The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Game Info
Platform(s)
Xbox 360
Publisher
2k Games, Bethesda
Developer
Bethesda Softworks
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Awesome visual and audio presentation
• Tons of things to do and see
• Vastly improved combat
• Menu and quest interface is much better
• Deep character generator

The Bad

• Framerate stutter from time to time, especially on horse
• Ally A.I. is a bit suicidal
• Horse controls could use polish

 
Grade
A

The Elder Scrolls series has never been ashamed at being what it was: by far the most freeform of role playing games anyone has created since people invested heavily in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and 20-sided dice. To this effect, it has also been pretty divided in its support. Those who look to be unleashed in a world to discover it for themselves love Elder Scrolls, while others hated not knowing what the do and becoming overwhelmed by it.

In Oblivion, Bethesda has managed to try and offer some aid to those who are not used to complete freedom, but not at the expense of the depth of the game. Oblivion is far more casual friendly and the implementation of the controls really allows for a more enjoyable experience for the gamer.

The story begins with the player in prison. When the Emperor and his guard enter your cell to use a hidden exit, you find yourself set free (if you can consider running through the sewers free). Through the first hour, the player is pulled through a tutorial-like dungeon which eases them into the gameplay and also introduces the major impetus behind what the character must accomplish. When the Emperor is assassinated near the end of the introductory section, the player must locate the final heir to the throne or else the gates to Oblivion will open. Beyond this is a well executed story that the player can progress through at their own pace.

At it's heart, Oblivion is all about role playing. While you have a main quest, you can talk to NPCs, join guilds, search the countryside and pick up just about everything you see. This game allows the player to do a lot of things, and the overall experience offers so much freedom that it may be overwhelming or liberating depending on the player. Through the use of alchemy skills, one can make items with ingredients found all over the place. Doors and chests can be unlocked and you can pick people's pockets. You can even choose to become a vampire.

When you start the game, you're going to be given a character generator that's pretty comprehensive. You could always just slap together a quick character, but those who want to really get down the to fine details will have that option available. You alter the width or you characters features, the color tone of their skin, the color and placement of their eyes, among many other options. And, then there's all the customization on the character class and skills that they specialize. Be sure to pay good attention to these as by gaining levels in these skills, you gain progress towards a new level for your character. But, be sure to pace yourself as the most enemies are leveled based on your character's level.

As with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, you can play the game in both first person and third person, though I would say that the controls are certainly tailored for first person. The Right Trigger swings your equipped weapon and the Left Trigger blocks with either your weapon or shield. The Right Bumper will cast the equipped spell and you can draw and sheath you weapon with the X Button. With the Left Bumper, you can move and drag certain items, like dead bodies or plates and bowls. While this may seem like more of a novelty, it's useful for picking up items underneath dead bodies.

One of the best aspects of the control interface is the ability to "hot key" things in your menu. When you open the menu, find whatever you want to quickly access, press the Y Button and select one of the eight d-pad directions. Once out in the game world, press that direction on the d-pad to use the hot key. This is wonderful for swapping spells, equipped weapons or potions during the heat of battle. It's even pretty intuitive in that if you equip a shield with a sword, switch to something two-handed and then switch back to that sword, the shield will also re-equip.

The in-game menu is pretty deep, but at the same time, it really makes things easier to view, especially in terms of value, weight (you can only carry so much weight at one time), damage/armor and the strength of the item (your weapons and armor wears down and must be repaired). One of the best aspects of the menu is the revised means by which quests are listed. You're given some nice note and you can even select quests to be active, so that the map points you in the direction you need to head based on the amount of information you've gathered.

This time around, rather than traveling on foot, you can pick up a horse and ride to your nearest destination. This proves to make travel a bit quicker, but you have to content with some issues. First, the horse tends to move faster than the game can load, causing stuttering in the framerate. Secondly, the horse controls like a Buick. Lastly, if you get attacked, you have to dismount to fight, which means your enemy gets a free shot in on you.

Both the Persuasion and Lockpicking modes have been revised to play out more like mini-games. When you go to pick a lock, you will need to use lockpicks to click the tumblers in a mini-game-like screen. The tougher the lock, the harder it will be for you to pick it, but this is dependent on your Security skill. Persuasion comes in the form of a mini-game where you have four different actions and you must line them up with the person's personality as shown in facial responses.

Bethesda has made across-the-board revisions to just about every complaint I had about Morrowind. First and foremost, combat is vastly improved. When you swing a weapon, it lands a hit and does damage based on your skill. You can block with your weapon or shield using the Left Trigger. Using magic and ranged attacks are all easier and depend on your skill. No longer does walking wear down your Fatigue, although jumping and charging up attacks do. Travel is a breeze now as you can open your map and if you've visited or found a location, you can select the icon on the map and instantly travel there (though time does pass as if you walked there). The framerate is better this time around, with minor hiccups here and there, and loading is generally a lot shorter and almost seamless in the outside world. When walking around, I never had problems with the game stopping to load an area - the most I ever saw was a warning text pop up just to let me know.

One can not talk about this game without mentioning the artificial intelligence which governs both your enemies and the occasional ally. For the most part, enemies are smarter in that they won't get caught behind barriers and will look for ways to get to you. The first time you try to exit through a door only to have your enemy follow you might catch you off-guard. On the occasion that you will find yourself with help, you'll notice that the ally AI is pretty aggressive, so much so that they tend to get themselves killed rather than pull back and heal themselves.

Visually, Oblivion is pure eye candy. The world that is built is wonderful to watch and more than a few times, you may just find yourself just standing around and taking in the view. The outside natural world has that realistic feel that really draws the player in. The cities, towns and buildings all exhibit an unreal level of detail in terms of polygon and textures and the visual and lighting effects do a magnificent job at bringing it all together. This is made all the more impressive by the minor details, such as the effect of light when you carry a torch or the fact that every piece of equipment or item is well detailed. When it comes to the character models and monsters, these all feature a nice level of detail that doesn't make them stand out in the game world. The facial details that become evident during conversation are pretty nice as well. You won't mistake them for real people, but they do a great job at feeling realistic. If there is really any nitpick I would have about the graphics is that some of the animation needed some polish and tweaking as there were a few times where the movements felt a little disconnected.

With such a visual feast at hand, one might think that the audio would have to take a back seat, but in Oblivion, this is not so. Sound effects are wonderfully realized and the timing and weight of the effects is dead on. The music is superbly scored and goes a long way to set a mood. I ca not imagine playing this game without the soundtrack and any attempt to do so only managed to break the mood. Last but certainly not least, the hug amount of voice acting is downright impressive. It's not just a vocal blurb here or there - it's tons of lines that are spoken when you talk to anyone. And all of it is "in character".

While there are some things to polish here and there, the overall package of Oblivion is excellent and will be satisfying for anyone looking for a deep and enriching role-playing experience. There is a lot to do here and you could feasibly spend hundreds of hours just exploring and performing non-story quests. Anyone with a Xbox 360 and a love for RPG should buy this.

- - Kinderfeld

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