"...Find him and shut close that jaws, of Oblivion!"
I have always been a huge fan of, “The Elder Scrolls”, series. That being said, I wanted to play the forth installment, “Oblivion” as soon as I got the good word that it was being made. In this review I hope to examine, how TESIV:Oblivion, is better and or worse than it’s illustrious predecessors.
Furthermore, I found myself to be in quite a quandary, when it came time to review the game. You see, I have played or experienced both the PC and Xbox 360 versions of the game. In the end I decided to review the 360 “game of the year”, addition, as I have spent the most time with that version. (About 150 hours worth of experience.-MM-)
The term “RPG”, means many different things, to many different people. The two main differences, at least as far as video games are concerned, involve Eastern or “console style” RPGS, and Western or “PC style”. (Not that they always stay separate however.-MM-) Allow me to put it another way. The Elder Scrolls games, in my mind are more like and RPG. As you play the role of an inhabitant in another world.
But what makes Oblivion standout even more is that the player is NOT obligated to be a good. They can choose to be a villain just as easily. Or be something in between. They can even choose to forsake the main quests and, do their own thing. More on that in a bit.
So many choices…so little time.
The character creation in Oblivion is very deep. Even deeper than it’s predecessors. The player gets to choose from: gender, race, hair/eye colour, facial shape, and age. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. They can also choose to skip this process.
After you have your avatar’s appearance set, you can then pick their alignments. It is a little different than in most CRPGS however. Unlike in games like “Might and Magic” or “Baldur’s Gate”, you do NOT just simply choose: good, evil, neutral . You have no “alignment” per se. Your choices effect it. For example at the begging when you meet The Emperor, you can choose how you address him. Little things like this, as well as bigger moral choices effect what kind of person you are playing as. Will you protect those in need? Or take advantage of their weakness? It is more realistic for the most part. Not that there are not flaws in this system, but more on that in the “bad” section of this review.
Oblivion, also presents are very realistic fantasy world. Now that may sound like an oxymoron, but please allow me to explain. Tameriel, looks and feels like a real place. And the player is free to explore it at their own whim. In this installment the player gets to explore the region on Tameriel called, Cyrodiil. The Empire is located here, they are the most powerful nation of the world, yet people of less imposing stature, think of the ancient Romans. Furthermore Cyrodiil, is broken into smaller regions, each with their own look and customs, as wells as a greater likelihood of seeing certain races. For example, The Imperial City, is in The Heartlands. This is where the majority of the Imperials reside. Whereas in the swamp like area known as, The Blackwood, many Argonians reside. The mysterious lizard men that hail from the marshes further south. Of course there is the occasional elf. Including the too cool dark elves that hail from the far away land know as Vvardenfell, aka, Morrowind.
One of the hardest parts of presented a fantasy world, in my mind anyhow is to make it seems like it could be a real place. And the Elder Scrolls Series, has always been able to pull this off very well. (It reminds me of the fantasy novels of: Raymond E. Feist, R.A
Salvatore, and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name just a few.-MM-)
Each city, one in every region, has it’s own look. From the city’s layout to the weather, and inhabitants. And all the NPCS have a schedule, and an agenda. And there are a plethora of quests to undertake. From fighting as a Gladiator, to various guilds, as well as many tasks to undertake for average citizens.
You can purchase homes, to live in or rent them out for some extra income. Or invest some cash into local shops. You can purchase a horse, to make travel quicker or even book passage on a ship. Or just use the quick travel option. There is so much to do and see in Oblivion it will likely make your head spin. If you however are like me, you will want to do and see as much of it as you can. (Think of it as a digital vacation.-MM)
Be the hero
I know what you’re thinking. Mr. Megid, what about the plot? Well allow me to break-it-down for you. I found that in Oblivion, as in all the other TES games I have played, that the story is one of the games strong points. Now, before you think, ‘What the fuck are you on about?’, allow me to explain.
In games like Oblivion, the plot plays a different role. Think of it as a loose set of rules. Which you can either choose to follow, or ignore and do your own thing. However, that would be a mistake. You see, while it is true that in, Oblivion, can be played anyway you want. The actual main quest is far more linear. (Like many RPGS.-MM-)
In other words it leaves little wiggle room. You cannot play the main quest, and help Dagon from returning to destroy the world. You have to be a hero, of sorts . And while that may turn off some gamers. To me it makes perfect sense. What would you gain by helping evil triumph? As you will be destroyed with it. (It’s sort of like complaining that in, “Alone in The Dark“, you cannot help, The Great Old Ones return, and destroy yourself and all of humanity.-MM)
Oblivion, is the story of a heroes’ journey. It is up to you what kind of hero however. And as such it is very cool and you feel like you took part in an epic adventure not just, watched it unfold. One really cool bit, is when they dedicate a statue to your avatar, for defending Bruma, from the hordes of Oblivion.
The plot itself revolves around the desperate search for a new heir to the throne. As with the death of The Emperor, the seals that are holding shut the gates of Oblivion are failing. Only one of noble blood can take the throne and restore these seals. Meanwhile you must defend the realm. Close Oblivion gates, defend cities, what have you. The plot also has many twists and turns, and the final battle at the end of the game is something to behold, I won’t ruin it here. Furthermore, the two expansions add even more Gameplay. And each are quite unique. Allow me to address them now.
A hard day’s knight….
In the Knights Of Nine Expansion, you are summoned to gather the armor of the crusader. Long ago, before the threat of Dagon, there was a heroic order of knights, thus, The Knights Of Nine. They fought to banish the evil Ayelid rulers, from Cyrodiil. In the end they were defeated, but soon after tragedy struck. Due to their own hubris the Knights Of Nine, fell. Now centuries later, you must restore order, or else a dark reign will befall the land. And perhaps you can help redeem the fallen knights.
