The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Xbox 360 Review

For 65 years, I have ruled this empire. Generals and Kings have knelt at my command. But a darkness comes. The blood tide rises. These are the closing days of the Third Era, and the final hours of my life.” – Emperor Uriel Septim VII

Since its inception The Elder Scrolls has been heralded for its sheer size and depth, offering gamers a literally never-ending list of thing to do. The fourth title in the best-selling RPG series is no different – in fact it propels the series to a whole new level of awesomeness fixing many of the imperfections and flaws that were present in its predecessors. After what seemed like waiting forever, Oblivion is finally here! Believe the hype!

Make It So

Oblivion‘s story begins right after you create and name your character (more about that later). You are locked up in a prison cell for some unexplained reason. After a few minutes, the Emperor of Tamriel, Uriel Septim, comes your way as he is being rushed out of the city for fear of an assassination attempt on his life. The hidden exit from the city just happens to be placed in your cell. The Emperor and guards order you to step back to let them enter. Upon entering, Uriel Septim (voiced by fabulous Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart) recognizes your character from one of the dreams he had and agrees to let you use the same hidden exit he is using and lets you escape on your own. From this point on you will play the first dungeon the game has to offer – it is full of rats and other weak enemies. The game also uses this dungeon to teach you many of the different ways the game can be played and shows you how to use all the basic weapons and magic spells you have access to. The first twist of the game story also happens near the end of this dungeon (which I won’t spoil here but you may have already read somewhere already) and you are set your first quest. The rest is up to you…

I Reject Your Reality And Substitute My Own

As you would expect (and just like Morrowind and its other predecessors), Oblivion plays from a first-person perspective – forget the third-person option as it feels very distant and does not work in my opinion. As we all know, the 360 controller seems like it has been built to make the FPS genre a breeze to play so everything on the controller seems fantastically placed to make the game fun and easy to get into. From this viewpoint you can swing your weapon and see it make contact or get blocked by your opponent. If it gets blocked, sometimes you may stumble which is reflected onscreen by your character and you will be tossed back a bit after the block. Of course you can block too (by holing down LT) which will bring up your shield (if you have one) to help protect you from attacks thus leaving your opponent open to be pummelled.

Character creation and development is superbly done in Oblivion (it can’t be stressed enough how deep this area of the game is). From the outset you are asked to choose your name, sex, and race. That’s simple enough, then it is time to choose your character race (each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses). The races are Argonian, Breton, Dark Elf, High Elf, Imperials, Khajiit, Nord, Orcs, Reguard and Wood Elf. After setting up all of this, it is time to fiddle with the features of your characters which are in-depth enough to make someone who bares a striking resemblance to yourself. After a while, even more interesting customisations come your way (and this is where the game excels as it lets you choose between 21 pre-made classes which cover a wide range of specialisations. If that’s not enough, you can have the chance of making your own custom skill class which will let you play the game exactly the way you want to. Is that enough for you? No? Even more customisation is available as you can pick one of 12 zodiac signs which will further specialise your character, giving you strengths in magic/stealth/speed amongst other attributes depending on which you choose. Oblivion really does all it can to help you make the game feel like your own personal adventure and this all happens before you even step out of the dark, gloomy, damp old sewers.

Upon leaving those sewers, a whole world of options is open to you. The game is immense in letting you roam across 16 square miles of territory (that’s about four to five times larger than GTA San Andreas to put it into perspective) from the get-go. Even though the game is so big, you’ll never feel very lost (a complaint many directed at Morrowind). The game implements a number of techniques to let you know where you are going, what you can do there and where you are at the moment. First off, the game has a nice map that can be viewed in two different ways to help you figure out where you are going and what to do next. The map keeps getting updated with areas as you explore the game. Oblivion has a compass showing the direction you are going at all times. More help comes in the form of the implementation of “fast travel” letting you jump to places you have previously found. Of course if you use this all the time you won’t find any of the hidden forts/dungeons dotted around the land so it is always advisable to roam around any new areas you find yourself in before fast traveling off to your chosen destination. Any quests you get are also added to your map and are given a red pointer arrow to help you find your way.

