"Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion truly is one of those titles that only appear once in a blue moon; in a time where dry points are strewn about the gaming scene."
You are the unfortunate prisoner, sitting in your particular cell, wondering just how you got yourself into this troublesome predicament. Across the hall can be heard the snickers of a fellow inmate, hurling insults your way as the guard and his escorts approach. While waiting you calm your fidgeting by playfully moving some chains back and forth, all the while watching that ever approaching shadow. Yet, with each passing second you feel a sense that something is amiss, a wariness that easily tops your own current troubles. The guards reach your cell but rather than focus on you, they tell you to move aside. Confused, you look as the guards are accompanied by none other than the great Emperor himself. As you sit there in astonishment, you watch as the man, clothed in silk and gold, turns to you and mutters an incomparably powerful sentence.
”It’s you -- the one from my dreams.”
With a vague explanation and little comprehension of what he means, a secret door suddenly opens, leading to a misty labyrinth, cleverly hidden behind a stone infrastructure. Suddenly you are fighting side by side with the guards of the Imperial City, warding off hordes of mysteriously clad assassins. In mere moments you find yourself separated from the group, as well as lost in thought. Where do I go from here? Oh, but so much more awaits you within the confines of the dark underground; multiple corridors that lead to lurking enemies; chests with your first set of items; an array of weaponry ranging from a simple bow to techniques delving in the mystic arts. These all leading up to an understanding of just who you really are and what your mission is in this crazy new world.
And this encompasses just the first hour of play.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion truly is one of those titles that only appear once in a blue moon; in a time where dry points are strewn about the gaming scene. Continuing the impressive mark that carries over from its predecessor Morrowind, the game strives to give you a world that doesn’t end until you want it to. Along the way you will take the time to notice the attention to detail apparent in every single corner of the land of Cyrodil. From the breathtakingly high mountains near Lylonadil to the snowy wastelands of Bravil, impressive visuals help provide an incentive to go exploring. Murky caverns, forgotten ruins, and hellish portals to far off dimensions, can all be found within several miles of each other, and show that this is one twisted world you’ll not soon forget.
What can be forgotten are some annoyances that I had some problems with in Morrowind. For one, in the previous version, there were times when I wish I could simply get to my destination immediately. Bethesda realized this and decided to provide an option for those of us who had seen enough of the landscape already. Fast travel is an option now, giving you the chance to instantly warp to any location on the map. This saves players a tremendous amount of time and helps you get those quests done, minus the sluggish walking from town to town. The feature is merely optional though and if you are the type that likes to take in the lush surroundings, far be it from anyone to stop you. Nevertheless, the game is all about choices, and Oblivion provides a wide array of character classes, each with their own unique combat approach and style.
Speaking of combat, Oblivion definitely made the biggest improvement in this department, allotting a wide array of possibilities no matter what you choose to be. Want to be a burly warrior, clad in full heavy armor, wielding every massive weapon in the book? Be sure to specialize strength and endurance then, focusing on the various weapon skills and of the course, the art of blocking. That's right, warriors can now block using their respective weapon or shield, allowing for more intense duels; especially if it is between two melee based fighters.
Mages now have a tremendous amount of spells to choose from, ranging from the mind numbing powers of illusion to the offensive forces of fire and lightning, known as destruction. And props to the new hot-key system, which lets you assign any type of sword, bow, or spell to a single button push. This saving you from frustratingly pressing the menu button to switch tools during combat sessions. Yet, the most important aspect of the game comes down to picking the best character for the job. And depending on the decision you make, will affect just how well your protagonist will perform.
For instance, I play as the tiger race Khajit, with my skills applicable to the very cool field of thievery. Thanks to the agility and speed bonuses provided by my particular kind, techniques delving in: acrobatics, lock-pick, sneak, and security, help me take advantage of my class to its full potential. Just as in Morrowind you level by the amount of times you use your specific skills, rather than each opponent carrying a set amount of experience points. And while skills like acrobatics may feel broken, since jumping continues to raise its level, the other attributes help to balance it out.
Now perhaps you don't want to be a fuzzy cat. Then why not take a pick from over ten other possible character models, each having their own unique background and character traits. From the beer swigging, axe wielding Nord to the intelligent and mysterious Dark Elf, each race provides a different experience, not only in combat or appearance, but in the way people will perceive you.
Taking a couple of pointers from the ill-fated Fable, the people in the world of Oblivion are among the most active non-player characters ever seen in a role-playing game. Try walking into the local inn for a drink, there the citizens of the town will welcome you; recognizing you by the origin you chose at the beginning of the game. You will also notice how they seem to go about their own predetermined schedule, sometimes even bumping into each other for a quick conversation. What is sometimes fun is sneaking up on some unsuspecting duo and eavesdropping what they are saying. This can lead to an understanding of the area you are in, any local missions to undertake, or perhaps just a quick laugh at the convoluted exchange of words that can sometimes take place.
