Review by Jules Rules

"Possibly ahead of its time - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is an absolute milestone in the gaming world."

I have to be honest, before this game I had never touched an Elder Scrolls game before. Pre-release of Oblivion, I couldn't understand the hype that the game was surrounded in because, of course, I hadn't felt an Elder Scrolls experience before. It didn't take long for curiosity to get the best of me and I soon picked up a copy. Want to know my thoughts? Read on for my review of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Graphics
One big factor that makes the Oblivion experience all that more polished is the graphical superiority. The game is one big, living, breathing world which passes through seasonal weather changes just like the real world. Some days it will be bright, sunny and the sky is perfectly blue and on other days gloomy, dark and raining. I cannot count the times I have just stopped by a river to look at the sun glaring down into the reflection of the water - it is just perfect. You actually feel like you are there - in the Oblivion world. When ever it's raining and gloomy, I really do feel it, it makes me want to dash off to the nearest inn and sit in the safety of there while it cools down, or just take a nap to pass on the hours. That is special. The trees all sway in the wind, the beautiful flowers on ground are all clad in a variety of different colors and the sand and sea is extremely detailed. Honestly, it is hard for me to describe, you will have to experience the beauty to fully feel it. If you have a thing for nature like I do then you will not be disappointed, at all.

Everything is spot on. If you exit the beautiful scenery outdoors to shoot down a cave or dungeon be prepared for it to be dark and hard to navigate. You would need your torch or a special power like Night-Eye which lets you see in the dark. It's in the dark spaces that you really notice the amazing shadows, however. The tiny light you have down there shine on the dark rocks perfectly.

The characters all look great in detail too. If a person has aged he will have obvious wrinkles on his face. If you see a Vampire, you will notice due to the posture of the face, red eyes and possibly even the fangs too (I know, you'd only really need to see the fangs to know, but the attention to detail is great). Other models there cannot be any complains at all, it is just perfect. Horses are possibly the best looking horses I have ever seen in a video game. The different cities in the game and their architecture are awe inspiring. The city to the North, Bruma, has buildings suited for the cold weather whereas the richer cities such as Skingrad and Cheydinhal are all elegant and beautifully designed.

Sound
During the opening title sequence for Oblivion, you fall in love with the music immediately. While roaming around the wild the music is calming, refreshing and adds to the enjoyment. It will change to a faster, more alerting beat if you encounter an enemy of course. I didn't notice many different music pieces, but there's enough there and it all fits well.

The voices of NPCs are nearly spot on. I think the only thing I noticed was that the beggars on the street one minute have a normal voice and then the next they have a completely different voice. Or maybe that's just them trying to trick you into giving them some coins! Putting on the old sympathetic voice ruse - can't fool us. Sean Bean does a perfectly great job of portraying Martin Septim, you can understand his feelings as they change throughout the game thanks to Sean's voice.

Gameplay
Oblivion is an RPG but the levelling system is somewhat different compared to conventional RPG games. When you create your character, you get to choose your birth sign and a class. You can select one of the pre-generated classes or create a custom class where you get to pick any skills that you want. To level up and advance you will have to gain experience by using these skills often. For example, if you have Acrobatics as a skill, you will advance in that skil every time you jump in the air. For Athletics, every time you run around or swim you will advance. For Heavy or Light Armor, every time you take damage with one or the other on you will advance in that skill, etc etc. Keep advancing in these skills and you will soon level up where you will then need to sleep. Upon reaching the next level, you can choose three attributes which you can increase, such as Agility, Strength and Speed. Back to skills, each has five mastery levels. These are Novice, Apprentice, Journeyman, Expert and Master.

The game has various 'Factions' that you can join and do quests for them. You start out as the lowest rank possible, obviously, but then make your way up as you complete these quests and gain stature in the faction. There is a Thieves Guild where, of course, specializes in stealing items and ideal for any stealth/thief character. The Fighters Guild who seem to be like a police force in the world of Tamriel, completing "contracts" for the good of the people at most times. The Mages Guild is for any character that uses magic and wants to be a wizard. The Dark Brotherhood is for the dark assassin-type character and then you have the Arena which you can join as a combatant and make your way up in reputation by fighting. There is enough there just from the different Factions for a full game in its own right, but these are side quests in Oblivion. Amazing, huh?

