Oblivion is EXACTLY how I imagined an RPG should be like back in the 80's, while playing Ultimas on Commodore 64s and Atari STs.
Oblivion has weather. While there is no wind other than a constant, gentle breeze, you do get rain/thunderstorms, fog, snow (no blizzards though, because there's not much wind). You don't slip and fall on ice but the sound of your steps is different whether you walk on the road, on grass, on snow or on ice.
The world of Cyrodill is not exactly continent-size, maybe some 20-30 miles in any direction from downtown Imperial City but... what a world this is. Cities, settlements, camps, estates, roadside inns, ruins, caves, dungeons, mines, shrines. The landscape is made up of plains, hard-to-climb mountains, rivers, swamps, waterfalls, seas. You can travel on foot or you can ride a horse. You can fight your way into fame and fortune while doing good or you can sneak into other people's houses or pickpocket the unsuspecting. The guards will chase you and throw you in jail if you do illegal things but, if they like you enough, maybe they will look the other way sometimes. Powerful gods or humble people will ask you do 'little things' for them and, if you can make them happy, they will reward you according to their abilities. You can raise to the top of your profession, as a fighter, as a mage, as a thief or as an assassin or you can assemble your own little gang of dreamy crusaders so that you can fight evil and recover the relics of a legendary knight. Or you can do them all and become all, in sequence or make progress in all paths more or less simultaneously while moonlighting as a gladiator as well and, if still bored, how about helping a lady take care of the rats in her basement (that's NOT what you think) or some drunk guy at the inn get rid of the Trolls that took over his daddy's country estate? Oh and, I forgot, there's a world to save or... wait... there's TWO worlds, thanks to the Shivering Isles extension.
This game is so huge, I can't see how you could really 'finish' it. After more than 2 months of almost daily playing, I am maybe 75-80% into the main quest, half a way through the Knights of the Nine, only started the Shivering Isles adventures. I did become the realm's Chief Mage (and the titles earns me no respect from the scholar mages) and the grand master at the Fighters league, got myself 350,000 gold coins in my pocket, 2 comfortable houses and 2 nice offices, completed close to 100 quests, slaughtered 2000 creatures and hundreds of humans, murdered 4 or 5 and all but one by mistake (friendly fire), didn't even come close to the Thieves guild and, foolishly, made it impossible for me to ever join the Dark Brotherhood (these are the assassins). Also, I've never been a vampire and didn't yet start my career as a professional gladiator. I did massacre the peaceful dwellers of a small village but I did that under the influence of some drugs that made them look to me like bloody Orcs - that was the price to pay for infiltrating and destroying the source of that scourge. Oh, and while briefly in the land of Dementia - or was it Mania? - I did, willingly, push buttons that caused a few careless adventurers to go insane and I watched as they were becoming so. I humiliated a lovely princess - or was it a duchess? - and I killed so many fearsome monsters, I lost count myself but the game does keep a count so it's easy to know. In fact, the game keeps track of so many things... I could easily find out how many jokes I told, how many potions I made, how many horses I've stolen (one), how many hours I slept or how many books I read.
Well...? What do you think?
On the 'not so good' side, the game does slow down when you are fighting 4-5 monsters at the same time or when there are other things that keep the PS3 busy while you are fighting the baddies - like a fire burning. Loading/saving times are a bit too long but, while this is happening, you do get to read some randomly selected good advice on the screen.
The other thing that saddens me is that I don't believe the good people at Bethesda are working on the next chapter yet. I do hope that, as soon as they are done with Fallout-3, they are going to get busy with another adventure in Cyrodill or thereabouts.
My other problem is that I am now fighting with my kids over time on the PS3. We have a bunch of other games but, since Oblivion came into our house, I would say that 95%+ of our PS3 time was on Oblivion.
I am so glad to be proven wrong. 11/11/11 is the announced date for the "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim". All I know so far is that it will use a new and much improved game engine - about time - and that it appears to at least reference Oblivion. Hopefully "Two Worlds 2", expected to be released on Jan. 25 and enjoying great reviews in Europe were it already sold one million copies, will be a large and compelling enough RPG to keep me/us occupied for the next 10-11 months.
I found myself playing Oblivion again and so do our 2 boys. In fact, they kept playing Oblivion on and off ever since we bought the game but now they seem to be almost full time back at it again. When it comes to PS3 games, and we have the latest and greatest in the house but, believe it or not, the game that we first started playing back in 2007 is as playable - in our case re-playable - today as it was then.
on December 28, 2009
First, let me be up front and say I'm not a video game expert. Rather, I'm a paper-and-dice RPG player since the 1970s, and until Oblivion hadn't touched a video game since Wolfenstein. My wife and I bought our PS3 for its Blu-Ray player and DVD upconvert, not for gaming...that is, that's what we thought. Then we bought Oblivion on a lark, and became gaming addicts. Since we're a middle-aged couple with no kids, that in itself says quite a lot about the game.
We started out with me playing and my wife watching and helping with treasure-spotting and puzzle solving. Eventually she was reluctantly persuaded to give the console a try herself. She's now played two characters to high levels and is working on her third new character.
While not a video game expert, I do happen to be a computer engineer by trade, so I can talk a bit about the technical aspects of the game mechanics.
