Review by INoble
"Find him... and close shut the jaws of Oblivion."
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
There are over 70 reviews of this game posted at Gamefaqs, what is the point of writing yet another?
The game was first published in 2006 and this is when most of the reviews were written. Since then, several patches have fixed many of the bugs in the original game. Additional content has been released, most notably the major expansion 'Shivering Isles.' Also I wish to avoid the almost religious wars over whether Morrowind (the previous title in the series) was a better game.
Although some players will have played Morrowind, for others Oblivion will be their first encounter with an 'Elder Scrolls' game and I think the game should be reviewed on its own merits.
I would like to avoid arguments about whether this type of open-ended, action RPG (role-playing game) is better or worse than the more traditional JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) with its fixed story line and turn based combat.
Finally I would like to consider the game from the point of view of an older gamer. I am approaching 60 and most of the reviews are written by much younger players. The number of gamers over 50 is increasing (over 17% in a recent poll) and I feel Oblivion is particularly suited to this generation.
Oblivion is an open-ended, action RPG that gives the player complete freedom of choice as to how they progress through the game. This can be a little overwhelming to players who are new to this type of game or are used to the more traditional JRPG titles.
This freedom of choice is apparent right from the start when the player creates their character. Every aspect of the physical appearance can be changed, a race needs to be chosen, a star sign and a class. Then you need to choose the major and minor skills that your character will possess and which will determine how he/she levels up during the game. For the first time player there are default classes which represent the main types of character, a thief, a mage, a knight, an archer etc. More experienced players can create their own 'custom' class.
This freedom of choice makes for great replay value. You can choose to play the game as a thief, sneaking in the shadows and picking locks to accomplish your goals. Or an elfin archer attacking enemies from a distance with bow and arrow. Or a mage clad in a simple robe with a magical staff and spells to rain down destruction on your foes. Or a heavily armoured knight with sword and shield battling toe-to-toe with your adversaries.
The appearance of your character changes with the equipment and weapons they have equipped. You can play in 'third person' where you see your character on the screen, or 'first person' where only their hand and weapon are visible during combat.
Levelling up is an important element of the game as it increases your character's health, magic capacity, skills in using weapons and armour, ability to sneak undetected and pick locks, jump higher, run faster - in fact every aspect of your chosen hero (or heroine.) In Oblivion the enemies you encounter and the loot you find, will depend on the level of your character. So at low levels you will be fighting fairly mundane enemies and finding pretty basic weapons and apparel. As you reach higher levels, the enemies will get stronger and the items you find will be more valuable. However it is perfectly possible to complete the game at level 1 and never encounter the top level enemies or see any of the high quality equipment. This has been the subject of much argument from fans of Morrowind which used a different system. However it does make the game easier for a first time player in that even at low levels they will have some success in combat. There is a difficulty slider amongst the game options which can be raised to provide more of a challenge.
The game plays out in a series of quests. There is a main quest which will take you to the 'end' of the game if played through. There are quests tied to various guilds (mages, thieves, fighters etc.) that help you advance your skills in these classes and provide rewards along the way. Plus pretty well every NPC (non-playable character) you encounter in your travels will have a story to tell and a request to make for your help. Once again freedom of choice operates in whether or not you decide to start a particular quest and there are often several ways of completing a quest. Also there are important quests associated with Daedric Shrines that you will find scattered across the landscape. These give some of the most valuable (and original) rewards in the game.
The Oblivion world is large and finding your way around can be challenging. Travel is accomplished in a number of ways. The most convenient is 'fast travel' which moves you to any of the major towns and any location you have already visited instantly. Once again this is a feature that has been criticized by fans of Morrowind as it discourages exploration. However you are free to explore on foot or on horseback (horses are a new feature in Oblivion) and this will reward you with a huge range of ruins, forts, caves and other locations that can be explored for loot and experience. Plus there will be random encounters with wild life, bandits and the chance to collect ingredients for alchemy.
As well as spending time in the human realm of Cyrodiil, you will find yourself in the demonic plain of Oblivion. Here the environment and the inhabitants are totally hostile and you will have a tough time surviving. Some trips to Oblivion are obligatory as part of the main quest, others are up to you. Personally I found this the least satisfying part of the game world.
The control and menu system take a little getting used to but once mastered they quickly become intuitive. One good feature is the ability to 'hot key' your most frequently used spells and weapons to the D-pad on the controller.
The game comes with a huge array of spells, weapons and equipment. The more powerful items are enchanted and need to be recharged to maintain their magical powers. However once again if you want to create your own spells or enchant your own weapons or armour you can do so provided you have the necessary skills (and money.)
Money plays a large part in the game and is acquired as random loot but mainly by selling items to merchants. Buying and selling is yet another area where you can influence the outcome by bartering and increasing your skills.
