Saturday, 20 September 2008

Extolling the Virtues of Oblivion

  • Game: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  • Console: Xbox 360
  • Developer: Bethesda
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Released: March 2006
First things first, Oblivion was my first trip into the world created by Bethesda in The Elder Scrolls. I had missed Morrowind before it despite people saying that it's the best thing since sliced cheese (because bread just don't cut it for me anymore). So, naturally, I was blown away at the impeccable level of detail in this game. Practically everything can be interacted with in some way. Everything in the game exists, it is tangible, if you pick up a gold coin, you can actually drop a literal, physical gold coin. If you pick up a mortar & pestle, you can drop a mortar & pestle. You can even use a mortar & pestle to create your own custom potions with the plants you can pick up (and can drop). No more items existing only in the ether of the game-world and if you did indeed drop them, come back later and they'll still be there. The world is one great inventory box. It may not be the best thing in gaming ever, but what I'm trying to get at is just how much care and attention has been put into this game.

Suffice to say, the rest of the game is much the same. There are tons of tiny little townships and villages that dot the land of Cyrodiil, and each one seems to have its own story. On my first play-through, I stopped off at an inn for the night in a tiny township, in the middle of nowhere, after a day of tiresome traveling (for my character, not me, I was loving it). I ignored the town-people's threats that I was not welcome there and headed up the wooden hill for some deeply deserved slumber. In the middle of the night, I was awoken by some crazed lunatic attacking me. I promptly disposed of him and fled. Much later, in the city of Chorrol, I heard rumours of a missing girl and went to speak to her mother, Seed-Neeus, who told me her daughter had gone missing while making a delivery to Hackdirt. I went to the village Seed-Neeus mentioned and discovered it to be the very same village I was attacked in as I slept. This stood out for me; by chance I discovered this village almost at random and created my own little story out of it. This happens throughout the game, time and time again. Although the main story is set out for you, you can create your own little world and story. Oblivion really lets the imagination fly.

Lush game-world? Check.

After creating your character, you start the game in prison for an unknown crime and with your only companion, the old lifer in the cell opposite, slinging insults at you. This doesn't last for long, though, as your cell is a secret exit from the Imperial City and needs to be used by the Emperor who appears to be in mortal danger. However, the Emperor notices you, and says he's seen you in his dreams. You follow the Emperor and his guards as they make their way through the secret dungeon. However, the assassins find and kill the Emperor, but not before he sends you off on the first part of the main story. After this, you're on your own. You escape the prison sewers and set off on your journey to keep the Dragonfires burning.

Before you exit the sewers, though, you can again edit your character's features and skills. What sets Oblivion apart from most other RPGs, is that you aren't given experience points when defeating enemies. Instead, for each of your characters skills, you get a bar which gradually fills up every time you do something associated with a skill. For instance, if you take damage while wearing heavy armour, your heavy armour bar will fill up. When it's completely full, you'll level-up in that skill. Once you have levelled-up enough in your major skills, your character will level-up. Each time you level-up, you are given a set amount of skill points you can add to your attributes, you'll get better weaponry and more money from looting, the challenge of the game will increase, and stronger enemies will appear. It's a system that works really well, and it gets you to do a lot of the things in the game that might have been overlooked otherwise. It can be a little confusing at first, but with a few hours of practice and after you've levelled-up a couple of times, you'll get into the swing of things.

You can fight either in 1st or 3rd person view, but 1st person is where it's at.

The main story will probably only take you about 15 hours to complete, but the huge amount (and quality) of the side-quests will have you playing this game for at least 100 hours. There are the side-quests you'll stumble upon, whether through talking to people or overhearing conversations, such as the aforementioned Hackdirt side-quest, but there are also the guilds. There's the Fighter's Guild, the Mage's Guild, the Arena, the Thieves' Guild and the Dark Brotherhood. Then there are the Daedric Shrines, the mines, the caves, the Ayleid ruins and the forts, each of these are like dungeons ranging from tiny to massive and are practically filled to the brim with gold and loot. Then there are the Oblivion Gates, which lead you to the titular realm of Oblivion, and contain expansive game worlds in themselves. There really is a heck of a lot stuffed in this game, and all of that is only the content that came on the disc. Factor in the downloadable content, and there's another 30 hours of gameplay added to the massive amount of play-time already.

It really is an immense game. It's completely compelling and comprehensively compulsive. It's crucial that you own or at least play this game. It's certainly not without its faults (like every other game) and it maybe showing its age a little now, but it's one of those games that really needs to be experienced by as many people as possible, and not just because Patrick Stewart and Terence Stamp are in it, the men with the Best Voices Ever™. What's more is that Bethesda are all set and ready to release their new game, Fallout 3, which promises as much as, if not more than, Oblivion. Heck, if it's half the size of Oblivion, it'll still be absolutely huge.

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