Review by Npeaen

"Sixteen Square miles to save"

The Elder Scrolls IV is, as the name implies, the 4th entry into the Elder Scrolls series. This game is an RPG that features a massive game world, full of tons of characters who all go about living their life(even if their life sometimes seems to consist of standing in the street and talking amongst themselves), while you try and save their world(or you could just kill them for wasting their time, your call). The game tries to fix many of the problems that appeared in previous entries, mostly from Morrowind in this case. And for the most part, it works out quite nicely, creating quite possibly the best 360 game to date.


Graphics:
Given the immense scale the game is on, it's almost mind boggling how much detail there is. At the range you usually see things from, it looks absolutely astounding. The clothes look good, the faces look good(although apparently everyone in Tamriel suffers from massive wrinkling) The metal armor shines appropriately, the stone looks wet or dry, ruined or brand new. Every item in the game is painstakingly detailed(although they removed shadows from them, more on that later). However, when you get close up, texturing start to get pretty blurry. Trying to sneak along a wall in first person? Yeah, you'll see what I mean then, a bit ugly when you get up close and personal. Character customization is pretty good, although not as good as Morrowind in a couple of ways(Why can't I put a robe over my armor anymore?!) Every single character has a pretty unique face though.

The game has fantastic lighting, with the world reacting to any source of light that's around properly and believably. Whether it's the sun or the moon(with a very nicely detailed sky I might add), a torch in your hand, or a spell you cast, it works well. Time does flow in the game, so you will over the course of the game see the world in all it's forms, and they all look nice regardless. Only a slight issue, but once you head indoors, the outdoor lighting has no effect. If you look out a window when inside, you just have a ton of white glare, implying that it's bright daylight out, when in fact it may be midnight. The games draw distance is also a thing of both beauty and disappointment. Beautiful at the amount of detail you can see in the draw distance area, beautiful that you can actually see lands that are eight miles away from on top of a mountain, disappointing because of where the detail goes away, and very, very clearly goes away. Lush vegetation is only visible for about 20 meters surrounding you, the “High Res” version of textures vanishes about 100 meters away. There are areas where you can be standing on this finely detailed mountain, turn to your right and see this ugly looming mountain sitting next to you. Looking down you can clearly see the line where the textures go from high to low res. While understandable given the hardware, it's a bit jarring to see these things. It doesn't really distract from enjoying the game though. The other bits of the graphics, such as HDR lighting, and the well done particle effects help add to the atmosphere of the game and really do present themselves nicely.

The games animations don't really stand out either. Jumping in the air just has your guy become absolutely rigid for the time he's in the air, upon landing he's already back in the running animation. Once you get into battle the animations are pretty good, but when just running around the world, transitions between the animations are really choppy. The other problem I have with the games graphics is an inconsistent framerate. The developers took shadows off of items because it would take forever to do and the framerate would nose dive. So when they remove this feature I'd think they're making it so the framerate is always stable. Wrong. Trying running around outdoors, your framerate will stutter and drop every now and then, often dropping into the teens briefly before climbing back up to a smooth 60. The problem is made even worse if you ever try and ride a horse, with the game streaming data on the surrounding area from the disc, the entire game just stops every 15 seconds to just let the disc catch up a bit. Overall though, the graphics are well done with a few draw distance and framerate problems.

Audio:
Almost brilliant. It has some problems, namely a lack of variety to the voice actors, but otherwise, the sound is absolutely brilliant. The game features music by Jeremy Seoule(I think that's his name). He also did the music for Guild Wars, and most recently, Prey. This guy does this kind of music well. Almost too well. It's like he isn't willing to try anything new. Some songs from Guild Wars and Oblivion sound almost identical. While it's not a big deal as the song fits in both games quite well, it just strikes me as a bit lazy to use bits and pieces from another composition. The music kicks in at appropriate times giving you warnings or just friendly background music. If an enemy sees you, you'll know because the battle music will kick in. If you're walking around in the woods, some nice travel music will play. Different towns will play different songs. They all fit the tone of the game quite nicely. The sound effects are also pretty well done, the clash of weapons, the sound of blade meeting flesh, footsteps, sneaking, casting a magic spell of doom, they all seem to sound pretty good.

The voice acting is a bit of a different story. While each of the main characters is actually a pretty big name actor and they do a decent job(Patrick Stewart, aka Picard has a role, and so does Sean Bean, funny because he's done other fantasy type work like this, playing Boromir in Lord of the Rings). The random other characters have decent voice work... but not nearly enough was recorded. In a game like this one where you're supposed to spend an absolutely absurd amount of time playing it, you'll hear the exact same line spit out by several different people during the game. There just aren't very many voice actors, and hearing each race only have two or three sets of voices for the hundreds of them ingame really does remove from the atmosphere. It's not that the voice acting is bad, it's just too repetitive. Overall, the game audio is good, but held back a bit by lackluster effort on voice acting.

