Review by Morgoth22
"An RPG for those new to the genre"
With the latest installment of Elder Scrolls, for which there was much hype pre-release, the series has become more of an action RPG. Certain aspects have been much improved upon for the casual player, and this makes it a great starting point for anyone new to the genre, such as myself. I would also like to point out that this review is aimed as a review of the product out of the box, and as such no mods or tweaks (though I have used them) will be considered when discussing performance and gameplay issues. For reference, my system is clean and has the following specifications:
3400+ @ 2.4Ghz, 2 gigs pc3200, X800XT (have tried both overclocked at 540/600 and regular, with little or no performance difference).
This review is therefore a call to those who have never played the genre before to use this as your starting point - I do not profess to understand the relative merits of this over other RPGs as I have never been able to get into any of the other titles, but I can tell you that this is the only RPG game that has made me want to pick it up again after the first few hours of play. Why? Read on to find out.
GRAPHICS - 6/10
Some people may be shocked at this score, and I debated this for a long time before writing, but I have decided that whilst on the face of it, the graphics are excellent, there are some extreme problems with optimisation in certain areas, and muddy textures whilst using the distant lands options. If you have distant lands turned on, what should be a beautiful vista (and there are certainly plenty of them) turns into a rather blurred and unimpressive mess of green. Even with full draw distance and object distance enabled, there is noticeable pop-up of trees in particular. Self shadowing is broken on ATi cards and the performance in some of the towns such as Bravil and Leyawiin is very poor. The performance in and around Oblivion gates can also be a problem, and whilst my system is not the best, no matter what settings I apply, these areas still struggle to maintain playable frame rates.
However, whilst such issues of optimisation are annoying, and have been experienced by many high and low end users, much of the game is solid, if slightly repetitive. Caves, ruins and other such places all have very similar textures and there is not nearly enough variety there. Water reflections are very poor and, much like the distant lands, put a real stain on what could have looked brilliant. You only need to think about the draw distances of Far Cry to see that. However, Cyrodiil as a whole is an impressive, varied and open piece of land and each town has it's own style and characteristics. Weapons, clothes and items are all well made and look good, if somewhat unspectacular. Magical effects are done well and weather effects along with lighting is also impressive with the option of HDR for compliant video cards or Bloom for SM2.0 cards.
GAMEPLAY - 9/10
Thankfully, the gameplay is far more solid and enjoyable, particularly combat which was poorly implemented in many other RPGs including Morrowind, that I have previously attempted. There is a myriad of quests to attempt, and whilst the main quest itself will only take between 20-30 hours, there is just so much more to keep you occupied. Quests are varied and fun, going much further in many cases than mere find and fetch quests. The guild quests, such as that of the Theives Guild and The Dark Brotherhood are especially entertaining and kept my interest far more than the main quest due to the style of my character.
The non-linear nature and open freedom give the game near limitless possibilities in terms of replaying and indeed roleplaying your character. Each skill has it's merits (apart from security I suppose!) and classes are also sufficiently wide ranging to choose something for everyone. Creating a character, whilst not strictly gameplay, is also highly detailed and can be immersive if you want to create your perfect character. Slider bars are used to change every detail, and whilst this can become somewhat difficult as each bar has an effect upon another, there is good scope for creating your ideal look.
Combat is extremely satisfying in the game, and this is really where it becomes more of an action RPG - with blocking, power attacks and relatively smart enemies, combat is continually fresh and exciting. The ability to sneak effectively for stealth bonuses and use poisons and a combination of spells and magical effects makes this a genuinely satisfying aspect of the game. Monsters and most loot levels with you, which is a great feature of the game for me as this means that in general, the game never becomes too easy. Conversations with NPCs are generally run a a good pace and information is easy to access on the HUD, though the inventory could benefit from being somewhat smaller, with more items per page. The speechcraft mini game is slightly querky, but does it's job well, and the radiant AI is also a nice feature of the game despite the fact that it leads to some odd moments and senseless conversations.
SOUND - 9/10
The sound fits the game well and ambient music, as well as the option to import your own means that atmosphere is generally very good. Voice acting is accurate, though again partially repetitive in places and weapon sounds, magic and ambient sounds all work together well to immerse the player in the environment. As the game is so large, many characters seem to have voices that are out of place with their social stature, but this is a minor issue.
STORY - 8/10
The story is fairly solid, and like all other Elder Scrolls games, you begin in a jail cell and are given the task of closing shut the jaws of Oblivion as Uriel Septim's reign comes to an end. The characters along the way are varied and each is well acted, and although the main story itself is clearly unidirectional, the game begs to be played how you want to play it. There are no boundaries and you can almost adapt the story of your particular character through the way you play the game.
REPLAYABILITY AND CLOSING COMMENTS
The game is highly conducive to replaying it due to the sheer number of options, quests and variety of character choices and customisation possible. The open ended nature of the game means that you may never need to attempt to get far in the main quest as you are too busy enjoying yourself elsewhere.
A solid combat system and the ability to roam freely are certainly of great appeal, but the graphics adn the optimisation issues, which can only be partially resolved by mods seem to hinder the enjoyment of the actual playing itself. The sometimes repetitive nature of the caves, coupled with the glitches in the radiant AI and the odd inventory system detract from the experience. Overall, I've barely touched the features of the game in this review as there is limited scope for doing so without spending a month writing it. If you are new to the RPG genre, I suggest you purchase this game as it will be a rewarding experience, but for those more experienced with the genre, you may want to think twice if it is really for you.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/09/06
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