Elder Scrolls Matchup: Morrowind vs. Oblivion

Elder Scrolls
Morrowind and Oblivion
Bethesda Softworks

I’ve been a fan of the Elder Scrolls computer game series since the days of Daggarfall. I love the single-player role playing game because it seems like in multiplayer games, you’re limited to games like Diablo, which to me seem nothing but hack and slash.

My husband and I both loved Morrowind and we both bought a copy. When I heard that Oblivion came out, I bought a copy only to find that my graphics card lacked the horsepower to run it. So I set it aside. A few weeks ago, we bought my husband a new laptop computer, so of course I installed Oblivion, inserted a mouse, and gave it a try.

When I play games of this nature, I don’t hope to ever reach the end. I don’t have that kind of time. What I’m looking for is open-ended gameplay that gives me smaller goals than the overarching quest. That’s why games like Ultima (not the online version, and I dearly wish they still issued single-player games), Fallout, Arcanum, and the Elder Scrolls appeal to me. I can keep them installed on my hard drive for years, playing every once in a while, and not feeling too pressured to get to the end.

These days, when I buy a game, I also buy the strategy guide. I buy these not to cheat, but to figure out the storylines that I would enjoy the most. With Morrowind, I have a cornucopia of storylines to choose from. I can play a pilgrim picking mushrooms off the road and thus advance through the temple ranks. I can play a knight rising through the ranks of the Imperial Legion. I can play a fighter, a mage, or a thief and rise through the guild ranks. There are no fewer than ten factions to choose from, and you’re not limited to one faction. With my favorite character, I was mainly interested in rising through the Imperial Legion quests and House Redoran. With a House quest, you can eventually win yourself a dwelling. But my character was also a member of the Fighters and Mages guilds.

I find Oblivion much more limited when it comes to factions. We have the Fighters, Mages and Thieves guilds, and the Dark Brotherhood. None of these can be said to be true “good guys”, which I want to play. (I want to be the hero in the novel, you see.) Then there’s the Daedric quests, which is basically serving demons. Um, no. We have Master Training quests, which are again, neutral-type quests. There are quests that you can get when you make offerings at the shrines of the gods. And then there’s “freeform” and “miscellaenous” quests.

None of these appeal.

Of course, I could go for the main quest, but once you start the main storyline, certain things get set into motion, which at this point, when I’m still learning the game, I’d rather not trigger. So I’m feeling kind of bored by these quests.

That’s not my only beef with Oblivion. What in the heck did they do with the persuasion system? In Morrowind, I had a great time getting my speechcraft skill up and using persuasion on everyone I came across. Sometimes I’d admire, other times a bit of intimidation worked better. With Oblivion, you appear to be locked in a cycle of admiring, coercing, joking and taunting. Huh? Why would I coerce someone I was trying to impress? And why would I admire someone I was trying to intimidate? It makes no sense to me and it took a fun part of the game and made it thoroughly annoying. Ditto for bartering, which they made unnecessarily cumbersome.

On the other hand, they improved the heck out of making potions with Alchemy. Alchemy is my favorite skill. I don’t think I’ve ever cast a spell in any of these games. Instead, I hack-n-slash, and quaff a handy potion when necessary. In Oblivion, you can make potions to poison your weapon, which is a very cool skill.

I still have not gotten the hang of combat in Oblivion. You use your right mouse button to block and your left mouse button to click. It seems more difficult than it was in Morrowind, which would have you block automatically when you made the necessary roll. However, it is kind of cool to stand there and block a bunch of thrusts while you wait for a good opening. So I’m still playing around with that.

The theft warning system in Oblivion seems to be buggy. You’re supposed to get a white icon when you can take an item and a red icon when it would be considered stealing. This is handy, but I also seem to see a lot of white icons. Can I really wander around an inn and take all the food off the tables (which all make great potion reagents) without paying for them? And why is nothing in the lighthouse of the Imperial City considered stealing?

And I really must gripe about the whole concept of starter dungeon, which Oblivion re-introduces. I’d rather not learn a tricky new game interface by hack-n-slash, thank you very much. Morrowind’s introduction was perfect. When I was ready, I went to the dungeon, and not before. Why they had to go back to starter dungeons in Oblivion is beyond me.

Overall, I still like Morrowind better. I wish I had the alchemy system from Oblivion, but I prefer it’s combat system, the way you can overlay the map and other windows over the scenery, and most of the dialog boxes. I doubt I’m finished playing with Oblivion, but right now, I think I’ll play me some Morrowind.


