A couple of years back I talked about the Morrowind Overhaul, a huge bundle package of graphics upgrades for the third Elder Scrolls title. That’s one way to modernise an RPG that’s now over a decade old. Another approach is to recreate all of its content as a total conversion for one of its own sequels.

And thus, as I was reminded recently in a post on RPS we have: skywind. You’re playing Skyrim, but you’re back in Morrowind, complete with crabshell towns, spiky purple ruined temples, and… maybe Cliff racers. Oh god. I guess if this is to be properly authentic they have to bring back Cliff Racers.

I can see a few of advantages to going down this route. I’m not a graphics wizard but as great as the Overhaul looked, I imagine you can get even more impressive and convincing results using a modern engine, rather than just sticking sharper textures and more foliage into an outdated one.

Apart from the graphics, Skyrim is also a product of steady refinement towards more slick and user-friendly gameplay rules and mechanic. I won’t miss the old Morrowind combat with its invisible dice-rolls, leading to lots of frustrating flailing at bandits at early levels. In modern Elder Scrolls, if it looks like you hit that bandit, you actually did.

Modern fast-travel systems are appreciated too. Morrowind used to make you walk to your boat (or giant bug-taxi), or use teleport systems with limited options for destinations, and many remote locations could only be reached on foot. Now you only have to walk anywhere the first time; subsequent trips can be done instantly with a click of a mouse on the map. While I feel like I lose Serious RPG Fan points for admitting it, that’s kind of a relief. These games are time consuming enough that I don’t want to be forced to repeat any journeys.

I might miss the old spell-making system though. It gave great freedom to tinker, experiment and produce spells to your specifications, mixing various spell effects, strengths and durations. You could do a straight fireball, you could balance fire damage with more subtle “weakness to fire” effects, you could do slow damage over time instead of all the power hitting in one go, you could mix in some lightning too.

It also let you produce ridiculous, pointless or just plain broken effects but that was part of the charm. If you really wanted to paralyse yourself, or make your enenemies harder to hit with chameleon spell, or boost the agility of mudcrabs then sure. Morrowind wouldn’t try to stop your madness. Nowadays though you just have a set of premade spells, and I do feel something has been lost in the process of streamlining.

Looking at other matters, I guess they’ll be keeping skill perks, ie that tree of options for boosts to each of your abilties, which makes raising skills like Alchemy a bit more interesting than just slowly climbing numbers. I wonder if they’ll bring back skills that have been lost over iterations of Elder Scrolls, like Medium Armour or individual weapon types. I don’t really know how much freedom they have to alter the basics!

Anyway Skywind is currently in a closed alpha. Given my huge backlog of unplayed games, and limited gaming time, I’m not sure I can really justify returning to Morrowind Yet Again anyway. But if I get a chance to try this I’ll post again with my thoughts.