The way you improve your skills in the game is also nicely done with each individual skill gaining a few “bonuses” once you raise it to a certain level. The spell casting and (Blade, Blunt, or Hand-to-hand) melee bonuses are the most interesting though because as you upgrade these you will not only get the chance to perform more powerful attacks dealing more damage, but also learn completely new techniques such as disarming an opponent or just flat out knocking him down with one hit. Heavy armour and light armour can also be upgraded but these upgrades only lead to a slower degradation of the armour. Thieves will have to master a lot more than just “sneak” to get up close to enemies in order to get backstabs (once again this is an huge upgrade from Morrowind). Mages gave the most fun though as they can hold a staff in one hand and fire out all manner of spells while also casting more spells with the other hand. Of course, whatever character you choose to be has more effect on all these stats, but that is far too much to go in-depth with in this review and would lead to it getting even longer than it already is. Suffice to say, every skill works very well and just like you would expect it to depending on who you are and what you do. Levelling up is also a break from the norm as you as only get the seven major skills you pick that will allow your character to level up. All of the game’s 21 skills will hit their top levels eventually, but much, much slower.

Bethesda has also licensed the much vaunted Havok physics engine for use in the game. As a result, all physics seem a hell of a lot more lifelike (as you would expect them to be). Bodies will react and recoil when injured and drop to the ground when they die. At one time my horse died when I was fighting an Imp on the side of a cliff and the animal rolled down into the chasm below reacting just as you would expect him to. Seeing as I had that horse for almost 10 hours, the sight would be enough to make someone break down in tears (I did not, for I am an intense warrior, grrrrrrrrr). More physics come into play in the way you steal objects from stores using your bow ‘n arrows. To do this you fire an arrow at the object you want to steal (make sure it is not too heavy) and your arrow will send the object plying into the corner of the room letting you pick it up (hopefully) without been seen. As always, with this game I have probably not experienced even half the stuff the engine is capable of, but from what I have seen it has been damn impressive.

What makes Oblivion even more impressive is that you can interact with almost all objects in the game. If you see a flower, berry or piece of foliage, you can pick it up (to use in potion creation). If you see a shelf full of books, you can walk up to it, select one from the shelf (there are a huge number of books available) and read through it. If you are a fan of reading then you can do that with the 100’s (if not 1000’s) of books available to read which could take a long, long time. All this reading may lead to you finding some secret in the game that was tucked away in a long lost book which can be ultimately satisfying.

So you have the massive play area, now what exactly do you do? Firstly is the main quest, then there are four different guilds to join (get contracts from) and master. Next there is an arena to conquer (actually there are two of them, but one is nicely hidden away), and oodles of side quests are there to challenge you. You can also break into houses (if you want to). With Oblivion being such a huge immersive experience, I myself had little chance of experiencing the full game. I also only experienced the game with one kind of character (a Redguard), so for the purpose of this review three more members of our grand staff have been dragged (kicking and screaming from the game) to give their two cents on what they think of the title and the characters they are playing with. These members are Domstercool, Owario and rokhed00 and these are their thoughts:

Owario

Character’s Name: Saviour
Current Level: 25
Current Location: Imperial City
Chosen Race: Breton

My Story: As you can probably tell from her name, Saviour is one of the good gals. However, she is not particularly proud of what she did in order to become the grand champion of the Arena. It took until she became Bloodletter rank, after she’d won a fair amount of matches, before she worked up the courage to talk to the grand champion at the time. Strangely enough, he wanted me to do something for him. You see, his mother had given him a key that apparently would unlock the dark secrets to his past, but because of his heavy training schedule, he didn’t have the time to investigate. This is where I came in. Too scared that he would beat me down if I refused, I accepted his task and started to head off to the strange cave where his secrets were hidden.