A cool aside — you can now download both Arena and Daggerfall — the first two titles in the series — along with the dosbox emulator and play the original games! I loved raiding crypts in Daggerfall. I think that’s all I did! Plus, maybe I can use that dosbox emulator to play some Ultima 5 (which, in my opinion, was the best Ultima ever).

20 Thoughts to “Elder Scrolls Matchup: Morrowind vs. Oblivion”

  1. Amy

    I’ve played both Morrowind and Oblivion extensively and still find that I prefer Morrowind. I always felt that a lot more care had gone into the world-building and background when it came to Morrowind. There seemed to be more history, more books to read, more options in conversation with other characters. I suppose, in that sense, it was more like a fantasy novel than a hack-and-slash game, which was perhaps why I liked it so much!
    Although, being able to climb a hill in Oblivion, turn around and see all the way back to the Imperial City… There are definitely some advantages to the higher powered graphics engines in newer games!

  2. Tia Nevitt

    Definitely more options in conversation. The Morrowind conversation screen looked much like Daggerfalls, but more organized.

    I’ve been reading about a Morrowind Graphics Extender, which is kind of a mod for improved graphics on Morrowind. It looks interesting! If you don’t mind playing around with that sort of thing, then Google Morrowind Graphics Extender. I think my computer is too old to extend the graphics by leaps and bounds.

    1. Amy

      I have played around with the Morrowind Graphics Extender in the past but I can’t remember now if I ever got it to work. I’m assuming I did though, because I still have Morrowind installed on my PC (I originally played the game on an X-Box).

      I’ve never played Daggerfall, but now I’m thinking it might be worth a try as well.

      1. Tia Nevitt

        I wonder if they “fixed” the undressed characters? When it originally came out, you could strip them down to their skin.

        Daggerfall might be a bit quirky, but the landmasses were huge. I only explored a fraction of the game. Buying houses was fun. You could get a loan and buy a house pretty early on. However, the objects weren’t interactive like in Morrowind, and I believe all the roaming characters were sprites, which look the same from every angle. But that’s the way they did games in the 90s.

  3. Decrepit_Relic

    I play(ed) and enjoy(ed) both Oblivion and Morrowind (as well the first two Elder Scrolls entries). Both have their strengths and weaknesses. I find I prefer Oblivion, at least when Shivering Isles (expansion) is thrown in the mix. The PC versions of these two games have a healthy modding community, greatly extending the useful life of each (added quests, cities, dungeons, landmasses, equipment, etc.). What’s more, mods exist to “correct” many perceived deficiencies, including such things as Oblivion’s starter dungeon and persuasion system. For an excellent quest-oriented Oblivion mod, check out Kragenir’s Death Quest which, amongst other things, provides ample reason to visit (or revisit) almost every single dungeon, village, homestead and ruin in Cyrodiil. Or try Iliana’s Elsweyr-Anequina, a beta (but fully playable) project which adds a large portion of the Elsweyr province to the Tamriel map. Rather than provide links, I’ll just recommend that anyone interested in such things visit the Official Bethesda forums, which maintain sections devoted to both Oblivion and Morrowind modding.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Cool! I’ll look for that persuasion mod., and the death quest mod looks fun. Do you know of a mod to allow the map to float on the display, as in Morrowind?

      1. Javert93

        There is a mod called MiniMap (http://www.tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=26220), which will put a small map overlay on your screen. You can’t drag it around freely like in Morrowind, however you can change the location (upper left, upper middle, upper right, etc.) via the mod’s INI file, as well as the map’s transparency. Another mod I would highly recommend is the DarkUI’d DarN mod (http://www.tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=11280), which basically overhauls the horrid colors and layout of the inventory and loading screens.

        While I’m at it, I swear by the Oblivion XP mod (http://www.tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=15619). What this mod does is replace the default leveling system with more of a classic RPG XP system. One thing that always annoyed me about vanilla Oblivion was how it forced you to use skills you normally don’t need or use just to get certain attribute increases. For example, I always play stealthy thief-like characters that snipe from a distance and uses bows almost exclusively. Problem is, in order to be able to carry more loot from a dungeon crawl (one of my favorite pastimes), you have to raise your strength attribute, and the only way to do that is to level blade, blunt, or hand-to-hand. Oblivion XP changes all that by giving me XP for actions (i.e. kills, completing quests, etc.), and once I have enough XP to level, I can choose to manually boost my strength. All without forcing my long-range sniper to become Tamriel’s next Mike Tyson.

        Oh, and one last thing, someone mentioned BOSS, which is a must have. However, I would also suggest Oblivion Mod Manager (OBMM for short), which makes installing and keeping track of mods (and all the files they add) much easier.

        1. Tia Nevitt

          Thanks for the suggestions, and sorry my blog held your comment for moderation. I’ll check these out!

