Review by Enders Shadow86

"Throw Your Mind Into Oblivion"

Even before you purchase Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion you have some important decisions to make. You can put that little box that is slipping from your nervous, sweaty hands back on the shelf, save some money and go on with your life. Or you can go ahead and buy that game, pop it into your Xbox 360 or PC, and lose your social life as you know it. Seriously. This may be the most important decision you ever make. Either go on with your busy life, or throw your mind into oblivion. No pun intended.

Oblivion is a mix between a MMORPG and a traditional RPG that is open-ended and allows for hundreds of hours of play completing quests and exploring the beautiful realm that the developers at Bethesda created. Along the way, you meet new people, learn of new events, and do jobs for both townsfolk and special guilds that pay you for your hard work. Like in all RPGs, you gain levels by fighting and by practicing other skills like sneak, blocking, lock picking, etc. etc. What separates Oblivion from the average RPG is the great customizability and the overwhelming feeling you get from the sheer amount of territory to cover and quests complete in such little time.

I was extremely impressed with the level of customizability in Oblivion. You really do build your character from the ground up. You get to choose from several different races, different class types, different skills, and get to change the appearance of your character to look like anything you want - well almost anything. The customization does not stop after creating your character. During gameplay, your character can change equipment and every piece is proudly displayed on your character in great detail. Your running speed will depend on the weight of your equipment- and this is pretty important. For example, it just so happens that swords are very heavy in the game. If you want to run faster, all you have to do is sheath it with a quick button and off you go! You can also take off your boots and wear lighter equipment if you want to be stealthy or if you simply want to run faster.

All of this customization leads me to another point. This is truly the first game ever that made me feel like I was in control of my own destiny, and the only one that has made me feel like it was my story. Yes, I have played many other games with similar concepts (ie Fable, Champions of Norrath), but many of those games try to impose freedom while at the same time having many limitations on what you can actually do in the game. Not so in Oblivion. The main story can be beaten in about 25 hours but you don't have to advance it if you don't want to. You basically do whatever you want in Oblivion. If you are lazy and your thing is sitting around all day in town just watching the chicks, then more power to you. If you feel like skinny dipping in a lake and swimming for a bit, then have fun. The thing is that whatever you do, it is going to be worth your while because simply exploring the beautiful world of Oblivion is fun in itself. For some, this may seem too linear because you have no specific goals and no set timetable for completing certain tasks and moving the main story along. Do not fear. There is always something new, fun, and exciting to do in Oblivion- either in the main story, one of the side quests for a guild, or just talking to citizens to solve their problems (they do have an awful lot).

With that being said, the main story is still a pretty good one. Soon after the story begins, the emperor is killed and you have to go on a mission to find his heir. The story line really kicks off and it is pretty exciting at times. For instance, one time, you have to escort two VIPS through the wilderness to reach an ancient castle built to withhold the strongest enemy attacks. In general, the story line is good but it really isn't the focal point of Oblivion.

The fighting interface is a huge upgrade from Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Both first person and third person perspectives are available to use depending on your preference. I've heard many people talk bad about the third person perspective, but I found it pretty intuitive. While playing Oblivion, I found myself switching between views to perform different tasks, but they are both useful and very playable. There are three types of attacks- melee, ranged, and magic. Obviously, the one you use the most will depend on your characters class, race, and special skills. As you use each type of attack you level up and eventually become even more proficient in your area of expertise.

Most, but not all, enemies level up as you do during the game and this may be disappointing for the hardcore gamer who wants to max out their stats completely. But alas, there is a difficulty slider in the options screen that allows those hardcore gamers to set it to max if they feel like being challenged. The casual gamer could also lower it to make it a bit easier, because the default difficulty is actually pretty challenging.

The graphics on both the 360 and the PC are superb and quite honestly the best looking I have ever seen. Yes, there are minor frame rate drops and some glitches, but I believe that they should be overlooked. Every detail rings out with animation in the huge world. What was really remarkable was the water. It was just too realistic for words. The environments are extremely beautiful and they even change with time. For instance, you can wake up at six in the morning and there could be a light drizzle. By the afternoon, the rain could have stopped, and sunlight could be pouring through the bright blue sky.