Fighting my way through the cavern, I used my superior heavy armour, restoration and alchemy skills to make sure no beast could make a lasting dent in me, and with the help of my mighty blade they were left lifeless on the floor. I used my high knowledge of the armourer skill to repair my weapons and armour, readying myself for the next battle. After a while of exploring the caves, I came across a locked door, where I used the key I had been given. I ventured inside, hoping to find some clue as to what to do next, when a seemingly crazed man started attacking me! He wouldn’t accept my yield, so I had no choice but to show him why I’m a member of the Arena. After his defeat, I searched around and found a diary depicting exactly what had happened to this man. It turns out that he was the grand champion’s father, as well as a vampire. His spouse locked him in these caves after she had found out what he was, and she had kept this secret from her son. I took the diary and travelled back to the Arena where I revealed the champion’s own past to him. Although he wasn’t too happy about being the spawn of evil, he still kept his promise to me and gave me a reward in the form of blade and block training.

From here I left the man in peace, until of course, I became the blue team champion. He was the only thing standing in the way of me becoming the grand champion, so I challenged him to a duel. He accepted, although something wasn’t quite right. I made my way up to the fighting ground, and after the announcer made it clear this was going to be a match of epic proportions, I charged into the middle, activated dragon skin, and poisoned my blade. The half vampire took a swing at me, which I blocked, and then… nothing. He just stood there. When I talked to him, he asked me to end his life, as he couldn’t bear to live knowing who he truly was. After a bit of thought, I obliged, and swung my sword several times. My thirst for glory had overcome my righteousness for the first time, and as soon as the thud of his body hit the ground, the regret started to sink in.

rokhed00

Character’s Name: Rokhed
Current Level: 5
Current Location: Cheydinhal
Chosen Race: Nord

My Story: Being the egotist that I am, my character had to be as close to being me in every way possible and is why I ended up with a large, long haired, bearded Nordic warrior. Also not being a big fan of the RPG genre – in fact I positively detest the traditional type of RPG – I have played the game more as first person adventure. That’s the beauty of the game though; it is so open ended and can be played in so many different ways it will appeal to even the staunchest of RPG haters.

Being a warrior, the fighters’ guild seemed to be the natural choice for me to join, and after advancing to the rank of Journeyman I headed to the town of Cheydinhal looking for a contract. Whilst walking through the town I noticed an open door on a house. Heading inside I found the wife of the owner – one Tivela Lythendas in a right state. Her husband, the artist Rythe, had disappeared while in his studio a few days previous. So, after she’d given me the key, I entered his studio looking for clues. There weren’t any obvious clues to his whereabouts, but when coming in to contact with a painting he was working on I found myself magically transported into the painting. Once there I immediately ran into Rythe who explained his predicament to me. His reputation as an artist had been earned through mystical means – he was the holder of the brush of true paint, an implement of the gods, handed down to him by his father. The brush allowed him to enter his artworks and paint them from the inside, allowing unprecedented attention to detail. But, somehow, a thief had learned of the brush’s existence and had stolen it from him whilst inside the painting. The thief had then filled the painting with Trolls, not realising they would be a danger to him as well as any other. One of the trolls turned on him and killed him leaving Rythe and now myself trapped within the painting with only one hope of escape – retrieving the brush from the thief’s body.

So, I headed off into the landscape of the painting, armed only with my trusty katana and half a dozen bottles of Turpentine. Would that be enough for me to defeat the badly-painted trolls to rescue Rythe and myself, from this watercolour nightmare?

Domstercool

Character’s Name: Dom
Current Level: 14
Current Location: My Cheydinhal House
Chosen Race: Argonian

My Story: I finally arrived back at home to get some well deserved sleep. Today has been one hellish adventure. This morning I was travelling on my way back to the Cloud Ruler Temple with a Daedra artefact – the Volendrung. Volendrung is one of the twelve legendary Daedra artefacts that are a damn rare breed to find. It wasn’t easy getting hold of such an item. I had to do a favour for a certain Malacath. if you don’t know your Daedra, he is an Orc god and a very angry one at that. I was asked by the furious Malacath to help free some enslaved Ogres from the estate owner Lord Drad. Lord Drad was using the Ogres to mine some caves close to his land. The task was fairly simple, using my tremendous amount of intelligence I snuck my way into the mine and decided the best course of action would be to free the Ogres and let them do all the dirty work, and I can tell you they were more than willing to crush a few guard skulls. That’s how I became the owner of Volendrung, well I should say Ex-owner actually. Once I arrived at the Cloud Ruler Temple I had to depart with the Daedra artefact – Martin required one to be able to open up a portal to Camoran’s Paradise.

