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.
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