Another thing that might have some people talking is the accomplishments that you put under your belt throughout your progression of the main storyline. As you travel from city to forest; riding over bridges and passing by desolate ruins and landmarks, you will begin to find the Oblivion gates. These nightmarish portals have appeared all throughout the world of Cyrodil, unleashing legions of imps, mutant lizards, and powerful beings known as the Daedra. Your primary objective will be to find these gates, enter them, eliminate the opposition inside, and deactivate the terminal which keeps these fiery gateways open. No matter how much you enjoy the dark storyline of Oblivion, there are times when you just need a break. Thankfully, the game provides a plethora of sub-quests and guilds to join, all which let you deepen the role of your hero further.
I mean, I'm not one to brag, but I've single handedly taken down hundreds of ruthless bandits in my travels. I've become the champion of the Arena in the Imperial City, where hundreds of spectators cheer my name as I enter and leave each event. Whether it be taking down a team of high elf archers or slaughtering a legion of trolls, the outcome is the same. Oh, and it would be foolish if I didn't point out that I have among the highest honors in the thieves guild. Nothing like quietly breaking into a poor sap's house late in the night and making off with the many goods strewn about their shelves and chests all ninja style. I guess I could tribute my success to the fact that I have the eyes of the tiger, allowing me to see into the darkness and help spot those deadly pit and needle traps. Though that's not to say there aren't more career choices out there. The fighters guild and mages guild have made their return from the original, along with a series of hidden clubs and cults that make the before mentioned ones feel like a walk through the daisies.
If there is one thing that has gotten on my nerves though, as I've slowly taken my time with Oblivion, it would be the sometimes exploitable AI. And there is no other class that experiences this flaw as much as the thief. For example, picture sneaking in through the front door of a item store at three in the morning; your shadow silently blending in with the night. Your confidence is then broken as the owner of the store comes downstairs and notices your actions. Que the following silly resultant of my carelessness:
Disgruntled store clerk: “Hey! What are you doing here? Get out before I call the guards!”
[There is a slight pause, but then I notice he's not doing anything but glaring at me. So, I go over to talk to him.]
Disgruntled store clerk: “Welcome, I have the finest goods in all of Cyrodil!”
Jin the Khajit: “...”
Quite the punishment for getting caught eh? A small threat and a chance to sell some supplies and I was off gallivanting in the night again. Luckily, the guards of the game aren't so stupid and will be sure to throw you in jail if you truly piss them off. This of course leads to more difficult encounters later on when you start dealing with craftier people, both human and alien alike.
So, say you are stuck on a difficult boss engagement, where he continues to bind your attacks and slide pass your feeble defenses. Perhaps you should go level up? Unfortunately, that's pointless because the challenge of the game scales with your level. Ah, there is the solution, go into the options menu and slide the toggle down to easy. It's alright, it's only for this fight and then you can slide it back up again afterwards. Probably the first role-playing game in years that allows you to alter the difficulty while you play, Oblivion definitely opens up some possibilities for the casual gamer. Personally I don't care for it because it breaks down any wall that a player would have to improve themselves to go through. It would be like asking someone not to use their book on a take home test. The urge to cross that impassable rift is sometimes a little too overwhelming.
Nevertheless, there is always the option of keeping the difficulty at maximum for you hardcore players. On a somewhat similar note, the best relief for that built up tension, brought about by fluent challenges, can be found in the harmless field of sight-seeing. Weather effects that change as you journey from point to point, a time system that affects the sky and the schedules of the people, and fluid character motions all bring together a treat for the eyes; that is even furthered along if you happen to own a top of the line system. Oblivion is definitely one of the more graphic intense titles to come along in a while and will require a moderate system just to run it on an average setting. Those running it on a lower end computer will also notice the occasional dip in frame-rate and some lock-ups as well. So, keep in mind that you get what you pay for when it comes to the PC version. You get better visuals than the 360 version, but it all depends on how much you are willing to spend. Ah, the old double-edged sword.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion takes the best qualities of an MMORPG and action-RPG and fuses them together to form something special. The improved battle system, brilliant story-line, and sheer depth of the visuals help bring everything together, even better than its predecessor had. However, the PC version suffers from some performance problems that can really only be cured by having a nice system. Adding that to some other detriments is what brings me to give this version of the game a point less than I'd want to. When everything is said and done though, there is just too much to like about Oblivion, and those that get into all it has to offer will enjoy well over 60 hours of playtime.
In the end whatever system you decide to buy the game for is entirely up to you. It all depends on whether or not you think it's the right time. The 360 is bound to get some great games (that aren't ports) sooner or later right?
Staff review by Branden Barrett (May 02, 2006)
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