The day wasn’t over yet though, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Grandmaster Jauffre wanted me to help Bruma, a town not just far from the temple; the reason? An Oblivion gate had opened up. Having experienced one already, I willingly offered to help. I travelled there with my beautiful horse Shadowmere. I arrived and met up with some armoured men and travelled through the gate. Now I can tell you that just because I’ve experienced one gate doesn’t mean I knew what was coming, DAMN HELL I DIDN’T KNOW! The screams, the torture, the vile living disgusting monsters, EVERYTHING IS SO DAMN HELLISH IN THERE! THOSE MEN! KILLED IN FRONT OF ME AND I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING! I COULDN’T DO! I…… I was just running….running from them, ALL OF THEM! THOSE VILE CREATURES! I had to spend the minimal amount of time possible in there. I had to get that sigil – it wasn’t my fault those men weren’t a Journeyman in Athletics. They should have kept up with me. So everyone died bar one person and what can I say? He was good at running. The sigil was mine and I managed to close that god forsaken life eater. I have a feeling that won’t be the last I’ll be seeing of those gates.

I just hope I can handle the situation better next time…God forgive me.

Final Gameplay Thoughts

As you can see, Oblivion is huge, massive, gigantic, enormous, mammoth, colossal, immense, vast and any other word that means big all added together. If you limit yourself and stick to just the main adventure, then the game can clock in at something around 30-40 hours, but if you do that you are missing out on what makes Oblivion Oblivion. If you choose to take on some of the side quests (most of which are highly entertaining), then the hours really do start to add up. I personally don’t know how many different side quests are in the game as I have not found them all (and probably never will), but I do know that you could play this game for 200-300+ and never get bored. Not one other game on the face of the planet (not even Morrowind) could boast something like that. Even if you just turn on your console to just mix a few potions and search for some hidden treasure you will always find something else to peak your attention whether it be joining a guild, exploring one of the huge dungeons, slamming shut one of the Oblivion gates or simply just chasing a deer from one end of Tamriel to the other. Why chase the deer? Because you can!

Presentation

“Visually stunning” and “awe-inspiring” beauty are just a few words you could say about the myriad of location that can be seen as you adventure across the lands of Tamriel in Oblivion. So much eye candy is existent that at least at one point during the game you will find yourself stopping to just look around and then say “wow” (I have done it a number of times). The first time you venture outside from the confines of the sewers is a gaming moment akin to the first time you venture into the Hyrule Field on the N64’s Ocarina of Time. It is at that instant it hits just how good the game is and is probably a gaming moment that will not be topped for quite some time.

In many other game reviews, I’d spend a paragraph talking about the brilliant lighting and animation on show in the game, but it is unneeded here as you do not notice them as much in Oblivion. The effects are done so well that you just accept they are there and almost forget how much hard work went into them to get them that way. Even when you have to take out a torch to find your way in the dark, the lights reflect off everything perfectly to help guide your way. It’s not only the huge landscapes – buildings, books, flowers, barrels and crates have little extra touches added to make them look that little bit better. No matter how big or small the object, they all seem to have little meticulous details included which rise the game to the pinnacle of gaming development. Trees also sway in the wind which I believe is a first for a game such as this

Great detail has also gone into all the character models and monsters. Each character in the game looks unique and looks a little bit different from the one before. You can also talk with almost all of the characters in the game which will bring up a close up of their face as you talk with them. From this view you can see the work that has gone into modelling each and every face to make each character one of a kind. Many of the monsters and other creatures you fight in the game are all clones of each other, but you would not really expect each enemy to be unique. Many of the guards in the game also seem to have many, many twins dotted through Tamriel. [Editor’s note: That poor mother!]