Enough background...Here are the pluses and minuses I've observed, again based on my own point of view:
* Story line
The story lines are relatively rich and detailed. I say "lines" because there are multiple significant quest lines, not just the main quest. You can, in fact, utterly ignore the main quest after the tutorial, because the game operates in "sandbox mode". In other words, you emerge from the tutorial into the world, and you can do as you wish. The Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine add-ons are built into the GOTY edition, each adding an additional primary quest. SI adds numerous side-quests as well. The base game also has at least four long-running quest lines (based on guilds) plus many smaller side-quests. I've heard it said that the game offers about 60 hours of playing time, but if you really explore all that the world has to offer it is in my experience much, much more than that.
Most of the quests are well-thought-out and well written. The AIs and their dialogs can be a little simplistic at times, as with many games. There's no way to ask open-ended questions, for example -- you choose from preset lists of things for your character to say. That said, however, there are *choices*, and you can play your character as anything from goody-two-shoes to a little surly to outright nasty and slimy. The main quest is basically good-aligned, but from a roleplay standpoint you can justify it even for a somewhat evil character as "enlightened self-interest." There are two of the four guild quests that are definitely not good-aligned, however (one being more-or-less neutral and the other outright evil). All quests in the game are optional after the tutorial, so your alignment is not arbitrarily constrained.
The Knights of the Nine quest is very much good-aligned, while the Shivering Isles main quest is neither particularly good nor evil.
Most of the quests have dialog that urges you on, suggesting that something Very Bad will happen if you don't finish that quest Right Now -- but in fact, the game will "park" almost all of the quests for you, indefinitely, at any sensible stopping point. You can intermix multiple quests at the same time, jumping from one to another. The dialogs are just to instill a sense of dramatic tension in the game. Most of the time (though there are exceptions) nothing bad happens if you delay the next quest step for game-days or even game-months. This is true even of the main quest.
* Game mechanics, general
Oblivion is a single-player game, though there is enough puzzle solving that two people can play cooperatively in the same room -- just one at the controls, though.
Oblivion works in first-person or third-person mode, and both are well implemented. Third-person does have some limitations with regard to ranged attacks -- it's pretty hard to aim spells or arrows from that mode. Melee combat works well in both modes, however, as do general movement and acrobatics.
Oblivion makes good use of the Sony SixAxis controller, with buttons being allocated in ways that will quickly become intuitive. I've found that the right joystick (camera movement) horizontal is a little "sticky" at the zero point. That is, it's hard to turn the camera just slightly left or right. I've replicated the problem across multiple SixAxis controllers and with different sensitivity settings. It's a "minor annoyance" rather than a serious problem, but it is there. The workaround for ranged attacks is to use the left joystick to step slightly right or left, which has the effect of a very fine-grained aiming control.
The DualShock controllers work fine with Oblivion, but the tactile feedback is not used.
The game options give you control over sensitivity of the joysticks, volume, picture brightness, and game difficulty. Unlike many games, Oblivion does not limit you to just a few preset difficulty levels, but rather provides a fine-grained "slider" control to set the difficulty as you prefer. At the easiest level, even a novice will almost never die. I recently tried the hardest setting briefly, after almost a year of experience in the game, and found that two sewer rats kicked my butt easily in the tutorial. So there appears to be plenty of range in the difficulty levels!
* Game mechanics, graphics and sound
Oblivion's graphics range from "decent but a little cartoonish" (the people) to "absolutely stunning" (some of the landscapes and lighting effects). The designers did an amazing job with sunlight and with vegetation. There are times when you want to climb up a mountain just to watch a sunset or sunrise -- seriously!
Dungeon, fort, and castle rendering are good but not eye-popping, though to be fair this game is several years old. The game supports 720p and not 1080p (though it works just fine on 1080p displays, just not using full capabilities).
There are a few interesting artifacts in the graphics from time to time, but nothing serious. Occasionally you'll see a clipping error in which two solid objects are allowed to intersect, and occasionally the activation pointer (your "mouse cursor" from PC parlance) doesn't quite line up exactly with the object you are going to activate. Very minor issues, barely noticeable in normal game play.
The sound is quite good and voices very comprehensible, especially if you have an optical cable linked to a multi-channel home theatre system. The quality of the actor voices is excellent, but as others have pointed out there are too few actors for too many characters, and the voice tones get repetitive. On rare occasions you can lose the dialog sound from scripted scenes, such as when a leader is addressing his or her troops. The game does a good job of fading out sounds over distance and of making sounds carry further in echoing environments. If you listen carefully, you can often get a hint of nearby enemies. Incidentally, the game allows optional captioned dialogs and would therefore be quite accessible to someone with a hearing impairment.
* Game mechanics, world model
Oblivion provides a geographically small but extremely detailed world model. You are in the province of Cyrodiil, a part of the empire of Tamriel. In physical terms, Cyrodiil is just a few square miles in area, but the game designers make it "feel" much larger by the way they scale time and terrain. Towns that are really just a couple of miles apart seem more distant than that. Each of the towns in the game has its own unique architecture, culture, and layout. The countryside between towns is fully explorable, with every boulder, hill, valley, and stream being defined and modeled. If you like the pretty waterfall, you can climb up on the rocks to get a better look at it. The "edge of the world" is implemented mostly by steep impassable terrain, rather than an arbitrary hard boundary in software, though you *can* get to the boundary if you really work at it.
The world model is very detailed, especially with regard to vegetation. Bethesda licensed a third-party plant rendering database that has very realistic 3D models of plants that in many cases change with the seasons. In addition, many of the plants are harvestable for alchemy ingredients, and your rate of success at this depends on the season for each plant species.
