The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Knights of the Nine
Oblivion divided opinion. Released in March to rapturous applause, it seemed as though Bethesda had driven Western RPG standards to new heights. Presented with a seemingly overwhelming array of choices, dwarfed by an enormous land to explore, besotted by lavish detail and beauty - Oblivion appeared to be the Goliath we'd been waiting for. Critics opened their arms and welcomed what they saw as the first of the truly next-generation games.
Yet it seems one person's selling points were another's drawbacks. Overwhelming choice was narrowed to dull repetition, vast lands became laborious obstacles, and beauty was criticised for her performance. Apathy soon crept in, attentions turned elsewhere. Could it be that this pinnacle of gaming lacked the depth to engage, was it guilty of having no soul?
Last Wednesday heralded the release of Bethesda's largest downloadable content addition to the game so far. Umaril, an ancient Ayleid Sorcerer-King, seeks vengeance upon the Gods who banished him to the planes of Oblivion thousands of years ago. For 800 Microsoft points you must heed the call to help, seeking out lost relics of the Divine Crusader to help you vanquish this otherworldly evil for eternity. Just a normal day in Tamriel, then.
Heeding the heroes' call takes you to the ransacked Anvil Chapel, or more precisely a babbling prophet lingering on the street nearby. This outspoken fellow tells you of the ancient evil encroaching upon the world, threatening the very gods themselves. It's instantly familiar territory as your path is laid before you: a hand-drawn map leading you to Wayshrines spread across Cyrodiil, a pilgrimage you must undertake to prove your faith to the holy-powers-that-be, The Nine. Your reward is a spiritual tête-à-tête with Divine Crusader Pelinal Whitestrake. The shoes he wore, you will quest to fill, as he directs you to the first piece of the holy armour that allowed him to battle the Ayleid Sorcerer-King many moons ago.
Unsurprisingly it's back into a ruin you're headed. Here you'll find your first piece of equipment, and a corpse of a Knight of the Nine whose ring you shall plunder. Attain these items, then travel to the newly located Priory of the Nine in search of the Cuirass, and the bulk of your quest begins. In order to attain this chest-piece, you must show that you are a champion worthy of great responsibility; you'll do this by fighting, one-by-one, the spirits of the fallen Knights of the Nine. The armour is yours once the test is complete, and so is the allegiance and cooperation of your bested foes. It's the knowledge they impart that will lead you to tests for the other pieces of the Divine Crusader's set, the armour you must be wearing if you wish to complete the quest line and defeat Umaril.
Filling Pelinal Whitestrake's boots is a task bestowed upon both experienced adventurers, and those new to the game. While newer players might struggle with scripted encounters, arguably the rewards will benefit them more. There's a new enemy type in the Aurorans. These heavily-armoured, lightning-casting, axe-wielding fellows carry out Umaril's wicked bidding: and being part of Oblivion's levelled-enemy clientèle means that they'll pack a punch whatever your level. Allies inspired by your bravery will soon be pledging themselves to your cause, helping you to rebuild the Priory of the Nine and resurrect the Holy order. As your progress down the Divine Crusader's path continues, an inevitable final confrontation builds momentum; will your Knights of Nine now proceed where they failed once before?
A large criticism of the original game was the lack of new content a player could encounter once they'd passed level twenty - a benchmark that's not even half of the total levels achievable. We, like others, have spent upwards of another twenty or more levels facing the same enemies and receiving the same loot from what felt like replicated quests. This new content is at its best when it differentiates itself from the slew of tasks already available throughout Oblivion. Rebuilding a holy order appeals to our Dan Brown side, and although your fellow Knights will spring up rather quickly and over zealously, it's nice to feel as though you have something of a supporting cast. You will, perhaps obviously, soon forget encounters with the levelled undead that pad out familiar ruins - much more memorable are the tests you'll face to earn new pieces of equipment. Why a concept plainly useful for prolonging content, like gathering unique armour sets that grant abilities or spells, wasn't used to great effect in the first place is beyond us.
Still, the Knights of the Nine addition is an entertaining distraction to the continuing debate on Oblivion. It features some nice touches, and it's promising to see Bethesda keen to nourish and support its hugely popular title. There isn't much to object to here, but in the larger picture it's just a drop in the ocean. While appealing most to fans of the game, it's they that should be most cautious. £6.80 won't break many people's banks (clearly PC owners are paying more but get all the downloadable content to date), but it would if you paid for every quest line in Oblivion. But if more of the same is what you're after, you can't really argue with what Bethesda's served up for its hardcore fans.