Review of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
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UK Boxshot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
US Boxshot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
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UK RELEASE: 24-Mar-2006 (Released)  | NORDIC RELEASE: 24-Mar-2006 (Released) |  US RELEASE: 21-Mar-2006 (Released)
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  Review of: Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion | By: Aasmund Eikli
29 Apr-2006
 

Despite for those new to the Elder Scrolls series of games, I won't really go into much detail behind the first two except to say that they are both, for their different eras, worth playing. I will however refer to the third installment in the series, Elder Scrolls: Morrowind quite a lot because Oblivion is on some levels just a continuation of that game, so in part you will be somewhat familiarized with Oblivionís predecessor throughout this review.
  GENERAL
 

It all started with a revolutionary new rpg game called Arena back in the mid 90s, where the main focus of the game was that there was no focus. The game was pretty open ended, and you could do a variety of things, in different order. The following two titles followed up on this concept, culminating in a Game Of The Year award for the third one, Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, back in 2002. Morrowind was by all designs a totally open ended RPG where you were free to do pretty much anything you wanted. It was considered the best of the series - until now. Most people will recognize a catchphrase when they see one, so when the esteemed reviewer, such as myself, asks himself "how can anyone possibly top this?" you will no doubt understand my elation with this newest offering from Bethesda. Will anyone top this? In the future, somebody, somewhere, will make something better. But right now? Nobody. This is it. Let me say that once more. This Is It.

  GAMEPLAY

Unlike in the game, I have so many things to talk about but sadly so little space to do it. I believe you could write a book about the content of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and it would contain innumerable pages of great enjoyment. The game world itself is larger than any previous Elder Scrolls game, but unlike previous Elder Scrolls games, it does not consist of large stretches of uninhabited areas or simply land that's there to enhance the feeling of a large game world. That can quickly become frustrating. No, in Oblivion you will find a hidden cave in so many places I feel I never get around to do any quests because if I clear out one cave full of bandits and other nasties and go back out, straying somewhat away from that place, I find another cave to wreak havoc in almost right away. But I digress. First things first.

You start the game the same way you started in Morrowind, as a prisoner. This time around however, you happen to be in the cell where the hidden passageway out of the palace the emperor is using to try and escape assassins out to kill him. The Emperor Uriel Septim, voiced by Patrick Stuart, makes his appearance before you with some guards, shortly after you wake up. They are fleeing the assassins and take a hidden passageway, leaving you in your cell, but without closing the gate behind them. Aha! Nobody has escaped from the Imperial palace in many, many years; perhaps I will be the first? Having no other option, I follow the emperor and his guards carefully keeping a distance. As I progress through the dungeon, following them, I get introduced to the game's mechanics via a tutorial which pops up from time to time. This is a good way of doing things but does get old having to go through the tutorial dungeon every time I start a new character, as it does take a while to complete it.

The emperor doesn't quite make it and gets offed in the end of the dungeon, but not before handing me his amulet, which promptly starts the main quest of the game. Just like in Morrowind, there is a structured main quest implemented in the game. The catch is, you do not have to do it right away, in fact, you do not have to do it at all if you choose, but I discovered it is certainly interesting enough to complete.

Once I escape from the tutorial dungeon I am left to my own devices. My quest log suggests I should deliver the amulet to the head of the Blades, which is one of the factions in the game, just like in Morrowind. I won't spoil any more of the main quest for you but I had great fun in doing it. The game is, like its predecessors, totally open ended. I can do whatever I want, at any point in time. There are a few factions to distract you too, such as the Mages Guild, the Fighters Guild, the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood.

The combat system has been vastly improved over Morrowind's and it is now in fact quite fun to fight. Gone are the click-till-the-monster-drops controls of Morrowind and in place is a fight system which rewards strategically thinking, power attacks and blocking prowess. There are a multitude of classes offered for you to play to utilize this new system or you can make your own custom class if you so choose. Magic is much better balanced in Oblivion so the mage class is actually a viable option now, although it can get really rough if you aren't patient and choose your fighting grounds carefully. You can also play as any combination of fighter, thief and mage types.

Like everything else in the game, it's totally up to you.

As I said in the first paragraph, I could talk about this game and all its content for hours, but sadly the space which I am given does not accommodate such an option. I will mention that for anyone who has played Morrowind, Oblivion is more, but not the same. It is better, in almost every way I can think of.

The last thing I want to mention in this section is the endless amount of side-quests the game has to offer. In many RPGs side-quests and other such distractions tend to be uninspired and can quickly turn into a chore. This couldnít be further from the truth in the case of Oblivion. I found most of the quests to be interesting and many of them are great fun to complete. It may even be that the quest is a part of something larger later on in your discoveries. The rewards for completing quests scale with your level, so unlike Morrowind there is less chance of seeing that heavy armor of total uberness right away, making the game a bit more challenging. There are still plenty of ingenious ways however of cooking up stuff to unbalance the whole affair. Like I said, you can do whatever you want.

  GRAPHICS

Pardon my repeated comparisons with Morrowind, but it is truly the only way of comparing Oblivion with anything, so I will continue to indulge in this guilty pleasure for the rest of the review as well, editor permitting. The graphics in Oblivion are a continuation of Morrowind's theme of graphics design, except it has of course been enhanced quite a bit. It looks and feels gorgeous, especially if you are privileged enough to own a good graphics card. I won't try to gloss over this fact: Oblivion needs a fast graphics card. It is quite possible to play it on lower end cards, but for getting that wonderful Oblivion feeling you really need something that isnít slowing down for anything, not even red lights.

