The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
One of those rare titles that manages to live up to insanely high expectations, Oblivion is Xbox 360's first powerhouse RPG.
Xbox 360, PC
By Rick Larson
Welcome to the gates of Oblivion, the spot where you bid farewell to you real life and say hello to one of the most expansive, interactive, and graphically astounding games ever to hit the gaming world.
As the game begins Bethesda clearly aims to provide an eyeful of what next-gen truly means. You're introduced to Emperor of Tamriel, Uriel Septim VII, voiced by none other than Patrick Stewart. He lends some back-story that's supported by visions of what actually lies beyond the gates of Oblivion. As the Emperor ends his tale gamers are given their first look at the kingdom of Cyrodiil and the Imperial City in all its glory. It has a real Lord of the Rings feel, and left my jaw hanging. After the camera makes a circle around the city it rushes into a prison cell that just happens to be holding the main character.
And who might this main character be? Well, it's whoever you want it to be. The character creation at the beginning of the game is easily the deepest I have toyed with. There are ten races to choose and plenty of tweaks you can make to each in terms of appearance. Once you're lead into gameplay; there's not much to start with other than wandering around your cell and talking to some prisoner across the hall. Soon enough though, it turns out your cell happens to be part of a secret exit for the Emperor to make an escape from assassins.
Emperor Septim explains he is about to die - and somehow you're tied to it. At this point you're let loose into the secret passage, setting up a nice tutorial area. As you're led through the dark tunnels Bethesda pushes you to check out its spiffy Havok-powered engine, affording your man to knock logs over crushing enemies, or perhaps to shoot a rope-hung bucket just for the pleasure of its realistic response. But not only are the physics just some gaudy addition - they're also be useful.
The fighting and spell systems have gone through a nearly complete redesign. No longer will you whack away at an enemy, yet only hit a fraction of the time - then attempt to block, with no success. Oblivion lets you really hack away at your enemies and even introduces - wait for it - combos into the Elder Scrolls series; you don't even have to put away your weapon to perform a spell nowadays. These are most welcome changes, that make fighting not only vastly more enjoyable but extremely accessible. Oblivion is very easy to pick up and play compared to its predecessors.
Later in the game - and in troubling circumstances a few caves later - you're tasked with a mission from the empire, and some diligent dungeon crawling leads you from a familiar environment unto a truly living, breathing world that many other games merely claim to offer. There's a lake dead ahead, rippling from a gentle breeze; the waving grass surrounding you looks phenomenal, and butterflies flutter about while deer run away after catching your scent. A game has rarely - if ever - given me such a great sense of really being in its world, like this.
From here, the game is up to you. You can choose to pursue the main quest or abandon it altogether. You make all the decisions; the game really doesn't force anything upon you, it's crammed so full of side quests and dungeons to explore that it's easy to forget about the main storyline all together. The numerous guilds from previous Elder Scrolls games also return - each with their own lengthy plots.
Gameplay can be tuned to your liking; become a brute and smash anything that gets in your way, or if magic is more your style there's a long list of spells that can be used to terrorize opponents. The sneaky approach of taking an opponent down with a bow and arrow from afar, is also something to consider. Each style is extremely easy to get into and well polished. There's no rule that you can only use one style either; I tend to use a mix of all three methods and it works seamlessly.
Oblivion's quests rely heavily on the game's non-playable characters; no longer just extras thrown in to take up space, these characters are each their own person with their own lives. Bethesda developed Radiant A.I. specifically to make the NPCs of Oblivion seem as life-like as possible, for an even more engrossing world. Most NPCs have a daily schedule to take part in, but how they go about it is completely up to them; they'll wander about and get into conversations with one another on their way to work, or maybe check into a local for a few drinks. I even witnessed an NPC pickpocket another character.
As amazing as the A.I is, it does have a few problems. There are cases in which the same conversation can happen over and over - and conversations can sound really dumb as well. Every now and then, characters will do strange things - randomly freak out and run all over like a crazy person - who knows, maybe they're crazy. I really have to look past these faults though simply because this level of detail in A.I. has never even been attempted by any other developer. Bethesda seems to have gone the extra mile to push something new, and they deserve credit for that.
The NPCs in the game inhabit numerous cities. Traveling to these cities has been made things immensely easier, compared to Morrowind. Horse riding has been introduced and allows players to move to places and explore much quicker. I have to say I absolutely love this feature; I've caught myself just riding around for the fun of it to look at the game's breathtaking scenery. Another added feature is being able to instantly travel to any place that has been explored on the map. You just click on the location, and after a brief load, you're there. This saves a huge amount of time and almost completely eradicates backtracking.
Backtracking isn't much of a problem though, just because the scenery never gets dull. The graphics engine has next-gen slapped all over it; all of the models in this game ooze high poly counts and it's chock-full of normal maps and high-resolution textures, accompanied by some great lighting and particle effects. The density of sprites and models is something only a next gen system can handle. This is what helps to create the awe-inspiring forests, which make up much of the gigantic map of Cyrodiil.
To make this graphically intense game feel even more epic, Bethesda has created a rich and beautiful soundtrack that adds so much to the feel of the game. The background music always sets the appropriate mood whether you are calmly walking though the forest or being attacked by a Deadra on the plane of Oblivion. This game also features a huge cast of Hollywood talent for its voiceovers - in fact Bethesda has said that around half of the game's disc is just voices. Other sound effects including fighting and atmospheric noises are also top notch.
With a game being this huge, and featuring so much, it's bound to have problems. Oblivion includes numerous glitches and other issues. As impressive as the graphics are the game does suffer from popup and objects that can be seen in the distance have seriously low-res textures slapped on them. While this hurts the eye candy a bit, it makes sense since you can basically see miles away - and rendering that at the same quality as something five feet away is basically impossible. Loading times can also be a slight pain.
After long play sessions the length of these loadings times increase quite a bit. Then there are the cases of random odd glitches. The other day while I was wandering on my horse, I saw a guard attacking a wolf. When the guard finished he walked back over to his horse. As he was getting on, the character just disappeared and his horse ran off. It was fairly amusing.
Oblivion set out to be a truly epic game, in every sense, and it definitely accomplished it. Bethesda leaned from previous installments of Elder Scrolls, reusing the highs and fixing the lows, while introducing several new aspects into the game. Cyrodiil is so full of adventures that the game can easily push hundreds of hours gameplay without breaking a sweat. Bethesda has set a new bar for what next-gen stands for. Oblivion is an exceptional game, and one of the greatest I've ever played.
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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Trailer HD (Microsoft)
|1.36m||34MB||DF, HD, 60
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Trailer SD (Microsoft)
|1.36m||22MB||DF, SD, 30