The character faces were not as notable as the environments. Yes, there are a lot of different classes and they are all unique. And yes, character appearances are customizable. Even still, I could see a lot of similarity in many of the faces of NPCs. They also had the same general monotone expression on their faces that made the characters less exciting.

The music in Oblivion is truly epic and it adds perfectly to the overall theme. Sound effects in battle are also very well done. You'll hear the clashing of swords, the string of a bow, and the sometimes dead silence that builds the tension along with the music. Together they create the town for the battles and make them as dramatic and exciting as possible. The voice acting was decent, especially for a game that has 50 hours of recorded dialogue. You can tell that some of the voice actors are recycled, but it didn't bother me much as it takes an observant eye to catch it.

The most impressive part of the game is undoubtedly the vast universe that Bethesda created for the players. You may have all the time in the world to explore the world of Cyrodiil, the fictitious universe in Oblivion, but you'll probably miss out on most of it (that is unless you have about 500 hours to spare). Don't count this as a negative though. This is the first game that I have truly felt overwhelmed by the shear vastness of new areas to explore and new quests to undertake. This again led me to believe that the game was truly open-ended and allowed me to go wherever I wanted, anytime I wanted and most importantly do whatever I wanted. Let me give you an idea.

The first time I opened up my map to the world of Cyrodiil, I thought most of the map would be filler like in other games- meaning many areas would be unavailable for exploration. Alas, I was extremely mistaken. About 1 hour into the game you'll be able to access any area on the whole map and take on any quest you wish in any order you wish. Not completely aware of this when coming out into the world map for the first time, I took my wood elf character named Drizzt (named after the popular Robert Salvatore character) and began walking up a mountain directly behind me. When I reached the apex of the mountain, I looked down and almost fell of my chair! In the distance was a huge world, every part of it tangible and full of new adventure.

This feeling sums up the whole concept of Oblivion. That there is so much to do and explore and that it is really up to you, the individual, to make decisions on how you are going to play.

Even with all the things that Oblivion does right, it is important to understand that no game is absolutely perfect. The only quirks I had while playing were minor details that could be improved but aren't key to the overall gameplay experience. First, the non playable character (NPCs) AI was often times very bad. Let's say you are playing as a stealthy thief. One day, you break into a house and try to steal an expensive jewel. In the process, the owner of the home wakes and catches you performing the delinquent act. Here is where the bad AI comes into play. In most cases, the witness of the crime would call out once for a guard (usually the lazy bastards aren't even near the vicinity) and then continue on with their business as usual. You can even talk to the character after they caught you stealing their precious jewel and they will respond with their normal dialogue, usually something like “What is it, do you need something?” The proper response by a normal human being in this situation would be to run and tell the guard, run and hide, or interrogate the thief. I would have liked the AI to be tweaked so that NPCs could act a little more natural.

The other problems I had with the game are also technical but much less severe then the bad AI. The long load times, the frame rate drops, and the glitches that occurred while exploring are frustrating but not critical. The PC version does a better job with these things than does the 360 version, but don't be discouraged as these are just minor complaints to an overall amazing gaming experience that no one with an Xbox 360 should miss.

This game is a must have for any Xbox 360 owner and any RPG/MMORPG fan. If you have a PC that can handle the many requirements of the game, then it's probably the better platform to run this game on. Oblivion's few flaws could be addressed in the next installation of the series, but due to the huge capabilities and possibilities in the world of Cyrodiil, it is hard to count such minor quibbles against it. The replay value is great and you will use up every cent of your purchase playing this wonderfully crafted and beautiful game.

Pros
- The open ended style allows hardcore gamers to tackle all the side quests and lets the casual gamers tackle only the main quest if they want
- Innumerable possibilities and outcomes
- Jaw dropping graphics and a HUGE world to explore
- Customizability and character creation
- Great for both hardcore gamers and more casual ones

Cons
- Some glitches and frame rate drops
- Loading times can be frustrating
- NPCs need some AI tweaking


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/04/06


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