Review by Crofty

"Depth and detail lost, but still worth playing."

So, where to begin with a game like this?

It's a difficult decision really, but the potentially best way to go about starting a review about The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (henceforth – Oblivion) would be to say a little about the history of the series. Possibly boring to the thousands upon thousands of people who already know what Elder Scrolls is about, but still something necessary to such a review. In any case, all long-term fans need do is skip the next two paragraphs.

The Elder Scrolls games started a long time ago by a developer called Bethesda Softworks. The game's main aim was to give the player absolute freedom in the largest worlds imaginable. Arena was the first TES game to be released, and even today it's still difficult to find other games in that era to compare it to in sheer size and scope. And what followed that were two more games which managed to be even more in-depth and deeper than the original (something which a lot of modern day developers haven't achieved), these were Daggerfall and, of course, Morrowind.

With each instalment of TES we were greeted with a more involving and redefined experience. However, although each game managed to get generally better, it cannot be denied that Bethesda liked to chip out and remove certain features from each new game… and with this many of the hardcore fans began to see a nasty pattern.
That pattern is indeed present in Oblivion, though when compared to changes from Daggerfall to Morrowind it's not even on the same level – it's much much higher, and – by all accounts – much much worse.

Before the content changes are discussed though, it's best to describe what Oblivion is and how it functions as a game.

Once you begin to play Oblivion you're given a well presented and nicely laid out prologue. Basically the Emperor thinks his time is near and foresees a great danger to his beloved lands, and you end up being the potential hero to stop the end from happening (according to the Emperor's beliefs).

After watching the cut-scene you're straight into the thick of things in typical Elder Scrolls fashion as you create and design your avatar for the game. It's interesting to see how long people take on their character's appearance ~ Some merely opt for the default design, while others can spend hours fine tuning their creation… either way it's beneficial to be happy with your creation, as you're likely to be spending the best part of 100 hours with them.

Once your character has been designed you get to play around with the buttons and see how things work. Of course, most people won't know how the buttons works from the beginning, but that's all under control as the game gives you nice helpful hints and tips on what to do (which is what your first dungeon mostly consists of).

While you're in the first dungeon figuring out how the game works and plays, you will be slightly under-whelmed by the visuals. It's understandable that being in a dark and gloomy cave can't really express much visual flair, so it's best not to be upset on your first 30 minutes—1 hour playing the game.

After you eventually get through the game's tutorial laced cave, you're let loose outdoors and can finally see the true visuals without any hindrance. The introduction to the outside world is something you really anticipate while you make your way through the cave, and if you're someone who follows a game's release you'd be expecting absolutely superb graphics from Oblivion. However, what you get is a very colourful and cheery looking world, but once you glance a feet into the distance you get to see how ugly the game can be.

Actually being able to see mountains in the distance is amazing, but the use of extremely low-res textures to fill them out makes the whole thing look wrong. And even when you begin to go closer to these mountains and physically see textures changing you wonder how so much fuss was made about Oblivion's graphics in the first place. Put simply, it's a nice game to look at… but only if you stand still and not move about. Shame.

It brings out shades of Halo 2 when you see trees, rocks or indeed buildings suddenly ‘pop-up' out of thin air and then load through a series of textures before it finally decides on one fit-enough to look realistic. It's unfinished, and it really brings you out of the absorbing experience whenever you're just getting into the game.

The good news about Elder Scrolls games though is that the artistic visuals usually manage to be good enough to overshadow any technical hitches. In Morrowind we were treated to an extremely unique and beautiful world to explore, with castles built from mushrooms, and houses built from beetle-like shells. Oblivion, however, removes the trend for TES games to look artistically amazing, and settles for the stereo-typical Eastern Europe look. Something most of us have seen in countless other RPGs or MMORPGs.

Picturing how awesome Morrowind would look with a polished Oblivion graphics engine is upsetting… knowing fine well Bethesda are capable of such things, but took the lazy road out and made Oblivion look as boring as any other game of the same genre.
Putting visuals aside however, the gameplay is the main attraction of an Elder Scroll game and thus Oblivion is not all lost.

The game plays a lot like Morrowind with a few buttons moved around and more convenient ways of casting spells or using hot-keys. This is all welcome and makes you feel like Oblivion is already a better game than Morrowind at the start. The combat is the biggest improvement though, making the interaction with enemies much more exciting and less of a chore.
It's just a shame that with the better gameplay mechanics Oblivion offers a lot less for your buck than previous instalments. And it's not just a case of less content – better gameplay, because the actual content is nowhere near the calibre we've come to expect from the makers of Morrowind. It's good content for the most part, but you're hit with a complete lack-of-depth when playing Oblivion… everything seems toned down or changed to be made more appealing to less patient gamers.

For example, gaining a prestigious set of armour in Oblivion is a piece of cake. All you need do is get to a certain level and then just about every NPC and enemy in the game will be wearing a set of the best armour. This is mainly due to the game using an auto-levelling system so that enemies always remain difficult to fight. It's an okay idea, but in all it doesn't work as well as the easier difficulty in Morrowind. If anything, Bethesda needs to take a leaf out of some MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft which uses level locked areas. You could have one area having enemies ranging from levels 1-5, and then in other areas having enemies range from 20-30. It's not rocket science… and anything beats giving the player all the best weapons and armour only 20 or so hours into the game.

Because the game gives enemies top-level armour due to auto-levelling, it makes doing dungeons absolutely pointless as you have nothing to gain other than extra gold in your pocket. It's not like other TES games were there are certain caves which hold unique and hard-to-obtain items, instead Oblivion uses the same four dungeon designs, rearranges them a little… and then expects you to plunder them for fun. And sure, it's fun doing the first three or four dungeons, but after a while you get the point and see that everything's the same in this game.

To be completely honest, the game stinks of mass-market desire… with such lazy features in the game like fast travel, which enables you to go anywhere you want once discovered (which doesn't take too long as you're already allowed to go to the main cities from the off, and you gain a fast mount as part of an easy quest chain early on). You're not charged to travel anywhere, and even if you want to keep things traditional you have no choice but to use it as the old Mages Guild teleport system has been done away with.

The game is full of things which shouldn't be doing what its doing, but at the end of the day what counts is that Bethesda obviously want Oblivion to be the type of game anyone can pick up and like, and unfortunately the same could not be said about the previous Elder Scrolls games.
Once you learn to accept that Oblivion is nothing like Morrowind in terms of visuals, storyline and content, it's easier to begin liking it as a game with separate meaning. After all, it still offers a fun gaming experience with a ton load more content than all other games on the 360.

As a free roaming RPG it's still the best series out there, and completing quests, closing Oblivion gates and doing the general RPG routine is intact and worth enjoying. It's just a shame that Bethesda chose to go so blatantly about changing things in Oblivion rather than keeping at least some things intact for long-term fans of the series.

If you're approaching this game with curiosity and wanting a fun and enjoyable non-hardcore RPG experience, then you're right at home here. However, if you're someone who's played many similar RPGs (perhaps even past TES games), and expect the same amount of depth and content as what you have experienced before, you're in for a disappointment.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/07/08

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

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