Five years ago, this was the game most RPG-heads were waiting for. Of course I was also, but I did not have a next-gen console, nor did I have a PC capable of playing this then resources-hogging game (and I still don’t have a capable PC). So maybe this review is too late to bring any real news material to any discussion about the Elder Scrolls series, but the next game is still not announced, and well, I just finished it and have some opinions about it. Let me just get this off my chest first though: I will be reviewing this game with a 2010 oriented-mind, not a 2005 one, therefore, I will have to explore this game in the context of the recent games which I have played which may even have been inspired off Oblivion. Bear with me though, as this could be interesting.
Oblivion starts out as many of the last games in the Elder Scrolls series started out: with a nondescript character in an equally nondescript location. Almost immediately though, you are thrust into the main story of the game as guards threaten to kill you because the Emperor for some reason needs to use a secret passage in your cell to escape an assassination attempt. From here on, you are invited to follow the Emperor and his guards as the Emperor trusts you for whatever reason (the aspects of your character have not even been defined yet). In the secret passageways you watch the Emperor and his guards fight a bunch of weird magical beings that eventually kill the King and thus starts your actual journey in the game. Well, not really, you still need to fight your way through the sewers against various rats and dungeons, but once you see the light at the end of a tunnel, you really do get to do what you want in the Elder Scrolls’ signature sandbox manner.
As the game is so nonlinear at this point that you could literally just walk in circles for dozens of hours or embark on the Main Quest, which involves looking for an heir to the throne or something, the following experiences can only be attributed to the manner in which I decided to play. Thus, there may not be things I have ever came close to stumbling upon in the game that another person has happened upon dozens of times, so the best I can do is relate my particular experiences and what I grasped from the game.
Some good loot
First of all, as related above, Oblivion is nonlinear to the core. You can do anything you want if you are willing to chase your dreams. Yet, it is not so linear as to leave the player initially lost as many people, including I, felt at the beginning of Morrowind. There is an easily accessible journal which puts a marker on your map designating the location of where you can pursue information pertaining to the then active quest. if you have visited this location before, you can fast travel there. Some major cities are already open to fast travel at the start of the game. Once I entered the world of Cyrodiil for the first time, I immediately went to collect information regarding the first, active Main Quest mission. Afterwards, I decided to start exploring the world and collecting loot as to make the completion of the Main Quest easier as I thought it would be frought with challenging monsters and quests.
I decided to have a fighting character knowledgeable in the arts of swordsmanship, blocking, and armor. To progress my skills in this area I decided to take to the Arena in the main city. Here, you fight progressively harder characters for gold, experience, and fame. I completed the Arena in its entirety in one (long) sitting. In the Arena I came to master sword combat to the point that I was practically exploiting the game. You see, in Oblivion, instead of calculating the chance of possibly hitting the opposing character, if you swing your sword and hit the enemy, the game always registers a hit. This is in direct opposition to the standard in many RPGs where chance usually dictates attacks to some degree. I do not have much of a problem with the current set-up of attacking with swords in Oblivion besides its one major flaw. If you get a somewhat high level in Block, around 20 if I remember correctly, blocking an opponents swing has a large chance of causing the opponent to recoil, or, in most instances be somewhat stunned from attacking for a few seconds. At this point, you can let go of the block button, attack the oppenent with one or two swipes, then continue blocking and wait for them to attack again. Repeat this and your character will most likely lose very little health and the opposing character will be slaughtered. Once you know how to do this, combat with melee weapons becomes boring, repetitive, and easy.
Block, Attack, Block, Attack, Block, Attack ....
Combat is not wholly flawed though, as the spells and magic in the game are really something to witness. In most games, I stick to the standard melee weapons such as swords and shields. Usually magic in games does not have the punishing effect on enemies you want them to have. It is usually something used as a last resort or only after extensive grinding because magic usually does just not damage enemies enough. However, in Oblivion, the magic is easy to use for simple spells and enchantments, but also one of the deepest aspects of the game. Weapons can be enchanted, wearing certain articles of clothing or armor add constant effects. I stuck with the simpler spells that regenerated lost health points or that throw fireballs. I did not enchant weapons or armor but I learned how to do so and was greatly impressed. The visual effects of the spells are astounding and allow the player to be wholly engrossed in the experience. Magic in Oblivion is something of near infinite depth and discovery.
