One of the great things about the Xbox 360’s new Xbox Live service is that you can see what games your friends are playing. You know you have a good game when most of the people on your friends list are playing it. You know you have great game when everyone on your friends list is playing it at 3AM in the morning. That’s the kind of game that Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is.
I’ve already written five pages of hype
about the game and after spending a lot of quality time with the game I’m happy to report that the game does live up to the majority of the hype. I don’t necessarily go as far as to say that Oblivion is a revolutionary RPG but the game certainly does advance a few new ideas for the RPG genre
At its core Oblivion is your basic computer role playing game. You create a character; kill a bunch of evil things, and save the world from some sort of destructive threat. That’s fine and dandy but in Oblivion the central plot represents less than a third of total content in the game. Considering that the central plot makes up around 20 hours of gameplay Oblivion represents one of the better buys out there. Outside of the main plot you can also become a member of one of the worlds many guilds, a contract killer, a master thief, or climb your way up the ranks of fighters in the gladiatorial arena. To be honest you really don’t even have to touch the main plot line if you don’t want to.
For those of you who feel a need to save the world the main plot of the game has you finding out that the royal line of succession for the kingdom of Tamriel has been cut and that without an heir the throne the world is going to be overtaken by the forces of Oblivion (the game world’s version of Hell). With his last dying breath the King tasked your character with finding his long lost heir and helping him to assume the throne and save Tamriel.
As with most RPG’s the first task on the docket is to create your character by selecting a race, gender, and assigning attribute points. The character creation system in Oblivion is exceedingly deep and fairly accessible. After picking a race you can customize nearly everything about the face of your avatar. The only limit is that you really can’t change the physique of your character which might put off some people. Once you have your character setup the way you want it’s time to start the game.
As you walk through the starter dungeon you will select your class (fighter, magic user, thief or combination thereof), and an astral symbol which will provide extra benefits. These decisions are important as you will have to live with them for the rest of the game. You will get to try out your configuration as the game lets you change it before you exit the dungeon. Thankfully Oblivion does do a decent job of leading you through the decisions but you should have a good idea of how you want to play the game in mind before you start as the decisions are permanent and you’re going to have to live them with for how ever long it takes to finish the game. This does actually add to the re-playability of the game as you can go back and play through the game with an entirely different character and have a much different experience.
After completing the tutorial level you are thrown out into the world of Tamriel and it’s off to save the kingdom or do something else. This is where Oblivion is a bit intimidating. The shear size of the world and the non-linear nature of the game can leave you with the occasional feeling of “what do I do now?” You can choose to follow the main quest of the game or you can explore Tamriel and work your way through the numerous side quests in the game. The fact that the game guide for Oblivion is thicker than the yellow pages for most American suburbs should give you some idea of how much there is to do in the game.
Graphically Oblivion is a stunner and features some of the best graphics pressed to to a DVD. The problem with such a high standard is that any glitches become very apparent. Dungeons and castles ooze with atmosphere but some of the larger outdoor areas do suffer through noticeable pop-up. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker but it does break the suspension of disbelief a bit.
Animations are fluid an the Xbox 360 version really didn’t really seem to suffer from any frame drops even during heavy combat. While some of the walking animations do seem a bit off from time for the most part everything moves like you would expect them to.
Oblivion has the audio to match the graphics. Outside of the orchestral score Bethesda Softworks went all out with the voice over talent bringing Patrick Stewart, Sean Bean, and Terrance Stamp to give voices to their characters. In a lot of games the voice over work really doesn’t add much but this is one of the few cases where the voice acting adds a lot to the game.
The rest of the in game audio works just as well as the sounds of swords on shields sound pitch perfect.. There are a lot of nice little touches like the crowd noise in the stadium that really add to the ambiance of the game.
Bethesda did make a few interesting choices in terms of the game play. The biggest is that the world levels with your character so you always have a constant challenge in the game. This means that you as you progress through the game you’ll see the population of the forest change from warthogs and wolves to bears and larger animals. This also means that there theoretically aren’t monsters that you can’t kill in the game. While it’s a nice thought you do loose some of that sense of accomplishment as you progress through the game as you don’t have the easy monsters to beat up on.
The ambient AI in the game is also a nice feature as each of the thousand or so people who populate the world have their own schedules and motivations. For the most part it’s a pretty cool schedule but at the end of the day your interactions with them are governed by the same dialog trees that have been in RPG’s for years. There’s also an influence mini-game that you can use to try and win over people with. It’s an OK system but reading the faces of some of the non-human races can be a little difficult.
Missions and quests in the game are also fairly linear. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as there are a lot of mission but the entire structure of the game feels like a hub and spoke diagram. There are several hubs in the game but once you get on a spoke you are there until it’s done. There are sub-hubs and branches off of some of the quests which helps break things up but there are times when you do feel like you are on rails. Is that a bad thing? No, not really especially given that you can move from hub to hub so easily.
Thankfully the game has an excellent system for managing the quests and you can easily switch back and forth at your leisure. Given the shear number of quests in the game it helps.
If you are a role playing game fan this is a must have. The real question is if you should get the PC version so that you can gain access to all the free user created content or get the Xbox 360 version with its tight control system and achievements. Either way you’ll not be disappointed with this digital masterpiece.
While the game isn’t perfect Elder Scrolls: Oblivion is one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. There are a few interesting game design decisions but for the most part this is easily one of the best RPG’s ever committed to disc.