The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: 2K Games
- Incredible graphics and gameplay
- Great sound
- Absurd amounts of personal freedom
- Insanely huge game
- Often lacking more concrete incentive for side adventures
- Some AI glitches and bugs
- Possibly detrimental to real world relationships
Tired of real life? Have one of those pesky spouses who irrationally demands attention? Regular bathing got you down? Well, thanks to Bethesda and the Elder Scrolls series, you won’t have to worry about any of those things anymore! The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is here, and in an age where massively multiplayer role-playing is all the rage, this is first official massively single-player RPG experience for the next generation of gaming systems.
Listen to Your Elders
The latest chapter in the Elder Scrolls saga begins in a prison. Imprisoned for unknown reasons (except maybe pure divine intervention), you find yourself thrown into a dire plot against the land. The hellish minions from the realms of Oblivion are moving into the world, trying to take over, and you are quickly sucked into the political drama of the assassination of the emperor.
As it turns out, the emperor (voiced by Patrick Stewart with the usual flair) has been having visions about his own death and you. Both his official heirs have been murdered, war is starting, and with the emperor’s death, the whole realm is one step away from complete chaos. Thankfully, as with most politicians, he has a hidden spare heir, and tasks you with finding and protecting the last hope of the empire.
Traversing the sewers beneath the royal city is your tutorial to the world of Elder Scrolls, and the mechanics are remarkably easy to pick up. You are constantly developing your character through the game, but unlike so many RPGs, you aren’t limited in how you do so. If you want a two-handed sword-wielding, spell-slinger who can pick pockets and locks, it’s just a matter of developing those skills. Since skills are advanced by actually using them, you’ll advance in the areas that fit your gameplay style. It’s a wonderfully transparent and elegant system, which allows for an incredibly open and free-formed experience.
From Here to Eternity… or Oblivion if you prefer
The landscape is just as expansive. Although you can now instantly travel to locations on the map, you can just as easily wander the landscape looking for adventures and missions. This is really where Oblivion shines more brightly than virtually any other role-playing game ever made. There are an overwhelming amount of things to do. The landscape is dotted with old forts, mines, and dungeons to explore, and you can spend hour upon hour on tasks that have nothing to do with the main plot.
If there’s a flaw to this system, it’s that there’s usually little incentive to clear the monster infested dungeons across the land. You won’t get any achievements for the most part, or even recognition, so it’s purely for your own level and skill advancement. Beyond dungeon crawling, there are towns and cities all over the continent, and how you act in these places dictates how the citizens will react to you. Since you can play the game how you want, you can go from hero of the realm to master thief, kleptomaniac, or assassin. There are consequences for committing crimes as well, and overall the game does an incredible job at creating a plausible world.
Talk a Spell
Conversation plays a large role in the game, and though the replies of the non-player characters are limited, they are fully voiced and usually reveal important information about quests. You can also do things like join guilds, buy a house and a horse, and potentially turn into a vampire. NPC AI is generally good—characters now have schedules that they keep to, so they won’t always be where you left them—and the monsters usually put up a good fight. Characters still sometimes act strangely (or not at all), and the game still has an occasional game crashing bug in it. Thankfully, you can save at any time, and the game auto-saves frequently.
The first person gameplay is excellent, especially the melee combat. There is a vast array of weaponry and armor to collect, and the fighting just feels right. The menu interface is also intuitive, and everything from casting spells and using potions to keeping track of quests and map locations is simply done.
Oblivion has been getting plenty of press thanks to its cutting-edge graphics, and screen shots just don’t do the game justice. The visuals are nothing short of stunning. The landscapes are beautiful, the cities are incredible, and the detail of the diverse characters you’ll meet it astounding. The audio is just as good, with a dramatic score, top-notch voice acting, and an immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.
Role-playing Done Right
For those used to linear, Japanese-style role-playing games, Oblivion will seem like a revelation. All the games in this series have been known for their sheer vastness and freedom of choice, but the Elder Scrolls IV takes that concept and runs with it. This is a huge, gorgeous, and playable adventure that is sure to cause players to happily lose track of hours, days, and possibly weeks or months.