Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review
Role Playing Game. The words that strike fear into many games players out there. RPG’s conjure up visions of rolling dice, battering goblins and copious amounts of beards and tavern wenches. Most people either love or hate their RPG’s and the next in the long running RPG series called The Elder Scrolls (1994 was the first) has just landed on the Xbox 360 – which will either increase their love or loathing for the goblin bashing genre. The Third Elder Scrolls, Morrowind, appeared on the original Xbox console to an odd response. Most people thought that the RPG dice rolling genre belonged to the PC, so to see Morrowind appear was a shock. Oblivion now arrives to fill the RPG void in the current 360 catalogue, but how does it fair? Is there an enjoyable game to be found underneath all this goblin mashing? Well you can join me in a vast journey into the mind, soul and beard of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
The thing many people hate about the RPG genre is the inevitable dungeon crawl and spending the first several hours smacking rats up just to get your experience. From the outset of Oblivion you first spend your opening moments [More like hours —Ed] picking your character race and fine tuning the looks. There are 10 races to choose from and customizable to your hearts content. You pretty much have control of all of the facial features of your new character, down to how fat their face is, how old they are and how demented looking they are. The fun of Oblivion is that no matter what race you pick, you can successfully do any of the available jobs. Sure, some of the races are better suited to certain jobs (e.g. High Elves are very good with magic but a High Elf can also be a thief or just a plain old warrior) but the choice is really up to you based upon your preferred play style.
Oblivion does let you have free reign in how your make your character and also how you progress in the world. The game does have the standard “Hero to save the world from evil” plotline but this is where Oblivion differs from many RPG’s. As soon as you escape your dungeon jog and you get your first look out into the big wide world you are free to do what you want. If you want to embark on the main storyline, then off you go. If you prefer to go running happily through the fields, swimming through the lake or just going for a hunt around, Oblivion gives you that choice.
What makes Oblivion so much fun is that you can spend hours and hours adventuring, visiting hidden shrines, relieving monsters of their possessions and still go nowhere near the main story. Depending on your play style you can head towards the Fighters Guild, Mages Guild, Thieves Guild or the Dark Brotherhood. Each one will have its own plotlines and stories for you to take part in. You can go from Apprentice at the Mage Guild to becoming the Grandmaster of all of the Guild members around the world. Also the fun in joining guilds is that you can join all four if you wanted to, but you need to walk a fine line so you do not upset any of the opposing guilds.
You will also have great fun playing with the physics that are built into Oblivion. Pick up an item and throw it and watch as it bounces off other objects. Steal a plate from under some fruit and watch as it scatters and rolls about, eventually hitting the floor. The physics are also built into the weapons you fight with as well. Attacking and defending is all done with the same physics, so timing is crucial. If you manage to kill something on a hill, watch and marvel as it rolls down the hill and end up in a pile at the bottom of a valley. The only problem with this is that sometimes the world does throw up some very odd physics. Go into a house and randomly an object will just fall down, even though you had nothing to do with it. Also when killing things on hills, the physics can exaggerate slightly as the body goes flying in the air and rolls down the side of a mountain, even if you only punched the monster. It is truly a joy to behold but also reminds you that you’re playing a game and not really playing a fully realistic world.
I am a player who loves sneaking around and robbing people (In the game mind you) so naturally thief class is perfect for me. The tension builds as you edge towards a house, the nerves kick in as you slowly pick the lock and the door eases open with a creak. Peering around in the gloom you cautiously move towards a bed with someone sleeping on it. Your heart beats faster as you steal his valuables and make you way towards to door. Nerves are racing now but your nearly home free and then…the guards see you, yell out to arrest you and your going to jail – or maybe not if you cackle madly and make a daring escape. What follows is every single guard from the entire city chasing you with swords and bows as you make death defying leaps from rooftops and scuttle over walls, just trying to escape the pointy wrath of the local guards. Things like this really make you feel a part of the whole Oblivion world and it is very easy to become so wrapped up in the world that you begin to enjoy every minute of it. The sign of a good game is if you will go back to it. The sign of a fantastic game is you spend every moment talking about it and waiting to get back into the world of Oblivion.
