Review by Exodist
A great game, but playing it again makes me see the flaws.
I originally played Oblivion when it first came out in the UK, on the PC. I finished it and even wrote a (rather dated and quite rubbish now) walkthrough for it, and so on. However my PC broke and I lost my save, meaning I never finished my guide fully. I started again but I just couldn't manage to playthrough it again. However recently my friend brought it on the Xbox, and with the lure of achievements, and of course, the fact I never finished the Thieves Guild or the Dark Brotherhood, I borrowed it off him. I really enjoyed the game for a second time, but playing through the game really helped me to see how flawed the game actually is. As with my (now gone) GTA IV review, hype for a game can really change what you think about the game. I loved GTA IV at first but after more consideration, I don't like it as much and can see it's flaws more often (expect a GTAIV revised review soon), and this happened with Oblivion.
The story was alright, however it's essentially split. There are separate story lines for each guild you can join (the Fighters, Mages, Thieves and Dark Brotherhood), and of course the main quest. The main quest in the game had an alright story, but it wasn't anything special. You play as any one you want to be, who for unknown reasons, is in Jail (as far as I am aware you start in a jail in all Elder Scrolls games, or at least, your character starts imprisoned). The Emperor of Tamriel escapes the Palace via a secret passage hidden in your cell, and taking the opportunity, you follow. Eventually the Emperor is assassinated, and claiming to have seen you in his dreams, asks that you deliver the Amulet (which protects Tamriel from Oblivion) to his only remaining, and secret, son. You then escape the Imperial sewers, and that's pretty much it, the rest is up to you. You can follow the main story line if you wish, or you can do the many other things that Oblivion offers you. The story lines for the other Guilds were pretty good, and in my opinion had a bit more effort to them than the main story. The Fighters guild is essentially the struggle between the guild and another mercenary company, who are getting all the jobs rather than the Fighers. The mages guild tells the struggle against the practice of Necromancy, which was banned. The Thieves guild doesn't have a proper story as such, you literally get told to steal items, but it all adds up to something eventually. Probably the best story however is the Dark Brotherhood. I really enjoyed the story with it, and was quite surprised at the plot twists, where as other story lines had rather predictable plot twists. Oblivion also features many other quests that are fun, and have their own little story, however they don't relate to the other storylines.
Gameplay in Oblivion is very similar to the other Elder Scrolls games, however many improvements are to be found. Oblivion gives you a simple tutorial, then you're off. Once you escape from the Imperial Sewers, you're given a location to head to if you want to do the main story, and you're advised that there are many guilds for you to join. The game eases you in much more than the hard core "do it yourself" approach of Morrowind, which may have put many players off (not me though). One of the main new features is the fact you can fast travel. If you have already been to a particular location, you can simply select it on the map, and you instantly travel there (time taken to reach the destination is taken though, and you instantly travel to any city in the game without having to visit it first). It certainly makes the game much easier to follow, Morrowind literally relied on written directions that wouldn't be recorded in your quest log, and sometimes I really struggled to find places. However Oblivion eases that, in which you can also buy (or steal) a horse. The controls for the horse were fine and act rather like controlling yourself. Your horse isn't scared to go anywhere, meaning you can swim with it, climb high mountains with it (which is possible, keep jumping and changing direction and you can get up there), or simply jump off cliffs with it. Another really helpful addition is the quest marker. When you select a particular quest to be active in the journal, a little arrow on the map displays where your objective is located (if it's green it means it's in the same area as you, red means they're probably inside a city, building or dungeon). This also displays on the mini compass that you're given at the bottom of the screen (personally I find this system better than a mini map) which also helps you in finding your location. Oblivion also features a slightly different level system. Whilst making your character, you can choose their Major and Minor skills. If a skill is Major, it's given a higher starting level (you can level your skills up, a bit like any MMORPG really), and if it's Minor, it's given a lower level. If it's not in either, since you have limited space for skills in both categories, the skill will be incredibly low leveled. To actually level up, you must increase your Major skills as a combination of 10 (ie, you must level up any of your skills 10 time, but it counts for ANY skill you level up, ie, you can level up one skill 5 times then another skill 5 times and that counts). Once that has been done, when you sleep in a bed, you level up where you can increase your attributes (different skills are associated with different attributes, depending on what skills you increased to level up, different attribute bonuses are given). This is slightly different than Morrowind, where both Major and Minor skills helped you level, and you only needed to wait or sleep, not specifically sleep. However there is a massive flaw in Oblivion's level system that really does ruin it. As you level up, so do the enemies. I find it to be massively pointless since gaining levels doesn't really get you anywhere. Whilst playing through the Xbox version I managed to beat the game at just level 15, but would it matter what level I was? Due to the system and my understanding, the boss' stats would be changed to suit my level, so would it have been that much harder at Level 1? Maybe, but I was quite disappointed, the point of an RPG is to improve your character so you can fight better, however this doesn't really apply in Oblivion, which is a let down.