The game’s frame rate holds up well at most points. In one on one fights there isn’t much slowdown and when fighting even two or three characters it does not take much of a hit. The frame rate does drop a few notches if a lot of magic is been used and if there are a lot of characters on screen casting these spells. In terms of loading, a fair few loading screens are used in the game, but most of these are short. You will never have to wait over ten seconds and usually you will have to wait a lot less that that. When venturing across the fields of Tamriel, a bit of loading is guised in pauses that last less than a second to load the scenery coming up ahead of you. It has to be said it would have been better if these pauses weren’t here but with a game that contains this much detail, it was to be expected.

Audio is expertly done in Oblivion and it does a great job of putting just about every other game in the world to shame. The sound effects are spot on with everything sounding just like you would expect it to. If you drop a bowl you will get a small rattle but if you slay a huge monster you will get a big oomph as he hits the ground. If you do both of the above again on a different surface you will get slightly different noises. The sound of arrows flying though the air are also spot on as is the crackling sound as you get close to one of the Oblivion Gates. Even more thumbs up comes from the sounds of all the different magic; the more powerful destruction spells almost shaking your house apart if you have a good sound system turned up to eleven! The music in the game is perhaps the game’s weakest aspect, but that is not saying that it is bad. In fact, most of the music on show is of a very high quality, but there is not a huge amount of it. The music that is there though does set the mood of the game very well. Even if you do get bored of the tunes you could always rip the Lord of the Rings OST on your 360 and have some fun messing about while listening to that. Last, but by no means least comes the game’s almost stupidly high amount voice acting. Every character in the game is voiced and each of them has something different to say to you . I am not sure how much is in there, but I am sure it took many weeks if not months to record it all. The voice acting is also professionally done with every character, even the insignificant ones delivering their lines with the correct tone and ferocity which help bring the game world to life.

With a game that boasts this much detail, the illusion of realism would have been very quickly ruined if the title did not included some high quality AI. Thankfully this is not the case with Oblivion and all characters in the game seem to have a lifelike quality to them. All characters will go about daily routines and have lives of their own. Characters talk to each other without you being there. In fact, you can arrive on the scene of a conversation and listen to how it ends before you go on you way. Not all the characters are the same, after a few days play you might notice some towns folk stay up longer than others and will be walking around outside in the dark when all the others are tucked up in bed waiting for the next day. Most characters will chat with you and may mention something relevant to your adventure and say how strong you look if your strength attribute is high and also tell you to go see a healer if they think you look pale after contracting some disease.

Well There’s Your Problem

Although most parts of the game are expertly put together and can easily put most other RPG’s to shame, it has to be said a few mistakes were made along the way. None of the imperfections managed to ruin the game, but it has to be said it would have been nice if they were ironed out. These little inconsistencies include stuff such as you having huge weapons and many doors/crates in the game been made out of wood yet you still have to open them with a lock pick. It probably is a lot more fun to mess about with the lock pick minigame and improve your skill, but for a game that boasts all this realism it is a small letdown. The inventory system is also slightly sloppy meaning a bit of work is in need to find some items when they are really needed. Of course this can be rectified by setting the item to one of the eight hotkeys. The encumbrance system can also get annoying at times as it seems a bit harsh in what it limits you to carry. Of course the system is needed or you would end up carrying everything you find (which would be stupid), but the limit it sets could have been a bit higher. There are also some graphic niggles which try and ruin the game’s looks. These come mostly in the form of pop-ups which can at times get annoying. Many objects pop in the view as you get closer to them with many hills in the distance looking very sparse with little or no life until you get close to them and trees, rocks and grass all spring up right in your face. For such a huge game, these graphical sacrifices had to be made, but all in all these are just a few niggles in an all around great game.

Overall

If you loved Morrowind, you will probably want to have Oblivion‘s babies! If you thought Morrowind had a few problems, Bethesda has fixed many of the big complaints they got from fans of the series (partially some of the clunkiness of the fighting system). There is nothing else quite like this on store shelves right now (and there probably won’t be till Elder Scrolls V).Oblivion is the best game available to play on your Xbox360 and will remain so until long after the day the console goes out of production. This is how gaming should be; Oblivion is nigh on perfection. A true evolution of the RPG genre.

9.7 out of 10

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