Review by Ryan Gillam

Reviewed: 04/03/06

Close Shut the Gates of Oblivion

Imagine lush forests as far as the eye can see. Rolling hills that span from one city to a next, hidden caverns waiting to be discovered by you. Welcome to Tamriel. Oblivion is the newest edition to the Elder Scrolls set of games, and it does not disappoint. The Emperor is dead and the gates of Oblivion have opened with all manner of demons come into this world. The only way to stop them is to close shut the gates of Oblivion.
Oblivion, like all previous incarnations of the Elder Scrolls games are standalone and no knowledge of previous outings in the series needs to be known to enjoy the game properly, although a few subtle references will pop up in a few places. It is an RPG game, made mainly for 1st person view, however there is the option to switch to 3rd person for those that like the more widely known Final Fantasy series.

Morrowind, although widely regarded as one of the best of the few RPG's on the original Xbox it was heavily criticised because it was so hard to get into unless you had the patience to sit around for hours on end running from one side of the map to the other with no clue where you are going. Oblivion I am pleased to say deals with this issue and within an hour of jumping into the game and a quick flick through the instruction manual you will be able to grasp the controls and the main ways in which to do things and was ready to take on the world. This doesn't mean Oblivion lacks the depth of Morrowind though; there are still many things to work out what to do and should keep you going perhaps for longer than Morrowind.

One of the reasons why Oblivion was highly awaited is because of the fact that you can do anything, anytime. It is completely free roaming. You don't need to follow the quest structure, just go out and explore. When I had completed the small tutorial section I was greeted by the hills and I ran to steal a horse from a nearby stable. I then just explored for 2 hours finding hidden areas and going into the caves having a look around. There is no pressure to do anything (sure the gates of Oblivion are opening, but who cares when you can explore this much). During the course of exploring you can find items hidden in the areas. Level up by killing animals around the area. Find new cities to visit or even just chill out taking in the beautiful scenery, that's the life of the warrior who should be saving the world. However this freedom can be daunting to a newcomer to the game and leave them slightly bewildered and will probably put the game back into its case to gather dust. This type of person should do some reading up on the game before they buy it. The reason being if you don't know what is going on you will defiantly not enjoy the game. A friendly feature is that you can instantly "warp" to any part on the map if you have been there before. Eliminating the need to spend over an hour travelling to a distant area and then having to quit because your mum says it is time to go to bed.

Improving on Morrowind that used the diary system for quests and expected people to write the quests down if they wanted to ever complete them. Oblivion becomes now aimed at more the casual gamer and keeps it in a nice little quest log where each quest is held separate and you can read them and change between as you please.

Although there is a main quest to follow there are many other separate story lines to follow as well. Each deciding the story of your character. Why not become a thief or a fighter for the arena? Each of these factions bar Arena has a storyline to follow in your quest to become the guild master. Each will consume you for hours on end and are a nice little break from the demands of the main story line.

The physics engine has greatly improved over other games recently. You are able to interact with most pieces of scenery in the game, for example moving a flag hanging from the ceiling or throwing a dead wolf of the side of a hill into the river. It's a mini game in itself. Its nice how these little touches can be added to a game even though most people would probably never really notice them, or when they do not give a second thought. However it appears that these objects are moving by an unseen force, so slightly unrealistic when in 3rd person view.

The combat also seems so much more realistic in this outing. Previous games have allowed you to press a button and then the computer decides whether you hit the opponent or not. Combat seems fairly realistic, no random flailing of your characters arms or being "owned" by a rat. The team at Bethesda have certainly put a lot of work into making the combat work, everything flows so fluently, you can jump into the river and continue your fight with the gate guard with special animations made for water fighting. A major gripe however is that everything is evenly matched. You can travel the world safely at a low level. Everything you encounter will be beatable to some extent. The monsters/people/animals level with you. Which eliminates the challenge of levelling up and travelling to a far and distant area of the map.

Sure Combat is probably what most people will want to be doing in their time in the game, after all how much time do you get to go out and slay a couple of wolves with a two-handed sword and come back home just in time for dinner? Oblivion is so much deeper than this though. The levelling system is marvellous, and in order to build up your skills you need to practice them, you want see your light armour or magic stats go up without donning a white shirt and spamming spells to cure your self why some stray skeleton smacks you on the back of the head with a mace.

