Review by Brad Da Man

"Farewell life, hello Oblivion."

The Elder Scrolls series is something I caught onto a few months after the release of Morrowind for the Xbox. I never liked RPGs and doubted I'd like this one, but I was hooked. And while it was an epic game, don't get me wrong, there were parts that I felt unsatisfied with. Combat was one of them, I really disliked the combat, but we all know about the combat issues Morrowind had, so no need to dwell. I also didn't like the lack of transport. Sure, there were Silt Striders, but you have all this barren land ripe for exploring, and the only way of doing it was by foot! Lastly, after you've loaded yourself with some cool armour and weapons and a few training sessions, gold becomes quite pointless, hell you can even find/steal most of the stuff you want to buy anyway.. I wanted there to be better uses/more incentive to save gold.

Well, if you had similar gripes as me with Morrowind, then you're going to be in for a treat with Oblivion as they've addressed all these issues, and a lot of others too..

The game starts with your character in a prison. But before you can do anything, you have to create your character. And wow.. Talk about detail! You get to choose from a whole host of races (All your favourites from Morrowind make a pleasant return), but it's gone up from just choosing from a few faces, hairstyle and gender.. You can now choose eye colour, hair length, age, complexion, facial expressions… The list goes on! It took me no less than twenty minutes to create myself the perfect character.. And that was just the physical side! Creating stats for him/her/it is similar to last time; they have a heap of classes for your character (A lot of new ones have been added) or you can custom create your own to suit your character to a tee. Oblivion's character is one of the greatest, most customizable I've ever played. It caters for every playing style. Now that all of that's out of the way, it's time to explore..

..But, you're in a prison cell, so you can't do too much of that! But in such a cramped space, you will still be in awe at all the detail. Chains dangling from the roof sway gently in the breeze coming from your cell window. Candlelight flickers with every movement, no matter how small. Shadows follow you around the entire cell. It is just utterly amazing, and is merely a taste of things to come.

Obviously, you get out of prison. How/when/why/who helps, you'll have to play to find out, I don't want to spoil a thing. But you do go through an array of dimly lit caverns to get there. And again, all the small touches are jaw dropping. Items move if you brush past them. Cobwebs flutter in a dark corner. Each step you make kicks up a small cloud of dust. The realism is just awesome. And once you're outside….. Wow. Breathtaking! I stood there for minutes just taking it all in. Once again, there is such a vast amount of detail to take in at once, you will come close to pinching yourself to remind yourself that it's only a game! Clouds laze about in the afternoon sun, grass blows soothingly to the rhythm of the wind, the water ripples as fish swim beneath its inviting surface.. It's absolutely beautiful, and it's all yours for the pickings. It just drips with atmosphere. I wish I could go back and walk out of the underground cavers again for the first time..

Those that have Morrowind will know just how much decision making they will face. You can either follow the main quest, or go off and do your own thing. There are a number of Guilds you can join; The Fighters Guild for those who like their action with weapons, The Mages Guild for those who prefer sorcery as their weapon of choice, The Thieves Guild for the thief at heart, and many others for you to discover and unlock for yourself. Or if you'd rather not play by the rules, go and create your own adventures. Make it your goal to find lost tombs and raid them of their artifacts contained within. There are dozens upon dozens of tombs to unearth in Oblivion. No matter how you decide to play the game, you have a trusty compass at the bottom of the screen. Your main mission will have a red marker pointing you in the direction you need to travel next, and during your journeys symbols will pop up indicating something of interest in the direction they appear. When I first heard of this I wasn't too keen for it, but it actually works really well. Although in a sense it can detract from that “open endness' feel slightly.

There are many, many weapons at your disposal too. Depending on what skills you designated yourself, there are swords of all lengths/weights, longbows, crossbows, clubs, axes, warhammers and a lot more melee weapons to discover and master. The combat, as I hinted at earlier, has been improved greatly. You now control your blocking (Left trigger) and swordplay is now a lot more solid. Battles don't just consist of tapping away at the right trigger while facing your enemy. Oh no. You now have to be creative, be on your toes. Enemies block just as well as you (A lot better in my case :p) and timing between blocks and lunges is a skill you had better learn quick smart, or you'll find yourself looking at the reload screen all too quickly. The combat has been improved tenfold.

Bethesda have also given a solution to running around on foot – You now have horses at your disposal! You can acquire them by many means; the ‘proper' way being to buy one for $1000, but if you use your imagination you can get them for free ~_^ The horses handle really well and getting the hang of them takes no time at all. Only gripe I have about the horses is that they don't tire at all; you can ride one across the countryside at the same pace for the entire duration. Maybe that's just me demanding a little too much realism, but having to rest your horses or at the very least feed them would have been a nice touch. Still, having them in the game is great enough as it is!