So then, what about the meat of the game, the quests? The quests are fairly straight forward, much like the quests in World of Warcraft, however more varied. For starters, there are some rather good quests that don't relate to the guilds at all. One quest for example requires to find a womans missing husband, who, whilst painting a picture, has mysteriously vanished. You must enter the painting where you're transported to a paint world (with cool paint effect graphics) complete with Paint trolls, where you find the missing man and a paint brush. Whilst what you actually have to do isn't as varied, it's what the missions are, their design and their story, that makes them stand from the crowd. The story missions are fairly well done, however there is one particular part that really wasn't necessary. At one point in the main quest you must travel to every single city in the game to request army support. However to gain this support, you must close an Oblivion gate that lingers just outside the city. You have to do this for ALL of them, and it's boring. You go talk to the count/countess, go out, enter the Oblivion gate and wander around until you finally get to the top of the tower. Sometimes the Oblivion world is badly designed and it can often be confusing as to where you go since all the caves and rooms inside the towers all look the same. It was by far the worst part of the storyline, but it doesn't stop there. The guild quests are good, but maybe not varied enough. The Fighters and Mages guild quests weren't that bad, and I don't have much of a quarrel with them. The Thieves guild quests were again, fine, almost. Your task is to essentially do some independant thieving, by stealing anything worth while that you see. You must then sell it to the fence and accumulate enough moneys worth in stolen goods before you can do the next quest. The quests are fine, however the last quest was an absolute pain, with absolutely confusing areas, although after stealing the item the rest wasn't so bad. The Dark Brotherhood quests are alright, but you're simply killing a target each time. They spice it up a bit however, if you meet certain requirements you gain added bonuses which certainly make the quests more fun. However toward the end you're once again doing quest after quest that are all the same. The end of the Dark Brotherhood does spice up a little bit, but it's still a little boring after a while. The imagination in the quests and the storylines are fine, and the quests can be fun. I just found some of them badly designed, too similar and repetitive, or just frustrating. The quests that don't associate to any guild are fine, however I haven't actually done many since I spent all of my time concentrating on the main quests.
So then, apart from what I mentioned about the quests, what other flaws does Oblivion have? I've already mentioned the flawed level system, so what else? Im gonna mention the graphics here, since there is a problem. On a technical level, the graphics are fine. They aren't as detailed as I expected, but they looked pretty similar to what my PC ran Oblivion on, and although they're not the best out there, they do the job. However, the world of Oblivion is bland. The fields of Cryodiil are all the same and there is barely any variety to it at all, apart from the snow mountains in the north. I prefer a much varied world, with islands, deserts etc, however unfortunately due to Oblivions setting it can't provide this. The games setting isn't necessarily it's problem, it's just the fact they seemed to copy and paste everything. Dungeons and caves all look the same with no variety in them, although I do congratulate the artists with the cities. Each city definitely has a unique look to it, and I liked them. Next, we have the audio. The music was fine, but my main complaint was the voice acting. Whilst the actual voice acting itself wasn't that bad, the amount of voices used was the bad thing. Characters all sound the same with literally 5 male and female voice actors, everyone will say the same things and sound the same, it's rather repetitive and quite poor. On occasion, NPCs have even had their voices change mid-way through dialogue (ie, when you talk to them about a different topic their voice suddenly changes), and I've even had a male start talking with a female voice. The dialogue itself isn't too bad and has been massively toned down (in Morrowind, since every line of dialogue wasn't spoken, you were presented quite literally with paragraphs of text to read). One other notable flaw, that particularly bugged me, was the lock picking mini-game. You have to pick so many locks it's unbelievable. At first you will get bored of doing the same mini-game every time, but soon, that turns to stress. Some of the locks just seem so random, sometimes you can ace a Very Hard lock, but the next time you struggle with a Medium lock. The mini-game does have the benefit in which any one can open any lock as long as they persist (in Morrowind, if your skill wasn't high enough you can't even attempt to lock pick it). However I got incredibly frustrated most of the time with stupid mistakes, and just for having to do that mini-game for the hundredth time again. Fortunately you can get a Skull Key which never breaks (still acts as a lock pick though), although it still doesn't stop the fact most people probably won't get it. There are loads of different little things I could criticise Oblivion about, but those are my main points. The game does feature it's fair share of bugs and glitches, but I never encountered many, and most players won't. With a game this big though, they're bound to be there.
Oblivion is a massive game with plenty to do. Although the guilds and main story are fairly short (it took me 30 hours to get 1000), there are plenty of other quests for you to do and a massive, albeit bland, world for you to do. The game does get repetitive, but it's still good fun with an improved combat system and some fairly well designed quests. The game has it's fair share of flaws, but it's definitely worth buying.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (EU, 03/24/06)
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