Review by Osafune2

"One of the greatest western RPGs of all time"

I am a relative newcomer to the Elder Scrolls series, I never played Arena or Daggerfall and due to not owning a PC back then and it was some time before I experienced the delights of Morrowind on Xbox, but I never even played that extensively. But seeing the trailers of Oblivion before the release of it made me incredibly excited, and now, rather later than the release date, I have finally gotten access to an Xbox 360 and a copy of the game and I plunged right in.

In Oblivion, you start your game by designing a character. The design process is incredibly detailed, almost pointlessly so; you can adjust every tiny detail of their appearance and refining the exact size of your character's nostril just seems pointless to me, not that I am ungrateful for a detailed character editing system. There are a number of races to choose from, each with their own merits and statistical bonuses. Will you choose an Imperial? A human with no outstanding abilities but finds it easy to charm people and barter with merchants, or will you favour a Nord? A fearsome warrior of the north, or would you rather play as an Argonian? A lizard that can breathe underwater and excels at magic? These are just a few of the many races that you can pick for your character and choose wisely, because some are better suited to other classes than others, it is good to be aware of their race bonuses so you can choose their major skills when it comes to generating your class.

But before you can do that you have to play through the games preliminary dungeon, basically, you are a prisoner in the Imperial Prison for a seemingly unspecified reason. Suddenly the Emperor arrives, voiced by none other than Patrick Stewart flanked by his trusty Blades (personal guard.) It seems the emperor Uriel Septim is being escorted somewhere safe, and there is nothing stopping you accompanying them as Septim seems to think that you have been selected by fate for something or other. On the way there are numerous assassin attacks and eventually one claims the life of Uriel Septim; but not before he gives you the sacred Amulet of Kings and entrusts you to take it to Jauffre; the blade grandmaster. And so begins your epic quest and your battle against the Daedra and Oblivion, a kind of demonic netherworld that you must seal up before the kingdom of Cyrodiil is destroyed. That is a rough introduction to the storyline, though it is much richer in detail and contains some twists and turns.

The first thing that slaps you in the face about Oblivion is how excellent the graphics are. The lighting is simply wonderful, the character models are detailed and you really get a sense of skin texture; be it skin, scales or fur. It brings Cyrodiil's many inhabitants to life. The attention to detail is astounding, you really get the sense that Bethesda cared about this world they had created and wanted to make the adventure as immersive and as, well, real as possible. This is apparent when you first step out of the sewers and into the kingdom, it is just mesmerising. Rolling hills coated with bracken and little flowers, grass swaying in the breeze, dappled light from the leafy tree tops, little caves and ancient forts litter the countryside and deer frolic through the grass. It really is amazing when you first play it, or it was for me, it was also my first Xbox 360 game. The world is so believable, it is a joy to walk through the grass, across the little rivers and there is so much to see and explore, who needs fast travelling? The care invested into the game world really pays off, there are numerous caves and forts for example, some of which bear no importance whatsoever on the main storyline, but each has a history and also some treasure hidden within, and you might never even visit them! I can award Oblivion nothing less than full marks for graphics, some of the best I have seen on a console.

The game is played in first person, though you have the option for a third person viewpoint, though the game was clearly intended for first person use as the third person view is horrible and your character badly animated with especially appalling jump animations. This makes you feel like you are in the game more so than third person would, you are looking out of the eyes of your character. This is a bit unusual for an RPG and I have known it to put players off, but you shouldn't be, it works incredibly well, trust me on that.

Much has been made of the open-endedness of Oblivion, and for good reason, this is perhaps the most open-ended game I have ever played. After the first tutorial dungeon in the sewers, you are literally free to go anywhere and do whatever you want! It is so open-ended that it can seem a little bit daunting at first, which is why I recommend completing at least some of the main quest just to get your footing, as it were. When I first played, I panned around looking at the majestic view when I first ventured into Cyrodiil proper, and I saw a mountain in the distance and decided that I would go and investigate. Instead of an annoying invisible wall before I reached it, I found an enormous mountain range with some small encampments and villages as well as the City of Bruma. So you really have a huge amount to see and investigate right from the start. Another good thing is that there are relatively few loading times, there are brief loading times when you enter a new town or a dungeon, but other than that there are none despite the occasionally twitch in the frame rate, this greatly surprised me considering the quality of the graphics and the size of the world.

A lot of the gameplay is quest based, there are hundreds and hundreds of quests in each city and also in the many villages and hamlets, the effort that Bethesda have invested is staggering. In my first view hours at the Imperial City I solved a case of unfair competition between merchants and also the wrongdoings of a corrupt Imperial Watchman and joined an order of Vampire hunters. The main story is a very small part of what is an enormous game, and solving the everyday problems of the villages is very fun and it brings the world to life.