Many aspects of the game are governed by the underlying physics model licensed from Havock. Trajectories of arrows, for example, are very realistic (I do some archery in the real world and was pretty impressed with this game implementation!). There are very few places where the game designers put artificial limits on what you can try. If you have the agility or strength to make your character do a particular climb or jump or throw, the game will let you do it in most cases. This can get you into trouble occasionally -- for example, it's quite possible to jump down a chasm and get wedged between boulders in a way that you can't jump out, just as you could in mountainous country in the real world. Interestingly, the physics model is realistic enough that you can sometimes climb out of such predicaments by dropping carried objects and then standing on them as they fill the space below you.
Throughout the game are many hundreds (thousands?) of container objects such as chests, barrels, crates, sacks, bags, dressers, desks, and cabinets. These are (mostly) fixed in location, and the game lets you store an unlimited amount of objects in them. Bodies of slain creatures also act like containers in terms of game mechanics, though they usually disappear when the game resets the local "cell". In fact, almost all containers reset after approximately 73 hours of elapsed in-game time, when the "cell" resets. Their contents go back to defaults or to a random mix of clutter or food, depending on the situation. Thus, it is *not* safe to use just any container to store your character's loot -- as I learned the hard way the first time I played, storing some valuable loot in what I thought was a safe location.
There are exceptions, though: Any container in a house that you own is safe to use and will not reset (with one exception, a particular container in a particular house that has a documented software bug). Also, there are various "torn grain sacks" scattered around the game that are specifically immune to the cell reset and are therefore safe to use until you can afford a house. Most of the guild halls have at least one of these safe containers -- but when your character has lived for a while in the basement of the Mage's Guild, you will have a strong incentive to acquire enough gold to buy a house!
One notable annoyance with respect to containers is the handling of bookshelves in the game. It is dreadful, in my opinion the very worst complaint I have about the game. The designers used the physics model to make the shelves behave realistically, but in the virtual world -- when you have only a "grab" button and an object handle and not real hands -- "realistic" is emphatically NOT what you want from shelves. Placing a stack of books on a shelf in your house can be an exercise in patience that would test a monk. It would have been better if the shelves were just ordinary containers, and when you put objects into them the game should simply arrange them into some reasonable visual representation, perhaps ordering books by title or ordering objects by size or by insertion order. (In fairness, use of shelves is entirely optional -- as far as I know, you never *have* to put anything on a shelf. But it would be nice to be able to do so in your house without having to do a game save first in case you accidentally knock off everything else from the shelf! Game saves are for just before epic battles, not before you put a book on a shelf.)
* Game mechanics, character stats
RPG players will be quite comfortable with the stats system in Oblivion. You have your basic attributes (strength, agility, speed, intelligence, and so on) and your skills (blade, sneak, marksman, alchemy, conjuration, and so on) that are initially determined by your choice of race (species), class, specialization (combat, magic, or stealth), and birth sign (zodiac sign). Thereafter, you level up your attributes by practicing up the skills that influence each attribute. For example, fighting a lot with blade weapons will increase your blade skill and will give you the opportunity to add points to strength next time you level up. You have seven major skills (which depend on your class) and many minor skills; level-up occurs when you increase your major skills in any combination a total of ten points. You can advance your skills not only by adventuring but also by practicing in-game just as you could in the real world. For example, have your character stand and cast illusion spells again and again, and you will get better at illusion skill. This gives you a lot of control over your character's advancement and stats development, though the game manual doesn't document this in detail. The online wiki provides very detailed information on leveling and game stats.
Available races include several kinds of humans and elves, a catlike race called kajhiit, orcs, and a semi-acquatic reptilian race called argonians. The orcs are not evil as they are in Tolkein -- rather, they are just a very warrior-based culture akin to Klingons, with a somewhat taciturn manner. Surprisingly (to me, at least) there are no dwarves in Oblivion, though they are mentioned in the lore you find throughout the game.
There are about two dozen predefined character classes, with the usual mage, thief, ranger, healer, and so on plus numerous variations on the above. If you want full control, however, you can actually custom-design your own class, picking your list of major skills and your area of specialization (combat, stealth, or magic). It is sometimes best to pick major skills that are *not* the things you intend to do most, to keep your character from leveling up too fast. Leveling fast means that the monsters and quests get harder at a more rapid rate than your character attributes and skills are improving. The online (unofficial) wiki provides some valuable advice on managing your leveling process.
The game is mostly gender-neutral with regard to statistics, and where they differ, the difference is usually balanced (that is, each gender gets bonuses and penalties, just in different areas). In at least one race, the female is the larger and stronger gender, so here again the game designers broke with stereotypes. Unfortunately, some of the clothing and armor is not so egalitarian. For some of the "adventuring clothing", for example, the male version looks like a practical shirt-and-pants outfit, but the female version has a skirt or corset or other design that would be less practical for combat. Some of the female armor leaves more skin exposed than what a smart warrior would prefer, whereas the male version covers the areas that need to be covered. As someone who does reenactment armoured combat as a hobby, I found the armor particularly disappointing in this regard, even though I myself happen to be male. My wife agreed, and searched long and hard to find a set of adventuring clothing for her female mage that looks like adventuring garb. (It does exist, but you may have to hunt around for it.) To the game's credit, not all of the armor is gender-biased -- as you outgrow the crappy novice stuff, the better armor is mostly gender-neutral, with differing shape where it needs to have differing shape but with the same level of coverage and protection. I should also note that the scantier female armor is just a role-playing annoyance, not a game statistics penalty, as both men and women have equal protection in terms of game stats.
