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Game: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: 2K Games
Year: 2006
Reviewed: 2008
Platform: PC
Genre: RPG with a side order of everything else
Game Version: 1.2.0416
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

It’s hard to come up with a way to start a review of a game like Oblivion. It’s the fourth game in the Elder Scrolls series, which as always, places you in the middle of a huge game world and says “Do what you want.” (But not literally. There’s no big voice booming out “Do what you want” or anything. Although there should be. Include that in the next game, Bethesda!) Of course, the game does give you a plot line to follow at the beginning, telling you where to go next to continue with it, but there’s no obligation to do that. In fact, it was around 20 hours of gameplay later before I decided to touch the main story again. There’s just so much to do in the game. And that makes it bloody awkward to review.

Oblivion Scenery
Amazing views like this are common in Cyrodiil.

So I’ll take things in a completely jumbled and random order and start with the levelling up system. The Elder Scrolls games do things a bit differently to most RPGs. Rather than earning generic experience points (or XP as they seem to have been abbreviated to by someone who can’t spell and doesn’t know there’s supposed to be an “e” at the start or “experience”), the game uses a more realistic skills based system. It works by following the reasoning that the more you practice something, the better at it you become. Just like in real life! So rather than killing monsters, and inexplicably using that experience to become better at stealth, you have to use skills in order to develop them. The more locks you pick, the better you’ll get at picking locks and you’ll be able to pick harder, more advanced locks. Sneak around and pick peoples pockets, and you’ll find yourself getting better at remaining unseen. Either that or you’ll end up in jail. It makes sense, and it does work quite well, but it also does have its problems. For instance, you can end up just running around constantly casting the same spell over and over everywhere you go, just to get better at that type of magic in order to make your spells more powerful. Again, there’s nothing actually wrong with this. It’s still down to the old “practice makes perfect” cliché. It’s not exactly the most exciting thing to do in a game though. Still, the game isn’t forcing you to do that, so it can’t really be blamed, and it does make a nice change to the standard RPG levelling system. I think it’s very good, and works really well. But I’m not sure I’d miss it if it was gone.

One thing this system reduces is the reliance on the class based system. You still have mages, warriors, thieves and the like, but you’re not limited to one branch. It means you can play the game how you like. You can have the strongest fighter around, but keep using the various available skills and you can become a powerful mage too, who also happens to be pretty good at picking locks. So there are no worries if you decide you’ve chosen a class you don’t want to play at the beginning of the game. You just concentrate on the other skills and change your character.

Oblivion Statue and axe
Having an axe bigger than a statue is a sure way to scare your enemies in combat.

Still, as mentioned, all the elements of the traditional classes are in the game, so let’s look at those:

Combat: Rather unsurprisingly, combat mostly involves either melee weapons or bows. In practice, it’s pretty much just melee weapons, since bows are quite redundant most of the time if you get a couple of decent combat spells. Thankfully, the sword fighting (or axe chopping or whatever you choose to use) works quite well. You have the choice of using a two handed weapon or a single-handed weapon, which I generally found preferable for the ability to use a shield with it. This makes combat a bit more interesting than just hacking away at your opponents, allowing you to time your attacks to hit your opponent while blocking when they attack you. There’s a slider that controls the difficulty level, and it can be changed at any point in the game, something that should be noted and used in all games. It means you can’t get stuck half way through a game because you started with a difficulty level too high, and if you’re finding the game too easy you’re not then stuck with it. At low difficulty levels you can hack through most things without much trouble, where the harder settings mean you can have fights that are quite long and challenging. The combat isn’t going to rival a more dedicated combat game such as Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, but it works well for its use here and is quite fun.

Magic: Magic in the province of Cyrodiil is handled in pretty much the same way as in real life. You can learn a large variety of spells by purchasing them from magic shops or by being taught them by less capitalist characters. They come in a variety of schools, each with a different style. For example, there’s destruction magic, which is pretty self-explanatory, with fireball spells and the like, restoration magic (i.e. healing spells) or conjuration (such as summoning monsters to assist you). Near the beginning, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to rely on magic, but once you get the more powerful spells you could probably go weapons free for much of the game. And you can shoot fireballs! It’s not as good as a more complete magic experience, such as learning magic in real life and shooting fireballs around the streets, but it’s a decent simulation.

