Review by Alfran

Reviewed: 06/13/06

So far, this is a pretty good beta. Hope the finished game will be just as good.

I admit, it was rather tempting to write a review whilst spending my first night of passion with Oblivion. Unfortunately, that would produce a rather biased review. So after seeing all there is to see, and doing all there is to do and not touching the game for more than a month I guess it’s time to voice my thoughts on the game.

For those of you not in the loop, Oblivion is the fourth Elder Scroll game to grace our computers since 1994’s Arena, and what can I say? The game looks gorgeous, as well as --- well, it looks great. What more could you people want? Rather sad to say but Oblivion, for all its glitter and shine, lacks something. Something that is rather hard to put ones finger on. I have attributed it to many things, which I will try to explain to you.

Visually, Oblivion looks great if your PC can manage it. But even on low settings, the game looks fine. Barring of course the slap to the face of low end users that is the ‘really low’ setting Bethesda provided with the patch. That setting was made in mind of people with cards that have 2.0 shader support but don’t really do a good job of actually supporting it. Unfortunately, the fix was to turn off the fancy lighting and other visual flares such that you end up with, well, it looks like that Might and Magic game where your entire party starts off talking to their grandpa. So people with said cards should at least try to give Oldblivion a whirl. Link? Just google it. I’m not supposed to link to either site so nyah. Besides, if you don’t know what google is, well --- nyah. So in short, the graphics are fancy. If you’re around the age of 13, then what are you waiting for?!? There is no need to read further. Your decision should have been cemented after I first said that Oblivion looks great. By now you should be with your mother or a person of the same influence, singing songs as you giggle in your seat, waiting to purchase this beautiful looking game. Yes, it’s that good looking. After all when an ad on a magazine or a website tells you that it’s “The best looking game I’ve seen,” well, you know you’re buying a pretty fancy looking game.

The game also sounds great, from the soundtrack to the sound effects, to the voices. Well, maybe not so the voices. But come on. Patrick Stewart has around 5 minutes of audio time in this game! It should get an award just for that fact alone! Yeah, that’s probably what one of the geniuses at Bethesda was thinking when they decided to hire Stewart. Yes, he’s a fine actor and his voice is both suave and sexy, but that’s hardly reason enough to blow the audio budget. Of course I’m assuming Stewart cost a lot. Which I’m sure is pretty correct seeing as to how Patrick Stewart has a voice that can make a straight man bend for Patrick Stewart. Well, not really but almost. Now if he were Johnny Depp or something, then maybe. But I digress. The point is that wasting that much cash on the voice of a person who dies in the tutorial level, and this is no spoiler as this information has been given to us a year before the game was released, when it could have been used to hire more voice actors is just wrong. Also another big wig actor who was chosen to do voicing here is Sean Bean. Yeah, that guy who hugs and gropes Frodo in LotR. Though as to whether the decision of him playing the heir was pure coincidence or a sick joke by one of the staff, we’ll never know. All I know is that having him play the heir is really a huge spoiler in itself. His voice is fine too I guess. It’s just that he sounds like Clint Eastwood doing that badass stare down threatening thing he’s famous for. It’s like Brother Martin is some crazed assassin with a hunger for blood who hasn’t killed in months. “A priest, yes I’m a priest. Do you need a priest? I don’t think you need a priest. Not after I slit your throat from ear to ear!” Let me tell you, it’s not hard to imagine at all. Also Wonder Woman is in the game. As to why she doesn’t deserve her own body of text, well, I think she’s doing it for free because she’s married to some guy in the higher echelons of Zenimax. Those are the guys that own Bethesda by the way. A couple of rich men who like smoking cigars and having their wives do voice acting for free. The other voices are fine. Great even. The problem is that apart from the special persons with a role in the main quest, we have less than 10 people doing the voices. Yes, as depressing as it sounds, voices are shared by different races. That’s right. Bethesda lied. ‘The game is currently around nine gigs due to the voices’ my ass. Eh, I’m guess it’s a minor complaint now, but once you’re playing it and you listen to your first beggar ask you in a sickly old womanly voice ‘Oh please, just spare a single coin! I lack the credentials for honest work, and my bodies too old for… oh wait, my body looks just like that younger chick. Sorry about that.’ and then a few minutes later after sparing her a single coin, you decide to ask her about rumors, she goes into her young, and sounding like every other Breton/Imperial woman voice. Though on a plus side, all dialogues are now voiced. On an eh side, most of the time you only get an introduction, then you can ask for rumors. And just rumors unless there’s a quest involved. So basically, fully voiced dialogue could also mean ‘Couldn’t be bothered to write more.”

