Review by JRGuitargeek

Reviewed: 03/28/06

Oblivion attempts to do just about everything, and excels at all of it.

Oblivion is the fourth installment of the hugely popular "The Elder Scrolls" series of RPG games. The Elder Scrolls games have been on the forefront of RPG innovation and excellence for years. As a result, Oblivion had to offer more than most RPG's ever dream of to be considered a worthy successor, and a valued name in the series. And my job is to tell you whether it does or not.

Graphics: 9.5/10
Let's start with the obvious. The graphics are stellar. If you have seen any screenshots from this game, or seen it in action, you know that the graphics are breathtaking, and there's no denying it. The greenery is amazing, the buildings are awe inspiring, the lighting and water effects are brilliant. Even after a week of non stop playing, I find myself stopping to view the scenery every few minutes. I take more screenshots in this game than I have ever taken in any game before.

Not only are the graphics beautiful, but the landscapes and layouts of the world are equally as impressive. You'll spend days exploring the land, and you'll constantly be finding new brilliant landmarks and scenic views that will drop your jaw. The combination of great graphics and great landscaping makes the cosmetic portion of this game barely short of perfect. The only drawback here is optimization. Obviously a game with such beauty would have high hardware requirements, and you cannot knock the game for that.

The only negative aspect to the visuals is that the graphics are not quite as optimized as they could be. Even on the best gaming PC's, there are noticeable stutters and framerate inconsistencies that probably could have been remedied.

Combat: 9/10
One of the core elements that will make or break any RPG is the combat system. Luckily, the combat system in Oblivion has received a major overhaul since Morrowind. Combat is simple. It only takes a simple click or button press to swing a weapon, fire an arrow, or cast a spell. A right click on the mouse will allow you to block or parry. It's rather simple, but it works very well. The controls are very responsive, and as you continue to play you will start to form more strategies as you face different types of opponents, making it much deeper than it appears when you first experience it.

Although it is simple, the combat system still has some excellent diversities. For example, you may choose to play a stealth character who sneaks up behind his opponents by sticking to the shadows, and unleashes a nasty stealth attack from behind for extra damage. Or you could choose to play a summoning character who summons creatures to battle at his side.

Another great aspect to combat is the excellent physics engine. As you crawl through dungeons slaying various imps, bandits, goblins, and dozens of other creatures, you will notice the excellent use of ragdoll physics. A strong swing from a large dwarven warhammer will send a little goblin flying across the room, while a heavy downward slash with a longsword will crumble your opponent straight to the ground. Sometimes you may even battle it out with a monster on top of a bridge or ledge, and as you strike the fatal blow, you watch them stumble backwards off the ledge for a brutal collision with the concrete below. It adds an extra bit of excitement with each and every kill.

When it comes to combat, I haven't really been able to pinpoint anything that stands out as an obvious flaw. But combat as a whole just seems to lack the fun factor to make it excellent. It is very good, but just not revolutionary. But it serves it's purpose well, and it is fun enough to keep you heading back into the dungeons for more.

Roleplaying: 10/10
With most RPG's, combat is the primary focus. In Oblivion, it can be, but it doesn't have to be. Many people prefer to spend their time earning money to buy new houses, tracking deer through the wilderness, collecting ingredients and making potions, drinking ale and conversing at the local tavern, picking locks and stealing loot from strangers houses, or dozens of other activities. There are limitless possibilities when it comes to spending your time. And as a result, Oblivion is the most open ended RPG I have ever played.

And thanks to the masterful AI system, which gives all NPC's their own wants and needs which they attempt to fulfill within their daily schedule, the world feels very lively. Roleplaying isn't particularly interesting when everything else in the world is stagnant. But with oblivion, it feels like a massively multi-player experience, minus the poor combat systems, and devious or annoying fellow players.

Because of the roleplaying aspect, this game transcends beyond the hardcore RPG crowd, and also caters to players who may enjoy games like The Sims. If you aren't that interested in crawling through dungeons and hacking at things with swords, perhaps you will be interested in living in a massive, ever-changing, and completely lively world, which you can interact with in any way you choose.

Sound: 9.5/10
One of my favorite things about the sound in Oblivion is the subtle music. Too many games have overbearing music that's constantly pumping at high decibel levels in the background. Oblivion's music is generally more subtle, appropriately fitting with whatever happens to be taking place at the moment. On a leisurely stroll through the forest amongst a beautiful grove, the calm ambient music in the background will fit perfectly. It's never too much, and never annoying.

The voice acting is very good. One of the better efforts I can think of. The only fault is that you will hear the exact same voice on different people. Sometimes you will speak with one man, and then turn to speak with another, and notice both were voiced by the exact same actor, which can be a distraction to the otherwise immersing world.

The battle sounds are done nicely, and leave nothing to complain about.

Story: 9/10
The story is very engaging right from the beginning. It does an excellent job of captivating you and compelling you to sympathize with the other characters. It also leads you down many interesting paths, and never gets stagnant or boring. It's a very good story for an RPG game. However, there are a few rare gems in the world of video games that have compelling stories that rival some of the best fantasy or science fiction novels. This is not one of those games. And although the story is good, I cannot give it better than a 9 because it is does not achieve novel-like quality, as a handful of RPG's before it have done.

Replayability: 10/10
I predict that many people will log 1000+ hours on this game. There is a nearly infinite number of things to do. Even if you were to finish every quest in the game, there would still be many hours of enjoyable exploration, hunting, thieving, gladiatorial combat, and much more, that you could still do. And the game already has a huge modding community thanks to the excellent modding tools from Bethesda. I know this game will last me a very long time.

Overall: 10/10
This may be the best RPG of all time. If not, it's certainly near the top. The creators of Oblivion set out to create an RPG that had many more avenues to explore than any before it. And what's truly impressive is that, not only does it contain more aspects than any other RPG, it also excels at every one of them. It's like a handful of great games in one. I suggest you do whatever it is you have to do to get your hands on this game. It's that good.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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