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Why I Love: Morrowind’s mass transit system

I am a fast traveler. You give me a fast travel option in an RPG, I am going to use it because while I’m sure the landscape is lovely and there are plenty of caves to explore, flowers to pick and animals to slaughter, I just don’t have that kind of time. I don’t need to spend ten minutes hauling my world-saving carcass from one end of the realm to the other; I’m perfectly ok just magically appearing at an inn or a signpost or a front gate, even if it is 2am now and I’m still suspiciously fresh as a daisy. But I do admit most current fast travel systems are a wee bit too accommodating; I feel like I should have to put in at least a little effort to magically whisk my way across the map. Which is why I wish more worked like the mass transit system of Morrowind.

In Oblivion and Skyrim, so long as a location is on your map (and provided you’ve visited it before), you can travel there. Select it, hit a button, and presto, you’re there. In Morrowind, however, it’s not quite so simple. A network of boats, gondolas, and silt striders will get you around Vvardenfell, but you’ll still be doing a lot of walking, unless your final destination is the city center. Not every transport goes to every location, either, so, much like navigating the New York subway, you have to learn which transfers you’ll have to make. To get from Maar Gan up north down to Hla Oad, for example, you’d want to catch a silt strider to Vivec then hop a boat. Or you could take the silt strider up to Khuul and then hop a boat first to Gnaar Mok and then from there to Hla Oad. Depends on how many stops you feel like making. Or you could always...

It’s an inconvenient system by modern RPG standards, but learning the different routes made me feel more like a local. It also created a real sense of distance. Vvardenfell isn’t all that big, relatively speaking, but having to navigate it much as I would if I really lived there made it feel much more genuine and enormous. Then there’s the vehicles themselves. The boats aren’t posh cruisers, they’re little more than rowboats, which sells the atmosphere far better than NPC conversation ever could. Vvardenfell is grubby, tough, and more than a little moldy, but its people manage the best they can.

And then there are the silt striders, the flying taxis of the Elder Scrolls. Huge, hollowed-out bugs, they tower over the countryside, impossibly tall and ungainly. You’ll spot them in the misty distance long before you ever actually reach the station - a particularly welcome sight of civilization after you’ve been wandering alone for so long, usually with something trying to kill you. Several somethings. And you just know the guy running the silt strider station doesn’t care. He’s seen it all in his line of work. You can babble all you want about the three clannfear you just took on, but he’s not really listening. Sure, maybe you’re trying to save the world, but he’s just trying to make a living.

The rest of Morrowind is all about you: what you want to do, when you want to do it, how you want to do it. That’s the point, of course. You’re the hero of prophecy and whatnot, so of course you’re the most important driving force in the game. But I appreciate the reminder that the world ticks on regardless of my personal needs and whims.  The silt striders keep flying whether I’m there or not, the boats keep shuttling passengers around the outer rim of the island. They’re there when I need them, but they’re not only there because I need them. To the game, I’m the Nerevarine, but to them, I’m just another yutz who needs a ride.

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