There is an old adage that says: “If it isn’t broken then don’t fix it.”
Oblivion is an attempt to improve on near perfection, to reach the unreachable and to grasp two birds with one in the hand.
How does it fare? I am going to recount my first few hours and nights in the game and reflect on the gameplay.
Well, I come from the previous game in the series; Morrowind. In that game I hade completed the main quest using a walkthrough. It had taken me 2 solid weeks of playing 8 hours a day (I was home with a torn leg muscle) and that was with a walkthrough. By then end I had a house, a guild, every super item in the game, been a vampire, been an assassin and got made the God-king of the entire continent. The Elder Scrolls series games are huge.
And here is the rub. Oblivion is not as big as Morrowind. Rather than go for Pink Floyd they have come up with Radiohead. More polish but less size. Anyway, we will get to that in a moment.
On booting up the game you are immediately shown just how polished this genre can get. The character design screen has so many options for facial customisation that I called in my wife and let her play around designing me an avatar for the next half and hour. Finally, after dragging her away, I was in.
The story seems so far to be standard stuff and all Elder scrolls start with you in prison (it’s like an in-joke). The game watches your every move through the excellent tutorial/escape from prison and at the end the conversation with the final guard goes a little like this:
“Ok then, take this key and exit through the rest of the prison, I will wait with the kings corpse here. I don’t think you will have much trouble; I have watched you and would say that you are a talented …
MONK: Good with hand to hand, bows and restoration magic.
I don’t know who he has been watching but it wasn’t me! I disagree with the learned gentlemen and up pops the screen with all the other options. Now I personally like to play a good knight/dungeon raider so I need healing magic, bow and swords. Paladin isn’t an option so a quickly create my own class and call it Adventurer. The guard sniffs at this:
“Well, you sure do surprise me. Off you go, take this to so-and-so.”
So, the plot starts that the king is dead and you are the unknown variable that must help out. You start as a delivery boy, but I am betting that by the end I am the Neverine himself come back. In classic fashion, the first mission requires you to deliver something over an hours walk away passed the main city and through a forest, thus giving you a good look over the games structure, enabling you to get into some side quests, and to level up a bit.
The graphics are simply amazing, but then I have a top of the range PC and have the HDR setting on. Mind you this is not a game based on looks alone; this is about depth so I quickly check out the nearest town.
I find the shops and try the door of the first one. Suddenly I am thrown into a sub game of trying to pick the doors lock. Yikes, I didn’t want to break into the place! I cancel the B&E attempt just in time as a guard walks passed me!
“You have my attention,” he says.
“I is’ not ‘avin an ASBO ‘innit?” I reply hopefully. He walks on. Phew, I am safe.
So what the hell happened? Ah! It is 9pm; of course the shops are closed! I search out the tavern. It is dark and warming and I buy a bed for the night. During the night I sneak downstairs and steal a few apples. What? I was hungry ok?
Next morning I leave and sure enough the shops are now open, neat.
I try the first and get a shock. Conversations in Oblivion are based around a personality skill, something I didn’t raise on my dungeon killer character. Hence everyone in the town’s shops hates me. Mistake? No, I had read the previews and I knew that Oblivion included a sub game to raise a person’s opinion of you. Whenever you talk to someone, the view zooms in on their face (nice effect) and you can see their expression (of disgust usually). If they appear not to like you then clicking a button will bring up a game to raise this impression.
In this game you have circle of four choices: Joke, Flattery, Coerce and erm…. Beg I think… can’t remember. Anyway, nevertheless you have to pick each one once. Inside the circle is a misshapen inner ring that turns each time you select one. If you select a choice when the inner rig has filled that box with colour then the choice has a larger effect. Once chosen the ring turns again. Well, every person is different. Some like a joke whiles others need a slap. You have to work out a way that you can pick the choices they like when full and the choices they don’t like when empty. Clever!
I quickly raise my profile with a few well placed words and suddenly get a sniff of a side quest. I will recount it here as an example of the depth this game is trying to reach.
