Review by dyrewulf1098

"It gives and it takes away, does that make it better?"

I have thought long and hard about how I would review this game (actually since I played it the night of its release). I have determined that Bethesda sought to streamline the game and make it simpler without making it look simple and sacrificing core elements desired by hardcore RPG fans. Elderscrolls 3: Morrowind gave the xbox a great role playing game that far exceeded the sales of its PC brother and was the reason many individuals, including myself, bought an xbox (KOTOR being the other if you're an RPG fan). Oblivion, respectively, was the reason I bought an sbos360, but I eventually looked for other reasons to justify my purchase.

Graphics: Graphically the game is beautiful, no doubt about it. From weather effects to facial expressions, and let's not forget the physics. The landscape is more lush and alive compared to its predacessors, offering the player a more fluid feel in his/her movement and actions. I actually feel a part of this world when I enter it, the only downside is that landscape is limited in variety albeit it's rich visual presentaion. Morrowind especially boasted numerous landscape styles, though the flaw in that was the lack of fluidity and polish, making the world feel extremely seperate and distant from the character.

Sound: I was floored when I heard Patrick Stewart's voice as the Emperor, not to mention the cavalcade of other noteworthy talent that escapes me at the moment (but it's there!). Ambient environmental effects, animals, creatures, other npc voices, all sound great from the tiniest grunt to the lengthiest bit of dialogue. I was impressed by the variety in voices and styles. Morrowind had good sound and voice acting for its time but it was limited in variety. It was not uncommon to hear the same voice for a myriad of characters of different classes and racial backgrounds, and Oblivion remedied this very well.

Presentation: The menus and HUDs are fairly easy to naviage (although I understand PC users may require a bit more effort pointing and clicking from menu to menu) and they fit visually in the game very well. Some games have menus that stand out to the point where they seem horribly out of place and are veritable eye sores as you play. Oblivion offers the same as its predacessors: visual fluidity, that is, an image on your screen that is not abrasive to the eyes and beneficial in terms of the information it can provide in the space it occupies.

Gameplay: Unfortunately in a game series or genre we compare games to one another. Some comparisons are valid and others have no basis for comparison. The elderscrolls saga tells a new story each game building off of past games and lore. Many elements are also used time and again in each installment including races, classes, skills, signs, spells, etc. Oblivion followed suit by taking lore and building a new story loosely tied to lore and history from other games in the series, and then creating a world of its own. Many game aspects from Morrowind were carried over into Oblivion like familiar races, class choices, astral signs, and even guilds. Weapon and armor types, spells, and the character leveling system changed, as well as the variety of quests and npc organizations and the size of the explorable world.

The Good of Gameplay: Oblivion offers a great combat and skill system allowing players to unlock unique attacks and maneuvers by unlocking higher levels of mastery over skills (i.e. attacks that disarm, stun, and knock down your opponent, jumping across water, active blocking and a ranged weapon interface). The change to active blocking in combat from one based on a percentage and level of skill performed automatically adds more strategy. This combat system is more about skill and understanding of how best to approach a situation rather than how fast you can mash your attack buttons. Timing of attacks, use of different weaponry, and special attacks make combat more dynamic and involving, cutting down on the repetitive nature of some games and forcing a player to be alert and active in a fight.

The Bad of Gamepley: Despite its successes and advancements, gameplay and game elements seem watered down or dumbed down or both. Maybe I am tainted because I played Morrowind before Oblivion and really loved it, or perhaps I am a realist and will compare Oblivion to its predacessor because Bethesda did therefore justifying to me the ability to compare the two. The weapon and armor selections have dwindled and the skills corresponding with them have dwindled as well. What used to be a game with major and minor skills that could help you level up has become a game with only major skills factoring into leveling. Gone are the weapon specific skills like short blade for daggers and small swords and the like, axes for...well axes, spears for halbreds, spears, pikes, etc., and long swords for bastard swords, rapiers, claymores, etc. The game's three armor types (heavy, medium, light) has been brought down to two (heavy, and light), as have the varieties of each found throughout the game. And though they chose to change equipment and assocaited skills they have not changed racial or astral sign bonuses. Some are clearly more beneficial than others, and some seem to serve no pupose whatsoever except to fill space. Some races seem to stand above others and their respective powers are weak in comparison to others (i.e. Dark Elf's ancestral guardian can only be cast once a day and is a lvl 1 ghost, whereas the Breton has a 50pt shield, and their passive traits like the Dark Elf's 75% fire resistance vs. the Breton's 50% magic resistance and 50pt magika bonus). The leveling system is also a deviation from the series. Enemies now level with you (within a range of your level, like 3 levels above or below your character level). Though this provides a challenge I have found it to be more of a nuisance. Morrowind brought higher level creatures into play as you leveled (aside from ones that were pre-laced) but also kept low level creatures. There was a sense of satisfaction if you were able to find something significantly higher than you and kill it, or conversely something low level you could one-hit kill. Because enemy levels change according to your own in Oblivion, even if you use your alchemy skill to level, it will not affect your combat abilities, but it seems those are what matter deep down. Ranged attacks have been so diluted high level archers have to empty quarrel after quarrel of arrows into an enemy to kill it, or fall back to melee and do the bulk of the damage. The choice of guilds and factions is limited too, doing away with the great houses, vampire clans (there are just vampires and no vampire only quests, just Dark Brotherhood), etc. Although you can purchase houses and apartments you no longer can build your own fortress. The number and power of unique and magical items is reduced. Leveled drops limit what the player can obtain and use, as well as leveled Daedric quests limiting the use of unique items.

Closing Thoughts: The game is enjoyable and fun allowing replayability and consistent interest. My only concern is having played its predecessor, and knowing they sought to improve and go beyond Morrowind, I found that by a basis of comparison it lacks in gameplay. The freedom professed in past installments and on the back of the game box is more limited. Player progression is linear and hand-held (in the sense that the game holds your hand through your quests using markers, icons, fast travel, etc.) making it too easy to travel and move, The indirect setting of "invisible" boundaries in player progression and advancement, as well as equipment and skill usage, is frustrating giving it the feel that you're being held back, and that you have to watch every enemy because they have the potential to put even a high level character down. Bottom line is if you like RPGs in a general sense you'll like Oblivion, and if you've played Morrowind or other similar games you'll still like it, just maybe not love it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 05/27/08

Game Release: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (US, 03/20/06)

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