Review by Darkv1
"Oblivion is at Hand!!!"
It's been a long time coming but the fourth chapter in the legendary Elder Scrolls series has arrived. Following in the footsteps of Arena, Daggerfall, and Morrowind, Oblivion has a hefty reputation to live up to. Also like its predecessors Oblivion does not disappoint. The game feels just as much part of the series as any of the other games. Throughout the review I will try not to compare the game to previous titles, considering that I could go on until the end of time comparing Morrowind and Oblivion alone. To hear more of what I have to say concerning our latest foray into the land of Tamriel continue reading my review of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
First off let's start by talking about the graphics in Oblivion. I believe the word that comes to mind is stunning. Put simply, there really isn't a better looking game out there. Since there is a lot to be said concerning this topic so I have broken it into the following sections: Environments, Characters and Creatures, Lighting and Shadows, and finally a section of other effects that don't truly belong to any of the aforementioned categories.
Environments in Oblivion are among the richest ever witnessed in a game. The lush forests of the game look as though they were ripped from real life. The game can generate trees randomly making every piece of flora slightly unique. The game also features tall grass as well. Grass in Oblivion can blow in the wind, part when walked through, and even have shadows cast on it in real time. Aside from tree and grass textures there is even more to Oblivion environments that is of worthy mention. Another would be the detail in rocks and buildings. If you walk up to a wall you will see an actual brick pattern complete with the cracks and weather marks seen in real life. Likewise rocks actually have the appearance of their real life counterparts, instead of the amorphous grey blobs that other games portray them as. I'm sure that you are probably doubting my sanity right now considering that I am mentioning that rock models are superb, but if you play the game you will know what I mean. All in all environments in Oblivion are eye catching enough that even mundane things like rocks and grass attract attention.
Character and Creature models in Oblivion are also extremely well done. The HD nature of the games graphics allow for realistic facial expressions and decent mouth movement on NPCs. Character movement is very fluid and natural looking. The same is true for combat. Character attacks as well as reactions to being attacked are all done very well. Weapons are swung, or fired, in ways that look and feel realistic. This same attention to detail can be seen on the many different creatures of the game. All of the creatures feel alive in the ways that they move and attack. Even things like muscle movement through skin or fur can be observed when one looks closely.
When it comes to Lighting and Shadows Oblivion is without rival. Most every object in the game will react to light and cast a shadow. In fact the only things that will not are objects such as forks and the like. Considering that one would have to pay pretty close attention to a game to notice a fork cast a shadow, I don't see it as a problem. All other objects in the game will cast shadows according to their respective light sources. The game has real time soft shadows on nearly everything. The game even goes as far as to support things like self shadows, or characters being able to cast a shadow on themselves. As mentioned before, shadows can even be cast on individual blades of grass. Another shadow effect worth mentioning is Tree canopy shadows. Shadows are cast on NPCs, players, creatures, and even grass according to the configuration of the tree canopy. The inclusion of this added yet another hyper realistic quality to the forests of Oblivion. One of the most revolutionary things about the lighting in Oblivion has to be the inclusion of full High Dynamic Range, or HDR, lighting. HDR allows for insanely realistic sun effects as well as light reflections. When a blade or shield is at the right angle reflection flares that overlay objects can be observed. During a sunrise, or sunset for that matter, buildings and objects can have a sun drenched color to them. HDR is hard to explain but put simply it is the most realistic lighting ever done. If you have a card that supports it HDR can be a treat, if not the game has support for bloom lighting as well. While the bloom may not look as great as the HDR, it still blows everything else away in fact even when lighting is turned off Oblivion still looks superb.
There are a few more things that are notable about Oblivion's graphics that do not really belong in any one category. The first of these would be the game's weather system. When it storms over Cyrodiil it is a sight to behold. Lightning flashes illuminate anything their light reaches and the rain effects even go so far as to make individual ripples in water on impact. The second of these visual effects has to be the fog and haze effects in the game. Fog will hang realistically near the ground in damp caves as well as in humid swamps. In areas close to water fog is visible in the mornings with volumetric lighting from the sunrise. Fog may seem mundane but in Oblivion it is done well enough to warrant mention.
Sound is another area of Oblivion that is done well. The first great aspect of the sound in Oblivion is the music. Music is Oblivion is done phenomenally well. While adventuring you are treated to an epic fantasy score that fully complements the vast lands you explore. During battle the tone changes to tense and aggressive music that once again perfectly fits what is occurring. Voice overs are done superbly as well. This time around all of the game's dialogue is spoken. Even minor characters carry full voiceovers for all spoken dialogue. Some of the voices are done by well known actors, such as Patrick Stewart supplying the voice of Emperor Uriel Picard err Septim. While most of the other characters lack big name actors to do their voices they are nonetheless worth listening to, even when voices are regularly reused of different characters. Other elements of sound are also done well. The sound effects for pretty much everything in the game sound as they should. When your sword is sheathed or unsheathed the sound is beautifully accurate. The same holds true for magic sound effects and well about everything else as well.
Another point of mention in Oblivion is the physics. Oblivion utilizes the Havok physics engine to handle the physics in the world. Thus everything in Oblivion behaves as it should. All objects in Oblivion act as though they have mass, obeying the laws of gravity, buoyancy, acceleration, and resistance just to name a few. If you kill an enemy and they fall into water they will float. Likewise the force of an arrow or sword hitting an enemy will cause knock back from the force applied. Even things as mundane as forks and tankards will obey physics, scattering to the floor and rolling if knocked from a table. The physics even go as far as to take into account a relaxed jaw allowing for a felled creatures mouth to hang open after death. Enemies can drug around after being killed. Take my word for it, there is almost nothing better than killing a bear and then dragging it over to a steep hillside and watching it roll end over end into a ravine.