While the knights of nine was a very cool expansion, it is really more appropriate for combat classes. Seeing as all of the weapons and armor you find are for a fighters. Maces, swords, etc. Furthermore evil characters will have a hard time finishing this quest, as you must first cleanse your self of your ill deeds. So it is less fun for evil mages for example.
It is also fairly short, but has many cool moments. Like rebuilding the ancient order. Evil characters will have more fun in The Shivering Isles expansion.
In madness you dwell….
In The Shivering Isles you will not only travel out of Cyrodiil to another realm, but perhaps even out of your mind. A mysterious gate has opened in Cyrodiil. No one who has entered has ever returned. Cross the threshold and you will be taken to another world. This is the realm of The mad god, the realm of Sheogorath. This is the shivering isles.
Here you will be tested. Not just your strength, or skill, but your sanity and morality as well. The mad god awaits, do NOT keep him waiting. But first you must gain access to the realm of the wily god. Will you enter into Mania or Dementia? You see the isles are like two sides of the same coin. Your choice will effect your game and it’s outcome.
You will also encounter new monsters and new enemies however, keep in mind, that in the land of madness nothing is quite what it seems.
One really cool quest evolves, you playing dungeon master. A band of “heroes” have entered your mad lord’s sacred lair. You must test the defenses of the wayward warriors. And you have two choices: attack them physically or attack their psyche. Either way the results are fun to watch. It was one of my favorite quests in the entire game. It also gives you access to this really badass sword. Dawn/Dusk fang. A blade that is almost alive as it craves blood, “feeding” it increases it’s power. It is easily one of the best swords in the entire game. The shivering isles is a longer, and I found it to be, a excellent expansion. Very fun and cool things await. Also unlike in Morrowind, your levels are not as important, as Oblivion adjusts to your levels. So, there is no worrying that you got in over your head.
Now while it is true that graphics do not make the game. They do play an important role in the overall feel of the game, better graphics help the game. And simply put Oblivion is one of the best looking games out there. Either on the 360 or PC. The game world is simply put, gorgeous. The lighting effect are brilliant.
The inhabitants of the world, both humanoid, and creatures look astounding. It helps draw the player in even more. And the detail alone is astounding! Age shows of the faces of the citizens of the realm. The water looks real, pristine. The sun sets, and the moons rise. Your blade gleams in the sun light. And gets sticky with the blood of your enemies. I could go on all day, about the this, seriously.
The amazing physics engine help to. Loose items tumble if a desk is bumped, slain foes tumble to the ground.
The music is beautifully composed, by fantasy maestro, Jeremy Soule. The sound effects explode out of you speakers and into your brain. You have to play this game in 5.1 surround sound if you have the means, it is so choice.
And the voice acting is superb! Especially, the voice of Uriel Septium, voiced by Patrick Stewart. Lynda Carter, AKA, Wonder Woman, also lends her voice, as well as many others.
And the ambiance! This game drops it like it’s hot! From the quite rustling in the forests, to the creepy claustrophobic sounds of the games caverns and dungeons. The crash of thunder in the realms of oblivion! Pure awesomeness awaits you.
Allow me to jump back a bit. I would now like to talk about the combat and leaving up system of the game. As I feel that they deserve special mention. The Elder Scrolls franchise, has always had deep, visceral combat. Even the spin-off action adventure title, “Redguard”, had a fantastic combat engine.
As of yet however, Oblivion, soars above the rest. The only downside of it, is the lack of combat on horseback. To read my rant on this, feel free to skip to the bad section of this review.
In Oblivion, you have access, to many a lethal weapon. Fists, swords, staffs, axes, etc. What makes it so fun is the way that it plays and feels. Slashes, cuts, chops, bashing, all are possible. And this time around the block skill is no longer passive. Which I strongly disliked in the previous installments. You block manually. You can also deliver heavy blows that break an enemies block. You can also learn special abilities when you go up in weapon and armor rank. Mastering a shield will enable you to perform, shield bashes. With slightly hurts and more importantly stuns your opponent. Which leaves them open to a quick killing blow from your blade.
Mastering armor ranks will enable you to subtract the weight of your armor. Boots increase speed, and so on. Some of these skills are passive others are active.
There is of course magickas to be learned. From many different schools. Some spells have been removed or replaced however. There are also powers. These are earned by doing certain tasks, or quests.
Leveling up is not as simple as gaining enough EXP. Like in many RPGS. In Oblivion you level by doing. Every level up requires you to earn new ranks in your major skills. Then once you earn a level, you must rest, or “meditate”, on what you have learned.
All is not perfect in Oblivion however. Some of the cooler spells, like Levitate have been removed. Just to name one.
And even though, the game of the year edition, is far less buggy than the original release. It still has the occasional glitches and bugs. I do realize that no game this ambitious could possibly be bug free. Even so, some of the bugs were very vexing.
Now why in the nine bloody hells, did Bethesda, NOT include combat on horseback? If Zelda 64 had it, a game, from 1998, than why does not a game from 2005 not have it? It could have been so boss to. Imagine riding down a jackass bandit, and just like in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, cut his throat? Or hell, I would have settled for Longbow combat via your noble steed. Why Bethesda?
Finding rare items, can be a little too easy in Oblivion. So I did not always feel as if I earned them. A minor complaint, but even so. I was far more excited to find rare armors like the ultra rare Ebony Armor, in Morrowind.
The Bottom Line
I can say with all confidence, that Oblivion is so far my favorite entry into the franchise. Even thought so things were better in the previous installments. Even despite it’s flaws. And of course, I am already anticipating, The Elder Scrolls V.