Review by james2

"Welcome to the next generation."

Wearing rag-a-muffin clothes, with bones scattered across the floor and a bearded, toothless prisoner across the way taunting you with how he'll look after your wife and daughter when he's released, you're stuck in cell and left to rot. A shocking and abrupt welcome to The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.

As far as jail-breaks go, you're about to have the opportunity to start again, everything set back to default with no-one the wiser. You owe your impending freedom to a man about to lose his own, the Emperor Uriel Septum, who for the last time peered into the well of destiny and found a stranger staring straight back at him, a stranger whose future is now bound with that of a nation. Whether through the alignment of the stars or just sheer dumb luck, you're as ordinary as they come and happen to be at the crossroads of history when forces combine to push ordinary individuals to great lengths and deeds. Yep, you guessed it, you're mister ordinary, about to embark on an adventure in which you decide how far depths are plummeted to find the information and experiences locked away inside Cyrodiil.

Stretching from Anvil on the Abecean Sea in the West to the shadow of the Valus Mountains in the east, then south down the Niben waterway to Leyawiin and Topal Bay, Cyrodiil is a vast green dogleg, the “Imperial Province” within the Tamrielic Empire and named for a dynasty that included three early emperors. Your adventure starts roughly in the centre, on an island in Lake Rumar on which sits Imperial City. Rather like a stone wheel, the entire city circles around the central and towering Imperial Palace, with huge walls separating the streets into districts. Outside the city walls lies a waste pipe from the sewers underneath, where you'll learn the basics of the game through escaping from jail and become entangled with Uriel Septums final moments, the consequences of which give you the starting step to the main quest.

There are many quests, adventures and experiences to find and accomplish within Oblivion, with plenty to do off the beaten track. Some have stories, though often they're written in gold, darkness and blood. Every dark hole in the ground is considered a new adventure, how you get to those new adventures is up to you. As you might have guessed, you can take life in Cyrodiil as you please. Either hit the floor running and gun up the levels, grab all the spells and beat back evil to save the Empire, or explore the vast world, find knowledge through interaction with the many residents and the books available. You won't find public transportation such as Silt Striders in Morrowind, instead players can buy horses and equip them with the optional download of armour to protect them from thieves and other animals, as well as fast-travelling to other cities via the in-game menu. You won't often ask for directions, thanks to the compass and GTA style map-markers, and knowing where to go is a help, because the world of Oblivion is constantly in motion, regardless of your status or whereabouts. Non player characters get up and go to work, go out for dinner afterwards before retiring home to bed. Others see neighbours or visit other cities. Some do things that are unexpected. Every person is a small mystery.

Oblivion also moves internally, constantly adjusting challenges and rewards according to your characters level. Progression is performed in two ways; you can spend time boosting your skills to become more powerful, and then there's levelling up to face harder enemies. Low levels means weaker spells and potions, armour and weapons, whereas the higher ones unleash the cooler magical elements and stronger equipment and apparel. With progression comes harder enemies, and that's not in skill level. Out in the wild between cities, you'll encounter wolves at low levels. Go higher and you'll see packs of them, before they're replaced by tigers, and finally huge powerful bears. In dungeons you'll encounter zombies and skeletons at the start, with far more powerful enemies emerging as you climb the ladder. Besides the difficulty slider hidden away in the preferences menu, this presents players with the option to either breeze through a world populated by weak enemies, or take the time to level up and slay huge monsters, demons and all other types of unheard of foes. The choice, as they say, is yours.

So you've probably got the idea that Oblivion is one heck of a world. There's plenty going on, there's plenty to do and there's plenty to see. On the subject of seeing, Cyrodiil looks absolutely stunning. Everything is bright and wonderful in the sunshine, birds singing, pigeons flocking, butterflies dodging about in the shadows, and then environments look damp, cold and miserable when rain rolls into town. The level of detail is quite breathtaking, with brickwork incredibly convincing, foliage resembling plants and not just clumps of green material and landscapes that could kill. Everything just looks so detailed, rich and wonderful that you simply cannot help being lured into the world of Oblivion. Water ripples as water should; litter flies about in the wind and collects in bundles in streets. This really is something, and for once words cannot describe the absolute beauty Bethesda have created here.

The downside to Oblivion is if you're not an RPG fan, or someone looking to get into the genre, you're really being thrown into the deep end here. Besides the guiding arrow on the in-game compass, there's not a hand to lead you about or a massive tutorial to follow, so sometimes you can sit about confused and frustrated as what to do next. Luckily, if you have your wits about you, you'll realise that there is so much more to Oblivion than just mission beating. There are wild animals to guard against, of which you can sell their remains to make money. There's locations to explore and discover, books to read (thousands infact), a huge arena to fight in or bet wagers on, a mage university to gain access to and explore, amongst countless other things. We could literally sit here for days just explaining in vivid detail how much you can do and accomplish, but we'd rather simply skim he surface and leave the rest for you to discover.

There are niggly bugs and exploits uncovered during the course of gameplay, but handy downloads from Live seem to have fixed these up, as well as introducing horse armour into the game for your trusty stead on those long voyages, but otherwise you're looking at the prime example to own the Xbox 360. We love GRAW and we're mastering PGR3, but Oblivion beats them both to the coveted top spot of must-have 360 games. The lush and vast environments will simply blow you away, the opportunity to either charge on through missions or sit back and enjoy exploring and conjuring up new potions will please many, and the variety of side-missions, quests and factions will keep fans coming back for more, even creating new characters to take on the world with.

Let's stop it here before we uncover something revealing and spoil the plot. Just buy Oblivion and savour the moment, because next-next-gen gaming just got oh-so great.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/01/06, Updated 09/08/08

Game Release: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (EU, 03/24/06)


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