The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Developer:  Bethesda Softworks
Publisher:  Take2 Interactive
Year Released:  2006

Review by Clint Mullins (May, 2006)
Oblivion Screenshot The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a first person, single player RPG. It's the fourth game in the Elder Scrolls series if you don't count diversions such as Redguard and Battlespire. It's the sequel to Morrowind and takes place in the same world. This time we are based in Cyrodil, which is a much greener and more fertile land than Morrowind.

The game has been simultaneously released on the new Xbox 360 and the PC. Many fans of the series feel the game has been designed and changed with the console market in mind. This is probably so and the interface design reflects this, but, in truth, it is easier to use than in previous Elder Scrolls games. One key press brings up a menu from which you can access maps, your inventory, spells and your character statistics. At times you will need to scroll through a long list rather than select an object from an open 'backpack'.

The graphics in Oblivion are stunning but on the PC you will need a state of the art machine to view them at their best. I have written this review based on my experiences using a 7800GTX card but I have also played the game on a much more humble machine. On a lower specced machine it is still playable but you will have to turn off a lot of the 'eye candy'. Viewing distances on a good PC is amazing, and the mountains you can see in the distance can actually be climbed.

I have reviewed Daggerfall and Morrowind for Quandary and I eagerly awaited Oblivion. I am not disappointed with the final product, and I'm finding it hard to write this review instead of playing the game.

Getting Started
Oblivion Screenshot Oblivion features one of the best tutorials I have ever encountered. During this time you get to choose the type of character you are going to play, which skills will be important, and their race and appearance. After completing the tutorial section of the game you step out of a dark cavern into one of the largest and most detailed worlds ever available in a game. Grass and trees are highly detailed, water shimmers in the distance and the gameworld is bright and colourful. The region is green and fertile, a stark contrast to the fiery realm of Oblivion.

There are fewer choices available in character generation than in Daggerfall but the choices will be more than enough for most players. As in Morrowind you can choose to follow the main quest or ignore it completely. The main quest can be finished in around 25 hours but many people have logged up more than double that without even commencing the main story line.

One of the most controversial aspects for fans of the series is the way creatures and items level up to match the ability of your character. That is to say if you stay at level one the creatures you need to fight will be much easier than if you are level fifteen. Not all creatures continue to level up though, and once you reach level twenty (provided you've made wise choices) most creatures shouldn't present too much of a problem.

As in previous Elder Scrolls games your levelling up progress depends on how often you use the skills you chose as major during character generation. I usually play a warrior with healing magic so my main skills included blade, heavy armour, restoration magic and block. By the end of the game my character was a formidable warrior, fitted out in Daedric armor, an expert in repairing his own equipment, and with the ability to heal himself at will.

Oblivion Screenshot The quests available in Oblivion are the best I have played in any RPG. They contain many twists and are often more convoluted than they first appear. Characters are not always what they seem to be, and some quest items may appear too much of a temptation to return to their rightful owner. There are sometimes not as many choices of solutions as I would like, but quests can be ignored. It is impossible to kill characters that prevent you finishing the game but they can be knocked unconscious. You can kill characters that prevent a quest being completed and you will get a message explaining this if you do so.

The journal in Oblivion is vastly improved over Morrowind, and it's very easy to keep track of quests. The compass features an arrow to show you the direction of your current goal, which is necessary at times, but can make solving some quests a little too easy. Still it does prevent frustration on a number of occasions and certainly streamlines the gameplay.

As I stated previously the graphics and attention to detail are stunning but you will need an excellent graphics card to appreciate them to the full. The music and ambient sounds compliment the graphics beautifully, and many times I have just stopped to admire the view and enjoy the moment.

Sun, rain, thunder and snow will change the appearance of the world around you. Swaying grass and sunlight streaming through the trees will make you want to travel on foot rather than use the fast travel option to visit the towns or dungeons that you have discovered. Horses make a welcome return from Daggerfall, and you may be lucky enough to find a unicorn.

There are over two hundred dungeons in Oblivion. These are much bigger than those in Morrowind and are suitably atmospheric and foreboding. Creatures will chase you out of dungeons this time. The towns are also a pleasure to explore and are much easier to navigate than the infamous Vivec. The automap works well and is easily accessed at any time.

