Publisher/developer Bethesda’s long-lived Elder Scrolls series has thrown up some great games over the years – Daggerfall, Oblivion and of course Skyrim. But perhaps the most-loved of all is Morrowind.
Originally released in 2002 on PC and the following year on Microsoft‘s fledgling Xbox, Morrowind is set on the island of Vvardenfell, a small but densely-packed region dominated by mountains, swampland and a range of bizarre flora and fauna and all manner of strange characters, factions and mysteries to discover. The homeland of the Dark Elves – known in the Elder Scrolls’ lore as the Dunmer – Vvardenfell is a place where people travel between areas on the back of Silt Striders; towering creatures resembling nothing more than over-sized fleas. It’s a land blighted by violent ash-storms thanks to the raging active volcano at its center. Later expansions Tribunal and Bloodmoon added new regions to explore, new gameplay mechanics (such as transforming into a werewolf) and their own memorable moments to come across. But none of them are able to hold a candle to one of the earliest events that take place upon booting up the title for the time and setting off on your quest.
It’s not memorable due to any sort of dramatic tension or stunning plot twist, mind, but because of just how cruel it was: a cruelty merely reinforced by how subtly it was inflicted and how many players were tricked into falling into its trap.
Not long after starting the game and leaving the starting settlement of Seyda Neen, players will hear a scream and as a wizard falls out of the sky, hitting the ground with a sickening – and fatal – thud. Of course this being an RPG, a player’s first instinct is to loot their corpse for whatever goodies they might be carrying on their person. You’ll delight at finding a magical sword – a very nice weapon to have at such an early stage – and a number of magical scrolls and a nearby journal.
Unfortunately, many players ignore or don’t notice the journal and are instead simply delighted to find a spell scroll – the Scroll of Icarian Flight. You might think that after seeing a wizard fall out of the sky, more players would take the hint. But no; excited by the prospect of being able to fly, many players will read the scroll, jump to see what happens… and promptly find themselves launched into the air high above the gameworld.
Of course, gravity being what it is, what goes up must come down, and unfortunately the scroll’s name is slightly misleading. You see, the Scroll of Icarian Flight isn’t what it seems and it most certainly doesn’t allow you to fly. It simply enables you to jump extremely high (the spell temporarily raises your Acrobatic statistic to 1,000). But after seven seconds the spell wears off, and you’ll plummet back down to earth to share the same fate as the poor wizard whose corpse you’ve just robbed. It’s a moment which was popular enough to be referenced in later title Skyrim, but nothing beats the original.
It was an incredibly cruel trick to play, but Morrowind‘s falling wizard and the thousands of subsequent player deaths which followed taught players a valuable early lesson if you hoped to survive your time in Vvardenfell and triumph over the manipulative evil of the game’s primary antagonist, Dagoth Ur: Pay attention to your surroundings, read everything, and think before you act.