Controls:
Smooth if not for occasional load times in the menus. The game appears to have been designed with the 360 in mind, as after playing both versions, the game controls much more smoothly with a controller in hand rather than a keyboard and mouse. The controls of course work very well, with the left stick controlling movement, the right stick controlling the camera/where you're looking/aiming A activates things, such as doors, fountains, mini-games, etc. B brings up your journal(also inventory), X takes out and hides your weapon, and Y jumps. Simple enough for the face buttons. Now the R trigger is attack with your weapon, the the L trigger is to block, either with your weapon or shield depending on what you have out., the right shoulder button acts to cast spells and the left button grabs things, most useless, but one can have some fun toying with the Havok physics engine with this button. Clicking the left thumbstick toggles sneak mode, and clicking the right thumbstick changes back and forth from 1st and third person view. You'll be wanting to spend most of your time in 1st person, as combat becomes quite difficult in third.



Gameplay:
There is just SO MUCH to do in this game it can be overwhelming. That's the first place to start. While the size of the world has been toned down from previous entries(16 square miles in Oblivion vs. three times the size of Britain in Daggerfall), there's still an absolute ton of stuff to do. But lets start from the beginning. When the game opens you get a little cutscene with Patrick Stewart introducing the time period. After that you find yourself in a jail cell creating your character. There are ten races to choose from, and an absolute ton of things you can do to their face. Heck, I spent my first hour with the game creating the perfect Samuel Jackson. Once that's over with a short series of events introduce you to the games conversation system. With this you press A to talk to someone, strangely, the rest of the world then freezes(I've talked to guard while they're about to be attacked, the demon right behind them just freezes). From there you can select items you wish to talk about, ones that aren't grayed out mean they have something new to tell you. Other than that, you can partake in a little persuasion mini-game to try and get the person to like you more, which is something you'll often have to do with a quest to get info. Usually when it requires them to “Trust” you. Other than that you can barter with some people(which brings up another little interesting game where you can try and discuss price), receive training from some people, or in some cases, pay them to repair your broken gear.

After that you'll find yourself let loose in the games first dungeon. Dark caves or ruins just filled with things that would like to kill you and nice little treasures hidden around too. The first ones all about survival though, and by the end, you'll have your hands on a very important item, and directions as to how to continue the main story. You can get there by either “quick traveling” by bring up the map and pressing A somewhere nearby, or by running there by following the the red guide on your HUD. Oh no, you don't have to do the main quest though, just turn around and you'll find yourself on the outskirts of the capital of Tamriel, the Imperial City. From there you can wander around taking up new quests ranging from item retrieval to more interesting stake outs. Hell, there's ever vampire hunting if it strikes your fancy! You can take whatever approach you want to something. Want to buy something, sure, haggle your price, or wait till night and try and pick the lock(another fun little mini game) and try and steal the items without getting caught by the town guard. Or you could just be an idiot and take the item from the store in broad daylight while the store owner is watching you, just have fun running from the entire imperial legion.

There are tons of quests out there if you take a look around, and over time you'll find there's a few guilds you can join. There's the fighters guild, the mages guild, the Dark Brotherhood(Assassins guild), the Thieves Guild, and the Arena. All of this involve a long quest line that eventually lead to you becoming the head of the guild and able to access all of its glory, be it profits or manpower. If that's not your thing, go castle raiding, there are ancient ruins located all over the map, and there's often a nice little treasure waiting at the bottom if you can survive... and get back out alive, enemies and traps will try and stop you along the way. There's enough quests to last for about 100 hours of gameplay, per character. The game feels quite different if you take the summoner approach, sending others to do your battles instead of being that burly Conan hero who runs in screaming with is sword waving wildly above his head(my preferred method of course).

The game manages to stay fun the entire way through by having combat, and lots of it. Thankfully the system has been completely reworked since Morrowind where you could stand slashing a bird for ten minutes before you actually hit it. This game succeeds in capturing what sword combat was like... to an extent. If you actually hit the enemy character model with your sword, it registers as a hit, blood sprays, sometimes they lower their weapon and stagger back(the game goes for you). If you block something with your shield, you stagger a little and let out a loud “UGGHH”, but you take significantly less damage, and with your shield knocking them off balance a bit, gives you a quick opportunity land a quick slash or two. If you prefer, you can enchant a weapon with soul trap and get your enemies stuck in little gems you can use in battle, summoning them to fight for you, or buy a spell to summon them, sit back and watch your ally fight. You could use a bow if you wanted. There are quite a few options to how to approach combat.

Leveling up in Oblivion revolves around skill use. The more you use a skill, the better you get at it, get better at enough skills, and you level up, where you are given a choice of three statistics to upgrade. While you do start to get stronger than everything around you, the wilds of the game do level up a bit with you. It's most apparent in the Arena. As you'll find as you level up, the wild animal fights get increasingly more difficult, and with no added reward. The game is quite satisfying to play, and a bit addictive too, I'll find myself sitting down to play for maybe 30 minutes and find myself turning my xbox off two hours later. It's just plain a fun game to play.

Overall this is a game that has a few flaws to it that do ruin the atmosphere a little bit, but they're pretty easy to look past and just see an absolute masterpiece of RPG gaming, an open ended, entertaining RPG with countless hours of fun to be had with it. At the time of this writing, it is THE BEST GAME on the Xbox 360.

9.4/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/22/06


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