Massive. Ambitious. Original.
These are the first terms that come to mind for describing Bethesda’s new release, Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. Being the first RPG for the Xbox 360, and probably the most anticipated, Oblivion had A LOT of expectations to try to meet. This game meets a lot of those, falls short in a few others, but overall cannot be described as anything but the best single player experience on the Xbox 360, period.
For those who didn’t play Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, I should let you know that Morrowind won many Game of the Year awards, touting a wide open world with an in depth character creation/development system allowing for hundreds of hours of gameplay. The game could be “beaten” quite fast, but the fun was to be had in both advancing your character and experimenting with the unlimited amount of things you could do with the NPC’s and environment.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion expands on those same concepts, showing us much of the same yet managing to be innovative at the same time. From the tutorial on, everything in the Oblivion world is at your disposal. You can head towards the next main objective or to any town on the map to start to develop your character or just have some fun with the locals. Part of the allure of Oblivion is that you can play it casually, seriously, or a bit of both. I personally enjoy playing seriously, but every now and then I’d save the game and just go crazy, looting and pillaging everything in sight. Sure, I got caught by the guards or died in every one of these, but the point was to have some short fun before loading the old save up again.
One of the most common complaints about RPG’s is the sheer amount of WALKING which you find yourself doing between brief periods of battle. This is fixed with the “Quick Travel” option in Oblivion, allowing for you to instantly go to any already explored place at any particular time. The main cities are allocated as already explored at the beginning of the game, allowing you to take your pick of where you’d like to go from the start. However, only using Quick Travel will mean that you cannot explore the countryside for temples, inns, small towns, camps, and of course, dungeons. By foot or by horse, nearing any of these locations out in the wilderness will mark it as an already explored area ready for quick travel. In the countryside you will also come across enemies as well as some of the most beautiful scenery yet to grace the Xbox 360.
Character creation is very in depth, letting you adapt your characters face extensively in dozens of different sliders along with the 10 races which are available for choosing. While the human-esque characters look relatively normal no matter how you shape them, it was especially fun with the non-human races, getting to make what you feel they should look like. But this in depth look creation seemed a little odd because this game is first person and unless you zoom out to the terrible 3rd person you will never see your characters face.
In the tutorial you also get to set your birth sign (Determines stat bonuses both + and - as well as spells for some), and your class. There are a lot of class options but ultimately the hardcore gamer in us all will want us to make a Custom class, where you pick what skills will be your major skills and which stats will be your focus. You even get to name the class you created. This allows for any kind of character you can imagine: A fireball spewing warrior in heavy armor, a thief who happens to be a conjurer, or even a bard who enjoys bashing a head in with an axe every now and then, take your pick.
Your major skills will affect how fast you level up, because leveling is based on reaching x amount of stat advances. Because your stats progress simply through use, athletics (running) and acrobatics (jumping) are absurdly easy to level. Setting these as your majors will mean fast leveling, but you won’t be as useful as someone who took the time to level up their skill with a blade or perhaps their lock picking skill. When you level, you get to boost your stats a little bit. As your skill levels, you will get new abilities at each milestone, such as an armorer not needing to use more than one hammer after a certain level of practice.
There is also the potential to get turned into a vampire from a vampire bite. You’ll contract the disease then neglecting the disease for 3 days will result in permanent vampirism which can only be solved by doing the very hard “Search for a Cure” quest. Vampirism grants a lot of bonuses, but comes with a weakness to fire and more importantly, weakness to sunlight. You’ll get hurt while out during the daytime. The amount of your bonuses or weaknesses will be proportional to how long you’ve gone without sucking some blood, every 24 hours you’ll get a new ability and your bonuses and weaknesses will go up. After 3 days, you’re maxed out and should die within 5 seconds of being out in the sun. Watch out for the disease until you decide that you WANT to be a vampire, because I don’t recommend leveling up from the start as one, although it is very possible.