* Game mechanics, travel
You can walk or run anywhere in the game world freely, and are not limited to a fixed path following the current quest. You can also "fast travel" from most outdoors locations to any city, or to any significant location whose map marker you have "discovered" by having been there previously. In a few cases, quest-giving NPCs in the game give you a free map marker by "showing you the location on your map" in dialog, which allows you to fast-travel there right away if you wish.
From the player's standpoint, fast travel feels like teleportation, but it isn't. Rather, it is just assumed that your character walked there at his/her normal movement rate. Game time is assessed, with all attendant effects such as spell and potion expiration, change of weather and sunlight, etc. The fast travel routes are not always perfectly optimized -- for example, they will go a long way around a small body of water to avoid a short swim -- so if you really need to be somewhere fast in game time, you may want to do the travel in-character rather than by fast travel so you can pick the best route. On the other hand, the game designers realized that walking the same roads again and again can get tedious, so they gave you the fast travel option as a way to avoid this. Fast travel is risk-free -- you will never get ambushed by bandits or monsters -- but also accrues no experience points to your athletics or other skills. Walking from town to town is also a good time to do in-game spell practice to advance your magical skills, or to jump and run and swim to practice physical skills. But...it's your choice as a player.
For faster travel, horses can be purchased, stolen, or (in a couple of specific quest points) acquired for free. Horses significantly improve the speed of travel, and the riding animation is realistic enough to be fun in its own right! There are some game mechanics annoyances with horses, however. First, any time you fast travel, a horse that you own will automatically go with you -- and you have no choice in this. That means fast-traveling to a dangerous area leaves you stuck with a vulnerable and expensive animal you now have to protect. It would have been nice if the designers had made it so that fast travel to any town or other safe zone automatically fetched your horse, but travel elsewhere should have prompted you with a yes/no popup rather than just assuming you would want the horse.
There are some game mechanics tricks (not really cheats, just clever control manipulation) that allow you to carry a lot of weight while on horseback, but there are no such things as pack animals or saddlebags per se. Also, you cannot cast spells or fight while on horseback. On the plus side, though horses are somewhat vulnerable they are not defenseless, and they will fight back if attacked.
* Game mechanics, combat
You can do combat in first- or third-person mode, though I prefer first person. The weapon behavior feels realistic (I do some sword work as a hobby), albeit rather simplistic. You basically just swing your weapon, without a lot of specific moves and tactics. The good news about this, though, is that it allows weapon to be just one button, leaving other controls free for things like magic even during combat. Would I like to see a more detailed combat model? Perhaps, but what's there is still fun and challenging.
Weapons come in blade, blunt, and archery varieties, and all three can be poisoned and/or enchanted, including custom-designed poisons and enchantments (if your character has the skills). Armor comes in "light" and "heavy" categories, with cuirass, greaves, helm, gauntlets (or bracers), boots, and shield making up the harness kit. You can mix and match heavy and light, and different quality levels, to make the kit you prefer, trading off weight for protection. Enchanted armor can be acquired as loot, bought from certain merchants, or manufactured by the character.
The archery aspect of the game is interesting. When you first start, archery is very weak, and my first time through the game I abandoned it in disgust. Then I realized that it becomes much more deadly when you practice up the skill. As your character advances, you can enchant the bow and/or the arrows, or poison the arrows, or combine all of the above. Given that, and a good marksman skill level, and your character can put down some serious hurt with a bow! Regrettably, there are no crossbows in the game, though there are bows of differing quality levels.
You can use both weapons and magic interchangeably in combat, and can rapidly interlace them against the same foe, and you can fight alongside your conjured creature or (in certain situations) allied NPCs. The friendly NPCs are often more in the way than helpful, though -- the AIs lack the good sense to get out of the way when you are trying to cast a spell or swing your sword. They will often run directly into your line of fire or your weapon arc, and when you hit them they may turn against you. If you accidentally kill a friendly, even in the heat of melee, the game makes no accommodation of the accidental nature of the death, and you are charged with murder. This can get you imprisoned, fined, killed by the guards or other normally friendly NPCs, or it can get you invited into the assassin guild even if you were playing a good character. The lesson here is that if you are entering combat with friendly NPCs nearby, you should save the game first and be prepared to reload and start over if you accidentally kill a friendly. In fact, my wife and I find that during most of the quests where allies are involved, it's easier to use stealth to sneak away from them, go kill all the hostiles, then come back and lead your allies through the now-empty dungeon. It's kind of comical to hear them remark things like, "So far, so good!" as you lead them safely past the bodies of the monsters you already slew for them!
* Game mechanics, magic
Magic in Oblivion falls into the categories of Alchemy, Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Illusion, Mysticism, and Restoration. Most of these are self-explanatory. Mysticism has to do with detecting life (a way to "see" invisible enemies) and trapping the spirit energy of a dying enemy to power magic items. Each of the magic schools is independently skilled and advanced, and they are governed by different attributes (intelligence, willpower, or personality).
