The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Interestingly, the game doesn't grip you immediately with a storyline. Instead, it starts you off as a prisoner in a ship, bound for Morrowind, and leaves it to you to craft the initially featureless avatar into your own character. The story does start to unwind after a while of course, but at the beginning, you can do anything you like. Before all this happens though, you need to configure the game and set your controls. Normally, RPG's are a simple affair, what with the mouse being the main interface and the keyboard being used only for hotkeys. Not so with Morrowind; this is one of the first games in the genre that actually places you permanently in first person mode. Everything you do from talking and shopping to combat and magic is done in-eyes. Is this a good thing? Well, let me explain.
Your character has the ability to move forward, backward, strafe left and right, jump (but not crouch) and open doors. Melee and ranged combat, and magic, are handled by equipping your weapon or spell, and using it (left mouse). At first I quite liked the fact that the world is being viewed just how you would see it normally, not from an isometric or top down view. Buildings surrounded me, people lurked in alleyways and out in the wilderness, trees and strangely-shaped mushroom things towered above. However it did get pretty ordinary after a short while, as the graphics, albeit incredibly beautiful in some places, didn't really add much to the game. Moving around also seemed a bit sluggish, as if the character was constantly drugged, which didn't make traversing large distances fun at all. In fact, it got a little boring, despite various speed upgrades.
Thankfully, there are other travel options. Giant Silt Striders can take you from one town to another for a small fee, which is infinitely more preferable than trudging through the wilderness between populated areas. You will need to leave the relative safety of towns during your quest, as various requirements can only be met by locating a place or item, or person who has decided to take up residence an inconvenient distance from the local town. Directions on how to reach the main areas of the game are available almost anywhere, and rest assured, you will need them. Morrowind is not a cramped game, it's a real world without many boundaries at all.
Weapons, armour, magic items, scrolls and potions are all there, with varying levels of each available to buy, steal and discover. You can be a jack of all trades but a master of none, or specialise and enjoy a more limited but faster-improving skillset. Your skills improve as you use them, and once several have gone up in score, you will "level up". This is where you choose to allocate points to your abilities and improve straight off. On top of this, you can opt to receive training from NPC's to gain ability on the spot, which is handy if you need a specific ability fast.
The area of the game that impressed me the most however was the magic system. The usual range of spells are available, from fire and lightning damage spells to useful spells like increased jump height and one of my favourites, water-walking. If you have the money though, you can combine spells of your choice into new spells, giving it a name in the process, which can later be used just as any other spell. This can lead to some pretty cool combinations, such as Jump and Slowfall, which effectively gives you uber long-jump capabilities. Also, the spell Recall is obtainable, which i'm sure a lot of you RPG players will agree, is essential for travelling.
Also in this area is the alchemy ability, which lets you create your own potions. Failing that, you can simply eat the ingredients and hope they do something! Really, the amount of things you can do with your character, weapons, armour, spells and alchemic ingredients is quite staggering, more than any other game i've ever come across. The general feel of the game could be better, especially when it comes to controlling your character in combat. In other RPG's, you could slap your favourite sword/shield combination onto your character, perhaps make him drink a potion or two, then click on an enemy and watch him get busy. In Morrowind, things just seem to take longer to perform. Attack damage for instance, is based upon how long you hold the button down before releasing it, which seems semi-useless to me. I can't imagine wanting to 'tap' a monster with my war axe - i'd want to hit it as hard as possible. For knocking people out there's unarmed combat, which only deals damage to fatigue (stamina), eventually knocking the target unconcious. I can understand the limitations of first-person RPG combat - it can't be left entirely to the player or statistics would become useless in the hands of an experienced one. It just seems so rigid though.
The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind is not a typical role playing game. Granted, it contains all the defining elements of the genre, but it uses the style of many 3D games to convey the world onto your glass screen. It's more immersive than any other RPG i've played, and this is a major bonus since this is what the genre is all about: making you an important part of a greater whole, and letting you believe you're making a difference to the world. Morrowind will satisfy all but the most ravenous RPG fan, and there is an extensive amount of things to do on your way to completing the game. Creating a character is both easy and fun, and the difficulty can be scaled to suit the player. There are quite a few annoying things about the game, but none of them stand out enough to ruin the experience.
Overall, Morrowind isn't top of my list, but it's certainly in the top five.