Review by Gylgamesh

"An engrossing adventure like no other."

The Elder Scrolls series is an interesting one. Before the third installment (Morrowind) was released, it was virtually unknown. Both Arena and Daggerfall were games that a few people played (and obviously enjoyed), but it never received as much exposure as other games in the time period. The premise of the series strays from what most people expect from RPGs. Rather than a linear game that relies on a story to move it along, the Elder Scrolls games put you in the middle of a vast world and let you do whatever you please. Sure there is a central story to each game, but you're never confined to completing it. It makes for a love it or hate it type of gameplay, but no one can deny it is a very unique experience. Oblivion continues the legacy of the series, and improves on the formula in virtually every way.

Graphics - As strange as it may sound, the graphics are one of the biggest problems that plague Oblivion. There's no question that what's presented is beautiful. The environments are gorgeous beyond explanation. The very moment you step outside of the tutorial dungeon into the open world…it's indescribable. It will honestly take your breath away. The character models are fantastic as well, though not quite up to the same standard as the environments. Faces are done well (though hair leaves something to be desired) and the characters move fluently. Making your character look, well, normal it surprisingly difficult, however, but that's more of a gameplay issue. This is easily the best looking game on the market, no questions about it. Hell, the environments probably look better than in real life. Unfortunately, all this graphical intensity comes at a price: you need one powerhouse of a machine to run the game. Yes, it can run on a 360, but this is a PC review. You need a high-end computer to run the game, even on the absolute minimum graphical option. To put things into perspective –

Minimum requirements for Oblivion: 2Ghz processor, 512MB RAM, 128+MB Graphics Card

Computer: 2.2Ghz, 1GB RAM, 128MB Graphics Card

This computer easily meets all the requirements, and yet, even then, everything needs to be minimized to run at a reasonable rate. Not even default settings suffice. Without an extremely good computer, you won't be able to experience the game the way it was meant to be. This, in turn, deters people from buying the game, so not enough people will play Oblivion, which is a shame.

Story - As is true for all the games in the Elder Scrolls series, the story is not the main focus, and Oblivion certainly does nothing to change the trend. This time around, the game revolves around the country of Cyrodill, west of Morrowind, where the emperor is murdered and gates to the evil plane of Oblivion start popping up in the most inopportune places. You, as a recently escaped prisoner, are charged to fix the problem. There isn't anything much more to it than that, but the game is really about the smaller stories and quests you undertake. With four guilds to join, each with its own story almost as long as the main quest, there's so much more to the game than initially meets the eye. It's all about exploring and finding things on your own.

Gameplay - This was one of the biggest complaints in Morrowind. To put it bluntly, the battle system was boring. In Oblivion, the system was given a few extra options to spice it up a bit. You can now perform power attacks by holding down the attack button. There is one for each direction, and it helps to add a bit (though not much) of strategy to the battles. In addition, the ability to sneak up on your enemies and hit them for extra damage was implemented, and rather well. When you are crouched down, a cursor appears that lets you know if your prey is aware of your presence. If not, you get extra damage on your attacks. Overall, the battles haven't changed dramatically since Morrowind, but for whatever reason, it feels like there's a lot more to them, which may or may not be enough for you.

Character creation has been kicked up a bit as well. There are 10 races to choose from, each with it's own pros and cons, and even more classes to pick, again with different strengths and weaknesses. You can also create your own custom classes to best suit the way you want to play the game. The options to change the way your character look are surprisingly deep as well, but for whatever reason, it seems that no matter hard you try; your character ends up looking…somewhat odd. Either way, there are a ton of possibilities in creating a character, and everyone is sure to find something they like.

Menus are a lot easier to read and navigate this time around. Everything is laid out for optimum presentation, and nothing is ever hard to find. Also, quests and mapping is documented much better. Whatever you have selected as your active quest, a marker on the world map will appear that points to your next destination. It makes quests slightly easier, but it prevents a lot of the frustration that would result in aimless wandering and unclear objectives.

Sound - It's hard to say that there are really any memorable tracks from the game, but that really stems from the fact that all of the music in the game is environmentally based, and for what it's supposed to do, it works very well. The selection of music in the game is fairly limited, so you'll be hearing the same tunes quite a lot, but none of them are obnoxious enough to make you want to turn off the sound on your computer. Sound effects are the same bag. What's there works, but there isn't much variety (i.e. no matter what substance you hit with your sword, you hear the same sound). It's hard to complain about what works, though, and Oblivion pulls it off fair enough.

Replay - This is where the game truly shines. There is truly an almost infinite amount of things to do in Oblivion. The main quest can probably be completed in about 15 or so hours. But then there's four guild storylines to complete, each about another 15 hours apiece. And then there's the plethora of other quests for you to find and undertake, and even then, there are hundreds of random dungeons to be explored and conquered. You could literally spends hundreds of hours on the game and still have something to do. If you have the time to spend, you can easily get your money's worth.

Game difficulty is one factor that not everyone may like, however. The enemies are scaled, so they level as you level. This causes times when it seems like every battle you face is a life or death struggle; something that can become irritating rather quickly. Luckily, there is an option to adjust the difficulty of the game, so if things are getting a bit too tough for you, you can always scale the game down a bit. It's not a huge problem, but it's certainly worth mentioning for those who don't want to put that much effort into the game.

Oblivion is not a game for everyone. Certainly, there are many people who don't care for its open-ended gameplay, but for those who do, and for those who have a PC powerful enough to run it, Oblivion is a game that must be experience. You won't regret it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/16/06

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