Review by elsquanto

"Despite destroying its roots, Oblivion manages to become an okay experience... if you're new to the series."

"However, with Morrowind I think we saw that our kind of game appeals to a wider audience, given the game's success among more casual gamers who are neither "hardcore" nor "RPG geeks".

This is probably the closest thing to a perfect description of Oblivion you're going to get. The fourth entry into the Elder Scrolls department deals with an Action RPG genre which has destroyed the traditional roots of the rogue-like games of the early Elder Scrolls series. The early Elder Scrolls games, Arena and Daggerfall, were fantastic. They pushed the genre forward despite being very simple in design. The worlds were randomly generated, guaranteeing that no two experiences would be alike, even in Daggerfall, which had a set storyline, had six different endings. The games were huge and spectacular... but Bethesda ditched this style.

Instead they released Morrowind, a major change from their previous style. Instead of an epic, random world, it was a set one, although in better detail. The game was dumbed down in several aspects. For one, there was only 27 skills, compared to Daggerfall's 38. Daggerfall had a severely branched storyline with multiple endings, while Morrowind had the same quest path the entire time.

Oblivion is the sequel to Morrowind, and much skepticism surrounded its release. However, most fans were overjoyed at the concept of a next gen Elder Scrolls game. This game was hyped beyond belief, and Bethesda managed to kill it. In one fell swoop, Bethesda not only alienated the old Daggerfall and Arena fans, but its fans that it acquired with Morrowind. If Morrowind was dumbed down, than Oblivion may as well ride the short bus.

Oblivion starts out with a dazzling cinematic, showing the graphical power of the game. Just like in every Elder Scrolls game, you are a know name character in jail, and not even close to becoming the strong warrior you hope to be. You manage to escape, with the help of not just anyone but the emperor. However, what you'll soon find out is that there is a demonic invasion going on, and that you need to stop it. The story, which can be corny at times, will bring you from the prison cell, literally through hell and back, finally ending with a huge boss battle that you don't even get to take part in.

Now, this demonic invasion may seem too urgent, which could detract from the open feel of Oblivion. While the traditional, free roam, do as you please Elder Scrolls style is present, you may feel pressed to get the main quest done as fast as possible, if only because the main character says "Quick, we must deliver the generic-artifact-thing-of-savingness".

Overall, the open world looks very good. I will give Oblivion this, it looks pretty. While all of the people in the game aren't the prettiest of folk, there are some spectacular vistas of forest, rolling plains, and sludgy swamps for you to trudge through. Most of these look fantastic, but if you get too close, you'll find some bad textures. Nevertheless, it's fantastic if you take in the size of the project.

Okay, I lied, there's not really a demonic invasion. The daedra did open portals to their own little version of hell, but they seem to be happy as clams just sitting around their portals waiting for you to come along and close them. Not that closing them is any special though. Every gate to Oblivion leads to the same thing, a hellish island where you do the same thing. Get to the tower, climb to the top, get the stone. Talk about repetitive. Thank god that you only needed to close a few of them to finish the main quest. You use this stone to enchant your weapon, which has been removed as a skill.

Speaking of which, the character creation system has been butchered beyond recognition. It used to be innovative, deep and brilliant, but has become nothing short of dull. There are only 21 skills in Oblivion. Spears, crossbows, and other weapons have been removed, while every weapon even remotely close to blade has been lumped into the skill blade, and everything else into blunt. Enchanting, as mentioned above, is a service, and staffs have turned into rocket launchers that even the dumbest of orcs can wield.

The game gives you the opportunity to pick preset classes, but it makes no sense to pick them. Why would you pick a knight with skills in blade, blunt, and hand to hand when you're only going to use one of those skills the entire time. In the end, it makes the most sense just to pick the same old "MageFighterThief" build, with no roleplaying involved.

While we're on the subject of roleplaying, there are rarely any consequences for anything you do in the game. Any murder can be bought off with some gold, no matter if it's a beggar or a count. That is, if you can kill a count. The game has reached the point where you can't kill most of the characters, lest it interfere with quests. In fact, no quests interfere with each other at all. You can defeat every single guild without even starting the game over. The fighters guild will let you in no matter if you're in the Thieves guild or not. When you manage to become the head of each guild, you will get, in effect nothing, and no control over the guild itself. People will greet you as if they never met you, despite just referring to you as a "hero".

As a matter of fact, you don't even get to speak to most of your enemies. There are no quests for the maurauders or the bandits you'll find in dungeons. In fact, they'll attack you on sight. Imagine how much deeper it could've gotten, if you could've joined these outlaws and become an oversight of society. Imagine battling Imperial guards every time you saw them, instead of the poor, mistreated bandits.

Speaking of which, the people in Oblivion are not as smart as they have been touted to be. They don't have goals, or are lifelike at all. Instead, they speak to each other (awkwardly) about random happenings and stare at walls for seven hours at a time. It is far from as immersive as it was touted to be. Also, it bears mentioning that there is voice acting, but there are maybe twenty voice actors in the entire game. Granted, most of the NPC's are just filler, but a few are brilliantly designed. See: Lucien Lechance.

Speaking of battling, the combat in Oblivion deserves a mention. Although it is an improvement over Morrowind, it is still lackluster. From an RPG perspective, it's awful. You hit everything you touch when you swing your sword, and the only thing RPGish about it is that when you're at one level, you'll swing your sword for eleven damage, while at a later one, it'll do twelve damage. Again, I am daunted by the amount of options.

From an action perspective, it still sucks. You go and fight something, and pretty much all you do is mash the slash button over and over again. There is no location damage, or any critical hits. In fact, the only way to stagger, knock down, or paralyze somebody is to be that skilled, and even then, it's only based on luck.

But when you're talking about Elder Scrolls games, you're talking about the dungeon hack. This is one of the upsides to Oblivion, and are done fantastic. They're atmospheric, have traps, unique features, secret rooms, and everything that you would expect in your local neighborhood dungeon. Although they may seem repetitive to the untrained eye, if you go through enough of them, you'll be able to see the true beauty of the game. This experience could've saved the game, but there is one thing that ruined it.

There is one gigantic flaw in Oblivion which ruins the game. Levelling. Everything you find, allies, enemies, equipment, loot, monsters, are all scaled down to your level. You can't find anything good until you reach high levels, so it ruins the point of exploring anything. Not only that, but everything in dungeons is random too. Your friend found a sick Sword of Undefyable awesomeness? Don't expect to find it in the same spot as him. I don't know how Bethesda came up with this. Presumably, one Beth developer turned to the other and said, "How can we make Oblivion better", and the first developer then took a shovel, and smacked the other developer in the head with it. The latter developer than said, "Why levelled loot of course!".

Because of this, you can beat the game at level one if you want to. You can become an arena champ without gaining a skill, yet face ridiculously tough opponents at level twenty. By the time you reach the high levels, every bandit has upgraded themselves with daedric armor and weapons. It may have been an attempt at removing grinding, except that could be solved just by putting in enough unique side quests to keep the player busy. No surprise that Bethesda selected the worst option available.

Final Score - Oblivion is not a bad game, but it suffers from some very serious flaws. It's not that great as an RPG, nor as an action game, but as a complete package, it's solid.

Graphics - 9/10 - Great
Sound - 8/10 - Not enough voice actors
Presentation - 7/10 - Average
Gameplay - 4/10 - Dumbed down.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 06/28/07

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