Good and evil play a role in the game. Your character can acquire fame by doing good or infamy by oppressing the weak, murder, theft etc. This can result in a bounty and the attention of the authorities who are always ready to consign evil-doers to jail and it will influence how many of the NPCs in game react to you. It is possible to become that most evil of creatures - a vampire with some advantages but the usual downside of sensitivity to sunlight and being shunned by the populace.
Combat is 'real-time' in that you cast spells or swing your weapon or shoot arrows at your enemy whilst they do the same to you. You can defend by blocking and once your skills are sufficiently advanced you gain power attacks and special moves. Rather than facing your foes head-on you can opt for sneak attacks which cause more damage. You can use alchemy to create poisons to increase the damage done by your attacks. Or you can just run away! However foes are quite persistent in pursuing you over the landscape.
I am sure I have not described every aspect of the gameplay but I hope this gives some idea of the incredible range and depth of Oblivion.
When the game was first released there were many 'bugs' and 'glitches' that affected gameplay. Some were so serious that they prevented the game from being played any further. Others could be exploited to duplicate rare or valuable items or obtain infinite supplies of money. However a series of patches have been released that fix many of worst bugs. But it must be said that the game still has many ' quirks' that can prevent your accomplishing your goals.
As well as patches, a series of downloadable content (DLC) has been released. These need to be purchased and downloaded from the Xbox Live Marketplace using Microsoft Points. One technical problem with the DLC is that it is linked to the console used for the original download. This has led to many problems for people who have used a friend's connection to make the download or have had to replace their console.
The DLC ranges from the major expansion 'Shivering Isles' which adds a whole new realm to the game world and really merits a review of its own, to merely cosmetic touches such as armour for your horse.
Of the remaining DLC, the 'Arthurian' Knights of the Nine quest will provide sufficient additional gameplay to justify its cost. Mehrune's Razor is a extensive new dungeon with a powerful weapon as a reward and can be recommended for purchase. There are 3 downloads of additional locations that will suit particular types of character. Frostcrag Spire is an excellent home for a mage, Deepscorn Hollow is for the evil character especially a vampire, Dunbarrow Cove is a sunken pirate ship ideal for thieves. The remaining DLC is pretty minor and could only be recommended to players who want everything associated with the game. Spell Tomes give additional spells as loot and the 'Orrery' gives some additional powers on completion.
A Game of the Year (GOTY) edition is due for release in September, which will include Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine.
Having waxed lyrical about the gameplay in Oblivion, I have to say that I found the main storyline fairly ordinary. The emperor is assassinated, there is a missing heir who has to be found and protected, various items need to be found and their is a final battle with the forces of chaos. So not the most original plot.
However it is the stories behind all the other quests that are the most varied and interesting. The guild quests all have an overall theme and build to a satisfying climax. Some of the Daedric Shrine quests are just plain weird. The NPCs all have stories of their own to tell and interesting little quests to go along with them.
Also if you are sufficiently interested in the story of Cyrodiil as a whole, there are dozens of different books you can find in your travels that are packed full of information.
The game looks superb. Some people have complained of 'pop-up' where scenery suddenly appears but I found the landscape of Cyrodiil varied and beautiful. There are dank swamps, farmland, forests, barren mountains and the vistas are often breathtaking.
The time of day changes with dawn and dusk being particularly impressive. The NPCs have well defined features which change as they talk or display various emotions. The towns and cities have a distinctive look (varying from grandeur to squalor.) However they were a little too sparsely populated to give a true impression of bustle and life.
The weather does change but it is either sunny or a full thunderstorm or a blizzard (on higher ground.)
The plain of Oblivion is dreary and monotonous but maybe that is the look the designers were aiming for?
The sound (or as much as I could experience on my stereo TV without Dolby) was excellent. The voice acting is of the highest order from the opening monologue by Patrick Stewart through Sean Bean's performance as the missing heir and Terence Stamp as the major villain. All the NPCs have voiced dialogue and a variety of accents.
How long does it take to complete the game? Almost impossible to say. People have spent/wasted hundreds of hours on Oblivion. Just to complete the main quest would probably take 20-30 hours. Finishing all the other quests and exploring every location would move this up to a 100 hours or more.
Shivering Isles adds at least another 30 hours. Knights of the Nine maybe 9, Mehrune's Razor 4 or 5.
Basically playing Oblivion at anything beyond a superficial level is going to consume a significant chunk of your life!
The game has 'infinite' Replayability. You use the whole range of characters, play through without levelling up or create an 'awesome' character with every skill maximised. You can do the main quest or some or all of the subsidiary quests. You can role play within the game without bothering to do any of the quests. You can simply mess about testing out the limits of the game.
This game was one of the launch titles for the Xbox 360 and fully justifies its 'flagship' status. Anyone with even the faintest interest in role playing games should buy this title. In fact anyone who owns an Xbox 360 (and now a PS3) should buy this game.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 08/31/07
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (EU, 03/24/06)
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