All characters, regardless of class, can cast at least some basic magic spells, and all characters can use magic items and create alchemical potions and poisons. Custom spells can be created only by characters who gain admission to the Arcane University, which requires advancing about halfway along the Mage Guild quest line (but you can do this as any character class). Enchanted items (weapons, armor, and clothing) can be created using Soul Gems (a large jewel, filled with an enemy's spirit energy using a mysticism spell) by students at the Arcane University, or by using Sigil Stones that are obtained during the main quest line (and nowhere else....which is the strongest argument for doing the main quest at least part way through).
Spellcasting is a manna-based system (Oblivion calls it "Magicka"), with your energy regenerating slowly but continuously during the game (for most characters, except those with one particular birth sign). Potions and some touchable objects in the game can also recharge your magicka.
Custom magic is a powerful feature of the game. You can make spells that combine a more-or-less arbitrary number and strength of offensive and defensive capabilities, up to the limit of your character's skill and magicka. This is an opportunity to be very creative, such as making spells that "stack" on one another to deliver a deadly pile-up of offensive effects onto an enemy, or making a spell that harms an enemy then makes you temporarily invisible to avoid their return attack.
Alchemy is, in the game as in real life, somewhat pedestrian in nature. You go out in the woods or to farms to gather flowers and vegetables and food items for ingredients (or buy them in stores). You obtain the best-quality lab gear you can afford or locate. Then you make potions. It sounds dull, and it can get a bit repetitive -- but it's worth it! A character with moderate to advanced alchemy skills can make a large amount of money selling potions, and you can make customized beneficial or harmful potions to aid in combat. Potions can heal, restore magicka, repair damaged attributes, confer temporary "buffs" to stats, hide you, shield you, or reflect attacks back at your enemies. Poisons can inflict damage, paralyze, silence, illuminate, or otherwise harm and/or annoy your foe.
Weapons, armor, clothing, and jewelry can be custom-enchanted by characters with access to the appropriate in-game resources. Offensive enchantments can be multi-effect (up to the limits of the Soul Gem you use to make them), but defensive enchantments are one-per-item only. Enchantment is only allowed once per item (that is, if you want to multi-effect enchant a weapon, you have to do it all at once). This is an annoying limitation to the player, but was probably intentional to provide game balance. You still have a great deal of latitude in making custom items, however. Only one weapon at a time can be used, but the defensive items can be mixed and matched. You basically have nine defensive "slots" to fill: feet, legs, torso, hands, head, left ring, right ring, amulet, and shield. (You are allowed one ring on each hand, plus gauntlets or bracers that apply to both hands.) The shield only helps your armor rating if you bear it opposite a one-handed weapon, but its enchantment remains active as long as it is in your "equipped inventory" even if not currently in use. Feet can wear shoes or boots, and the head can wear a helmet or a mage hood.
The defensive "slots" can make you choose between role-play and game-stats optimization. For example, if you wear mage robes they take the place of both pants and shirt, so one item occupies two of your potential enchantment slots. Also, there is no non-armor equivalent to a shield, so if you are a mage you have to choose between carrying a shield just to get the enchantment, or giving up an enchantment slot. For the hands, there are no such things as light gloves, but if you are playing a non-fighter you can wear lightweight bracers or the wrist manacles that you acquire in the tutorial, which the game treats as weightless but enchantable.
Conjuration magic is a powerful tool in combat. You can summon any one (at a time) of numerous monsters or undead to fight alongside your character. Their strength and attack capabilities vary widely, and you can "know" multiple conjuration spells so you can choose the best ally for the situation. At higher Conjuration skill levels, some of the summoned creatures are formidable allies that can make a huge difference in battles. Among other things, even a weak conjured creature is likely to distract your enemies, so you have time to heal up, switch weapons, recharge your magicka, use ranged attacks, cast defensive or buffing spells, grab loot, hide, or flee.
* Role playing
Oblivion lends itself very well to those who want more than just a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl. There are plenty of opportunities for the latter -- bandit camps, marauder and necromancer lairs, caves, mines, ancient ruins, and the Oblivion gates that are the centerpiece of the main quest -- but there are also ways to make your character much more than just a pile of stats and equipment.
There are four guilds (Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Dark Brotherhood [assassin]) that you can optionally join, and in which you can advance. There are also other factions, such as knightly orders, which you may be invited to join depending on your character's actions. Joining a faction gains you allies and enemies and sometimes access to equipment, shelter, or training.
Your character's appearance is customized at the start of the game and can't be changed later, but you have a fairly wide latitude in clothing, weapons, and armor. The armor varies not only in quality but also -- dramatically -- in appearance, from fairly realistic renditions of Roman and European plate armor, to chain, and several fantasy armors that look more magical or other-worldly. Shivering Isles adds two more unique armor types. Clothing varies from ragged to courtly and can be looted, purchased, stolen, or sometimes picked up for free from guilds or cities. Because clothing can be enchanted just like armor, a non-fighter character can actually have a maxed-out armor rating through sufficiently enchanted traveling clothes and jewelry.
Characters with sufficient wealth and fame can purchase a house in any of the major towns in the game. Ironically, the available house in the capital is literally just a shack by the waterfront -- but it's cozy and safe, and has an incredible sunset view! There are several middle-tier houses in other towns, and in one town there is a three-story mansion you can buy, and you can even hire a housekeeper to maintain it and to cook for you. The houses vary widely in price and features, but all provide a safe place to sleep and to store possessions.
Culture varies from town to town, and the game designers borrowed heavily from Roman, Norse, and other real-world architectural and cultural motifs to flavor the various regions.