Combat is fairly straight forward, simply hack and slash for warriors or aim and shoot for mages. There is a stealth system involved for those interested in sneaking behind an enemy and getting a critical hit, but a lot of the time the enemy’s awareness won’t allow for that without spells which makes you harder to see or hear. Enemies you encounter will be relative to your level, as will the treasure you loot from the dungeons and stores. This keeps you from running into anything too intimidating early on, but also keeps you from getting incredible equipment through theft (There is no required level for weaponry).
Aside from the adequately lengthened main quest, there are hundreds of side quests in the game, some of which will be simple and others will be advanced. Almost all of them are creative and aren’t the stereotypical “Go find x and bring me back x”. Most involve some kind of twist. The guilds will also employ you for jobs (Fighters, Mages, Dark Brotherhood (Assassins), Thieves Guild, Blackwood Company, possibly more I haven’t found yet) which are very in depth and will let you rank up in the guild, allowing you to receive more benefits from the guild. Or you can skip on the guild scene and go to The Arena for some gladiator style combat with some nice prizes. Leveling up in the guilds or arena will result in achievements.
Radiant AI is also present in this game, as every character has an itinerary for the day and will interact with the environment and with other NPCs. This helps the world seem more realistic than last-gen RPGs where everyone could be seen doing the same thing(s) all of the time. But it is also a pain to track people down sometimes because they will move from place to place. This helps the stealth and thievery portion of the game though, because you can spend a day tracking someone then raid their house the next day, knowing how long you have and where to go. But be careful, being caught means either having to pay a fine, spend time in jail, or take your very slim chances resisting arrest. You’ll lose any stolen items from your inventory if caught, even if you had stolen an item a long time ago the guards will take it.
Oblivion is one of the most beautiful 360 games to come out, right alongside Ghost Recon AW and Dead or Alive 4 for that honor. Character models could have been done just a tad better and the wilderness environment is repetitive, but that doesn’t take away from what is ultimately a beautiful game. Screenshots can’t do this game justice; you need to see it for yourself in motion. But there is where the problems begin.
Oblivion suffers from the occasional frame rate hiccup, which is fine, but it is the excessive loading which hurts the game. Loading screens aren’t so frequent, but when traveling in the wilderness you will get plenty of loading pauses while the environment in front of you is rendered. This hurts the mood quite a bit. Also, the scenery in the distance sometime won’t load and will stay at a really basic render until you get closer (called “Draw Distance”), loading in small bits and pieces over time. Just the scenery itself loading is somewhat disruptive. But most of the time there will be something blocking your view from the distant scenery so it isn’t that bad of an issue.
The faces of AI characters are well rendered, but for some reason they make all of the characters look OLD! I’ve yet to find one child in Oblivion and most of the “younger” characters still look to be in their mid to late 30’s. Perhaps there is a fertility problem running rampant which needs to be addressed before worrying about closing the gates of Oblivion? Lip syncing is off just a bit but considering the variety you’ll find in the faces the lip syncing is good enough for me.
Oblivion’s musical score fits the settings very well and is pleasing to the ears; it really helps you to feel as if you ARE the character. When combined with the excellent sound effects of combat and environment, the sound scores high marks. But the most incredible part of Oblivion sound-wise is the dialogue.
Dialogue in Oblivion is cleverly written and will often produce a few laughs, but more importantly it is all spoken. Every bit of speech in Oblivion can be heard, and not just the speech between your character and an NPC but the NPCs will often make conversation amongst themselves. Sometimes this conversation is awkward, but more often than not it helps add to the mood in a public environment.
Not only is it all voice acted, but it is acted well. The voice actors did an incredible job of covering the thousands of lines which they had to speak and really bring the characters to life.
There are hundreds of hours of gameplay in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion just waiting to be played. Hundreds of sub-quests, a long main quest, guild quest lines, and leveling up have the potential to dominate your life. The depth of the game is incredible, and it is currently one of the most beautiful games on the Xbox 360. Downloadable content being added ever since release is also a plus.
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