Now to the gameplay yes? After all, the gameplay is the meat of the game and not the graphics, despite what others might have led you to believe. Gameplay has been improved I suppose. Not that much though. For every good brought forth, something bad accompanies it. First then we notice the fighting. It’s what others are so focused about. I wagered it would just be Morrowind’s fighting system with a new coat of paint. I wasn’t that far off from the mark, it is a good improvement though. Slash, cleave, block and what not. Another good thing is the added perks. When you reach certain proficiency levels in a skill you gain perks. Some of these perks are excellent, some are there just to look cool, and some feel like afterthoughts. The scaling system in the game is a mixed blessing I suppose. For one thing, it makes it so that very few challenges are impossible to overcome even at low levels. That’s right, most NPCs and creatures scale to your level. So why bother leveling? Well, that’s where the trade off is. You don’t get to play with your fancy dresses and tea cups until you are a certain level. Well that is, you won’t get to see them in the game world until you’re a certain level. The same goes with certain cretins. Personally, I find this a slap to my soft, cute cheek. But hey, I understand not everyone is manly enough to play a game with a huge risk of meeting something that will result in a game over. The environment is great too. Physics powered and all that. That should bring simple amusement to people I suppose. God knows it did to me. The towns in the game each have their own unique looks and climates, which is nice. Aesthetics and what not you see. Outdoors are great, as expected of that tree generating engine. Though I must wonder why the only non aggressive wild life players can interact with are deer. Also you would notice different dungeons. Basically there are caves, forts, ruins, and Oblivion gates. A very limited selection, and there are tons of these all over the province. A few of these have interesting things inside. And to get around the Imperial Province you get a horse. Fancy that. Unfortunately, there is no mounted combat; so again, the horses are more of an aesthetic thing than something practical. After all, you don’t gain skills rubbing your family jewels on a saddle. There are also Guilds to join. Quest lines not associated with the main quest. How rewarding or enjoyable these quest lines are will depend on your tastes.

So these features sound neat and dandy yes? Of course they do. However let me be completely honest with you. Oblivion lacks something. It’s the thing that made the previous TES games feel epic and grand. It was the thing that kept you coming back for more months, or even years, after you first played the game. It’s the thing that caused you to fail an entire semester of college due to never leaving your computer. By the way, if that’s you, stay away from my future kids if I ever have them.

Yes, truth be told I got bored of Oblivion after around two weeks. Not good. Morrowind lasted me four years. Vanilla Morrowind around 5 months then I started using mods. So what caused this? I guess it’s the lack of variety. Due to Bethesda deciding to merge skills, discard weapons, and simplify most of everything, there’s really not much of a replay value present here.

They said that they were merging skills to better focus on the skills, discarding certain weapon types to perfect the weapons left in, and what not. This is however not the case. Blade and blunt skills feel very much the same. In fact, there’s very little difference between the two. In fact, the only difference is the speed and damage, by a few insignificant decimals. Animations, perks all the same. In later levels, you will yourself stabbing foes with your axe. Why? I guess because you’re hitting pressure points which cause paralysis. Yes, I’m rationalizing. Though as to why you just don’t cut off limbs, I wonder. The variety of weapons is rather depressing. No more broadswords and daedric katanas. Fighting with a bow isn’t really rewarding or recommended. NPCs, more often than not have an auto find function once hit by an arrow. And they bring their friends with them. Again, not all skills are balanced. Some are better than others. Others, like hand to hand, are not even worth considering if one is serious in surviving in the game world. The magic system has been renewed though. Spell effects all seem to share the same animations. That is all fire based spells will look the same regardless of power. But on a plus side, you get to explode skeletons and piles of books. And I guess Bethesda thought it balancing to not allow you to wear clothing beneath armor, but from an aesthetic point of view, I don’t like it. Not one bit. You might end up with really cool pieces of clothing, but if they’re full sets, they’re pretty much useless in a fight.

Then there’s the Radiant AI. It sounds nice, and it is. Unfortunately, it’s really not perfect. It does a good job of simulating actual thinking NPCs though. Well, up until two foresters go crazy, and start pelting each other with arrows over venison. You won’t get to see much of RAI though. It’s subtle, but that’s good. However when you listen in to conversations, you will most likely cringe. The NPCs have conversations. Disjointed and incoherent conversations most of the time, so take them for what you will then. You do get to learn of quests through these conversations or rumors though. So look for those. Quests in the game are more detailed than previous games, but of course simplified thanks to the compass markers. Fast travel is back too. Its fine I guess. Enough said.

Now to what made Morrowind so enjoyable. The mods. Well, I’ve sampled some of Bethesda’s offerings. For paid content they sure are lame. You will notice certain things not available to you without mods. For example a door that can’t be opened without a key. So you unlock it with a console command and enter the room. You then find it empty. A few days later, you read that for 2 dollars, you can enter that room and do fancy things. The quest are rather dumb though, and for the most part, having someone slip a note in your backpack without your notice is just too lazy for my tastes. At least put some effort into these mods. Also and upcoming one allows you to acquire a new weapon. Well new in a sense that you can finally use a weapon that was in the game but unused. Yes, it feels like you’re paying to slowly get the complete game. On a plus side though, the user made mods have fixed many of the issues with the game, thus making it more fun. Go modders.

Well I guess this is it for me. The magic of alcohol has run out and now I must stand and rekindle the love. So in closing, Oblivion would have been a good game were it not marred by serious oversights as well as capitalism, and because of that it comes to be an above average game. But it looks pretty. So I’m going to give it a six.


Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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