The game is playable in both first person and third person if you desire and both views work very well for different things. Melee or spell combat is easier in first person but sneaking around is easier to do in third person (Splinter Cell style) so you can see what is going on around you but you are free to swap and change as you see fit. The gameplay of Oblivion is deep, rich and rewarding but not too complicated that you get dragged down with levelling and allocating numbers to your stats. Of course all of this is in Oblivion but it is neatly hidden behind menus, which initially seem overly complex, but do only show the information you want to know about and nothing more. Oblivion is easy to get into initially but deep and complex once you master how the game works and that is what makes it so much fun to play. I will let you find out about the vampires by yourself…
From the “making your first character” days and the first 10 minutes of the game, Oblivion looks pretty. Walls look realistic and shimmer with dungeon moistness. The torch in your hand creates some amazing looking shadows and makes the light dance playfully over the walls and doors. It is not until you escape your goblin infested tomb that you really notice the graphics in Oblivion. Hills and mountains stretch off for miles. Hundreds and hundreds of detailed trees are all over them. Grass and rocks cover vast areas of the world and it is at that moment that you forget that you are playing a game.
The world in which Oblivion is based is called Tamriel and it is really a world, full of villages, cities, dungeons, caves, wildlife and people of all races – all in a world which you have free reign to run around in. When the weather gets bad and the sound of thunder can be heard, you know it is going to rain hard and Oblivion dishes out some amazing look weather effects. Day and night cycles are in place as well and just as the sun sets, Oblivion dishes up some absolutely gob-smacking sunsets. Grass and trees shake as the wind picks up and the rain lashes down onto the ground. Oblivion can do gloomy and bleak as if it were a game itself. Everything is the world is detailed, even down to the bits of fruit on plates, butterflies hovering over the grass and even the onion you have just picked up and thrown into the river – it is all there for you to see, feel and rob.
As you run through the grass during the day, as the butterflies bounce around you, [Sounds romantic! —Ed] and the beauty of the graphics in Oblivion really do come through. This can, however, be an issue when items pop up from nowhere. The 360 is pushing so much detail and a vast amount of objects in this world, that is it only natural that there would be a small amount of graphical issues. If you are on horse-back, galloping through the fields, then the pop-up is more noticeable as the game plays catch-up with you, causing a mountain top spring from thin air. The only thing that is odd though is this only really happens to terrain. The trees never seem to pop up, even though there are literally thousands of them on display. This is down to the “SpeedTree” software that is in Oblivion which renders literally thousands of trees at a time without any problems. Trees have always been a graphical problem for games. To make them believable used to take a lot of time. Gone are the days of flat trees which face the same direction no matter where you look at them. Oblivion showcases the SpeedTree software with trees as far as your dice rolling eyes can see. As mentioned earlier, the weather plays on these trees causing them to sway and creak as the wind picks up. You can see the leaves moving during the early morning and the birds darting around. Enough to bring even the most hardened goblin slaughterer to tears. [Enough tree talk! —Ed]
Oblivion is without doubt one of the prettiest titles on the 360 and the graphics are really impressive, from the massive cities, down to the broken boxes on the ground, but the thought that they could have made the world smaller and reduce any pop-up keeps jumping into my head. The world is so big, I personally wouldn’t have minded sacrificing some size in order to kill the “pop-up” effect. Oblivion does have a very grand promise set before us and nearly manages to show us what it can do. Sometimes the textures on objects looks a little bland compared to others. You spend hours making your first character and then hardly get to see their face at all. On the whole graphics wise Oblivion does very well. There are a few issues here and there but nothing earth shattering enough to prevent you from playing and enjoying the game.
