The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Retrospective

For the latest entry to their "The Games That Made Us Gamers" series, Bits n' Bytes Gaming takes a retrospective look back at Bethesda's excellent The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and its Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansion packs. Here's to hoping we look back at Skyrim this fondly:
To this day, the staggering amount of environmental diversity contained within Morrowind and its two expansions, Tribunal and Bloodmoon, boggles my mind. I dread having to travel into the island's interior, for there lies the terrifying, sparsely populated ashen wastes of Molag Amur and Sheogorad, choked and infested with twisted plants and untamed creatures, and regularly made impassable by disorienting dust storms. As an impressionable thirteen year old and intolerant of anything remotely creepy, these were places I simply did not go. And don't get me started on those damned ancestral tombs.

Morrowind's magical world of impossible imagination deeply stimulated my young mind. Vvardenfell was an isolated Imperial frontier in the middle of nowhere, backwards and primitive, home to grumpy wizards living in mushroom towers, cities made of monstrous crab shells and a plague-spreading volcano. It was an old world, an ancient one, and if you chose not to respect it like walking too far up the wrong road or misstepping into a particularly cursed dwarven ruin you would surely perish. I lost myself in the rich lore and culture of the dark elves; I had been sent to an island under jurisdiction of the human Cyrodiilic Empire, but beneath the surface of calm lay a simmering cauldron of millennia-old factionalism, where Dunmer (Great Houses) warred with each other for land, political influence and the precedence of their own customs and privileges, but all did their best to hide the shame and impotency of foreign occupation; meanwhile, the country's official religion of the Tribunal, a trinity of three living gods, was riven by discord, competing with the beliefs of the Imperium, dissident priests and animalistic ancestor worshippers.

To call the history and culture of the dark elves (complex) is the understatement of the Third Era, and that was before you had investigated the backgrounds of the thousand NPCs or read any of the hundreds of in-game books full of tales of the other, unseen provinces. While many deemed such lore impenetrable, to me, this was an entirely unprecedented fantasy universe: Morrowind was my Dungeons & Dragons, an interactive epic that had me enthralled and agog on my first foray.