One interesting aspect of roleplay is the blurring of character classes. In Oblivion, the fantasy world is one in which everyone uses magic to some degree, and everyone uses weapons to some degree. Your "pure" mage will still need to learn to fight, and your "pure" barbarian will still need to know some basic spellcraft. Get over it. There is still a huge amount of room to maneuver in terms of roleplay. For example, say you are playing a fighter. Perhaps you only use magic for healing and for carrying loot, not for combat. Or perhaps you are a mage: Do you charge in and obliterate the enemy with massive destruction, or do you use illusion to acquire tons of loot without ever entering into a battle? Or perhaps your wizard has used arcane skills to enchant a powerful magic sword, or a deadly bow and arrows, or perhaps you attack with a formidable staff of shock, frost, or fire. If you are a thief or assassin, do you use illusion to conceal yourself, or perhaps to charm or lull or demoralize your enemies, or do you use alchemy to poison your knife and then use alteration to "feather" yourself to carry away the huge pile of loot?
In other words, the world of Oblivion is a dangerous place where everyone from merchant to barbarian needs to be able to handle basic weaponry, and where magic is a part of the fabric of life, so even shopkeepers know how to heal themselves with potions or spells.
Houses provide a great roleplay opportunity. The furnishings come in predefined room groupings, and for the most part you can't move them around. But which house (or houses) you buy offers a very different atmosphere for your living quarters, and you can arrange your trophies -- such as unique weapons and armor or unusual magic items -- on shelves and tables and (if you bought the Skingrad mansion) in display cases. Is your character a light-traveling adventurer who buys the modest shack in Imperial City or Bravil and prefers to sell off unneeded items and live simply? Or are you a great warlord, or a wizard of great renown, whose Skingrad mansion is a personal museum and alchemy lab? Or are you a middle-class merchant or journeyman mage who likes the comfort and convenience of the house in Chorrol? Or perhaps your orcish barbarian craves the rugged Nordic look of the lodge in mountain-circled Bruma.
Interpersonal roleplay in Oblivion is limited. The AIs aren't bad, as game AIs go, but they're not real people like you would get in an online MMORPG or at a real tabletop RPG session. You do end up caring about some of the NPCs' fate, and you feel bad when they die in the game, but you don't have a real emotional connection. That being said, however, if you can get used to being a mostly solitary hero, the opportunities for character depth and interesting roleplay bits are plentiful.
* Overall impressions
I've said for many years that my ultimate gaming dream is to be able to play AD&D on a holodeck, with the computer taking care of all the messy bookkeeping. Oblivion doesn't realize that dream -- we need a few more decades of technology to get to that level -- but it's a pretty darned good attempt at bringing the fun of a tabletop RPG to real-time gaming on a video console. My wife and I have enjoyed a couple hundred hours of fun from this game, and we're not tired of it yet. Five stars!
on June 15, 2008
I've always wanted to just dive into the PC RPG experience, but every time I have (usually with the "Ultima" series, but there have been a few others), I've left with a lukewarm feeling. I had hoped that "Oblivion" would finally be the game that got me over the hump. But alas, while "Elder Scrolls IV" is a very fun and engrossing game, it still suffers from many of the pitfalls of its PC predecessors, and also has one more wrinkle to boot. But let's begin with:
Story: Non-existent. Now, why is that good? Because the player isn't forced to follow some silly linear quest for the duration of the game. Yes, "Oblivion" has a sort of main focus, but it really can be pushed to the sidelines, sue to the incredible amount of other things to do. I mean, seriously, one can
1) Join a Mage's/Fighter's/Thief's/Assassin's guild
2) Run around as a hero-for-hire
3) Attempt to make money to buy houses and the like
4) Hunt in one of the uncountably infinite number of ruins/forts/caves/mines/dungeons to be found in the game
5) Become a gladiator
This game is HUGE. And I love it for that.
2) Battle mechanics: I've rarely been a fan of the first person slash game, but "Oblivion" gets it right. Enemies move fast, and while some enemies act remarkably stupidly, others will fight well. You can devise your own style of play as well. Are you one that likes to run into the fray screaming? Do you like to fire off spells or arrows from afar? Do you prefer to stalk your prey and slash in the darkness? Take your pick.
3) Character development: I spent an hour just designing my character's physical appearance. Yet "Oblivion" allows you to also develop their traits, their race, their skills - heck, even their birthsign is a big deal. And the game allows you to expand on their abilities, creating a very personalized character. I myself prefer slinking around in the night, and killing my prey up close. Thus, instead of using one of the many pre-made character classes, I instead created the "skulk". You can do whatever you want. Want to be a reptile that breathes underwater, is an incredibly wizard, and can wield a mace? be my guest. Want to be an elf who fights with a sword? No one's stopping you. Want to be a vampire? You can even do THAT in time.
Sounds great, right? In short, the world of "Oblivion" is huge and varied. You can play for days without ever touching the main quest. Heck, I haven't even bothered with the expansions.
Unfortunately, not all that glitters is gold. Here's the bad:
1) The levelling system: Without a doubt, this has taken the most heat, and it is ALL deserved. Mostly, the reviewers here have complained that whenever you level, so too does the world around you. But really, this doesn't fully explain the trouble here. So, instead, I choose to give an example (apologies: I will expose one small end to a large quest).
