Review by kennykaos317

"The vast world offers unparalleled freedom"

Like many RPGs, Oblivion places you in the role of a fantasy race character with a mysterious past, burdened with the responsibility of saving the world as we know it from pure evil. Where Oblivion differs is in the vastness of its game world and the freedoms and choices it presents.

The game begins by placing your character in a prison cell. Soon, Emperor Uriel Septim appears at your cell door, escorted by guards that are helping him escape from the city. The Emperor has seen you in his dreams and allows you to accompany his group as they flee the city. It is through this escape that you are introduced to the game mechanics, serving as a tutorial for combat, magic use, stealth, and other basic elements of gameplay. Players familiar with first-person shooters will easily pick up the control scheme: the right trigger attacks, the left trigger blocks, the right bumper casts spells, and the face buttons control other basic functions such as jumping and accessing inventory. The prison escape also leads you through character creation. You select the character's gender and race, customize his or her appearance, choose his or her birthsign, and finally, choose his or her class. The player can either choose one of 21 preset classes, or create a custom class by choosing the character's major skills. The race and birthsign choices give attribute and skill bonuses and special abilities.

The choice of class can be trickier than it first appears. Skills are improved through use and determine how quickly the character levels up. When any combination of major skills are increased 10 total points, the character levels up. The various skills have base attributes, and improving your skills determines the stat bonuses you can give to 3 attributes each time you gain a level. For example, the base attribute for Blade is strength, so if you increased that skill 10 points, then you will receive 5 points to add to your strength attribute. This leveling system can cause problems. If you primarily use your major skills, then you might level up “too quickly”, giving you few bonus points to add to your primary attributes and making your character relatively weak at higher levels. This problem can be remedied by choosing little used skills as major skills, making you weaker in earlier levels. Still, the average player should not have much problem with the preset classes, and even if you do you can decrease the challenge with the difficulty slider. The instruction manual does a good job of explaining the stat bonuses and special abilities granted from the various choices, if not the pitfalls of these choices.

Once you have made these choices and completed your escape, you embark on a quest to save Cyrodiil from the forces of evil. Or don't. The game offers you a wide variety of choices that do not necessarily include following the main storyline. You are released into a massive world to do as you wish. And the game gives you plenty of choices.

When you emerge into the world, you can go anywhere and do anything. The creatures you encounter level as your character levels, so you will never encounter a dungeon that is too high a level for you to enter. You'll never find yourself without a challenge, but you'll also never have a feeling of power. Even at higher levels, every dungeon you enter will be filled with equally leveled creatures. Equipment you find will also scale to your level, meaning all the equipment you find will suit your character at that particular level, but will inevitably be replaced by equipment you will find later. The entire world is opened up to you from the very beginning, and there is a wide variety of content to experience. Each skill specialization (combat arts, magic arts, and stealth arts) has its own guild and line of quests. Multiple NPCs you encounter in the towns offer quests. Items you find in the world spawn quests. Shrines to gods scattered throughout the world offer quests. You can enter Gates of Oblivion; each instance of this fiery netherworld offers different items to forage, creatures to battle, and a quest to close that gate (though these Gates are related to the main story, closing them is not required to complete the story). You can even read books that sometimes increase skills or add items of interest to your map, or simply add to the lore of the world. You can wander the world and explore the many abandoned caves and ruins dotting the landscape. The world is rich with life and feels like a real world that existed long before you turned on your console.

The main story and the many books you will find fill in knowledge about the history of Cyrodiil. The quests are generally varied and interesting, rarely demoting you to the status of errand boy. They will take you all over the world and will offer many different challenges. The more quests you complete, the greater chance you will encounter a citizen discussing your deeds.

Most likely, you will encounter all of these things while also following the storyline. It is easy to get distracted helping a citizen or hunting down treasure Even though you can complete the main story in less than 20 hours, you will spend many more hours in the land of Cyrodiil.

Fans of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind may be disappointed by some of the features in Oblivion. Some of the skills found in Morrowind, such as Medium Armor or Long Blade, have been removed. Weapons such as short swords or axes no longer have their own skill group and are incorporated into the blade and blunt skills, respectively. Spears are no longer found in this world, nor are some spells such as levitation. The journal has been streamlined; text is now organized by quest, instead of simply being a collection of dialogue that you have to manually search through. Fast travel is now possible by clicking on a destination on the map (although this only works for cities and locations outside the cities that you have previously visited) and you will travel there instantly - after a short load screen. (More on these later.) Quest waypoints are clearly labeled on the in-game map. These changes could be seen as “dumbing down” the game, or they could be seen as correcting problems. It all comes down to how much the Morrowind player enjoyed these now missing features.

The graphics especially help with the feeling of immersion. People move convincingly, and the voice acting and lip-synching is generally solid. Climb a tall mountain and you may see a city in the distance that you can then travel to. The Imperial City can be seen from many places in the world. You will experience some graphical hitches like frame rate drops, but these can often be solved by clearing the cache. Each city has a distinctive architecture, and every building you see can be entered. One of the weakest points of the game, however, is the repetitive textures used in dungeons. Only a few different environments exist -- basically, caves, forts, elven keeps, and Oblivion. The repetitive environments can become boring after a while. Another weak point is the multiple loading screens. Though the wilderness is seamless, entering a city requires a load screen, and entering a shop inside the city requires a load screen, and sometimes rooms inside these buildings require load screens. You will spend a lot of time staring at a beige screen and reading game tips. Sound effects, especially the clashing of swords and other sounds of combat, are convincing and satisfying. Background music plays subtly throughout the world and is generally well done, but can become repetitive, especially the music played during combat. Still, the game is technically well done, and a huge leap from Morrowind.

This game presents a tremendous value for the price. It offers dozens of hours of gameplay, more hours than many other RPGs, and many more hours than the average Xbox 360 game. Of course, the hours of gameplay would be meaningless if the game were not fun, and most RPG fans will enjoy this game. It offers everything an RPG fan is looking for: fun, varied quests, satisfying combat, tons of equipment to collect and upgrade, and plenty of areas to explore.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/11/08

Game Release: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (US, 03/20/06)

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