|The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion|
|Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: Out Now
Have you ever played through the GTA series and wondered what it’d be like to be a knight rather than a gangland kingpin, slaying orcs and goblins rather than Mafiosi characters and prostitutes? Chances are that if you don’t own a ten-sided dice or a display case full of Warhammer models, you haven’t. Obviously someone at Bethesda has, as they’ve made a great free-roaming balancing act in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
Bethesda has really done a good job in creating a living, breathing world in Oblivion. The countryside is vast and beautiful, with swaying grass and different flowers blowing in the wind. If you get to the top of a hill you can see right down into the valley below. Each city has a periodic but completely different type of architecture, all depending on which province you’re in, but all look beautiful. The weather changes frequently and bright blue skies can be quickly replaced with genuinely uninviting black storms and high winds. The lighting effects are also very nice; the sun glints on swords and axes and after emerging from a dungeon it takes a little while for your “eyes” to get used to the sunshine. The best effects I’ve seen however are around midday; the sun shines brightly and reflects off brilliant white stone ruins, looking sublime. Also, watching a sunset in Oblivion is an experience to be done at least once, if only for the beautiful palette of oranges in the sky. It’s things like these that make you feel more like you’re sitting outside in a camp out in the wilderness rather than in your front room in Corby Kettering.
Luckily the NPCs are more impressive as there are literally hundreds of them, all with speaking parts! Granted, most of them sound a lot alike and some of the dialogue treads common ground but the amount of inane chatter you can listen to is the largest I’ve heard in a game. Although it would have been good to see some of the characters doing their own things (travelling, monster-hunting etc) rather than plodding around the town, they do have their own little conversations between each other, which is another thing I haven’t heard in an RPG.
Oblivion’s predecessor, Morrowind tried to give the freedom of a fantasy world that let you do pretty much as you pleased but ended up giving you a little too much freedom. Oblivion gives you the direction of the main storyline, but also gives you the opportunity very early on to go off and explore the rest of the world at your own pace and carry on with the story later.
I was a bit dubious at first about simply wandering about looking for fights without following a mission so I was content to run through the main storyline. That was until I was arrested for stealing some guy’s nice pointy helmet and was taken to one of the many towns in the game, Anvil. Before I went back to my mission I thought I might as well take a look around. After about twenty minutes I was still walking around the city, looking in the shops and taverns and had inadvertently picked up a couple of side quests! Juggling more than one quest at a time is always the case with Oblivion, as no sooner have you completed one quest then another seems to drop into your lap and that “This is really the last one” quest is ten hours behind you…
Since the realm of Cyrodiil is a pretty damn big place, and to walk between towns on simple go-fetch quests would take ages, you can fast-travel between the major towns - all of which are accessible from the start. What you miss by fast-travelling, however are the many, many locations which aren’t initially on the map; they appear as symbols on your compass and reveal themselves on the map when you get there. These range from dark cult shrines and farms to the more common mines, caverns, abandoned castles, dungeons and Elven ruins that old-school RPG fans will be happy to see and explore. Pretty much every hidden environment doesn’t relate to any quest, and I can never walk past one without exploring inside, so the simple task of walking from one town to another can literally take hours!
The system for levelling up is quite good on paper, as it is tailored to each character you play as. You have every skill you can use in the game, from blade and blunt (swords and axes) to security (lockpicking) and mercantile (bartering) and depending on your class a few of them are major skills (in my case, weapons, armour and strength). You can advance in all of the skills there but you can only level up if you advance in your main skills.
This links into the enemies, as to keep things challenging you can go off and do sub-quests and level up and instead of beating the little imps and goblins down with one swipe they level up with you. This stops things from getting too easy but also creates a problem if you play off-mission for ages and then come back to the main storyline, as the NPCs do not level up. This means that while you’re prancing about in Mithril armour, waving your Elven longswords, they’re trying to fight off level 20 goblins with iron swords and promptly get slapped across the map. Also, it does beg the question that if the missions are just as hard at level 30 as they were when you were level 3, then what’s the point in levelling up at all? Although you can experience more by levelling up it doesn’t really motivate the player to slog through the sub-missions to find useful weapons and level up to fight that “unbeatable” enemy along the line…
There are two situations where the combat system falls down, though: When fighting more than one enemy and fighting in confined spaces. Usually these two come hand-in-hand as goblins and bandits hide out in the caverns in fairly large numbers and before you know it the fairly simple combat system starts to get confused. In the open it’s easy to fight as you’ve got space to back away, move around the enemy and find your bearings. In the caves you’re constantly retreating backwards, blocking several attacks at once. If they hit you hard enough you’re screwed, as you get dazed and sway around for a bit. In this time you’ve been pummelled into submission, and a succession of dazing hits can see you dead without even returning a hit. You can also be dazed if you attack an enemy while they’re blocking, which gets annoying when you’re fighting more than one enemy and you attack an open enemy, only to be dazed by the enemy that’s blocking behind him…
Some people I’ve spoken to about Oblivion didn’t catch on to the game as much as I did in the beginning. They didn’t like the fact that they didn’t seem to be making a difference in the game, that it was too big for its own good as, unless you put serious hours into it, you’d never see the end. Thirty gaming hours ago I hit back at them, saying that everyone moans about games with six-hour lifespans and not enough depth and now that one comes along it’s got too much depth?
It seemed like they didn’t really know what they wanted from a game, but thirty hours on, I’m starting to know what they mean. I’ve done countless sub-quests that never seem to end, and explored probably 20+ caves, ruins and forts and barely even scratched the surface. I like to have a feeling of accomplishment when doing anything, not just games, and I did the sub-missions as filler, waiting for them to run dry before going back to the main storyline. But they never ran dry, they just kept going and what was original and exciting suddenly felt like a demoralising slog that could probably never be finished, and I like completing games!
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a huge game, with gaming hours easily into the triple figures. The environment is believable and easy to get lost in (literally) and feels great, both in looks and sound. There’s much, much more to the game than what’s in this review (the guilds, bartering, arenas…) but I don’t want to reveal everything; I want you to find some things for yourself, like I did. The only real problems lie with the scale of the game, which coupled with the levelling system seem to offer no real incentive to play through all the sub-missions and explore the caves for anything more than sheer curiosity, which may be a turn-off for some people.
Fans of RPGs, from Morrowind to Final Fantasy, and even games like Deus Ex will enjoy Oblivion, as it is an addictive experience that can hit you like chloroform: one minute you’ll be sitting happily, playing away, the next it’s 2am, Oblivion’s still flickering away on the telly and you wonder where the time went. You don’t distinctly remember but you know it must have been good.
- Huge engrossing world
- Lots of freedom
- Loads of missions
- Massive lifespan
- Wonderfully atmospheric music.
- Needs a lot of hours to show results
- Flawed levelling up system
- Combat can get confusing
- Framerate drops
- Loading times can get annoying