While advancing in the mage's guild, I noticed that I hadn't been levelling up. Not a big deal, as my character was an assassin mostly, and so level should matter that much (if a child sneaks up on you and cuts your throat, you're still going to die). However, I was faced with the so-called King of Worms, and lord of all necromancers. He saw me, and there was no way my level 1 character was going to win. Right? Ummm, no - he brandished a dagger, I sported a sword, and the battle lasted a little over 30 seconds. I had vanquished arguably one of the most powerful denizens of the world, and was rewarded greatly.
This in and of itself is really unbelievable, but it gets worse. Afterward, I decided, "What the hey?" and leveled myself to level 10. And as it turns out, I couldn't even beat the guardians of the king, let alone the master himself. That's right - leveling my character actually made me WEAKER in the end.
And that is the rub. "Oblivion" is simply broken. Keep your character at level one, and you will ensure that you clear pretty much any quest in the game. Level your character normally, and expect a real challenge. It's not as bad as some have mentioned, but it certainly makes for a longer and more tedious game, as you must recollect armor, weaponry, etc. This is a MAJOR weakness. It is silly that a level one character can defeat anything thrown at him. It is even sillier that a level 10 character suddenly cannot.
2) Graphics: It's like looking in a funhouse mirror. I despise the creepy figures with which I am accosted in every town. It is obvious that the developers spent a lot of time and effort in designing the most realistic-looking people they could find. It is also apparent that we have a LONG way to go. I would have preferred more canned people to the horrors in the game.
3) Voice acting: Ugh. Painful. There are like 5 voices used for the plethora of characters you will see throughout the game. It is a horror. Moreover, because of one particular skill (speechcraft), you can bet that you'll hear these voices saying the SAME lines, over and over again. How many times I've heard "Blah blah blah - what a bore" from some incredibly lame voice, I can't even count. And the nonsense they blather - you would think that americans would write better conversation. It would seem that they spent their time writing tomes and tomes of useless books rather than spending quality time developing the characterization of the NPCs inhabiting "Oblivion".
4) Glitches: Bad ones. One time, the load screen appeared, and the PS3 simply froze. I actually had to unplug the system to unfreeze it. That's really bad.Clipping issues abound, particularly when swimming in caves, but this is to be expected. Sometimes, weird stuff happens (a soldier walking on air attacked and killed me, because I couldn't guard from his attacks). This is expected somewhat - I've never found a PC game without such glitches, and in the end, mostly nonfatal. However, I don't like anything that freezes up my entire system.
While a couple of the points might be nitpicky, the first is not. The leveling system is an abomination. I can't fault the developers too much for this - they were trying to make a truly non-linear experience, the holy grail of RPGs. But, the leveling system is a complete and total failure. The fact is, there is NO reason that my character should be weaker because he levels. None. And yet, here we are.
Long story short - this is a fine game, and one of the best for the PS3. But it isn't without its major problems. A player might become overwhelmed if he isn't careful with the leveling.
on November 5, 2007
What can I possibly say about this revolutionary computer RPG that hasn't been said?
To me this is arguably the best computer game in the history of video game, period.
'Oblivion' is a non-linear, free-form, 1st-person RPG, colored with beautiful next generation graphic that enhances the immersive gameplay set in the gigantic gameworld, where you can do anything anywhere anytime you feel like it.
There are over 20 cities and settlements, 300 quests, 300 dungeons, caves, ruins, tunnels, and whatnots available in the game (combining 'Knights of the Nine', official DLCs, and 'Shivering Isles').
Then there is TES Construction Set. Using this amazing toolset used by Bethesda to create TES IV Oblivion, there are literally over 2000 mods made by gamers like you and I, available for free and still coming out on a daily basis.
I spent close to 200 hours with over 50 mods installed and I only covered less than 70 quests. I was too busy crawling underground, fighting monsters, retrieving loots, selling them for better equipments and houses, decorating.
To hell with saving the world. I only finished half of the main quest, and I have no intention to finish it in the foreseeable future.
The production value is simply stratospheric. From character design, character model, environment, grass, tree, flower, water, animal, item, monster, building, right down to single pebble and stone, Bethesda paid so much attention to details that it is breathtakingly marvelous.
Music by Jeremy Soule and sound effects are another praise-worthy achievements.
No other RPG in the history of video game gives the gamer so much freedom in gameplay as it is so evident from the very beginning in character creation.
If you spend enough time, you can virtually create any actual person's face both living or dead in uncanny resemblance.
Whether you like it or not, I think 'Oblivion' has set the standard by which all future CRPG, and even other genres to some extent, will be measured for a long time.
To Bethesda's credit, 'Oblivion' successfully streamlined the CRPG mechanics from its beloved franchise into more accessible mainstream game that became a runaway success; or dumbing down for console kiddies as many describe, depends on how you look at it. I know many of people were turned off by the changes made from older TES series, and 'Oblivion vs Morrowind: Which is better?' is still one of the most fiercely-debated topic in the official forum. Since I have fond memories of all previous TES series, I won't get into the flaming war. I just don't see any constructive point of insisting one game over another. They all have pros and cons, and no game is perfect.
I couldn't read single review of new CRPG called 'Two Worlds' without comparing it to 'Oblivion'. What a burden and curse it is for 'Two Worlds', which has been brutally trashed by critics and users alike. I really love that game, too. Although I really enjoyed that game, it was ultimately not enough to erase the memory of 'Oblivion'. If 'Fallout 3' becomes anything close to the success of 'Oblivion', Bethesda Softwork will become the next formidable RPG Giant like 'Blizzard' / 'Black Isle' / 'Bioware' trinity once achieved back in the days. You can be sure Bethesda will come out with TES V, and its success is pretty much guaranteed no matter which direction it will take.
