The thing that really stokes me about Bloodmoon is that it’s basically Vvardenfell in miniature, on a scale comprehensible to its players — and that means it’s possible to be a completist about it.
No tomb will be left unraided, no naked nord left standing. All of Solstheim will be mine.
Sadly, the miniaturisation present in Bloodmoon comes at the cost of Morrowind‘s strange beauty.
Solstheim ranges from temperate at the south end to completely snow- and ice-clad at the north, but gone are the mushroom trees and twisty vines that make Vvardenfell’s landscape so compelling. The island is, physically, not that far north of Vvardenfell, so you’d have expected a bit of cross-pollination in terms of plant life (at the very least) — but then again, the way everyone talks about it, I think it was meant to be much more isolated (and possibly a lot bigger) than it actually is.
Landscape-wise, it’s also a lot softer — there are only a few completely impassable slopes (a very sharp contrast to the extremely rugged Vvardenfell), and it’s eminently possible to run from end to end without having to do any navigational meandering. While two places being geographically coincident is no guarantee of being able to get between them on Vvardenfell (at least without levitation), Solstheim is mostly just a bit lumpy, sparsely pocked by standing stones and trees. The only reason you might lose your way is if you veer off to explore another tomb or cave, as the lack of variety in landmarks makes it much more difficult to remember what cave you’re looking for (constant reference to the map tends to be required).
The animals are also a bit of a come-down. Apart from the mangnificent Grahls and a couple of unique monstrous opponents, you’re going to spend the bulk of your time fighting wild boar, wolves and bears (of varying description). Well, plus naked nords and the odd clothed ones. There are also naked tree-women, Spriggans, but they’re fairly standard fare in high fantasy.
Gone are the daedric and dwemer ruins (and all the fantastical enemies those entail), and in their place are screeds and screeds of ancient nord tombs (far more than the size of the island might suggest). The addition of the draugr and the bonewolf might pad out the ranks of the undead, but they’re still “just” undead (eating gravetar makes a change from bonemeal, mind you).
The final opponents on the semi-civilised roster are the Ricklings, little blue-skinned jobbies with deceptively fearsome longswords (though they don’t last long without repair, they do a lot more damage than your standard longsword). Basically goblinoids wearing furs instead of leather straps, they are sometimes seen riding piggies and generally making nuisances of themselves when you least want to run into them.
For all its faults, though, Bloodmoon includes the most masterful quest chain of all, one that has stayed with me forever and continues to inspire: the East Empire Company’s venture at Raven Rock.
Upon reaching Fort Frostmoth, you completely ignore the Bloodmoon main quest and end up in the office of a local company representative and sign on.
When you are first sent to Raven Rock, it’s one man standing next to some ebony ore deposits. As you progress through the quest, taking on duties simultaneously mundane but infused with fantastical twists, the colony grows. It starts by adding a mine building and some foundations, then the foundations turn into to houses, you get to choose whether or not the town gets a trader or a smithy, a bar appears… Eventually it’s a thriving little walled town, a right proper jewel of the north, and they’ve even built you a house (but by that point you’re probably already chieftain of Thirsk and maybe even Blodskaal, so you have dwellings coming out your ears).
Suddenly, a static cut-out world with a sprinkling of mobile interactables becomes a dynamic place. It’s such a pleasure to watch the colony grow, to come back after your last couple of assignments and see another building has sprung up.
This post has perhaps come over a bit negative. I do love Solstheim, but like everything (and this still applies to Morrowind as a whole), in the cold clarity of the morning after it has plenty of gaps that could have been better filled.
But the things that it does right, it does right. It’s clean and pure, a sharp contrast to the gritty dustiness of Vvardenfall, making it a pleasant place to go on a little sojourn from your quest to save the world. Running through snow-clad fields, never having to fear the call of the Cliff Racer descending from the void, watching Raven Rock grow under your patronage…
It’s all very ‘ice, and that ‘snow joke.
Oh come on, you knew I had to say it. Chill out!