking about how the game had turned into a grand tour of all the different citie and whatnot, adn how I didn’t need to get off the beaten track much because the transportation systems were covering the bases. That ended.

See, one of the biggest factions in the game is the “Tribunal Temple”. They’re basically Morrowind’s state religion, dedicated to venerating the living(!) gods Almalexia, Vivec, and Sotha Sil. Their temples and holy warriors (called “Ordinators” are pretty much everywhere. Good people to know.

There’s a catch, though. Unlike the other factions which start you off easy, the Tribunal insists that you undergo a pretty epic pilgrimage to seven different shrines scattered across the continent. Fulfilling the pilgrimage was one of the reasons why I’d been DOING my grand tour, as most of the shrines were easily accessible using a combination of various travel tactics. Barring one, all were either in town or a stone’s throw from town.

It was that ONE, though, that showed me that the tour had officially ended. It was the Ghostgate, and it was a doozy.

See, one of the things you notice pretty early on in modded Morrowind is the Ghostfence. It’s a magical wall surrounding the central area of the continent, a blasted wasteland with the gigantic Morrowind volcano at its center. It’s an obvious high-level area, and once I’d figured that out, I’d comfortably forgotten about it as I was doing my tour.

Eventually my tour took me to Ald’ruhn, which is the town with the gigantic crab carcass and a bunch of very surly locals. As I passed through, I found a woman who said that she needed an escort to the Ghostgate shrine. She was obnoxious, but I can always use more money to train, so off I went, taking a path that circled around the big magic fence and got us to the road leading in.

My first lesson in how Morrowind really worked was delivered on the way around to the mountain road: CLIFF RACERS ARE ASSHOLES. Imagine a suicidally aggressive pterodactyl crossed with the swarming tendencies of Africanized bees and you’re only getting halfway there. Sure, they could be taken down with a good spear shot or three, but that didn’t necessarily help when they were going after the person I was trying to escort! That’s my training money you’re harassing, you pseudo-avian jerks! Piss off!

Fighting them off, along with a few ground nasties, eventually somehow got us to the road to the ghostgate. I’ll give both Bethesda and the modders credit: it is BLEAK there. There are complaints floating around on the Internet saying that modded Morrowind looks too pretty and green considering how brutal the environment is supposed to be. I’m not sure whether the coastal regions fit that or not, but once I got to that central area, it was all business, and that business is making me feel like I’d missed The Bomb going off while getting up from the computer for a sec. Bunch of assorted nasties on the way up there, too,including more of the ubiquitous Evil Birds.

We get to the Ghostgate, and I breathe a sigh of relief. My magic’s gone, my energy’s gone, my (meagre) stock of potions and whatnot are gone, but we’re where we need to be, right? Just have to head over to the Temple and find the Shrine and I’m done my pilgrimage and done my escort and can raise my Mercantile ability enough to be able to get a decent price for something for a change. I’d gotten tired of people gouging my lizardy hindquarters.

Heading into the Temple, though, yielded absolutely nothing. Not a thing. Sure, they had loads of shrines, but they were just the little ones you donate money to when you want some buffs. No bigger shrines. I look a bit closer at my in-game and out-of-game sources, including the quest text for that buff and what my escort partner ACTUALLY says, and I realize that “Ghostgate shrine” is a cruel joke. The shrine isn’t at Ghostgate. The shrine is inside the huge magic wall. I had to go inside, to the part of Morrowind that had  all the things that the Dark Elves were literally sacrificing their afterlives to keep bottled up.

Luverly.

Making it even better, as I step out of the Ghostgate, I find that a gigantic sandstorm has blown up. It looks spectacular, and nails down that sense of place that’s so important in games like this, but it also means that you can barely see ten feet in front of you, especially with the mods configured the way they are. I hadn’t the foggiest idea how I was going to find this thing, beyond a few vague descriptions.

To Bethesda’s credit, they also made passage through to the other side a Really Big Deal. The passageway between the two sides is long and tiny, and has buttons to activate the two sides separately, giving the whole affair the look of a medieval castle’s murderhole arrangement combined with an airlock—which is apropos, considering the horrible diseases that everything on that side of the wall apparently carry. I pass through, and the storm gets WORSE; instead of a sandstorm, it turns a bloody red. Red skies, red ground underneath, lifeless alien environment; the whole thing looked  like I’d stepped out onto the sands of Mars instead of the fantasy equivalent of a Quarantine Zone.

It was daunting. Even worse, I had no idea beyond some vague directions about where I was supposed to go. I knew I needed to go…northeast? Northwest? Something like that. I also knew it wasn’t too far from the gate. But beyond that, nothing.

So picture me and my charge, wandering through a red sandstorm, wondering whether we’ll be getting this incurable “blight” disease, wondering whether I was supposed to do this later, and nervously anticipating getting my innards examined by whatever it was that was running around in here.

I did get in a fight, but it wasn’t what I expected. It was a rat. Not “just” a rat: it was a “blighted” rat, so I knew I had to keep my distance. What I wasn’t expecting was that “blighted” rats would be unholy difficult to kill, especially when yet more Cliff Racers and some weird thing that I don’t even have a name for were also trying to claw my Argonian’s tender bits. By the time I was done, I was half dead, and my charge didn’t look like she was doing too good either.

Finally, we found the Shrine we were looking for. It was just a little thing. I’m still not sure how I found it; I think I may have accidentally passed it by and then circled back in the storm and the fight. I got to the shrine, paid my respects, collected my cash, and then teleported the hell out of there as another swarm of Cliff Racers made their way towards us. I still have no idea whether my escortee got out. She probably just disappeared; video games do that. Maybe she’s still standing there. I don’t know.

It was nice to finally have that done, and I was able to raise my rank in the Temple’s hierarchy by a few levels based solely on that pilgrimage . It’s also pretty neat to finally be playing Morrowind the way I play Skyrim, where I make a point of seeing the environment instead of just quick-travelling arounnd.

But there ARE limits. If I do get other quests that take me in there, I think  I’ll pass them up for a while in favour of the more straightforward stuff. And I think I’ll let the Temple be for a while. House Telvanni needs my help. More on that next time.

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One thought on “Harrowind: How the grand tour came to a grand end

  1. Peltast says:

    Thank you for inspiring/reminding me to play Morrowind, despite the nightmare of cliff racers. One of the biggest things I actually disliked from Skyrim was the baffling omniscience of your character’s quest markers.

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