The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Reader Review
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; Developer: Bethesda Game Studios; Publisher: 2K Games; Price: £20-35; Reviewed on Xbox 360;
Where to start? Where on Earth can you begin a review concerning one of the most vast, ludicrously freeform games of all time? Well, you start by rambling on like this, then saying how absolutely immense it is. Yeah, that should do, because Oblivion is something of a phenomenon. Out on 360 and PC for just over a year and with a PS3 version now on the shelves, developer Bethesda Softworks has tried to reach as many people as possible with their game. This may seem at first like a ploy for more cash, but with such a masterpiece, it most definitely excusable and very correct of them to do so.
So what makes it so good? Well, for starters, it is the biggest game ever created, bar none. The sheer size is enough to give anyone a headache and to call this "Sandbox" or even "Free Roaming" is an insult to the game. It laughs in the face of even the mighty GTA, and though Oblivion has been surpassed in terms of square miles of game area, the games that have done this were much shorter (Oblivion is at least 100 hours if you stick at it) and usually had some kind of transport faster than a horse. Yes, Oblivion is very much a traditional text based adventure at heart, but is brought to life with great vibrancy. The Medieval esque world draws unashamedly from these ancient games, but can also give credit to LOTR and D&D. Hardcore beards will feel right at home, and will positively savour ludicrous character creation options such as "Nose Bridge Depth".
The level of freedom is astonishing. It is entirely possible to do whatever the hell you want, whenever the hell you want. I tend to go for the more murderous, thieving side of things, rather than the goody two shoes complete-every-quest-to-a-tee approach, and who can blame me; being a badass is fun! The game is deeper than the ocean and once the (slightly unconvincing) training level is finished you are thrown out into it. With nothing to keep you afloat. Carrying a dead albatross. Naked. The game really starts there and you can pursue the main quest, indulge in a spot of crime, chat with the locals or just run off into the wilderness. The locations are very well made and the vistas are nothing short of breathtaking. The draw distance is HUGE. On a clear day, you can see for miles and can sometimes spot several villages from one viewpoint. It is these times that the "Go anywhere" element truly comes into play. It is a joy to just pick a spot in the distance and head off for it, unsure of whom or what you will discover or what great treasures you will stumble across. Sometimes stalking a random stranger whets the appetite; Like the look of that guy's dagger? Follow him then stab him in the face when nobody's looking!
There are a few guilds to join that each have their own quest line. You try to go up the rankings by doing ever more risky missions until you are the guild master. Some will enjoy the Arena Battles or the Fighters Guild knight style missions, others will prefer to complete tasks for the Mages Guild, but for me it has to be the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood. As I said, I'm a sneaky, murderous kind of guy. Anyhow, completing the guild missions is fun, but I wouldn't recommend breaking the rules... (Anyone fancy collecting 20 Dragon Tongue to get back in the Mages Guild?). You can get missions from the public as well, through either talking directly to people or overhearing conversations. These all go in your quest log and can be picked up any time, great for when you get bored of another quest or just wandering about all the time.
Throughout the game there a few little minigames. The lock picking in particular is entertaining, with convincing (or bribing) people to like you worth an honourable mention. Even in the simplest task there are numerous skills and factors which affect your performance. Buying goods (even though stealing is better) can turn into a guessing game of haggling and bribing in order to get the best deal. As with all RPGs, the devil is in the detail.
The in game character menu seems daunting at first. It has four sections, each with several sub-sections which are filled with stats or items. After you get used to it, managing your character is a cinch and you can actually enjoy trawling through the list, deciding which items you should drop so you can carry that shiny blade over there. The weapons are a great part of the game. You have to maintain them yourself for maximum performance, but when you are wielding a fully magically charged Glass Warhammer of the Dynamo, that Faded Wraith round the corner doesn't seem nearly as much of a badass. The combat itself is fun and feels much more direct and enjoyable than most other RPGs. The game is a first person adventure, so it really puts a whole new spin on the genre.
Graphically the game is up to scratch and looks surprisingly good considering the size of the world. The music can be a bit ill fitting at times but is never intrusive, whereas speech is well done and battle sounds are perfect. The loading times can be lengthy, but you never actually notice and out in the open world the framerate stutters every twenty seconds or so. To be honest these shortcomings were unavoidable and prove that the game might even be a bit too ambitious for even the shiny next generation consoles. Bearded enthusiasts will all know that the real juice is all in the slowly improving and levelling up. This is true and one of the most entertaining elements of the experience is watching your puny-ass weed turn into a giant, fortress-like monster eater. Improving your skills is easy as the more you practice, the better you become, truly letting you mould your character into what you want.
Oblivion will keep you going for ages. There are so many more things I would have mentioned but either forgot to write or couldn't include. Ah yes! I forgot to mention the realism. Despite being set in a fictitious medieval style magic world, the developers have tried to make it as close to real life as possible without letting you urinate on doors at 2am after a night on the razz. You can even contract diseases for crying out loud! (Let's jump back to the conclusion.) So Oblivion is a great game. In my opinion it is a "Gamers' Game", one of those landmark titles that defines the genre and pushes the boundaries of what is possible to breaking point. It is the kind of game I have been looking for since I started playing almost a decade ago on the humble SNES (when you are six years old Christmas is great). There really is nothing like it. Buy this game.
Graphics 9/10 Very impressive, especially for such a vast game; Sound 7/10 A mixed bag but in the main it does the job; Gameplay 10/10 Unbelievable, too good to be true; Lifespan 10/10 Freaking MASSIVE. Surely the biggest videogame of all time;
10 / 10