The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Staff Retroview  

Oblivion Awaits
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Xbox 360
20-40 Hours
+ Lots of customization
+ Enjoyable guild quests
+ Free reign and tons to do
- Customization can overwhelm
- Main story line is bland
- Leveling is awkward and frustrating
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   The Elder Scrolls series has strong PC roots, though its presence is growing in the console arena. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released simultaneously for the PC and Xbox 360, and while the 360 version lacks access to the mod community of the PC, it is still a very solid entry that offers players plenty to do.

   One of the greatest draws of Oblivion is the huge amount of customization that it offers. It all starts with the character creation process, where players will select a race and customize the look of their character. After a brief introduction, players are then led to select a class. There are set classes available, but also the option of custom fitting a class to meet the player's style. The sheer amount of options for race, class, and further specialties leads to a vast number of configurations. Needless to say, the level of customization is amazing and easily the game's strongest feature.

   Once the foundation is laid, it is up to the player how to continue development. In order for an attribute to improve, a player has to train in that area. Training can simply involve using a skill over and over, or it might involve going to a trainer to pay for advancement. There are also books that can be found throughout the world that can help characters advance for free. Some confusion is found in the fact that characters do not actually level up until a set amount of attributes have increased, so it does away with the typical experience point grind. Balancing this is the fact that enemies scale with the player, so character level makes little difference in the long run. The game can be completed at level four just the same as it can at level twenty, so difficulty selection via an adjustable slider can make the game very easy, very hard, or anywhere in between.

In flames Someone wanted to set the world on fire... and did.

   Regardless of character customization's depth, without solid combat it is all for naught. Players can blend melee, ranged, and magic use seamlessly with levels of specialty that differ depending on class and attributes. Players can be a mage, a warrior, a priest, an assassin, or any blend of those, just to name a few. So regardless of whether someone prefers to be a powerhouse magic user or a stealthly pickpocket, the creation process is a very flexible system and can allow for that. Melee combat is straightforward and requires little effort, though magic usage is a bit awkward at times. The biggest issue with magic-based combat is the difficulty in aiming spells properly. There are six schools of magic with each operating differently, however, with some spells being easier to use than others. The use and interface for a game this in-depth is handled very well, despite being limited by a console controller. This is especially impressive when the vast number of options available are taken into account.

   The game's open world theme blends directly into the story. Players begin their journey in prison, though they are soon met by Emperor Uriel Septim VII as he cuts through the player's cell while escaping an assassination attempt. The Emperor notes that he's seen the main character in his dreams and urges him (or her) join in the escape. This retreat from the prison serves as the game's introductory tutorial and ends with the Emperor not being able to outrun his fate. Before he dies, Uriel Septim proclaims that he has an illegitimate heir and hands the main character the Amulet of Kings as a means to prove this claim. With the introduction complete, players can now explore the world to find this heir. Whenever they feel like it, that is.

   The world of Cyrodiil is wide open, and there is so much to do that it could easily take well over a hundred hours to explore it all. For players who want to rush through the main story, it can be polished off in less than twenty, though lots of game content, including some of the more interesting areas, would then be missed. The central storyline has the player venturing across the land in an effort to prevent the Mythic Dawn cult from bringing forth the prince of destruction, Mehrunes Dagon, from the land of Oblivion. The cult invasion is coming from gates to Oblivion that the Mythic Dawn is opening throughout the land of Cyrodiil. While this main quest doesn't have any huge twists or turns, the rest of the quests add more than enough content to make up for it.

Easy as... cake? Wait. That's not Three Dog.

   Aside from the central mission to stop the Mythic Dawn, players can take time away from their world saving duties to engage in many sidequests. These can be anything from simple fetch quests to the deeper and more enjoyable guild quests. The guild storylines are some of the most entertaining in Oblivion, as players can join the Fighters Guild, Mages Guild, Thieves Guild, or the Dark Brotherhood, a guild for assassins. Each has certain requirements that must be met before joining, and each features a unique storyline with more depth and variety than the main quest line. Players can do as much or as little of these quests as they like, though they are not tied to following only one at a time. However, occasional conflicts may occur if players dabble too far away from the moral guidelines (or lack thereof) of their guild.

   Oblivion's law system helps to add a level of immersion by not allowing players to murder and steal without consequence. Break the law and guards will be up in arms at a moment's notice, forcing players to run from a jail sentence or fight waves of soldiers to escape. One oddity with this system is that as soon as the character breaks a law, every guard in the world knows about it. There are no hiding places, so even if the player murders someone in a small town, a random forest patroller halfway across the world will know about it as if the character was dragging a corpse and singing "I Shot the Sheriff." That aside, there are plenty of ways to get back on the good side of the law, so it's not an irreversible problem.

   Presentation is where Oblivion has some issues. The game world has tons of detail and a decent level of variety in terms of landscape, but the character models are a little rough looking. Characters' facial features and movement animations are rough, but this should not be a deal breaker, as the problems are not horrific. The game's voice acting is mostly solid, even bringing in such big names as Patrick Stewart for a small part. However, many of the other NPCs encountered throughout the game feature monotone and bland voice acting. Thankfully, the game's soundtrack serves for great atmospheric background music in almost every area, though little of it is long-lasting or memorable.

   Oblivion is all about what the player makes of it. If you want to plow through the game, only tackling the main quest, that's doable. For those that want to spend hours doing every little thing, they will have their hands full for quite some time. It's a very deep game with lots of options held up by a solid foundation. The game has some failings, but most can be easily avoided or overlooked, leaving a solid experience for gamers wanting to play around in an open world. For someone like me, who jumped into open world RPGs with Fallout 3, this is a good option if you're looking to catch up on the quality RPGs that you've missed from the western side of the world.

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