Now I think far too many game mechanics from the past CRPGs such as 'Ultima', 'Baldur's Gate', 'Wizardry' or 'Diablo' series stemmed from the limitation of technology at the time rather than game design choice. I still have the original copies of 'Baldur's Gate' and 'Diablo' series along with 'Ultima' series, 'Wizardry 8', 'Planescape: Torment', 'Fallout 1, 2', and of course 'Daggerfall' and 'Morrowind'.
Except for 'Morrowind', I don't see myself playing and enjoying those game as I once used to anymore.
I tried them recently and was pleasantly surprised how pathetically they are outdated now. The vidio gaming asthetics have grown exponentially since those days.
Even 'Morrowind' took some adjusting time to re-immerse myself. When I say technology, I am not just talking about graphic but the scope and possibilities that was just not feasible in the past. The improved technology doesn't always result in better game but it immensely helps to create immersive gaming world, and the technology lifted all the barriers for game developers to realize their vision into games. This will result in new convergent games that crossover the genres. Upcoming games such as 'Mass Effect' and 'Fallout 3' are the evidence of new gaming asthetics being formed right now.
What would you like to see in the future Bethesda RPGs in terms of game mechanics?
For me, one thing I really like to see is the interaction with NPCs improved. Radiant A.I. is the right direction for the NPC interaction, but I like to see more detailed implementation. In 'Gothic' series, NPCs actually perform various activities, which player character can also performs. NPCs react when weapons drawn upon or intruded by. I know these reactions in 'Gothic' are scripted events but the presentation makes them as if the NPCs were alive. NPCs in 'Oblivion', while acting on dynamic schedule, sometimes look like pantomiming. Many times I've witnessed the awesome NPCs interaction only possible with 'Radiant A.I', but many times NPCs walks around aimlessly in circle, too. The character deposition drops when weapon is drawn during conversation, but it would be nice to hear more distinctive reaction from NPCs about the fact. Daily routine could be more detailed in animation. Fishing, chopping woods, forging metals, making weapons, eating and drinking, the lists go on. I like to have more dialogue choices and right to refuse any quest. Many times you are given just one choice in 'Oblivion'.
Another thing is consequences of player character's action and its influence to the persistent world such as guilds. In 'Oblivion', your deeds, either good or evil, hardly create impact on the gaming world. Although there are more than one method to solve many individual task, and more than one result in outcome of the quest, it really doesn't change the grand scheme of the game. I heard 'Bethesda' is really working hard on this for the upcoming 'Fallout 3'. Multiple endings and various intricate political stands among different factions would be greatly appreciated.
Next thing is different combat mechanics for 3rd person perspective. 1st person perspective is outstanding in 'Oblivion' but it would be sweet to have the alternative combat mechanics in 'Vanity Mode' also. That way, gamers have choice between realistic 1st-person combat and more arcady 3rd-person combat. Accurate jumping mechanics like the one in 'Metroid Prime' would be awesome compared to the unrealistical moonwalking in the air in 'Oblivion'. More acrobatic combat moves like rolling and dodging would be fantastic additions.
Havoc engine is great, but I hope the object manipulation becomes more useful in the actual gaming world, quests, or combat in the next iteration.
And my pet peeve of the game, it's so difficult to fight the enemies while NPCs are around, especially the essential characters that you must protect.
These are merely the positive suggestions rather than pointing out the game's flaws.
New ideas to improve the immersion for too much open-endedness would be great idea to narrow the gap between linear RPG and non-linear RPG.
Making RPG and simulating more life-like world is the ultimate holy grail Bethesda has been working for since 'Arena', I am sure.
No matter which TES game you like the most, the pathetic reality is that the choice of CRPG is very scarce in the market right now, and we need more refined game like 'Oblivion' to embrace mainstream casual gamers without alienating the hardcore RPG gamers so that market will once be crowded with good CRPGs.
The newly released GOTY (Game of the year) edition of 'TES IV Oblivion' contains the original 'Oblivion' along with 'Knights of the Nine' and 'Shiverilg Isles'. Unfortunately, the rest of the official DLCs (Downloadable Contents) are not available in the package. But the new PSN is now up and running, and there's great chance that the DLCs will be available on PSN as many DLCs are for other games. I strongly recommend you to purchase the retail version of PS3 'Shivering Isles' if you own the previous version of PS3 'Oblivion' for it already contains 'Knights of the Nine'. If you decide to go with GOTY edition, then make sure you uninstall the entire older version before you reinstall with the newer version. And yes, you can use the older save game files, but they could potentially cause some stability issues for the console version as opposed to the PC version. If you never played 'Oblivion', GOTY edition is a terrific purchase with infinite value. The graphic is simply breathtaking, and loading time is almost as fast as most of PC. There's no shame in owning this excellent game on PS3 console. One downside of console version is the lack of access to thousands of user-created mods created by 'TES Construction Set'. They are only compatible for PC.
This game literally never ends. You'll spends hundreds of hours and one day, you'll simply quit at your own device. 'Oblivion' is the one game truly non-linear, free-form, open-ended to the bitter end, indeed.