  4. Decrepit_Relic

    I myself don’t use an Oblivion persuasion modifier, but if memory serves “Persuasion Overhaul OBSE” is considered the best currently available. Here is its page at TES_Nexus, probably the overall best Oblivion mod-housing site:


    You’ll notice that it requires one of the standard Oblivion add-on utilities, OBSE (Oblivion Script Extender). This can be found at http://obse.silverlock.org/download/ . It’s a very easy install (just follow provided instructions) taking maybe a minute total. Don’t worry that the Persuasion description says “OBSE 16”. Later versions are backwards compatible and more versatile.

    You might as well also get another standard Oblivion mod utility, BOSS, found at http://www.tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=20516 . It’s an even easier install than OBSE (just drop three or so files in the Oblivion folder) and then run it after installing a new mod to help prevent load-order conflicts. It’s a no-brainer worth its weight in gold.

    Back to the original subject… I forgot to mention my chief disappointment with Oblivion, that its “Radiant AI” (artificial intelligence) is not as fully developed as that seen in an early official teaser video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zL8pyOP0VQI .

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I’m sorry my blog held your comment for moderation. All the links did that, but they were great. Thanks! It will take me a while to go through that.

      And wow, that AI looked pretty incredible. I really hate the persuasion system but I’m getting the hang of it, at least.

  5. Rikko

    Interesting read!

    Well, I only have played Oblivion (110+ hours on it) and I’m not really satisfied with the game.

    Sure, it was addicting or I wouldn’t even break the 20+ hours line. But the more I play the more annoyed I am by the “mistakes”.

    All the guild quests are largely the same from one guild to another. All the stories are very predictable. The levelling system is no good (I prefer the old-school one with fixed levels for fixed locations).

    The landscape is largely the same after a while, except for the snowy zone at Bruma.

    And I don’t know about Morrowind, but I’m kinda a God in Oblivion (in terms of stats and quests completed) and nobody seems to notice it besides random praise (specially the monsters, they are harder and harder to kill as time passes by).


    1. Javert93

      You should definitely check out Martagen’s Monster Mod (search tesnexus for MMM), and Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul mod. The former will remove the “leveled” enemies and replace them with static spawns (and to a lesser, extent, so with OOO by itself), and the latter will make more comprehensive changes to the game. Both of them will also increase the number of spawns. In other words, no more finding one or two less than challenging bandits per room; more like 5 or 6, all of which have a better than decent shot at killing you, even if they were alone. It makes battles very challenging and satisfying.

      OOO will also add quite a few challenging quests, most of which dispense with those lame quest markers that pretty much hold your hand throughout the entire quest.

      I didn’t mention them before because they are huge mods that can be somewhat tricky to install, and I didn’t want to scare you off of Oblivion mods, lol. However, they will definitely give more of a Morrowind-like experience in the leveling and game play departments. Be warned, though, they are not for the feint of heart. It wasn’t until level 15 or so that I could stray too far from the roads without getting one-shotted by an enemy about 20 levels above me. Much like my experience with Morrowind (exacerbated by the lame fact that attacks only have a “chance” at actually hitting anything). It definitely makes dungeon delving a more heart pounding experience, lol.

      Oh, and one other thing about MMM; it adds a LOT of custom creatures to the game (giants, spiders, etc.), and it changes the AI behavior so that the game no longer revolves around you. In other words, you may walk along and see a giant attacking a spider, or a bandit fighting an astronach. Aside from being more realistic (thereby improving the immersion factor), it also means that you won’t be the sole target of a horde of mobs that would otherwise seem like mortal enemies (i.e. some may fight you, while others may fight each other).

      One thing I’ve learning in the 3 years I’ve played Oblivion (off and on), is that if there is something about the game you don’t like or want to change, chances are there is a mod for it on Tesnexus, lol.

      Full disclosure, though. I had the same feelings about Morrowind, but in reverse. Coming from Oblivion, every time I tried to pick it up, I just found it frustrating mess. The fact that your hits don’t always land, the lack of MP regeneration (which means 90% of your inventory had to be dedicated to magicka potions), and the fact that I couldn’t seem to get very far from the starting city without running into something that could (and would) kill me (mostly because I couldn’t actually hit the darn thing), all made me enjoy Morrowind much less. I guess it’s just different strokes for different folks. 😀

      1. E69

        I don’t understand your complaints about Morrowind, please answer me if you can/want (stardama.zoken69@hotmail.fr) . 1)You don’t always hit, yes, it’s rpg greatness ; factors like skills and fatigue affect the hit chances which, among lots of other details and feeling, makes Morrowind’s combat faaaar more enjoyable than Oblivion’s. 2)Huh ? Magicka regenerate, in sleep because that’s realistic. Just press R to rest and you get your bar refilled. Ain’t complicated, but in battle it still adds a touch of challenge (e.g no immortality like in Oblivion “healing spell/magicka regenerate in 20seconds/healing spell”). 3)you get endangered on the road ? Train a bit and watch your back.

