Review by Me_Myself

"Oblivion has broken my Golden Rule; this is the one game that warrants a full score."

Welcome to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

This game is easily the best RPG on the market, and I can say that without a shadow of a doubt. Forget Halo 3. Forget Gears of War. Forget Forza 2. If you own an Xbox 360 (or, for that matter, a PS3 or high-end PC) get this game. If you don't own such a console, get one.

For one thing, Oblivion actually is an RPG. Thought Final Fantasy was an RPG? Thought Skies of Arcadia was an RPG? Well, friend, let me tell you what an RPG is: a Role Playing Game. In FF or SoA, do you really control your character's entire life? Whether he fights for good or evil? What he wants he life? Where he lives? Who he is?

No. Those games - impressively vast as they are (don't get me wrong, I love those games) - don't begin to offer the almost unlimited scope Oblivion does. Oblivion is freeform gameplay as you've never seen it before. After controlling the entire scope of your character's life, will you ever want to go back to ordinar, non-linear games again? I think not.

* * *

So. Say you buy the game. Say you get it home, crack open the box, glance through the manual, pin up the map. What awaits you when you slip the disk into your slick 360? (Or other gaming system)

First, the game's impressive sound score, and a nice looking title screen composed of a scrolling map of Province Cyrodiil. That should get you in the right mood for an adventurer. Have a listen to the epic, contemplative Jeremy Soule score. If you have the patience, watch the presentation movie, to get yourself psyched up and impressed by the graphics - oh! the graphics. But musn't ramble.

Select "New" and you will see the opening movie to this masterpiece. A sullen Patrick Stewart is introduced as Uriel Septim, Emperor of the world of Tamriel and the central province of Cyrodiil. Seems ol' Sepper predicts that Oblivion will soon overrun his realm, and that he himself is about to die. How nice. After a camera pan round the Imperial City - beautifully rendered to have you cooing - you find yourself in an equally well-rendered if a touch more depressing prison cell. Here you can create a character, a multi-faceted interface with a fully customizable face and ten races - from spell-adept Bretons to sneaky reptilian Argonians to fang-faced Orcs - that in itself offers a wide range of possibilities. But there is more I must speak of, so I will hurry on, lest the review last till I am old and grey.

Let's say you've chosen an agile, red-faced Wood Elf. Excellent choice, dear reader, and convenient for this review. Choose your view - both first- and third- person have their advantages, though you may find combat tricky in third-person - and explore your cell. Be insulted by a Dark Elf in the cell opposite, and prepare to be spirited off to your grand adventure by Oblivion's fast-paced storyline. Uzzer Sepper, our ol' pal, has had his three sons assassinated and is being escorted out of danger by his bodyguards, the Blades. But wait: study that Dark Elf first.

Dismiss you him as a mere bit-part character? Wrong! Not only is he wonderfully rendered and perfectly voiced, like any Oblivion character, but he has a wide range of insults according to your gender and race. Not only that - bothered by his insults? Become a cold-blooded murdering tool of the Dark Brotherhood later on, and butcher him mercilessly for your new family. So there: never dismiss Oblivion at face value.

Now. Follow Uzzer through the opening tutorial, where you witness the Emperor's murder at the hands of a strange, magical, "Mythic Dawn" cult. Learn to fight, cast spells, and sneak about. Also obtain tools for lockpicking, alchemy, and armoury. Choose one of twelve birthsigns, and of twenty-one - yes, twenty-one! - classes - or custom class. Choose wisely, but fear not: before you exit these sewers, you will have a chance to revise your choice. After you've chosen...stand back and be amazed.

Bethesda certainly know how to market a game. As soon as you exit the sewers, you see a beautiful panaroma which will be imprinted on the back of your eyelids for days to come. A sparkling river, dappling the light of midday ancient Ayelid ruin across the water...the shapes of mountains in the hills above.

Stand and stare. A little message soon reminds you that all of this is yours. From hereon out, the entire province of Cyrodiil is yours to explore. Have fun.

Your obvious option is to follow the game's storyline. Before his death, old Uzzer the Buzzer thrusts the sacred Amulet of Kings into thine unresisting hands, and orders you to take it to Jauffre, find his last, illegitimate son, and "close shut the jaws of Oblivion". At Weynon Priory, Jauffre will explain that the Amulet of Kings is what keeps the even more sacred Dragonfires going. They keep up the magical barriers between the mortal realm and hellish Oblivion. Thus you must find young Martin Septim at Akatosh Chapel in Kvatch, and proceed to reunite the Blades, battle a Daedric invasion, and relight the Dragonfires. In the process you become Champion of Cyrodiil and Martin becomes Emperor. Congratulations, dear reader. This is hardly a ground-breaking plot, but it is developed convincingly and is not the real focus of the game in any case.

But now, Cyrodilic champion, let me draw your attention to the various other things Oblivion has to offer! The Oblivion Gates are closed, but Tamriel is no utopia. As long as life exists, problems need solving. Let's say your agile Wood Elf was custom classed to reveal an interest in magic. Did this serve you well in your battles with the Mythic Dawn? Then get down there and join the Arcane University!

You'll be greeted by Raminus Polus, Steward of the Council of Mages. He will inform you that you must visit the seven city-states of Cyrodiil (Bravil, Bruma, Cheydinhal, Chorrol, Skingrad, Anvil, Leyawiin) and acquire recommendations from the Guild members there. As you do, you'll learn much about the various schools of magic and about Arch-Mage Hannibal Traven and his anti-Necromancer vendetta. When you finally study at the University, with its spellmaking and enchanting facilities, you'll battle the Necromancers yourself and eventually become Arch-Mage.

You could also join and become leader of the Fighter's Guild, or become Grand Champion of the Arena; or bet on matches there to earn some cash. Once done, why not go unlawful? Take your skilled adventurer on some burglary or murdering raids, and join the Thieve's Guild or the Dark Brotherhood of Assassins. If you're particularly savvy, you could rise to the leadership of every faction in the game!

My point is, dear reader, long-winded as I've been to make it, that it is your choice. You don't have to join a Guild - become a mercenary for hire or tough vigilante and take on side-quests from the needy of Cyrodiil. Become a dungeon crawler or bandit and operate out of old Ayelid ruins or battle-forts. Admire the games inspirational if-flawed Radiant AI system. Become a vampire and pray on the young and vulnerable. And that's without the downloadable content.

The game has flaws, and probably doesn't warrant a perfect ten score. But with a game this vast, this long, it seems almost sacrilege to touch on them. My time with you is done, dear reader. For me to huff and puff any longer would be to distract you from the essential business of purchasing
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 12/03/07

Game Release: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (EU, 03/24/06)

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