Role Playing Games are very unique in their ability to provide emotional and exciting audio. Oblivion has is orchestral music in place by the quartet load as you run around Tamriel. Flutes play and strings are gently plucked as you gallop through the fields, complementary to the chirping of birds. Suddenly the music changes to danger music as the game notices you have bumped into an angry lion looking for a tasty meal, i.e. you. The music in Oblivion is of a high quality and really does provide an added touch that makes the game come alive and increases the fun had by the player. Weapons clatter and swoosh through the air, goblins gurgle in pain as another arrow pierces their liver (I am sure Goblins have livers but don’t take my word for it).
When you get into your first rainstorm, crank up your volume and hear how much effort Oblivion goes to make a realistic sounding world. Objects in the world clunk and clatter as well, with a realistic sound attached to pretty much everything in the world.
Audio wise, both Music and sounds, Oblivion is very good but a little more variety on weapon noises, or character noises would have been more welcome but what the game does it does very well.
The control setup for Oblivion is well rounded and amazingly easy to get to grips with. Even when you have lots of weapons and numerous spells the controls are all easy to remember and do their job perfectly well. Spells initially seem like the most difficult thing to handle but once you have mastered the hotkeys (D-Pad) they are easy to access even in the heat of battle. The Hotkey can also be used for equipping different weapons and items if you need to swap mid fight. The button layouts are the same no matter if you are in first or third person view, so swapping between the two is simple. Oblivion does like to make players try everything and having to mix swords, axes, bows and spells together could get complicated but melee attacks on the Right Trigger, Blocking on the Left Trigger and spells are on the Right Bumper which makes is painfully easy to be swinging swords and hammering out fireballs in a split second.
With a main storyline of about 30 or so hours the game is already big enough for many people. Added to this are the Guild House storylines which have hours and hours of quests lined up for you. Travelling the world will reveal hidden shrines and dungeons for you to explore, and these can all vary is size and complexity, these add hours and hours of replay value in Oblivion. If your like me and you love wandering around and seeing what the world contains, Oblivion has more than enough going on for you to be wrapped up in its world for hours on end. Even for those that get stuck into the main story, they can stop at any time and do sub quests which many of the local populace have planned for you. These range from your standard fare, which involves rescuing people, to some of the more offbeat quests such as diving into a lake and killing fish for someone.
Depending on your play style, depends on how you can approach many of the quests. As a thief you can just resolve the majority of them by stealing the object you need as the person sleeps – but not all quests can be done simply. Some involve vast amounts of travelling which you can either do on foot, by a handy horse (Stolen of course!) or you can use the instant travel feature that is built into the Map. You pick a location you wish to travel to and it will teleport you there. You need to find the place first but all of the major cities are put on the map ready for you to travel to. The only downside to the replay ability is Oblivion’s use of Xbox Live which we come to next.
The most disappointing aspect of Oblivion came in the first few hours of playing when a friend said to me, “I wish they had put a co-operative mode in,” and then it hit me. Other than the pretty standard “Downloadable Content” on the back of the box, there is no Live play at all. This kind of game is crying out for a co-op mode, even if it was only available in the fighting arena. What the Downloadable Content will prove to be is a mystery at the moment. Will it be more races, items and areas to explore? Time will tell but I get the feeling that the game pretty much has all that already so just adding a few new weapons or even a new race to play, would not really make up for the complete lack of any Live functionality. Maybe a patch could add co-op but I think that it would be better suited to the inevitable Elder Scrolls V.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a truly epic game and something that deserves to belong in everyones 360 collection. Even if you are not into the whole “RPG” thing, Oblivion still holds out a great game for those that do not want to get bogged down in stats and goblins. The game can be played at a pace that suits you and can be tailored to your favoured playing style. Oblivion is the first RPG for the 360 and without a doubt it will not be the last, but it has managed to place itself as a hallmark for how a 360 RPG should work. I am sure games will try to emulate and may even beat Oblivion but we know who came first. Audio is superb, well arranged and has a great impact, graphics are stunning and beautiful and the controls are perfectly balanced for the game. Top marks go out to the replayability of Oblivion with its hours of plotline and subquests which will keep even the most avid beard wearing, rat masher happily playing for hours and hours. You owe it to Tamriel to play Oblivion and save the world.
Originally Written By: Barrie Rogers