        Oblivion is for me one of the most disappointing game serie’s episode of tthe decade. Morrowind, with a few hours of modding to actualise it (google “Morrowind Expanded” ! Sums up everything needed, fantastic ), is a 100 times better.

        1. Tia Nevitt

          Wow, I started playing Morrowind again just a few days ago, and the discussion renews! I’m going to google Morrowind Expanded. I came to the same conclusion you did–Morrowind just has better gameplay, better stories, more immersion and better combat.

          1. E69

            Be warned, though, Morrowind Expanded is trickt to install. After having posted my previous message, and boosted the game, I realized it kept displaying the same bug (“Animation-something has been moved to max” or smthgn like that) which led to crashes ; I must have screwed up some datas while trying to bring the various mods to work. So, even when using only half of its advised modifications, MoEx is definitely beyond awesome, but you shall take every step of the processes with caution.

  6. Decrepit_Relic

    Sometime after posting my earlier comments here I abandoned my initial Oblivion play-through and began afresh. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed the Crisis far more this time ’round. My thoughts on the matter are set forth below. Note that visitors to the official Bethesda Oblivion forums might have read all this in slightly modified form.

    I bought Oblivion PC GOTY over a year-and-a-half ago and was, thanks to the many wonderful mods available to computer users, quite content to stick with my original play-through all this time. Then, some months ago, in conjunction with major hardware upgrades (more RAM, better graphics card), I opted to switch from OMODs to BAIN whenever possible. (For you console folk, those are how we package add-ons for use with the two main PC mod-management utilities, OBMM and Wrye-Bash respectively.) After conversion none but the earliest of my old saves would load. I’m sure I could have solved that given time and effort. But I’d been half-seriously thinking to start afresh anyway. That’s what I ultimately did, archiving old saves in case of second thoughts.

    I began my second play-through from an early initial-play-through save, one made in the starter dungeon before the emperor’s death. That let me retain my elderly avatar’s race and facial customization, which I am quite pleased with.

    Now to the point…

    During my first go-round, I entered Shivering Isles early, level three, before starting either the main quest or Knights of the Nine (KotN), or doing much of anything other than a few side-quests and join the fighters guild. I remained in the Realm of Madness a good many levels, forced to re-enter Tamriel only when lack of access to spells and spell-making brought progress to a standstill. I stayed in Cyrodiil long enough to do more side-quests, buy needed spells, and gain access to the Arcane University. Then it was back to the Isles to finish all activities there. Only then did I return to Tamriel-proper to become Divine Crusader and tackle the Oblivion Crisis.

    Doing it that way cheapened Cyrodiil-based adventures. They seemed a bit underwhelming. I didn’t put a lot of effort into ’em, closing roughly twelve Gates before escorting Martin from Cloud Ruler Temple to the Imperial City. KotN seemed OK if short, but nothing special compared to SI. Don’t take me wrong. I enjoyed ’em. I just liked SI better.

    This was in the back of my mind when I began my Second play-through. I fully expected to again plow my way through KotN & Oblivion Crisis with minimal effort, then move on to bigger and better things.

    I was wrong! This time ’round I had a blast with the Crisis, and now consider it amongst the best of my TES4 experiences.

    First, I totally ignored Shivering Isles, since that is an otherworldly experience and can be put off indefinitely without harming either Cyrodiilic or Sheogorathian time-flow. By doing so I was able to approach the Crisis as an inexperienced adventurer fresh out of prison rather than a seasoned veteran with Godlike abilities and perspectives. A MadGod might not, after all, be overly impressed by or concerned about the daedric invasion of another realm.

    Second, being familiar with the game, I was now able to accomplish things in a much more logical manner. Almost straight out of prison, I joined the Imperial Legion (via mod), was issued a set of decent newb plate-armor, and assigned to patrol the road to Anvil. This in turn allowed me to hear the prophet’s rantings. From there I began seeking way-shrines, in the process visiting various cities to cement relations with the fighters and mages guilds. I began collecting holy relics, and eventually assumed the role of Divine Crusader. This made all the difference.

