There’s a Bloodmoon on the Rise

I just can’t get too much Morrowind. And considering that 80,000 readers voted it the PC game of year and game of the year in the environment category, I’m not at all alone.

Bloodmoon is the second expansion pack for the Morrowind game, and builds out the massive single-player RPG even further with an entire new land to explore that is alien and strange to those of us who have spent hundreds of hours adventuring on the mainland.

Gone are the soupy hot swamps and dusty, dry mountains most of us call home. Bloodmoon features the island of Solstheim, home to more snow and ice than the North Pole. It is also home to a lot of rugged Nords, the Viking-like race in the game. It is by far the most rugged place in the game world as there are no roads linking locations. If you want to get somewhere, you need to walk through the dense forest. And getting lost in a snowstorm is a likely occurrence.

The land of Solstheim is also by far the most dangerous part of the game so far. The forests and ice fields are not tame by any stretch of the imagination. They are in fact littered with many tough creatures that will give even higher-level characters a run for their money. And the place is packed with them.

Bethesda has added a lot of ninja-monkeys to the forest too. For those of you who don’t know, a ninja monkey is basically an undefined creature encounter. What you encounter depends on your characters current level. So a lower-level character will experience something challenging but not too powerful. A high-level character will experience something truly frightening most of the time. I was going through Bloodmoon with a level 50 character and felt pretty challenged in a lot of fights, even ones out in the wild that did not have anything to do with the main quest.

The respawn rates of the various creatures is fairly high too, so the woods can not be completely cleared of creatures, not that you probably could anyway because the island is extremely large. It is only about an eighth the size of Morrowind, but that is more than enough room for a lot of adventure. There is a lot to do, but things are not hours of walking apart from one another.

Another interesting aspect of the game is that you get to explore a lot of Nord culture. For those players who really thought the Nords were more relegated to second-class citizens in the main game, Bloodmoon will certainly appeal. There are great halls where Nords gather to drink mead and yes, you can purchase some as well. There are villages and hovels and even several Nords you can meet that dwell in ice caves. Plus there are many boroughs for the dead, some of which have story books or artifacts from Nord history.

Like the Tribunal expansion, you can install Bloodmoon without having any detrimental effects on the main game. The island of Solstheim will appear on the map and you can visit it or not depending on your preferences. Unlike Tribunal, no assassins will try to cut you to pieces in the middle of the night to force your hand. You will hear a few rumors about the new land, but that’s it. Just visit Solstheim if you like. Of course since I solved the main quest and the Tribunal expansion, it was my first destination once it became part of the game world.

Besides the weather, one of the first things you will notice about the new land is the quality of the graphics. Every tree, rock and bush seems to belong in this new rugged island you have found. The architecture of the Nord buildings is distinct and different from other racial groups and sort of looks a bit like traditional German buildings. Character dialog has also improved. Boatmen try to convince you to book passage or complain about their lack of boots. Quest giving NPCs will say different things depending on the situation and their mood. All in all, it’s a lot more dynamic than before.

It’s worth noting that the map, I mean the physical map, that comes with the game is truly amazing. Created by Bethesda’s master artist Mike Wagner, it contains just about every rock and tree in the game. There are even little hints on the map if you look close enough, like a tiny "x" marking the spot of a buried treasure from a skeletal pirate quest. I spent a good half hour looking over the map and planning my adventures in Solstheim thanks to the high quality of this piece. It’s too bad that Tribunal was just a small city (above ground anyway) because Wagner could have really used his talents to their full potential there too. Personally, I am going to try and get Wagner to sign my copy. It’s that good.

The plot of the game is engrossing, as is the requirement for any good RPG. The Empire is trying to build a new colony on the island to mine raw ebony and there is a small imperial fort as well called Fort Frostmouth. The colony is called Raven’s Rock due to the black rocks found there. Both places have their share of problems, with one of the greatest being werewolf attacks. You will be sent into the wilds helping both places, and in so doing become involved with the Nord locals, going on quests for them as well.

Wait a sec, did he just say werewolves? Yep. They are one of the new monsters in the game, only like vampires in the main game they are a lot more than that. Without giving too much away, you can even become one. Being a werewolf is one of the coolest parts of the new game. You run like the wind in werewolf mode, practically leaping over trees, and can claw through NPCs when you are hungry. In fact, as a werewolf you have to kill at least one human a night or face a loss of health the next morning. Thankfully, there are plenty of "bad" humans running around if you are a moral sort. Just don’t let anyone see you change into your werewolf form, or everyone will know your dirty little secret. And yes, you can go on quests to change back to normal.

Bloodmoon also keeps the open-ended gameplay that made Morrowind such a joy to play. There are lots of graves and caves to explore, and lots to do above ground as well even when not following the main quest. There is even some new quests that do not originate on Solstheim, so don’t be surprised if a new NPC asks for your help back on Morrowind proper.

Bloodmoon adds about 60 more hours of gameplay to the already massive Morrowind world. It is my sincere hope that Bethesda will continue to make expansion packs indefinitely, though I guess all good things must eventually come to an end. Still, no game has ever so monopolized my time as a role-player, so whether Bloodmoon ends the series or not, it certainly had a great run. Given that most expansion packs for games are simple add-ons and Bloodmoon – and Tribunal before that – is like an entire new game in itself, it deserves a perfect 5 Gem score.

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