Just as deep and varied are the side quests, though that may not be a sufficient name for them. They are not sides to anything, but a whole experience unto themselves. Quests and missions originate everywhere in the game from random dead body encounters to those given out by guild leaders. Located in many major cities in Cyrodiil are guild halls housing Mages and Fighters, and lesser known buildings where the Dark Brotherhood or Thieves’ Guild meet. Each guild has its own, massive line of quests. Traversing the ranks is fun as some guilds give you small leadership rolls over other members which leads to some quite fun battles in the caves that dot the map. Some guilds will lead you down a dark road with twists and turns everywhere. Each quest line is practically a game itself and some of the quests are so fun that you will want to do them more than once in different ways just to see the reactions of the NPCs.
With so many interesting side quests, I just cannot understand why the Main Quest line is so boring. It is sufficient to move the story, which I hardly cared to understand, along and that was it. The main story came down to finding the heir and fetching things he needed to save the world. Here and there you had to go into Oblivion gates and close them which is only really fun the first time. You eventually find out you can just run through the Oblivion gates, bypassing all enemies and grab the Sigil Stone at the top of the main tower which immediately closes the gate. I resorted to this many times during one Main Quest mission (which I later found out was optional) almost ten times because so many gates had to be closed. This missions has you closing gates to get military support for another city from the Chancellor of each of the other cities and Cyrodiil. It is boring, long, and worst of all, repetitive which pretty much sums of the first 90 percent of the Main Quest. Somewhat redeeming the Main Quest is the second to last mission which takes you to a beautiful locale and the last mission which has you fighting with many, many NPCs, for and against. Much fun was had here though I don’t see why Bethesda did not implement more cooperative missions into the game when they seem to work so well.
More repetition comes from exploring the world presented as Cyrodiil. It is big, or at least it seems so to me. The land is scattered with dungeons, towns, artifacts, and the wildlife here and there. However, the dungeons and caves are all the same. the layout of each may be different for the most part, but once you have stepped into the first one, you have seen them all. Once in a blue moon you will happen upon a dungeon with an eclectic mix of creatures on the inside, but there is little incentive to explore the underworld of Cyrodiil. Loot whores will be very sad to learn there is little, if anything, of value in 95 percent of the dungeons. Literally nothing. A 100 gold stone here, a rusting piece of armor there. It sucks that there is so little loot worthy of your time and you start avoiding caves and dungeons, only venturing down into them for quests and running to the outside world as soon as you get your prize so that you don’t die of boredom underground. But is there really anything on the outside to look forward to…?
Cyrodiil, with all of its towns and forests, just gets boring. You can look for different things to do, find people to talk to, explore towns. After the first five hours though, and there is just no life. Each town is different from each other, but all the buildings inside are same. The architecture is lack-luster at best and just downright uninspired at worst. Running around in the woods would be better if the game actually ran well on the XBOX 360, but sometimes the framerate drops drastically and any small sense of immersion is lost. Sometimes beautiful, mostly drab and deplete of anything interesting (they could have marketed the game as “1 MILLION [of the same looking] trees”) the landscape gets boring fast as if Bethesda had absolutely no inspiration. In fact, a mod I have recently run across on the Internette shows what Oblivion should have and could have been. Something different from the normal medieval crap everyone has seen before. It is called Nehrim and looks better than the game it mods. Bethesda better be taking notes. View the mod here.
Oblivion is not wholly a bad game. The ending of the Main Quest is certainly something to witness, but the rest of it should have been so good. Side quests for the various guilds are long and much more fulfilling than anything else in the game. Guilds and side quests may not be something to get the game for, but at a bargain bin price, they add some adventure-ness to your gaming. I am sorry to see that a mod made by a small group of programmers are set to release something that looks to be a hundred times better than the game it is based on. Hopefully Bethesda will learn from their mistakes and release a superior sequel for the Elder Scrolls series.