That said, you can basically just wander around in the game for a bit and not really do anything but watch the scenery. The grass, trees, flowers, mushrooms and other plants which grow out of the ground are simply mind blowing. That, however, wasn't what hit me at first. No, that honor lies squarely with the way they did the overhead sky graphics. The moon actually looks like a moon, not some painted on texture and the way the sky is done is simply wonderful, going seamlessly from day to dusk, from night to dawn. The whole interior of the game world keeps impressing me even after tons of hours played. There's always some new quirk somewhere in a cave or in the fauna that I hadn't previously discovered. The details on everything are nothing short of awe inspiring.

What really grabbed me most about everything else besides the actual game world itself was the way weapons look. The details on every weapon I've wielded are absolutely amazing. They really went all the way making weapons look as gorgeous as possible. Even the damn (but ye olde trustworthy) rusty iron longsword looks good! The different types of armor sets also look incredibly detailed and well done. When decked out in some bad-ass apparel and a cool looking sword, your character just oozes authority. Impressive!

What may be a little less impressive is the way faces are done. Sure, at the start of the game you get a ton of options to customize your face down to the last detail, but somehow they failed to also do this with many of the NPC's in the game, making many of them look a bit the same. This is a shame as it takes away some of the immersion factor, especially since many of the NPC's also harbors the same voice actor doing their lines. It may simply become a little repetitive at length. To remedy this, you can spend quite some time making a character who looks absolutely hilariously horrible.

Besides this small detail, the Oblivion graphics certainly managed to woo me with their entire splendor and I am not someone who is easily wooed. Well done Bethesda.

  SOUND

After spending the first ten or so hours playing and listening to the music and sound effects I started to realize it was more subtle this time around. Especially the music; it strikes me as not as strong and melodic as it was in Morrowind. It is more subtle, almost subdued, with long arcing soundscapes and more backgroundish. This is by no means a step in the wrong direction, it is more of a sidestep from what I am used to in an Elder Scrolls game. I'm a fan of strong melodies, so I was slightly disappointed with this fact, but reassured in other areas as I think the music really helps provide a more 'Oblivion' feeling than a feeling of Morrowind rehashed, if you catch my drift.

So what can we do about this? Mod of course! Whipping out my old Morrowind directory which is armed with not only the old Morrowind music but also an assortment of other game and movie tracks which provide excellent background music, I went to work. A few minutes after and voila! I now have Morrowind music playing in Oblivion. Ah bliss. But I digress. This is after all an Oblivion review.

The sound effects are a marvel to listen to. Every sound is natural and when you block you really get the feeling from the sound it makes that you're actually blocking. This is just an example, but it shines through across the whole spectrum in Oblivion. It's all done to taste and they obviously spent quite a while coming up with great sound effects. Luckily for us they also hired good designers, so sounds are coming from the right places too. What more could you ask for? Since you can mod the heck out of the game, including the music, sky's the limit. If you want an Oblivion game with hard metal playing in the background (Opeth as battle music kicks ass), nobody's going to stop you. Rock on!

  INTERFACE / CONTROLS

I had in mind to try and find some type of flaw with the game and it is in this department I most clearly found it. The interface just feels a little too console-ish for my tastes. Don't get me wrong, the interface is a no-brainer to master and it looks very good, but the fonts are way too large, leaving only a small portion of information per page. Having to mouse wheel through tens of pages of inventory because you can only fit five items on one page is not my idea of intuitive. It may then, not be so strange to also mention the fact that just a few days after release, a mod was released which lowered the font size of the interface by a fair amount making it so that much more information can fit into a page. I installed this mod when it came out and I find it impossible to go back to the original fonts after doing so.

The controls on your gameplay screen are very sparse, just as they were in Morrowind. You have three bars in the lower left corner depicting your health, magicka and fatigue respectively. In the bottom middle of the screen is your compass which provides you with a surprisingly large amount of information as you go along. Thatís about it for the gameplay interface apart from two icons representing what weapon and spells you currently have active. Very sparse but very complete at the same time.

It is when you access your inventory and spell book I feel the interface has taken a step back. I was happier with the way Morrowind did it than Oblivion, although it should be pointed out that it is still a great and easy interface. It's just got large shoes to fill, is all I am saying.

  SUMMARY    

The stunning amount of cool things you can do in this game pretty much defines the game as THE single player RPG out there without even talking about the graphics and sound, which are both excellent. The fact that modders the world over can add whatever they want and tweak pretty much anything in the game makes this an enormously flexible affair. I'm sure in time we will begin to see great content additions from the modding community just as we saw with Morrowind.

In summary, it is difficult to describe exactly how the experience of playing Oblivion is. Contrary to most other games released nowadays, there's very little linearity. You are free to roam and do whatever you please, including leaving a host of dead guards/inhabitants/random monsters in your wake as you run by. You can also be a good guy and do good deeds, which earn you the privilege to not be hunted by, well, everyone. The replay value of the game is also quite large, especially if you decide to role play a little. An example of this is that you don't join the mages guild with your orc warrior behemoth as fighters don't bother with that magic crap, and vice versa. Doing it like this will make sure that you will be entertained with new quests for a long time to come.

In short, Bethesda has a new hit on their hands.


The Apex:

  • Fantastic scenery.
  • So many hours of gameplay I sometimes find it a difficult decision on where to focus next.
  • A complete game experience not found in any other game even remotely in the same genre.
The Abyss:
  • The interface leaves something to be desired. Too console-ish.
  • The auto-levelling of monsters to keep up with you may become annoying.
  • Kiss your friends and loved ones goodbye.
 
  SCREENSHOTS
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
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