The games in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series are huge. Ask anyone who’s played Arena, Daggerfall, or Morrowind and they’ll vouch for that, and Oblivion is no different. In fact, it’s so large that a traditional review would be irrelevant. So, in that light, I’m going to do a series of reviews, covering the game from different angles and time frames. This review, the first in the series, covers the game shortly after you start. Let us begin, shall we?
Oblivion, like the Elder Scrolls games before it, starts you in your cozy own prison cell. Once you create your avatar with the game’s highly customizable character creation tools, you’re off to your surprisingly modest cell. If it weren’t for that loud mouth across the hall it wouldn’t be so bad. You can toy with the physics by tossing stuff about and you’re able to throw your first punches to get a feel for the game. Once the Emperor, your Emperor, Uriel Septim enters your cell, however, it’s a different story. You’re on the road to freedom, and creating your character all the while. You get to toy with different weapons, including a bow and arrows, try out magic, learn about stealth, play with the lock picking mini game, and otherwise pick up cool stuff for use or selling later. This is a much better set up then Morrowind, in that you get to try all of the skills you’ll need before even selecting a class. In this way you’ll have a better grasp of who or what you want to be in the game. In fact, the game will even suggest a class to you, based on how you’ve played up to that point. I was suggested as a scout, but I opted to go with the versatile custom class system to make my own warrior/mage combo. Cyrodil, here I come!
Once out of the Imperial Sewers, you’re on your own. Oh sure, you’ve been given an oh-so-important task by the now-late Emperor, but that’s really to your own discretion. You can make your way in the world however you wish. I personally chose to hike up to the Imperial Market District to sell allot of the junk I’d snagged. You can fast travel by choosing a site you know of on your world map or you can walk it like I did. While the fast travel system cuts down on a lot of the meaningless wandering of Morrowind, it doesn’t point out 90% of the places you can go. These must be discovered by you if you want the fast travel there sometime in the future. Even quest goals must first be walked to before they can be fast travel destinations. Fortunately, the game’s compass will point out points of interest in the area for you to explore. It will also point the way to the goal of your Active Quest, which you can change in your quest log. This is useful if you’re lost.
Now before I wrap up the first chapter of e-AAGH.net’s Oblivion review, I must touch on the game’s system performance. Oblivion is one of the biggest games in existence and it requires a good system to run well. However, it’s also well optimized for systems under par. I run the game on an AMD Athlon XP 1.6 Ghz system with 512MB RAM and a Radeon X1600 Pro graphics card. Oblivion auto-detected my settings on ‘High,” but I’ve scaled back on a few of them to get better performance. I run it at 800×600 with view distance maxed and HDR lighting enabled. The LOD for grass and the like has been pulled in, but all “Distant Objects” like buildings are enabled. The game runs fine in most cases but can stutter when allot of activity is on screen. The point of this is to say that while Oblivion is a resource hog, it’s a well optimized resource hog. Beware of Bethesda’s trademark crashes though. Like all it’s predecessors, Oblivion can and will crash at any time.
Last time, I began my quest into Cyrodiil. Now I rate the meat of the game. Exploring, questing, adventuring, and even reckless killing are all open for me now. I chose to follow the main quest for a start, and that meant entering Oblivion.
I don’t want to sound grim, but Oblivion isn’t all it’s hyped to be. The enemies are deadly, yes, and the world is evil in appearance, but to me it was just like cleaning out the Strongholds in Morrowind; a very workman-like approach with little in the way of surprises. I’ve entered a number of gates so far and it’s been a relatively straight forward process to getting them shut. Go in, kill everything, get to the top of the tower, the end.
Well, if the dimension of Oblivion isn’t that exciting, how about the guilds? Ah, here the game shines. Not only are the Fighter’s and Mage’s Guilds very different in approach and quest styles, the other two guilds hark back to Daggerfall, in a very good way. You need to make yourself get noticed to enter the secretive Thieve’s Guild or the Dark Brotherhood. On top of that, they don’t just except you right out – you have to pass tests to get in. Oblivion really makes playing the different guilds worth while by making them so very unique from each other.
When not on official (or not-so-official) quests, you can wander randomly and find adventure around every turn. The dungeons, ruins, mines, and old forts are not only rife with baddies of every type, but now they’re lined with traps to be wary of. If you step on a trigger, you might get hit by a swinging log if you’re not careful. However, the Ayleid ruins take the cake as far as traps are concerned. Floor panels that shoot upward into an array of spikes, dart-shooting traps in the walls, and poisonous gas vents aligned to make your life miserable. The best part is, however, that with clever thinking and skill you can either negate the traps (by triggering them and getting out of the way), or use them to your advantage against enemies you find. I particularly liked pushing a huge pile of logs off an edge in a mine to crush a goblin below.