The open-endedness also extends to your character class; early in the game you will be given a list of Birth Signs for your character to be born under, similar to the signs of the zodiac. These signs give various statistical bonuses which can be very useful depending on what class you intend to pick, for example, Magic Users will want to be born under the sign of the mage or the apprentice for magic bonuses and melee characters will wish to be born under the warrior. But for each birth sign there are downsides, such as weakness to fire or magic, so choose carefully.

Once you have done that you get to pick a class, there are many pre-made templates, but most players ignore them and opt to design their own class. You have to pick two specialities such as Intelligence and Willpower, or Strength and Endurance depending on the type of class you wish to make. You then have to pick seven major skills, you will automatically be promoted to Apprentice rank in these skills and increasing them determines how quickly you will level up, the type of skills will influence the class type obviously. Stealthy characters will want to specialise in security, acrobatics and athletics among others, mages will wish for Alchemy, Destruction, Restoration and whichever of the many magical classes suits you. Be careful about choosing major skills, some level up faster than others and that will cause you to level up too quickly and that means strong enemies before you have evenly increased your abilities, which in turn, leads to death. You get to name custom classes as well, so you can have your deadly “Fart Knight” or “Bum bandit” or my personal favourite “Penis Paladin.” Obviously, I would never be so immature.

So, when it comes to levelling up, all you have to do is increase your major skills, for example, if one of them is Blade, use swords a lot in combat and it will gradually increase. If one of them is Restoration, heal yourself a lot or use another spell of that category, it is simple. You can increase your minor skills though I don't think they help you level up. Once you have increased your majors enough to level up, you will get a small icon and a message telling you to meditate on what you've learned, rest in a bed, in other words. After you do so you get the chance to increase the governing attributes of your skills, such as Intelligence, Willpower, Strength and Agility, it should be fairly obvious what to increase depending on your class.

Anyway, that is enough of that, what about combat? Combat is the most heavily criticised aspect of Oblivion and it is easy to see why, especially when compared to the many wonderful aspects of Oblivion. While it is competent and doesn't drastically lower the enjoyment of the game, it is a bit ropey. With melee weapons all you can do is swing your weapon at enemies, there are no special moves or flourishes really aside from power attacks, you can block as well, which should be standard. But bearing in mind that Oblivion is largely intended to be played in first person, what else could they really do with the combat? It gets a bit more interesting with magic users as you can satisfyingly obliterate hordes of enemies with a single devastating spell, makes you feel like Albus Dumbledore or someone.

When you are busy playing through the game, you may notice the music, which by the way, is excellent. It is all orchestral, or it at least sounds that way and is composed by acclaimed composer Jeremy Soule, of Morrowind, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and interestingly, Squaresoft's Secret of Evermore. It is appropriately epic in places and soft in others and reflects the mood and feel of the game, the title screen has an excellent music piece and I feel that work like this can only go further in gaining video game music more recognition. The voice acting is largely good as well, I say largely, as some of it is excellent and some of it, well… isn't. The game features the voice of several actors such as Patrick Stewart, Sean Bean and Terence Stamp and they are used wonderfully to create convincing characters, but the voice acting of NPCs in towns and cities seems a little flat at time and they same voices are reused quite often and it can break the illusion that Bethesda has worked so hard to create at times. You will hear the same lines of dialogue spoken many times by different characters, though considering the amount of NPCs in the game; I feel I can let them off here. Also, in an attempt to further the realism, many NPCs have conversations with each other, while this sounds excellent, the conversations are absolutely ridiculous and sound completely stupid. I would rather they just said “Good day to you!” Rather than holding badly scripted conversations of the kind which no one ever has in real life.

Oblivion is an extremely well rounded package; it has fantastic graphics and presentation, great music, great character development and (largely) fun gameplay, oh, and a passable storyline. This is everything a good RPG needs and I would definitely advise anyone who doesn't own a high-powered PC but does own an Xbox 360 console to pick this game up, as in my opinion, it is the best game on the system. The game has a ridiculously huge amount of replay value, for a start, there is simply playing through with a different character and class, but then there are many quests and missions and Guilds to join. You have the Mages, Fighters and Thieves guilds which all have quests which enable you to ascend through the ranks to the top and reap the rewards. You may also be approached by the sinister Dark Brotherhood if you do something evil, such as murdering someone not affiliated with any bad factions…

I would strongly advise anyone who enjoys open-ended RPGs to play this game, even those who enjoy MMO games, this might be single player but it is no less huge or immersive. It is also a good starting point for newcomers of the ES series, you require no past knowledge of any of the other games and it is a lot easier and more user friendly, or so it seems to me anyway. Easily one of my top 10 games of all time.

Gameplay – 10/10
Graphics – 10/10
Sound – 8/10
Story – 7/10
Replay Value – 10/10

Final Score – 10/10

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 08/19/07

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