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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360) artwork

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360) review


"It never leaves entirely, though. I mean, I've spent a total of 375 or so hours in the world of Oblivion and its DLC, and I have no regrets. I was glad when it was over and I doubt I'll ever play it again, but I had a great time until the end, when I was just trying to finish off the final few quests as quickly as possible. "



The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion asset


Reviewing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2013 feels sort of strange. After all, the fifth game in the series, Skyrim has been out for a while and, in many ways, makes this one feel obsolete. Compared to its successor, Oblivion comes off as clunky. While I don't wish to belabor this point, I feel that I still should mention a few of those improvements anyway, just for comparison’s sake. They pertain to some of the boring busywork I had to do while hanging around the Imperial City and its outlying towns, while attempting to save the world from an invasion by Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon.

* Equipment repair became unnecessary, meaning you no longer had to keep a bunch of repair hammers on your person in order to ensure that your weapons and armor retained their maximum effectiveness (or simply remained usable). Skyrim cut down on the unnecessary menu-opening that you’ll find in Oblivion and focused on what’s truly fun: ramming giant swords through Minotaur and ogre foes. When you have to periodically enter sub-screens to tend to your equipment, a game's appeal starts to fade.

* While Skyrim's style of Radiant Questing could best be described as a way to deliver a never-ending array of fetch quests for players, it does at least give a purpose to every single dungeon, cave and mine in the game. Oblivion doesn't have this system in place, and that means there are a lot of places you'll never have to visit. It's not all that likely you'll want to, anyway, as you also won’t find the sort of visual variety you'll get from the newer game. If you’ve seen one Ayleid ruin, you've seen them all and the same holds true for caves, mines and forts. These places are cool and atmospheric, but the appeal fades after you’ve run through a couple dozen of them.

* Take that last point and multiply it tenfold to arrive at a summation of my feelings on Oblivion Gates. Upon entering your first one, you'll be amazed and feel you're actually in some hellish plane of existence. Seas of lava surround jagged towers under a nightmarish blood-red sky. And you'll want to enter these places, because the reward for besting them is a magical stone that will place a powerful enchantment on either your weapon or a piece of armor. Then you'll realize that there are only a handful of layouts for these places, and you're essentially doing the same thing over and over and… well, even more of the appeal has faded away.

It never leaves entirely, though. I mean, I've spent a total of 375 or so hours in the world of Oblivion and its DLC, and I have no regrets. I was glad when it was over and I doubt I'll ever play it again, but I had a great time until the end, when I was just trying to finish off the final few quests as quickly as possible.

Simply put, I bought this title when I purchased my 360 and, after the brief tutorial dungeon, found myself in a vast, vibrant world unlike any other I'd seen in a video game up to that point. It was the sort of thing that had such an effect on me that simply typing these words sends a bit of a tingle down my spine. Oblivion boasts a huge land to explore. The Imperial City itself is large enough that a pretty decent-sized game could be contained solely within its walls. A number of other decent-sized towns, as well as many small hamlets, are scattered throughout the land, which also contains swamps, forests and snowy mountains. It's often fun to just wander around, scaling high peaks to see the lay of the land from that vantage point. Heck, I remember being vastly entertained by a blog where the writer did just that -- foregoing all quests and plot advancement simply to "live" like a normal person with no aspirations greater than simply earning his keep by collecting alchemical herbs in this world. Skyrim might have done most things better, but Oblivion did them first and for that I am grateful.

Of all those hours I spent with this game, I doubt even a tenth of them involved the main plot, which revolves around the emperor being assassinated and you having to find and protect his heir from a cult looking to unleash a fearsome demon lord upon the world. It’s good fantasy stuff to be sure, but there was so much more. The Imperial City holds an arena loaded with rank after rank of opponent, all of whom stand in your way if you want to be champion. Four guilds offer their own lengthy series of quests and there are a lot of people, humanoids and Daedric princes willing to give you something to do, as well.

Good game or not, the big question is whether Oblivion offers much of anything that Skyrim didn't do better a few years later. It definitely doesn't where character balance is concerned, as it's way too easy here to either wind up way over your head… or in a position where you can dominate everything the game throws at you without any trouble. During the tutorial, you pick a class, which determines which seven of the game's multitude of skills are your major ones. While you can advance in all the skills, it's by advancing in those initial ones that you can gain points towards gaining a level. By gaining levels, you get points based on how many skills you've raised that can be allocated to your base stats, such as strength and speed. Also, the quality of the opposition you will face grows increasingly powerful (with the strongest foes simply leveling up with you).