Combat is so much more intuitive then Morrowind that it’s unbelievable. Bear in mind, it’s not perfect by any means, but compared to Morrowind, it’s superb. Weapon swipes with one button, blocking with another, and finally magic casting with a third key. Alternating between blocks, attacks, and magic usage really makes the combat more dynamic that I’d have imagined. Naturally, this is of great use in the Imperial City’s Arena, where you can either bet on gladiatorial matches or take part yourself. You have to use the provided armor, but weapon, shield, helmet, and accessories are up to you. Another plus with the new combat is that when your sword connects, you hit. Period. No more swinging through your opponent because a virtual die roll didn’t come up in your favor. The Havok physics engine makes for some spectacular deaths, too, when you really over power your opponent. You can seriously plow them over to one side or blast them away big time with powerful magic. So far, Oblivion is looking good. Get set for the wrap-up of our Oblivion Review next time!
In the last two chapters, I’ve discussed how the game starts, the fast travel system, Oblivion’s system requirements, the Guilds, side quests, combat and Oblivion itself. Now, in the final chapter in e-AAGH.net’s Oblivion review, we’ll cover how it all comes together to make a single game.
For starters, Cyrodiil (the province in Tamerial where the game takes place and home to the Imperials) is an amazing place to explore. From the Colovian Highlands and Jerral Mountains to the Great Forest and Nibien Basin, there’s always a new sight waiting for you. The cities themselves are very unique from each other. No two cities share the same architecture, lifestyle, or personality as another so you’re sure to develop a favorite or two (and possibly dislike a city as well). It’s all populated by NPCs that wander
and engage each other at will, as well as creatures that fit into the Elder Scrolls lore. Early on you’ll deal with wolves and Imps, but soon the dangers are from the mighty Ogres, the fast and deadly Trolls, and the intimidating Minotaur. Bandits, highwaymen, marauders, vampires… all these you will encounter in your travels through the countryside.
With a decent computer (or the Xbox 360), you’ll see for miles around you. The first time you notice the White Gold Tower in the Imperial City off in the distance come into view, you’ll understand what the developers were striving for.
The rewards are spectacular as well. Shiny armor, fancy clothes, new houses, and the greatest weapons are all available to the enterprising adventurer. Some are tied to quests, but many are out there, just waiting for you to find them. Also, there are Daedric shrines to be found, and if you can complete a quest for the Daedric god it represents, you can gain access to artifacts from Tamerilic lore, such as the Wabbajack (and who doesn’t want the Wabbajack?). With a certain rank in the Mages guild you earn the opportunity to enchant your own weapons and create your own spells, a la Morrowind. However, it’s only possible at podiums in the Arcane Univeristy.
Weapons include the normal range; Iron, Steel, Dwarven, Silver, Glass, Ebony, and Daedric, but Oblivion also goes back to 1996’s Daggerfall and reintroduces Elvin weapons and armor to the gameworld. There’s also Mythril armor, but no Mythril weapons (as far as I know). The magic is also upgraded, with my favorite being the shock damage spells. There’s just something about hurling lightning bolts – not little balls like in Morrowind, but actual bolts – across the room that charms me. With the Havok physics engine, gross overkill on enemies can lead to some spectacular results as they fly backwards and contort with whatever they hit. There’s also blood in the game, for those who enjoy that. It can show up on either the environment, creature’s bodies, or weapons. However, it doesn’t seem to attach itself to weapons very often.
Oblivion was touted highly with it’s Radiant A.I. system that was intended to give the NPC’s more life, but many people have been disappointed with the result. I think this has to do with altered expectations. The RAI system wasn’t supposed to make the NPCs run around and engage in random acts of free will all of the time. It’s main goal was to make the game world less static then in Morrowind, and it accomplishes that quite well. The NPCs do get into different situations from time to time though. I’ve come across beggars stealing in the street, hunters coming home after being out of town – presumably hunting – early in the morning, and people of all sorts coming to and from the chapels for worship.
However, for whatever praise I’ve given Oblivion here, it’s not a perfect game. Bethesda still can’t make a crash-free title it seems, since Oblivion has booted me back to the desktop on a number of occasions. The game stutters more then usual when in combat with animals in the wild, and it’s been reported that this has to do with the sound files for the footsteps conflicting. If so, this is another problem that should have been ironed out. Still, I am hooked on this game and likely will be for a long time to come. Don’t be surprised to see future content on Oblivion someday here on e-AAGH.net. If you can run this game, I recommend you go out and buy it right now. You won’t be disappointed.