Oblivion Screenshot Combat is more involved than in Morrowind as this time if your weapon or spell appears to hit a creature you will actually hit it. Block is accessed using the right mouse button and timing has become much more important. I spent a lot of time in the early levels scoring a hit and running away whilst I healed myself. This means the fighting has a more visceral feel than in previous Elder Scrolls games. There are also some power attacks that become available as your character progresses through the game. These are important when fighting multiple enemies. Power attacks require a single direction key to be pressed whilst holding the mouse button.

Weapons and armour look terrific and your character can be viewed in third person. The game can be played in third person but it's not very practical.

Accessing the inventory pauses the game so you can drink potions and change weapons at your own pace during battle. Hotkeys make this process even easier. A big improvement over Morrowind is the ability to cast spells whilst wielding a weapon.

Save Wisely
The Elder Scrolls games are extremely complex and Bethesda have often had trouble with save games becoming corrupted. I suggest you save often using autosave, quick save and manual saving. I also suggest you back up your save games to another drive. I did encounter a situation where I could not enter a town using any of my saved games but I had backed them up a few hours before and I was able to play from there.

Pretty Smart
A great deal was made of the intelligence of the NPCs in Oblivion before release. The 'Radiant AI' was discussed in many groups and expectations were high. The NPCs are all voiced and they do have routines and behaviours of their own. They go about their daily life and will, on occasion, fight and even kill each other. Perhaps this is why Bethesda has prevented some characters from being killed.

The NPCs are certainly a big improvement over those in Morrowind and I have caught unexpected interactions between characters. Although these interactions have not met the high expectations of some fans, I find they have made for a much more interesting and vibrant gameworld.

All dialogue is spoken, and usually very well. Lip Synching is handled well too, and you are treated to a close up of the NPCs when in discussion. Facial expressions are also very good though some of the faces can appear slightly odd due to the lighting effects.

The Main Quest
The main quest involves preventing demons from the realm of Oblivion taking over your world. The only time levelling caused an issue for me was during the first part of the main quest. Up until then combat had been challenging but possible. The sheer number of creatures in the quest made this part of the game very hard. Attempting it at level one or twenty is apparently much easier. However, there is far too much fun to be had exploring the game world to start the quest straight away.

The storyline is engaging and moves along swiftly. You will find some familiar voice actors along the way including Lynda Carter, Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean.

Have it your way
The difficulty level of Oblivion is easily adjusted by the use of a simple slider. Monsters can be defeated with one blow on the easiest setting and are extremely hard to defeat if you turn it all the way up. I played the game on normal and only used the slider once to overcome the previously mentioned problem I had at the start of the main storyline.

One of the best things about Morrowind and Oblivion on the PC is the ease in which the games can be 'modded'. Within days of release fan made 'plugins' were available that changed the way Oblivion looked, played and performed. There are mods for changing the appearance of the game, for different quests, different interfaces and the way the game actually plays. Those who don't like the way the new levelling system works can simply download a mod to change it. If you can think of it, someone will probably make a mod for it.

If you visit the fan forums for Oblivion you will find an amazing amount of posts from people who love the game or hate the changes that have been made since Morrowind. I honestly have to say that I am in favour of most of the changes and I think Oblivion is an awesome achievement from Bethesda.

The ease with which the game can be 'modded' and the number of mods already available means it can be customized however you wish. Every time I play I find something else to be excited about. I've finished the main quest and, though it was relatively short compared with the rest of the game, the ending was spectacular.

I now have a number of mods installed and I am currently searching for ancient artifacts in a mod that only gives me a book of clues to aid my search. I have also installed some mods that make the game look even better than before.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is the game I hoped it would be. rating:  

Copyright © Clint Mullins 2006. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
(Mininum) Win XP/2000, 512MB RAM, 2 Ghz Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent processor, 128MB Direct3D compatible video card, 8x DVD-ROM drive, 4.6 GB free hard disk space, DirectX 9.0c (included), DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card Keyboard, Mouse