There are a few mini-games included in the game. The first which I will mention is the lockpick one. When I first played it was difficult to get the hang of. You have a number of tumblers for the lock and each one shoots up at a different speed when you nudge it with your lockpick. After a while of practice, it is easy to get the hang of mainly because you can notice the speed pattern at which the tumblers rise. When the tumbler rises up and drops back down fast, a slow rise will follow and it's easy to pick that tumbler. Of course, fail on the next tumbler and that tumbler you just did would shoot back down again. However that depends on your mastery level. After a few mastery levels are gained some tumblers will stay even if you fail on one of them. It really does just take practice.

The other mini-game is Persuasion which involves talking to NPCs for various information. You can Admire, Boast, Joke and Coerce with them, each giving out different reactions from the NPC which will affect his/her morale, increasing it or decreasing it. You can tell which one he/her likes the most due to the facial expression of the NPC. If he/she will love it there will be a huge smile on their face. However, the four techniques are based on a wheel and you can only rotate once on it, so you really have to plan out before you attempt to persuade someone. You can bribe them for information if you have lots of money, which is usually the best option for me. I personally do not mind the mini-games, as you continuously play through the game you will have got the hang of them and have no complaints. The people who do complain probably just didn't have the patience required.

In Oblivion there is a system where you gain fame and infamy depending on your actions in the world of Tamriel. For example, if you do good deeds such as closing the dreaded Oblivion gates or completing the main quest of the game then you will gain fame points. Infamy is the complete opposite, of course, and when you do bad, non-heroic things you will gain infamy points. Depending on how many points you have for each, NPCs will act differently in front of you. If you're famous for being a good person then everyone will like you more and confine in good conversations with you. If your infamy is too high, however, they will generally dislike you and it will be harder for you engage in conversations with them, at least if you want to gain the most information.

There are a total of 10 races in Oblivion. These are Argonian, Breton, Dark Elf, High Elf, Imperial, Khajiit, Nord, Orc, Redguard and Wood Elf. Each race has varied attributes and also affects your skills. For example, an Orc would be the best heavy fighter in the game as it specializes in skills such as Blunt, Block and Heavy Armor. Imperials would be the best talkers as they enhance your Speechcraft skill. Races such as Argonian, being reptilian, can breath underwater and also have a 100% resistance to Poison. Each race has various advantages/disadvantages and for you to pick the perfect race and skills would take some thought. Being an RPG, that's a positive thing. I think the possibilities thanks to the Racial system are great.

The world of Tamriel really comes to life when you adventure into town and can stop off at a Merchant to sell your loot or buy new things such as weapons and armor. There are tons of different vendors all over Tamriel with the most being placed in the Imperial Market District. Some of these shop owners may even be willing to train you in your skills. So, a good Armorer may be willing to train you in the Armorer skill, or a seller of Light Armor may be willing to advance you in your Light Armor ways. It brings the game to life because it feels real. Not only that, but you can also purchase your own house in each of the major cities of Tamriel and then decorate it up. There are also different Horse stables where you can purchase your own steed. Each one is different, so you will find a stable which is more suited to speed and another which is more suited to stronger horses.

Finally, if that's not enough for you, you can download numerous free modifications for the game. Bethesda themselves have released plug-ins for the game such as Horse armor and a Wizard's tower - these plug-ins cost $2-3 each. The free mods developed for personal use include new armor, weapons, quests, buildings, races, interface and graphical mods. Most of these are very well done and will not affect your game if you're careful. Of course, downloading two mods which affect the same thing in-game will cause conflicts.

Replayability
You can literally get hundreds of hours out of this game. I expect you can go through the game 2-3 times with different characters with different skills and different character aspects, then when you are finally bored of that you can download a vast majority of modifications for the game which can modify everything about it, basically. It will be a long time before you ever get bored of Oblivion, I guarantee you that.

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As I mentioned before, I had never touched an Elder Scrolls game before Oblivion so if I can pick it up and get addicted to the Elder Scrolls lore just like that, I'm sure anyone can, providing that you of course like RPG games. I fully believe that this game was way ahead of its time and people took it for granted. Nobody played a game like this before Oblivion came around. I cannot see how anything can topple it, except the next Elder Scrolls, of course. It definitely makes it into the top 10 best games of all time in my opinion and if you miss out on it, you have no clue what you are missing out on.
Overall: 10/10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/29/07


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