My final problem with Morrowind has also been addressed; the meaningless of gold. Well, you can now save up to buy horses as just mentioned, but you can also buy a fair few new items, including your own house! Finally some incentive to save up! There are many properties to purchase across Tamriel, and once you have enough septim gold pieces the house is yours to personalize to your hearts content.

Finally, the A.I in Oblivion is not to be underestimated. Creatures and people alike have excellent fighting skills, know how to use cover to their advantage, and not all of them will flee from you at the first sign of intimidation like they tended to do in Morrowind. However, if you find the going too tough, you can lower the difficulty in the pause screen of the game, which is a great touch not only for those new to the Elder Scrolls experience, but it also means you can add extra challenge for yourself when you progress your characters' skills. See, in Morrowind, once you've boosted your stats high enough you can kill anything and everything in one hit. With Oblivion, you can increase the difficulty to max and really challenge yourself. I found the going hard enough with the default setting for my Level 5 character (Not a very high level, but still..) but I boosted the difficulty to max to experience how tough it was.. And whoa.. Let's just say the tide has turned with these one hit kills….

There is so much more to this game I would love to discuss, but I want you reading this to experience all the exciting things for yourselves without knowing about them beforehand, it really does leave you feeling satisfied.

Graphics 10/10. This game looks utterly brilliant on the Xbox 360. Stunning backdrops, amazing views, the attention to detail is of a standard yet to be seen in other videogames. Textures are very crisp, and the game looks amazing even if you don't have a High Definition television. It has such a shiny feel about it, it really is very impressive and has set a high standard for other 360 titles to follow. It's also obvious Bethesda were influenced by the Lord of the Rings movies at some stages during this game.. But I'll let you discover what I mean by this for yourself!

Sound 10/10. The soundtrack to this game sets the mood ideally. Whether you're exploring, in a tavern, or in the middle of an epic battle against a dozen goblins, the music suits the mood the game tries to achieve perfectly. The Xbox 360 also lets you use a custom soundtrack which works really well with Oblivion. By turning it on, the game soundtrack turns off and you are free to pump your own tunes! I tell ya, rushing into a duel against a demon with Paul Oakenfeld's Cocaine blasting away is a moment I certainly enjoyed! Also, the characters talk in this game. Yup, no reading text off the screen to know what they're saying (Although subtitles still do appear), the characters now actually speak every word they utter. The different accents are very well done, and there are hundreds to keep you amused.

Controls 9/10. On the whole, the controls work really well. Riding horses, blocking and attacking in combat, they suit the game perfectly. One problem I've found with them is the quick weapon select using the D-Pad. You see, pressing up, left, right or down is responsive, but try using one of the diagonal buttons and it either doesn't respond, or draws out a weapon not assigned to that direction, but rather one of the surrounding directions! A few times in the heat of battle I've gone to pull out my longbow but instead have brandished a torch… So it might be an idea to assign weapons to the main directions guys! Another small grumble I'd have is that sometimes the camera can drift if you're playing in 3rd person, but it's no biggie.

Story 10/10. No explanation is needed here surely! The huge amounts of branching storylines and different paths you can take allow for you to enjoy the game exactly how you want to. Want to be a hero? Go for it. Want to be an assassin? You can. A sorcerer? You've gotta work for it but sure. A dominatrix? Errrm… I'll get back to you on that one..

Fun Factor 10/10. Granted, the game isn't for everyone, as some people can't stand games that aren't linear or so open ended, but for those who are a fan of the genre, you'll be having the time of your life. There's so much choice that if you can't find something fun to do, then you have issues!

Overall 10/10. Yeah, some of you might think this is biased, but it isn't. It is immensely hard to flaw this game. Granted I haven't unlocked anywhere near everything there is to unlock, or completed anywhere near all of the quests I potentially can, but I've played enough to know this game is utterly amazing. The only flaw I have found thus far is the quick travel option that lets you go from one location to another without any leg work at all… But I have a high willpower so I haven't been tempted to use it yet :p But seriously, don't use it if you can help yourself, it detracts from the entire exploring/creating your own adventure vibe the game is trying to create.

My final thoughts. I've spent an awful lot of hours on this game, yet I've barely scratched the surface of it. But it's already been one of my best gaming experiences ever, and I've played a lot of games. I dare say, I think I have found a #1 game of all time, replacing my beloved Resident Evil 2 is a big task, but I honestly think that moment has come. If you own an Xbox 360, you must own a copy of this game. Period. It's even worth owning the console solely for this game, it's that great. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is the epitome of perfection.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 03/24/06, Updated 03/27/06

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