Review by EvilTrash
"Certainly flawed, but amazingly addictive."
I have never played an Elder Scrolls game before, but being from the same area of Maryland where these games are made, I have always heard a lot about them. My home town is filled with fans of this series, and I even purchased Morrowind on the XBox but could not get into it. I found the character creation too deep, and just randomly chose my character. The game froze after setting up my character, so I returned the game and never looked back.
Then, I moved to Arizona and had nothing to do so I bought Oblivion for the 360. After spending an hour researching the instruction manual to see what kind of character would actually suit me, I delved in and began creating my character. First of all, I really loved how the game gave your two opportunities to change your mind after creating your character and making you stick with it.
I will offer one word of warning to all those who intend to play this game: choose your main skill wisely, as they will affect how easy or difficult it is for you to level up your character. The skills are certainly unbalanced, I'll say that much. The marksman skill seems to take much longer to level up than any of the other weapon skills (blade and blunt are particularly easily to increase your skill). All of the magic skills are very easy to increase, all you have to do is pick a spell that requires very little magicka from each of the five schools and repeatedly cast that spell and watch as your level goes up rapidly. Acrobatics is fun and easy to increase, all you have to do is jump off of high places. Sometimes you'll hurt yourself, but you can repeatedly cast low-level restoration spells to get your health back, so acrobatics and restoration are two major skills that will allow you to quickly and efficiently level-up your character. Athletics, Security, and Mercantile are noticeably more time-consuming to attempt to level-up than any of the others, so I would NOT recommend picking them for major skills.
The most balanced, easiest to level character in the game, in my opinion, will have major skills in Acrobatics, Blade (or Blunt), Block, and the rest in various schools of magic. I managed to get my character to level 40 in just a couple of days (real life, not game-time days).
So, despite some of the skills being utterly unbalanced in comparison to others, I think the leveling system is amazing. I really like how you have to sleep in a bed in order to level up, then you can choose which attributes to raise (if you don't put a lot of your attribute points into Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, and Endurance, you're going to have a very difficult time. The others are almost pointless, until the end of the game, when having a low agility will mean you get knocked over A LOT, but it's no big deal because you still won't get hurt if you're powerful enough... you're just briefly stunned). You can pay certain characters to "train" you, thereby increasing the skill that the specific trainer specializes in. You can gain half a level immediately after leveling by buying 5 skill points in your major skills. You can only train 5 times per level, which is good and goes well with the fact that you don't automatically level, so you can always make sure to utilize the trainers before sleeping and taking your level up, that way you don't miss out on any opportunities.
The graphics are gorgeous, except for some pop-in problems and low resolution background textures, but none of this gets in the way. There are some framerate problems when lots of enemies are on-screen at once, particularly during the very last mission of the main questline when there is an unlimited supply of enemies coming out of two nearby Oblivion gates.
Sometimes, the game glitches up and freezes, but considering I would sometimes be so addicted on a Sunday that I'd play for 12 hours in a row, it makes perfect sense that the system would be hot and all the intense loading and hard-drive access would cause the game to freeze up on occasion. It's never too big of a deal, just turn off the system and start where you left off. The game only ever froze on me during loading screens, and always moments after an autosave. If you have all the auto-save options turned on, you should have no problems with losing progress over game freezes.
The story-line is pretty interesting, although certainly not the most interesting. The game is, quite surely, like 5 games in 1. There's the main questline, then the guilds (Thieves, Dark Brotherhood, Mages, and Fighters). Each one of these series' of quests is like a game unto itself, and it really makes the game feel massive and free-form, like you're living in a real world just as big and free as America. In fact, it's a lot like America. You're free to do anything you like, but expect to be punished for many things. That's one of the other complaints I had with the game: the guards seem to be psychic. If you break the law, they almost always know, even if nobody sees you. In fact, this psychic ability extends to all authority figures in the game. There's a certain Mage's Guild member who lives alone in a tower, and I snuck in and killed him, and I was kicked out of the Mages Guild for doing so, even though there was nobody around to see me do it, and in real like no possible way for the Guild to find out who killed their member.
I'm not sure if anybody has beaten every aspect of this game, but I've beaten more than half. I finished the Thieves Guild quest, the main quest, and the Arena, as well as more than half (so far) of the Fighters, Mages, and Dark Brotherhood quests. I have spent no time as a vampire, as I am saving that for last. It took me 90+ hours of very fun and engaging gameplay to get to where I am today. It's very fun being able to do anything and go anywhere, and there are so many characters and places to go, so much spoken dialogue (all of it spoken aloud), and some pretty incredible writing, that I couldn't help but wonder who these people are that created this massive world and all these characters that go along with it.
Some of the dungeons in this game are repetative, however it's nice that there are a couple different types of dungeon to explore. There are caves, ruins, and planes of oblivion. Those are the main types of dungeon, each quite different from one another, but all seen many times over. They do tend to get old after a while, especially when they're almost all entirely too dark to see in, so you'll have to use Illusion magic to light your way, which can be annoying. The best way to keep everything in this game visible is to use NightEye spells, but after a while you really start to get sick of looking at that ugly Blue-Scale color scheme. It almost ruins the unquestionable beauty of the game when it's light out. But the desire to keep searching and find the loot that will make your character a totally unstoppable badass is . . . alluring, to say the least. I, for one, just couldn't stop!
That said, the Thieve's Guild questline, from what I've experienced, is the greatest part of the game. You're penalized lots of money for killing during this mode, so you have to learn to be stealthy, using magic to make yourself invisible, sneaking around, and picking locks. The final "Ultimate Heist" is intense, long, challenging, and best of all very fun. I loved this aspect of the game. The arena was a nice distraction, a fun way to get some fighting in, make some money, and unlock some achievements.
The achievements in this game are fun to strive for, but could have been layed out better. I think finishing the main questline should be worth about 50 points, instead of 110, and finishing each of the side-questlines (the guilds and the arena) should have been worth 25 points each, instead of 50 points each. Had that been the case, there could have been some achievements for the truly hardcore players to unlock, such as perhaps a 5 or 10 point achievement for each of the skills that you become a Master of, and perhaps a 50 point achievement for becoming a Master. There could have been an achievement for retrieving all of the Daedric artifacts, and there could have been an achievement for purchasing a home, or all of the homes available for ownership in the game.
All in all, I found this game to be massive, engaging, beautiful, addictive, and most of all completely worthwhile. This is, to my mind, the only game ever made that is worth paying 60 dollars for. Like I said in the title, it's flawed, but it's amazing.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/22/06
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