So, if you're picking up this game, logic says that if you want a brutal melee basher, you'd want to pick a class loaded with skills such as Heavy Armor, Blade, Blunt and Block. And then you'll find yourself quickly picking up levels, so that if you go to sleep (which makes the level-up official) regularly, you'll find yourself greatly outmatched down the road to where just about anything you fight feels like a mini-boss or tougher.

No, what you want to do to build a great melee combatant is to pick a pure magic class. That way, you're only moving towards the next level when you deign to cast spells and craft alchemical potions, so with a bit of planning, you can ensure you'll level up when and only when you feel like doing so. You'll then have more points to put into stats and find that even foes set up to be unbelievably powerful monsters fall with a minimal amount of effort. I mean, while I did eventually "break" Skyrim due to the mass numbers of great perks that I gave my character, it took a good bit of time and effort before I was comfortable going one-on-one with some of the more ferocious opponents. Here, the challenge was all but gone while I was still fighting reasonably early-game creatures like black bears and wild boars. Liches, upper-tier Daedra, Minotaur lords… they never stood a chance. There's just something wrong about that. I remember being chased all the way to a town by a particularly grumpy bear until a guard saw what was going on, came to my rescue and effortlessly slew the beast. A few levels later, I single-handedly slaughtered entire worlds full of creatures much tougher than any run-of-the-mill animal.

While Oblivion is no Skyrim, though, it was still a fun game that provided me with a lot of enjoyment. It's a tough one to rate today, as it fits in the "great game that's lost some appeal due to a superior follow-up" category. I have a lot of nostalgia for it, but would hesitate to recommend it to anyone today. However, there is one aspect that I do find worth mentioning because it's something that Skyrim actually did worse. Let's revisit those four guilds briefly…

In the newer Elder Scrolls game, these places are more diversions than anything. You'll likely spend as much time doing Radiant Quests than you will any other activity, and their main plots are short enough to be summed up with six or seven actual missions. Compared to that, Oblivion gives you a quartet of time sinks, each containing well over a dozen jobs. There's also a neat sense of progression, as you start out doing novice jobs and don't get into each guild's main plot until you've earned the trust of higher-ups. The mage's guild offers the best example of this, as you can't even enter their college until you've visited each town's branch and earned their leaders' recommendations. Each guild has a nice, logical progression to it as you work your way up the ranks until finishing their arc as the new master. The guilds were a highlight of this game and something that still stands the test of time.

Other than the minor glitches and game freezes that one tends to expect from these massive open-world Western RPGs, it's hard to say too much negative about Oblivion other than how, a few years later, Bethesda released another Elder Scrolls game that I thought was better. Before playing Skyrim, I was too engrossed in this game's world to criticize the flawed leveling system or to get annoyed by the constant need to repair equipment. I had no interest in nitpicking at any number of minor flaws, real or perceived. While it's hard to not notice them now, though, it's more difficult still to ignore or belittle all the hours of good memories this game brought me…

Rating: 8/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 05, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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andrewtopointoh posted August 07, 2013:

Excellent review. I actually enjoy how it is really a running comparison to Skyrim. Personally, I'll take Fallout 3 over Skyrim or Oblivion any day. However, this review makes me want to get back into the EDS universe.
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overdrive posted August 07, 2013:

Thanks a lot. Yeah, that's the only way I could figure out how to make an Oblivion review relevant today -- compare and contrast it to the newer Elder Scrolls game.

I liked this and Skyrim more than Fallout 3, but New Vegas might be above at least one of them. I think that game fleshed things out more, as far as giving you a busy world with tons of things to do. I'm still fairly early in the game (just reached Mr. House in New Vegas) and only seen part of the world, but it just feels vast. I just really like how it kinda balances the line between Eastern and Western styles of RPG by putting various classes of monster in different places, so you're kinda directed where to go in the early going and have to build up to explore various locations, instead of having the game (for the most point) be as difficult as you can handle at any time and place.

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