Gameplay is perhaps the most intriguing element of any Elder Scrolls game and Oblivion is no exception. To start, the game is entirely open ended meaning that you can do whatever you want. You can choose to follow the main quest or you can focus on joining and gaining rank in guilds. You could also go freeform questing or you could just explore. In fact there is little stopping you from killing every NPC, dragging them into a huge pile and calling it a sacrifice to Molag Bal, or from running laps around Cyrodiil for 85 hours for that matter.
As previously mentioned there are hundreds of quest available in Oblivion. There are quests ranging from main storyline to Guilds like the Dark Brotherhood, who pay you to kill people. Aside from guilds and story there are many other freeform quests. Nearly any NPC at some point in time will need help or want a favor. However these are just the actual game quests, against the number of adventures that you will create yourself they are quite finite.
Oblivion, like its predecessors has the capacity for a great deal of exploration. Hundreds of caves and ruins dot the stretches between cities allowing for potentially hundreds of hours just exploring locations. There are caves and ruins to be plundered for loot as well as a variety of shrines, and small settlements most of which can supply you with even more quests to add to you already staggering list.
About the only place that Oblivion doesn't completely excel is some of the in game menus and elements of the HUD. While they have very good functionality the in game menus leave a bit to be desired. The tabbed nature is very remnant of the menus from the Xbox versions of Morrowind. This is where the problem comes in. The menus seem to be designed to be very console friendly. This results in being able to see fewer items, spells, etc in each list than with other setups. Even at high resolutions the amount of viewable space in each window is limited and remains constant. Disappointingly enough this shows that Oblivion was pretty much marketed for the Xbox 360 instead of the PC. Though they were released at the same time it would seem that the PC version seems to have almost port-like qualities. The lack of a multi-windowed pause interface like Morrowind had is disappointing but not crippling to the game. While the pause interface works as it should, it could have been vastly improved to be more PC friendly rather than the console style tab interface.
Another annoyance with the game is the compass system. The compass itself is not really the problem more that it has replaced the mini-map. While the compass allows for guiding you to one or more targets the elimination of the mini-map has made navigating in caves and some towns more complicated. The mini-map was always very useful in locating entrances and exits. This functionality is pretty much lost in Oblivion. If you need to navigate a small area you are required to pull up the local map in the pause menu, which still helps but is not near as fluid as having the mini-map.
On the topic of the map there have been a few changes in Oblivion. One would be that the entire map is uncovered from the start. Most locations don't show up until you visit them but the terrain, etc are clearly visible. This isn't really the problem though. Problems arise in knowing where on the map you have been. In Morrowind it was very easy to tell where you had been because cells you had entered were uncovered on the map. In Oblivion you are left to rely on the concentration of locations on you map to tell where you have been. This introduces the quick travel system in Oblivion. Once you reach a marked map location you are able to fast travel there at any time. At first this seems like a great idea but in fact after awhile it cuts down on adventure time. While it is convenient to go back to a location almost instantly, in previous games spells like Mark and Recall took care of that issue quite well. Such teleportation spells as well as the levitation spells are nowhere to be found in Oblivion.
Replay value in Oblivion is nearly infinite. This is due to the mass number of character types that you can make. You can choose a predefined class or create your own based on what you use. This ability to play different character types means that the game has the potential to never be the same experience twice. Even the main quest will play very different for different classes. The game plays very different as a warrior than as a wizard, and a rogue would have a different experience yet. While pretty much all quests in the game are available to all characters at some point the way they will be played will be different. This wide variety of ways to play the game is a cornerstone of why the Elder Scrolls series is such an awesome experience.
While Oblivion is an awesome experience both in gameplay and graphics this comes at a bit of a cost. The system requirements for Oblivion are a bit steep and the recommended specs even more so. In order to take full advantage of Oblivion's graphical capabilities you will need a beefy system, something to the tune of a processor in the 3 GHz or higher range, at least a gig of RAM, and a Graphics card with at least 256mb VRAM. Now the game will run, quite smoothly in fact, on a system on the lower end of the required specs but don't expect the game to be as pretty. I will say though that even running at 640 x 480 on Ultra Low Quality Oblivion looks better than most games at higher settings. On the other hand Oblivion destroys everything when near Max settings. Unfortunately for those of you not blessed with a godly graphics card running the game at these settings and getting decent frame rates requires something to the tune of an ATI X1 series or NVIDIA 7 series card. If HDR isn't important to you an ATI X series or NVIDIA 6 series can limp you through the game on decently high settings. To get the most out of the game an ATI X1 series or higher is recommended. I say this because ATI X1 cards are capable of running Antialiasing an HDR at the same time, a feature that even the NVIDIA 7950GX2 dual GPU card can't handle.
All in all Oblivion is an experience nothing short of spectacular. It keeps with the Elder Scrolls tradition of a game that pushes not only technical boundaries but excels in being a gameplay experience that can be enjoyed for years. The game is a sight to behold and is easily the best looking game to date, on any platform. Beyond the eye popping graphics lies a gameplay experience unlike any other. Bethesda has done it again and I am pleased. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion gets a 10 out of 10 in my book and I am looking forward to expansions to enhance the experience even more.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/31/06
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