Review by aubradley84

"My, What a Big World You Have..."

Have you ever wanted to live somewhere else? I don't mean move to another town or settle in another state, I'm saying have you ever wanted to reside in a completely different world? Well Bethesda Games has given you the chance with the epic, massive Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Fans of the Elder Scrolls games will tell you that their allure lies in the massive worlds and deep, intricate stories, and this game continues that tradition. You begin your quest in the most inauspicious of places… prison. That's right; you're a nameless, unremarkable jailbird who just really benefits from being in the right place at the right time. After some initial mocking from the prison guard, the Emperor Uriel Septim VII (voiced by Captain Jean Luc Picard a.k.a. Patrick Stewart) is led through your cell on his way to escape a band of assassins via secret passage. He takes note of you, mentioning that, “You are the one from my dreams,” and invites you to follow. Sadly, his flight from the castle is cut short by an assassin's blade, but before his death his gives you an amulet and instructs you to find his only remaining son, the lost heir to the throne. He also leaves you with the cryptic admonishment to “Close shut the jaws of Oblivion.” You soon emerge into the world of Cyrodiil and the adventure truly begins.

Your main objective is to track down the Emperor's lost son and restore him to the throne, but there is much standing in your way. Very early in the game you learn that Oblivion is the realm of the Dark Lord Mehrunes Dagon, whose familiars orchestrated the death of the Emperor in order to shatter the gods' protection of Cyrodiil and allow Dagon to make his move to conquer and subjugate the mortal realm. As the game progresses, gates to the world of Oblivion open, and you must take the fight to Dagon on his home turf if you hope to turn back the shadow of evil that is creeping into the kingdom.

However, you're a very busy potential hero, and there are many other distractions and preoccupations which demand your time. Maybe slaying evil lords and saving the world is too cliche for you and you'd rather spend your time on other endeavors. Perhaps you'd like to join a guild and line your pockets with gold instead? Maybe you'd like to become the Champion of the Imperial Arena, and gain fame and fortune battling fierce beasts and warriors. Or possibly you'd prefer to aid the Dark Lord by accepting requests and missions from his Deadra followers. All these options are available to you, and most of them can be accessed from the beginning of the game. This is truly a game you can play any way you want, with no penalty. If you're so inclined, you could rush through the main quest straight away and save all your extra questing for later, or you could go the hippie route and pick flowers and read books for days on end. The game literally drops you in the middle of the world and says, “You know, we'd like for you to go over here, but you do whatever you want, we'll wait for you.” It's very refreshing, and also somewhat overwhelming.

Given the most accurate calculations to date, the world of Cyrodiil is roughly sixteen square miles, and it is jam-packed with things to do. From cities and settlements to caves and ruined forts, there's rarely a dull moment. While your map will start off looking very sparse and bare, taking missions and roaming the countryside will open up literally hundreds of potential destinations. Most locales will be somehow associated with quests or tasks, but there are several places to visit just for the fun of it, and the opportunity to grab some sweet loot along the way. It seems like all this travel would become cumbersome after a while, but thankfully the developers have included an ever-helpful fast travel feature which will allow you instantly travel to any location that you have already discovered. The only downside to this addition is it becomes easy to rely on it a bit too much, and fast travel from city to city instead of taking your time to see the sights. However, the game compensates by forcing you to trek out to dungeons and destinations on your own the first time you visit them, and the option to fast travel really is a godsend when you are facing a journey from one end of the map to the other that would take days on horseback or weeks on foot. It's a big, big world but don't worry because you'll always have places to go and people to see. Indeed, there's never a dull moment in Cyrodiil.

For as big and complex as the game is, gameplay itself is surprisingly simple and satisfying. Combat is governed by the triggers, with attack on one side and block on the other. Aside from that, you can use the right bumper to cast magic, and the control pad to quick select weapons or spells to switch to the most effective attacks on the fly. There is a tremendous depth to the weapons and spells you can obtain, and you will be able to play the game any way you like. If you prefer the role of berserker who will attack first and loot later, then grab a sword or an axe and get hacking. You can also take the stealthy approach and cloak yourself in sneaking clothes and attack unsuspecting enemies with the every silent bow. Furthermore, cerebral players who prefer to exploit elemental weaknesses can assume the role of a powerful mage, flinging fire and ice from their fingertips to thwart their foes. When you start the game you create your character's class and abilities from scratch, and leveling up your major skills will serve to level up your character. The game will automatically tailor itself to your preferred playing style, with little wasted effort. It is very intriguing to watch your character develop into a formidable fighter as the game will basically show you how you like to do battle. No worries about useless upgrades here, you'll only get better at actions you actually utilize.

If there's one thing that really shines about the game above all other aspects, it's the graphics of the game. When you first load it up you may find yourself spending a bit of time staring at the shiny, slippery rock walls of caves or dropping useless items into bodies of water to watch the ripples. This is one of those games that really makes you feel proud for all the cash you plunked down on a next-gen system, and a game is almost too pretty when you catch yourself watching deer play in the sunset instead of finishing a guild contract or vanquishing evil. But you just can't help it, it's so pretty…

The music of the game is very appropriate to its setting. Tranquil moments in town and the countryside will lend themselves to soft flute and lyre music, while battles lend to a very Lord of the Rings style soundtrack. As with most games in the genre, the music does an excellent job of reflecting the proper mood at any given moment. While the music is great, the voice acting does suffer a bit. While the actors themselves are good, there are far too few of them and almost everyone sounds the same. Since all dialogue in the game is spoken, the developers accidentally backed themselves into a corner by giving everyone in the game a voice. While I can only assume that this was to give every character a bit of personality it unfortunately backfires as you don't really care about all these sound-alike characters. You'll often find yourself simply skipping through conversations and picking up the important bits rather than becoming immersed in each character's story. While the idea of a totally voice-acted game was a fair notion, it actually does more harm than good on a game this size.

While the game does a lot of things right, it does stop just a bit short of perfection. I've already mentioned my issues with voice acting, and there are a couple other minor irritants as well. Perhaps the biggest issue is the amount and duration of the loading screens. Entering a door to a new area leads to a load screen of between 5-30 seconds, which can be just enough to disrupt the game experience. I know it's nitpicky, but in a world of load-free games, even these minor disruptions are a pain, mainly due to the fact that they are almost constant. In addition, even when you are out in the world itself you will often face a frozen world with the words “Loading area…” at the bottom of the screen. Again, not a major problem by any means, but just disruptive enough to shake you out of the world of the game. Beyond these very minor problems however, Oblivion is a terrific game, and the good truly outshines the bad in nearly all respects.

So here's your chance to fall into a whole new world, one which will sweep you away and hold you for hours on end. Other games that claim to be free-roaming still place artificial boundaries on your character by either not allowing you to reach certain areas, or keeping you from accepting missions until you reach certain points in the main game. That's not the case here, as you can travel from sea to shining sea of Cyrodiil, and do whatever you want along the way. Welcome to your new home my friend, take your shoes off and stay awhile.

Overall Score 9.5 out of 10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/10/07

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