Review by CapnWellpoint
"If up is down and black is white, then fun is Oblivion!"
So I'm aware the Oblivion has been out for a while, but I only just recently played the thing, and I felt the game failed me so spectacularly that a full review was in order. It's a game surrounded by positive ratings, something I've learned not to trust in this day and age of gaming; and for good reason too. Oblivion is a perfect example of how the world surrounding mainstream video games is completely lobotomized. We live in a world gone mad! Where up is down, black is white, and fun is Oblivion! Allow me to explain:
Oblivion came out as an action/adventure/RPG or something, meaning it's a cross between a first person shooter and an MMORPG, essentially. That means that you run around bashing monsters until you level up, and then you use the levels to get stronger. However, since its action/adventure, all the bashing is done from a first person perspective ala first person shooter style. This doesn't change the general formula for MMORPG combat namely, I bash you, now you bash me, back and forth until we're both dead from internal hemorrhaging but it does make it completely pointless to customize your character's appearance!
And that's precisely where I began with Oblivion. First starting up, the game presented me with a screen to design my own custom built character. I had a little slider bar to make my nose bigger, eyes further apart, skin differently colored, and one to switch between more and more embarrassing races, just like in the Sims only more useless since none of the slider bar options did anything.
Eventually I decided on playing as what I believed was a lizard man, and I used the only working slider bar to make myself an albino. I named myself Colon Fatz, declared myself the lizard king, and started the game up. However, I was both saddened and surprised when the camera immediately zoomed through my head to a first person view, making it impossible to ever see anything besides my arms (but never my feet, since in these games I often find my legs are invisible).
I was in a jail cell, and another prisoner across from me was yelling rude things at me. I didn't know what I was doing there, so my gamer instincts kicked in and caused me to begin looking around for things to pilfer. I was, of course, delighted to find I could pick up everything on the floor of my cell, from bones to empty bowls, and I stuffed my pants with the useless junk just in case any of it ever developed game importance later on.
Still lost, I proceeded to walk up to my jail cell door and discovered the punch button on it, which I used amply until a king and some guards wandered downstairs. This is where the game lost me. The king walked into my jail cell, which a knight declared was supposed to be empty, and he asked me what I was doing there. I had no idea, he had no idea, so he decided to let it go and told me to forget it because it isn't important to the plot. What was important to the plot, he explained, was me. Period. I was important for reasons he couldn't divulge.
And in that moment, the game's story lost all meaning for me. I realized my character was a blank template, and that I could have designed myself any way, with any race, with any features, and with as much a propensity for stuffing human bones down my pants as I preferred, and the game was basically just going to work around me. It didn't want to create a back story for me. It didn't want to motivate me. Just play, it said, you bought the game and we already have your money. It made me wonder why they bothered to let me build my own character, controlling his body type right down to his jaw line, and I wondered why I got to name myself either. Seems like a waste of programming time since it was all for its own sake.
But despite my massive identity crisis, I was still ready for combat and challenged one of the king's knights to fisticuffs. He stabbed me with his sword and I had to start over (which is against the rules of fisticuffs), so I proceeded to carry on in the linear path the game set out for me. Of course, before I set off I checked my current clothes for any armor bonuses, found none I could understand, and stripped down to my lizard man underwear. I was finding it quite difficult not to rebel as hard as I could against a claustrophobically linear game that advertised itself to be open-ended.
At the end of the dungeon the king died and he gave me his rare, precious, family amulet because I was the player character. The king's knight questioned the wisdom of letting me hold on to something so important, and I fully agreed with the man, but I couldn't hand off the plot to more responsible parties and I was stuck with it. Then, somewhere in the middle of it all, I was aloud to choose my class.
Classes are a Dungeons and Dragons thing, and effectively it refers to your job. Any MMORPG player should be familiar with that I suppose: warriors do tanking and damage dealing, clerics do buffs maybe, and so on. However, Oblivion pulled a very dirty trick on me: it let me choose to build my own class, and I did. I knew it would end poorly, but I choose to make the mugger class, which combined speed and strength as primary stats, an idea which is terrible because in Dungeons and Dragons, speed or dexterity can only be used to shoot bows or throw rocks from slings. Dexterity increases ranged damage, and strength increases melee damage, so I effectively split myself between the two choices in such a way that weakened my character for both.
But all the same I was hopeful and sauntered off to the first plot point, discovering in the process that I was actually a fish man when I jumped in a river. When I finally arrived at an abbey for the next plot detailing, I tried stealing some things since I was half thief. However, being half thief was pretty lame compared to full thief, apparently, and every monk in the place clairvoyantly knew what I was up to after every pick pocketing attempt I made. I was stealing garbage from them, like empty bowls, stray pieces of lint, and their resident abbey mice, but every time I grabbed something the monks ran over to yell at me, telling me to put back their rodents where I found them.
