Review by amlabella

Reviewed: 07/27/06

Fiery portals, hellish landscapes, and evil corruption. What's not to love?

Fiery portals to hell, evil demons, dark princes, oh my! Alright, now that I have your attention, it’s time for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Bethesda hit a home run in 2002 with Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. It offered this huge adventure, giving you total freedom in a gorgeous fantasy land. Fans were eagerly anticipating the next installment in the series, but after three years people were getting a little impatient. Four years later Oblivion has arrived, and it was well worth the wait. By taking everything that made the series a hit, improving upon all of it, and including a few additional tweaks, the game jacks up a grand slam.

Prison, the lovely place where everyone wears uniform and special friends are waiting to greet newcomers. Okay, maybe this isn't the case in Elder Scrolls, but it is where it all starts. All of a sudden your cell is bombarded by guards and the king of Tamriel, Urial Septim. He senses something about you, as if fate destined this moment. He quickly entrusts you with the task of reaching his unknown heir. The story moves along as you complete the main quests, but first you must sculpt your character. You have the option of all kinds of different races, each with their own benefits. The attention to detail that you can put in your character's face is uncanny. It goes all the way from simple a simple hair style to the size and structure of their nose. The game really puts everything into your hands, making you feel like there are no boundaries. You'll eventually get to pick your class, birthsign, and so on as you tread through the prison. Once you see the light of day, you're on your way to saving the world of Tamriel from the evil behind Oblivion.

Character development is a unique factor in Oblivion. The average ‘fight, level up, fight, level up’ formula is nowhere to be found. Instead, you level up through using your major skills. For instance, if blades are one of your primary skills, then the more you use swords, the more you progress in that area. The goal is to focus on these abilities to the point where you progress in levels slowly but steadily. Some may find this tedious because it does take dedication to using certain aspects of your character, but the reward is more than worth it.

Do you ever feel that a game falls into the category of one-dimensional? It may be fun for a while, but then the person realizes they’ve been repeating the same thing over and over again, like deja vu. Luckily, Elder Scrolls IV strays away from this greatly. In fact, it offers some of the most varied gameplay you’re going to find in an RPG. Here’s a small preview of what the game has to offer: picking locks, completing side-quests, joining the ranks of a guild or group, building up your skills, converse with the townspeople... oh, and I forgot to mention closing the Oblivion Gates, hellish, fiery portals leading to depictions similar to the underworld. And that was just a little taste of the variety stew Elder Scrolls IV has brewing. Although there are various ways to approach the game, combat will be a primary factor in your adventure.

What’s so great about battles in Oblivion is the simplicity. One mouse button triggers your attack, and the other blocking. There is challenge though, as you’ll find the AI to be fairly smart. Enemies will attempt to flee when wounded, or group up on you when in trouble. This forces you to mix up weapons and spells for the best results. Combat flows quite well, looking realistic and smooth at all times. But if visceral melee combat isn’t to your liking, you sly thieves out there have nothing to worry about.

A stealthy method of playing is more fun than one might imagine. Pickpocketing an unsuspecting citizen, or performing a quick sneak attack is just as rewarding as bashing an enemies head in. You might be thinking “Okay, that’s all great, but what about the magic?” You’ll be pleased to know that the incredibly deep variations of spells has returned. There are different categories for magic, ranging from restoration, focusing on healing, to conjuration, centering on the evil summoning side of things. These three primary ways to approach the game are sure to fit anyone’s preference, and each is just as fun as the next.

Forgot about Snickers, Milky Way, or any other rich, chocolate goody, there’s a new candy in town...”eye candy” that is. Its name is Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. If you’re one of many who had your mouth drop to the floor in awe with the screenshots and videos of the game, then you already know Oblivion is quite a sight to behold. It’s full of everything that makes a game look visually aesthetic; great weather effects, fully detailed characters and environments, and there’s variety in the visuals. You don’t feel like you’ve met this same person or gone to this place once before often, and with so much content, this is monumental. That being said, the game does come with its fair share of technical issues. There will be the occasional frame-rate hiccup, and looking off into the distance sometimes results in lackluster scenery. This does keep the graphics from being all they could be, but nevertheless, you’re in store for some stunning sights. Some may find themselves sitting upon a hilltop, gazing at the beautiful stars rather than engaging in hectic melee combat. Something like that shows you the developers went the extra mile to make sure that any problems would be painted over by the positives.

Oblivion’s audio is certainly not a weak point. The musical score fits perfectly with the fantasy setting, ranging from cheery town music to soft, eerie arrangements for dungeons, fleshing out the ambient sound effects. From the clang of steel to the screech of rats, everything sounds just as one would imagine. What’s most impressive though, are the voice-overs. Each individual has some diverse dialect, but what’s so astounding is the amount of dialogue. Just about every person in town is up for conversing, to the extent that they’ll talk to each other. That’s right, you could even eavesdrop on conversations. The attention to detail here is much deserved of praise. Best of all is Patrick Stewart. Yes, Star Trek fans rejoice, because Stewart lends his talents for the role of Emperor Urial Septim. Although it’s just a small role, that voice never gets old. Sound may not play a huge role in the game, but it will be more than pleasing to one’s ears.

Make sure you have a comfortable seat ready, because once you start Elder Scrolls IV, you won’t be able to get away. Who cares about friends and family when you have Oblivion? If you want to be stealthy, go ahead. If combat is your main preference, no problem. And all you magic lovers out there have nothing to worry about. There’s plenty of sorcery to please the Merlin in all of us. No matter what your fancy is, you have the choice of doing whatever you want. Completing the main quest isn’t required, and you don’t have to be a savior. If the thought of being a murderer on the loose peaks your interest, this is the game for you. The list goes on and on to the point where it’s mind boggling. If you’re ready to kiss your social life goodbye, then Elder Scrolls IV will surely help in those efforts.

The previous game in the series, Morrowind, may have been an excellent game, but it’s not even close to the amazing achievement that is Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. With so ways to play, and so much content, the game will make sure there is a nice imprint in your seat reserved just for you. Sure, it has superlative graphics and sound, and that’s great. But when a game goes above and beyond what is expected, that’s what should really be appreciated. You smell that, don’t you? That’s the scent of game of the year. It’ll be hard for any other game to top Oblivion in 2006, and no other RPG has provided such a unique and fulfilling experience in recent years. Hey, what are you still doing here? You should be out there buying the game. Immediately.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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