Oblivion Dead Immortal
She’s dead. I think there’s a real flaw in calling her immortal.

Stealth: Stealth does exactly what it says on the tin. Except it’s not in a tin. It’s in a game. I didn’t really think that through. Anyway, it’s fairly simple but, as seems to be the pattern, works well enough for a game of this type. Crouching puts you in stealth mode and allows you to attempt to remain unseen. There’s a symbol in the centre of the screen which is transparent when you’re hidden and opaque when you’re not. It’s a simple visible/not visible switch; you’re either completely invisible or everyone can clearly see you. The better your stealth skill, the easier it is to remain hidden. Some of the most interesting quests in the game involve the Thieves Guild or the Dark Brotherhood (assassins) so it’s well worth using at least some stealth. It’s not going to rival the depth of a more intricate stealth game, such as the Thief series, but it doesn’t need to.

When it comes to quests, there’s a good variety of things to do. Aside from the main plot, quests for the various guilds (Fighters, Mages and Thieves) and the Dark Brotherhood (Assassins), there are plenty of side quests from people you’ll meet in the various towns in the game. There are some generic “go and kill that bunch on monsters” or fetch quests, but there’s also some more interesting ones. You could find yourself investigating a murder, or end up in a rather unique location. The main quest is actually one of the weaker ones in the game. Oblivion gates start opening up all around the world (gates to hell, basically) and you have to close them. And they’re all basically identical. There’s a few variations of the main layout that you’ll see over and over again, and every one of them ends up in a tower with the exact same layout all over again. Thankfully, you don’t have to close every one of them, but you do have to do quite a few through the course of the main story. The reason this doesn’t detract much from the quality of the game is that it’s such a tiny part of it. There’s just so many better things to be doing. For instance, the guild plotlines are far more interesting. Guild quests start with fairly basic activities helping out the other members, since you’re a new recruit. Quite soon though, more interesting things start happening and you’ll end up with a story better than in the main quest, usually with a twist to it along the way.

I could go on in depth about all the little things you can do in the game, but I won’t. Partly because a lot of the fun comes from discovering things for yourself. Partly because the game is more than just the sum of its parts. And partly (and this is the main part) because I’m far too lazy. It’s not necessary anyway. The game presents you with a world that you can immerse yourself in for weeks on end, and is well worth playing.

Save System Review: A proper quick save ability. Not only that, but it’s a very fast quicksave, and the game loads amazingly quickly for a game of this size.
Graphics: The graphics in Oblivion are still nice to look at even now. They don’t quite have the same technical impressiveness that they had when the game first came out, since plenty of other games have improved on graphics since then, but they still hold up well against most games. And it’s nice to explore a more colourful environment than the usual greys and browns that dominate most games.
Sound: Sound isn’t really Oblivion’s strong point. There’s nothing all that wrong with the sound effects, but they’re not all that special either. The music is very well done, with a full orchestral score. The voice acting isn’t bad, but the trouble is that you hear the same small number of actors again and again playing different characters, and it can get a bit annoying and breaks immersion. Still, there’s nothing dreadful.
Bugs: In a game of this scale, there’s bound to be a few bugs. I was quite surprised that I didn’t actually find all that many. I did have the occasional problem in sections where other characters were supposed to be following me and would end up running around getting stuck and not able to find their way to me. There was also one bug where I killed someone who was attacking me, and all the guards turned against me when they should have known I was defending myself. I had to try that a few times to work out a way around it. Other than that, I didn’t really encounter many problems.
Gameplay: This is where the game excels, since there’s just so much to do. Combat, magic, stealth, assassination, thievery, exploration, investigation; it's one of the most varied games around. And the controls all work perfectly well.
Storyline: The main plot isn’t bad, but it’s fairly generic and not all that spectacular. But the game has many more storylines, some of them far better than the main quest, to keep you interested. With all the variety of things you can do, the game basically lets you create your own story by doing what you want to do. The plotlines for the guild quests are always entertaining, and there’s quite a few side quests with intriguing premises.

Arbitrary Final Score: 4.5 stars

If you like this, you might also like: All the other Elder Scrolls games. Obviously. And the expansion packs. And Fallout 3. And Cluedo. Everyone loves Cluedo.

A fitting chapter in the series or should it be consigned to the Oblivion it's named after. Let us know what you think on our forum.