    I approached the Crisis from the perspective of Crusader, the Gods’ representative on Tamriel. As such, I considered Gates an affront to the Nine, and felt a moral obligation to disable any situated near a roadway or inhabited area. When all was said and done, I had closed fifty-two Gates! Had I chanced upon others during my many adventures they too would have been shut down. What’s more, I took no shortcuts, other than the sort any savvy Gate-crawler takes to make his or her task easier. Yes, it became frustrating at times, especially when faced with several of the more challenging Oblivion layouts back-to-back. But my sense of accomplishment more than compensated for the time and effort involved. And I now have many fond game-play memories that wouldn’t exist had I rushed through the Crisis, closing only a few Gates.

    Lest you think I did nothing but disable Gates and assist Martin, rest assured I allowed myself to unwind by interspersing mundane adventures amongst closings, mostly those befitting the role of Crusader (though some were a stretch). Thus I advanced further in the fighters guild and assisted many a citizen in need. It proved a good mix, retaining the main quest-line’s sense of importance and urgency yet not going so overboard as to cause burnout.

    Now, several real-life months post-Crisis, my avatar has become both Master of the Fighters Guild and Arch-Mage, the latter a more-or-less political appointment pawned off on him by a rather mediocre and possibly wrongheaded predecessor. He continues working for the Legion and Elder Council thanks to several mods, constantly patrolling roads, collecting taxes, and performing special assignments for Chancellor Ocato. Recent “official” activities saw him locate and defeat the Duke of Nibenay and his allies, and witness General Mede’s ascension to the Imperial throne. As reward, if such it is, he earned a seat on the Council and chambers in the Imperial Palace Councilors Wing.

    During his “off-duty” time, he accepts numerous commissions from private citizens. His most praiseworthy non-official accomplishments to date are…

    …the deliverance of Weye village from its oppressive overlord, a service for which he was given a fine manor house near the Imperial City, and…

    …most recently, the thwarting of a vampiric plot to overthrow the Empire, for which he acquired an even more elaborate manor house at Verona.

    He now rarely wears the regalia of Crusader, preferring the guise of Champion, better suited to his duties as Legionnaire, Tax Collector, and representative of the Council.

    Some have expressed dissatisfaction with the game’s opening. I rather enjoyed it. I close with my avatar’s thoughts on the matter…

    “…At the time I considered my incarceration unjust. I’m not saying my life had been blemish free. Far from it. But my crimes, if crimes they be, were no more than those perpetrated daily by men of low intellect and social standing who must compete against those far smarter and more able than themselves. Indeed, many openly flaunt transgressions worse than any I could hope to commit yet never see the inside of a cell. Yet, if the late lamented emperor was correct, and I now have little reason to doubt it, my jailing was predestined by fate or the Gods, an unkindness brought about by necessity solely to ensure my meeting with Uriel Septim — the last Septim emperor, for Martin never officially donned the mantle — during his final hours…”


  7. Rikko

    Wow, a year has passed since I’ve posted in here.

    Well, I received a notification that someone said something in this thread and here I am, one year later….

    And I’m playing Skyrim (TES V) and I can tell you: It’s the good one. Most of my Oblivion complains were fixed. This game is glorious!!

    The levelling system is very straightforward and well done. At first it would seem you’re lacking skills, but in fact, most skills were merged and now you level up doing lots of things (Using soul gems level up Conjuration, selling items and seducing people level up the same skill, for example)

    The landscape is more alien than Oblivion, and more varied than Morrowind. And the dungeons, holy mother of god, EVERY dungeon has something unique to it (be it a treasure, a quest or the new “shouts”) and now the game even take into account the ones you’ve cleared.

    Really, give this game a try. You’ll love it 😀

  8. Eddie

    Hmmm… I’ve still got to try Skyrim, but between Morrowind and Oblivion:
    Morrwind wins. Why? Because the way how enemies keep levelling equally with your own progress flattens out Oblivion.
    I like the Morrowind feeling of beginning like an underdog, barely able to beat random bandits, and finishing like a character able to take on gods.
    In Oblivion, you’re the average guy all along. When you finally manage to acquire a ‘rare’ set of ebony armor, suddenly every lousy cutthroat has got one too… The upside of this mechanism is that enemies are always (more or less) chalenging. However, in Morrowind you could adjust the challenge yourself: leave the real badasses for later (or turn the difficulty to 100 when needed), and start building your char with practising on minor baddies…

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Bravo! Exactly. Also, I just like the stories better in Morrowind. Someone pointed out that in Oblivion, all the quests seem to be the same. Morrowind has factions that are good, middle-of-the-road, and downright evil. Oblivion’s factions are all kind of middling. I love being part of the Legion, House Redoran and, of course, the Blades.

      I’ve been taking a writing break and playing Morrowind for the past two weeks!

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