At last I left that place, stealing a bowl from the top monk right in front of him, then riding away into the night cackling on one of their horses. I could have teleported to the next town of importance, but so help me I was going to make this sand box game a sand box game, and I rode that horse until I got attacked by a wolf. At that point I found I couldn't fight wolves on horse back, so I had to dismount. In the ensuing battle, I accidentally hit the horse, causing the horse to enter a fit of enraged, insatiable bloodlust. I attempted to fight the horse off, but try as I might I was no match, and I was forced to run for my life as quickly as I could, trying to trick the horse's AI into getting stuck on rocks and things behind me.
I fooled around for a while after this, trying to get a feel for the game, only to meet disappointment after disappointment. In the first civilized town I entered, word had already traveled of my rodent-thievery from the abbey. The guards arrested me, took away my stolen property and charged me six gold pieces for my evils. I suspect the six gold pieces somehow covered the cost of Satan's horse which had been left abandoned in the forest miles away I know, of course, that horse is still waiting for me out there, even now, plotting my demise with the patience of a madman.
I couldn't sell anything I had stolen anyway without completing the Thieves Guild initiation quest, and actual thieving was a pain. Lock picking was a nuisance, and lock picks were required to do it. One pick for every part of the lock, and the picks broke if the lock picking minigame was screwed up in any way. Every time I tried to mug somebody in a dark alley the guards were frequently alerted and I was forced to prison. Even the social skills mingame for selling fairly earned goods was confusing and didn't make much sense, usually bringing me enemies and price hikes.
I quit the game early on just after entering what I presumed to be Hell, which seemed to me like the next logical step based on the way the game was already headed. Some Knight ran up to me, and since my attacking powers only grew more and more sub par as I leveled, I asked him to travel with me. We ran into a goblin, and I watched in fascinated, amused horror as the two chased each other towards the edge of a lava pit. There was nothing I could do to slow them down. I couldn't shout look out! to the knight, and in fact I shouldn't have had to since he was the one driving the goblin backwards towards it. To my complete disbelief, the goblin ran backwards, without even flinching at the heat of the lava, straight into the pit. Then the Knight ran in after the goblin.
I hadn't expected AI so ridiculous, and stranger still, neither body was melting. Instead, both the knight and the goblin were floating, dead, in the lava. I was able to reach out and pluck an arrow off the goblin's corpse, and then I tried to loot the knight's body so I'd at least have some heavier armor. However, he was a little too far out, so I had to reach just a little bit further. I took baby steps, doing my best to grab the knight without stepping in the lava. Then I burned to death on my invisible legs. After that I had to set the controller down and take a break for a while.
A brief time later, I started the game over again from scratch, but this time I played an Orc warrior. I used templates from the game and followed the events perfectly as they were designed to be followed: in a linear fashion with side quests available. I teleported from town to town, since travel was boring and pointless, and I leveled my strength and survivability into the most generic warrior I could be. It worked fantastically; sand box game my eye.
Upon reflecting on it all, I realize how much time and energy was wasted on all the additional features of the game. Why did the game bother letting me customize my appearance? Why did it let me name myself? Why did it let me choose my class? What was the point of it all? All that extra work just led to slights in other departments. The rigid NPCs? The clunky story? The boring combat system? All directly caused by time wasted implementing customization programs that either did nothing or outright hindered the player.
Had they spent less time making miles of scenery that you could just teleport past, had they forgone the ability to lengthen or shorten your face, had they just named you and given you a back story so your character could be treated like a person! Imagine where this game could have been! So why? Why do this? Why make Oblivion? For the ability to advertise as an open-ended game?
Nothing was very smooth, engaging, or intuitive about Oblivion. They tried too many things at one time, covering nothing in the detail required for the game. You could try a massive array of skills, but one character could only reasonably upgrade a few at once due to a constricting Dungeons and Dragons design flaw. You could be a thief, but the experience was flawed and unrewarding, just as you could be bowmen, wizards, or swordsmen to the same effect.
My Final Recommendation
I don't know why this game was voted game of any year. There's nothing phenomenal about it. Maybe the graphics when it first came out, but graphics are never timeless; even now, they're dated, and I've played more engaging stuff on past systems anyway. Oblivion felt like steps backwards, and it didn't offer any of the things it advertised. So if you haven't bought it yet, don't. Not unless you're easily fooled into thinking you're having a good time. It's probably a lot cheaper now, but rent first, ignore what anyone has ever said about how good it is, then give yourself some time to reflect on whether or not you think you can make a lifetime's ownership of Oblivion worth it. I know I can't.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 11/04/09
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (US, 03/20/06)
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