One of the most engaging (and to some, surprising) hits on the original Xbox® was The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind®, a roleplaying game (RPG) released early in the lifespan of the console and definitive proof that A) Xbox could handle shooters like Halo® and expansive RPGs like Morrowind with equal aplomb and B) Xbox gamers love deep single-player action and adventure.
Now the creators of Morrowind, Bethesda Softworks, are doing the same thing for Xbox 360™ with The Elder Scrolls® IV: Oblivion™. It's the kind of game that demands hyperbole—it's unbelievably huge, magnificently deep, and guaranteed to keep you playing for months on end.
Welcome to Oblivion.
Way Down in the Hole
You begin the game, as usual, in prison (in Morrowind, you started on a prison ship, on your way to be released). No sooner have you come to grips with being locked in a dungeon than you're being yelled at. The guard wants you to back off, because he's with … the Emperor?! Yes, Emperor Uriel Septim (a name that should be familiar to Morrowind players) is sneaking out of the castle, through a secret exit in—as luck would have it—your prison cell.
Immediately, Bethesda lets you try out the game's remarkably realistic physics and lighting engines, marvel at the multiple layers of texture and shading that go into every surface, and notice that none other than Patrick Stewart himself is playing the Emperor.
Unlike traditional RPGs, you won't start the game by choosing your class, race, etc. Instead, you tell the game the kind of character you want to play by your actions and behavior as you follow the Emperor out of jail and into the world beyond.
Anywhere I Lay My Head
And what a world it is. Bethesda has created 16 square miles of geography that you can explore at your leisure or zoom past by using a new fast-travel system. Essentially, fast travel is a map. If you've been to a city or town on the map, you can instantly teleport there with fast travel.
Unlike Morrowind, which all took place on an island, this time you're in the capital province itself, Cyrodil, and it comprises dozens of locations. If you choose to walk (or ride—horses are a new addition, and you can even steal them if no one is looking) you find a stunningly diverse and realistic landscape filled with plants you can pick to create potions, animals you can hunt to create food, and dungeons you can explore to get to the traditional monster-whackin' and demon-slaying.
An enormous world created from scratch.
Combat in the previous game looked good, but was based on hidden "die rolls" like many pen-and-paper RPGs. For Oblivion, Bethesda has embraced a more action-oriented philosophy for combat. You block, strike with weapons (using the left stick to make specific kinds of attacks), and use magic all together with a fluid control system that's intuitive and flexible.
You can play the game in third or first person, but for combat I recommend switching to the third-person view. In this perspective, you get a better look at the combat style, it's easier to control, and, best of all, you get to see yourself bringing the hurt.
As you play, you improve the skills you use the most, whether they're spells, weapons, or skills connected to personal interactions. No experience points and no leveling, just learning and growing like a real person. The game is also ready to go online with Xbox Live®. No, not for multiplayer—Oblivion, like Morrowind, is completely dedicated to single-player—, but so you can access wicked downloads including new weapons, armor, and other equipment.
Combat is now more action-oriented.
Much of the combat takes place in dungeons, hundreds of them, all created from scratch (like the game itself—Bethesda doesn't believe in retreads). Here's where one of the big differences between Morrowind and Oblivion comes into play: traps!
Dungeons are packed with traps, some of them big and grandiose like you might expect to see in an Indiana Jones movie, others simpler and set up by enemies. You can turn the tables on your evil foes by keeping an eye out and tricking them into hoisting themselves on their own petards. But keep an eye out—after all, these traps are designed to kill you.
In the Neighborhood
Bethesda employs a system they call "Radiant A.I." to control all of the non-player characters in the game. In most RPGs, NPCs have a script that they follow when you speak with them. The NPCs in Oblivion all have their own lives, with schedules, wants, needs … heck, they're practically Sims.
You won't always find the NPC you're looking for in the last place you left them. You can even pick an NPC (if you're in a stalker mood) and follow them around for your own episode of The Real World: Tamriel if you like. NPCs have opinions, too, especially about you. Depending on how much they like you, they may offer you information on a new quest or a punch in the nose.
Dungeons made to order (traps included).
Everything Goes to Hell
"Oblivion" isn't just a concept. In Tamriel, it's a real place: It's their version of Hell. You soon learn that, naturally, it's up to you—and only you—to step through the gates of Oblivion and find the Emperor's lost son. If you don't succeed, that's it for you and the rest of the world. So no pressure. Armed with your abilities, your ever-improving skills, and luck, you just might succeed.