Surely a RPG though is not a game if you can't create a character and just have one forced on you like Final Fantasy. In Oblivion it takes it to the next level. Control everything from the shape of their nose right down to their birth sign. Each part of the character creation procedure takes strategy in planning the optimal character that suits the goals that you wish to achieve. Of course the shape of your nose won't affect much though. Its things like this that make sure every character is unique, and you truly are playing as your own creation.

Of course this means nothing if the character doesn't look good, and in Oblivion it looks more than good. It seems graphics these days are what makes and breaks a game, people take no account of gameplay (silly people) but it is nice to play a game that looks good though.

This game is a living-breathing world, and with a few exceptions every character is unique. Right from the way they look to their personality. The characters are highly detailed, but their eyes appear to look away from you at times, which is mildly scary. You can see the individual hairs moving and their lips when they are having one of the conversations with other people in the beautiful world. Enemies do appear a bit samey at times though although Bethesda have gone to the lengths to give them individual names, which is of course an a nice touch and adds to the effect of the game.

The characters can look great in many games, but where many fail in the graphics department is the look of the scenery. As previously mentioned much of it is interactive. However the cities is what really blows me away. Some of them are huge, take the imperial city for instance, but it remains totally original throughout, sure there are repeated buildings and posts etc. but each area remains totally unique and is instantly recognisable the moment you enter it. You can make out the individual bricks in the walls or read the posters that are scattered throughout. It isn't just limited to the larger areas either, even the smaller places dotted about the world are unique in their own right looking like something that belongs there. Not like a huge tower block in the middle of the New Forest. Everything belongs there and feels so natural.

The best part about the graphics though is the scenery. I can just stand there for minutes on end (hours is pushing it) looking over the vast landscape, which never seems to end. Using research into Forests (perhaps fairly boring) Bethesda is able to capture what a forest looks like and make it seem realistic. With deer running about, erosion in the soil and trees swaying freely in the wind it seems so natural. No forest in the real world is as beautiful as this. That I have seen any way. With good graphics comes a price to pay though, there are frequent jumps in the game while the game loads the scenery up, although they are reduced with the use of a Hard Disk Drive. The load times remain long, at around 45 seconds although as some data is cached they decrease over time.

A gripe about the graphics though is that it seems a little too dark for my liking; you need to adjust the brightness on the TV if you don't want to squint too hard. Sometimes it is even dark during the daytime in the game. It didn't help when there were the very nice looking rain effects on the screen either, at times to screen was just black. Not enjoyable.

Of course the graphics are nothing when everything else is so bland and totally unrealistic. Like the real world (which you will miss when you pick up this game) each character has their own unscripted conversations with each other and follows their own routine. Some of the conversations do not make sense at times though, but it may be because I am not hearing it correctly. However these conversations do add to the effect of the game and it would seem a lot worse if everyone stood around like vegetables waiting for the hero to interact with them.

The musical score is marvellous, even if you do not notice it at times. It changes extremely fluently and no pause while it does this. It gets repetitive at times though, but just not thinking about it will make it go away.

No game would be complete without a story though, and Oblivion's will not only keep you hooked but also will last for hours. Your story starts in the cells of the Imperial prison when it appears there is a secret passage in your cell that the Emperor needs to get through to get to safety. Unfortunately he dies on the way, and so begins your long quest to close shut the gates of Oblivion, find the heir to the throne and save the day. The story is extremely deep and has something that will keep you hooked throughout and guessing what lies around the next corner.

Of course not everything about The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion could be mentioned in this review and there are many other things that people would need to look at themselves, which is where most of the fun in the game lies. There is so much to do. However despite Bethesda trying to open this game into a more casual market it is still not for everyone. Go out and rent it if you have never played/enjoyed a RPG before then go out and rent this. If you have enjoyed any RPG then go out and buy it now, there will be no regrets. Despite its setbacks such as slight pauses in the gameplay while loading the scenery it makes up for it in other areas. Notably that of the length, the game will be in your Xbox 360 for hours (over 300) and sitting home at night you will get that urge to reach down and press the button and enter the world of Tamriel.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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