‘Very few’ people would play a Morrowind-style RPG that ‘has no compass, no map’ and relies on quest text, says ESO director, ‘which is a bit sorrowful’


Back in my day, we didn’t have these fancy, cutting-edge quest markers and compass points – we had to download add-ons if we wanted the minimap to show us where we were. our ten boars and then a walk up the hill, both ways!

If you’ve been playing RPGs since the early 2000s, you probably have a similar elderly man yelling at the clouds in your soul. Put simply, open-world RPG design is slowly moving away from “questing” exploration.

Historically, quest givers in RPGs (both single-player and multiplayer) have relied much more on verbal instructions than on user interface elements. Morrowind, in particular, doesn’t even have a compass—locking each quest with some local approximation of the terrain. Unfortunately, this type of design has gone out with the dodo, as evidenced by an interview with Elder Scrolls Online Director Matt Firor in an article on open-world design by RockPaper Shotgun.

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Games that don’t have “a compass, a map,” where “the quests are literally like ‘go to the third tree on the right and go 50 steps west’” simply won’t reach a up-to-date audience, Friar explains: “If you did that now, nobody would play it. Very few people would play it. So now you have to give them hints and clues, and nobody really wants to spend that much time solving problems. They want to go and hear the story, or interact with another player, or interact with an NPC.”

Boldly invoking the name Morrowind, Frior adds that “Morrowind is, of course, a great game,” probably because a crowd immediately gathered outside his house with pitchforks, but “the way it tells its story with the open world is a little outdated for the type of gamer we have now… not all of them are die-hard PC or first-gen console fans, right, who are going to go out and spend as much time as possible on the game.”

“You really want to make sure it’s engaging and fun, and wandering around a field trying to measure 50 steps from a tree is not part of that anymore. Which is kind of sad, because I’m from the old school.”

I expect my fellow PC Gamer writer and Morrowind fan Joshua Wolens, who’s out today, to show up at my door with a severed sawblade in the morning, but… I think Frior is spot on here. At least from the somewhat cynical perspective of someone trying to keep an MMO afloat.

I only say this because every MMO that has tried to harken back to the halcyon days of hardcore raiding has spontaneously combusted—Wildstar, we barely knew you. Likewise, no triple-A company in their right mind would make an RPG without a compass or quest markers, even if I were rooting for them from the sidelines. Even Elden Ring, a game that was intentionally designed to be obtuse, is relaxed about it. You can even place your own markers on the map, oh my!

Speaking of Elden Ring, I think this is a decent counterpoint to Frior’s words. Navigating a FromSoftware game can often be a bit of a puzzle, especially if you want to follow NPC quest lines—and that’s a title that’s had huge mainstream success.

Note that it is still possible to reach the end of Elden Ring while ignoring the side quests. Just point Torrent towards the landmark and you’ll have an “intended experience” when you get there. Engaging in “50 Steps from the Tree” is mostly optional.

Ultimately, I think that Morrowind could be easily remade and have great success, but the truth is that it would be an experimental, indie title in the mold of Dread Delusion.

Instead, Frior says, the actual market strategy for open-world RPGs is to “create a space and then fill it with things to do, and players can do them in any order they want… sometimes you can’t figure out what players are going to figure out because they’re smarter than you. But that’s the world.”

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