Firstly, the shop owner tells me that another shop owner (call him A) won’t join their little guild and is undercutting everyone. Would I go talk to him? Sure I say. I trot over there and this A guy is all “yeah I’m all that, and I know the right people, blah blah”. So I follow him when he shuts up shop. He wanders around for a while, gets something to eat in the pub, chats to a few people, then heads to a back street and meets a shady looking man. They talk and I soon realise that I need to follow this new guy instead. I track him home and camp outside. The next day he goes out and I break in. His house is interesting and full of stuff! I am checking out the locks on all the draws when suddenly the front door is thrown open; it’s the fuzz!
“Hand over your stolen goods and pay a fine, criminal!” he says as he marches in, his torch light throwing shadows all over the walls and probably highlighting my hoodie’ass B&E scum bag face to perfection.
I pull my Stanley, “You’ze better be backin’ off man, I iz a killa’ ya’know?” I threaten menacingly. Not unsurprisingly the guard draws his sword and attacks.
Fighting in the game is clever too. A right click pulls your shield up if you have one, but until you know how to use it, or indeed until you get a better one that the POS I have, you are better off just swinging. Using your sword is a matter of left clicking and holding whilst pressing a direction arrow to do a special attack. My attacks at level one could only be considered special in a disabled-parking-space sense and the guard trounces me. Still it was a magic moment and fluid as hell in animation; my heart is beating like a drum.
Anyway… The next day he goes out and I break in. His house is interesting; I am NOT checking any locks but looking for clues. Sure enough in the basement I find them. This guy has been digging up the dead and selling their clothes! Scum! But how to prove it? I head to the graveyard for some evidence. There I find a crypt with a name I recognise from the basement. I head inside and SLAM! The door shuts behind me!
A voice comes out from the bottom of the stairs,
“Well, my friend I knew you were following me, blah blah blah time for you to die.”
I am suddenly jumped by the guy and his mate. Time for the bonus feature of my race:
Something I noticed in Morrowind was that my race choice (Redguard – basically a black man) was unpopular and there was a slight racial element to the game, which was brilliant played out and I don’t know if it was on purpose. I have made the same choice in Oblivion because the race comes with the same bonus innate power. Once a day I can cast a spell that boosts all my stats for a short period. I pop the pillz’ and take down the guy and his homey after a longish struggle. I search the crypt and find the evidence I need in the form of a mud covered shovel. After stripping the corpses (of course!), I head back to shop keeper A and tell him the situation. He is appalled and immediately donates all his stock to the local temple. Not only that but he gives a cool ring as a pressy’
Still clutching the ring I go back to the first shop owner and she tells me that A has been in, joined the guild and is now selling at normal prices, here is a 100 gold and our thanks. By the way is there anything you need to buy? I can sell it to you cheap because we all like you so much now.
“Howz’ aboutz’ some Rizzla for me’scoob’snacks?” I ask. She goes and checks.
One tiny little side quest: over. The main mission: not even started yet! Yes, this game is deep, deeper than most games and almost as deep as the great Morrowind.
So is there anything wrong with it?
Well, yes. Graphically there are issues. This is a game released on Xbox (spit) and PC (Yah) at the same time. This has led to some things being “tweaked” (read fucked up) to fit them on an Xbox.
- Pop up, nasty pop up. Thankfully you can get rid of this, but the basic settings are nasty on the pop up.
- Textures, at distance they are low res. One of the great things about the Elder Scrolls games is the community. Already there is a trio of graphical mods that improve the res of distant objects no end.
- Purchased content. All the official extra content costs $1.99. This may be fine our deluded M$ XPox players (after all if you believe the M$ press releases you would think Xbox Live invented online gaming!), but it is an anathema to the PC veteran. PAY? MORE? MONEY? Are you bonkers? No thanks. This is the PC mate; we paid the first time.
- Game size. I am waiting an MMO so mega large and infinitely varied, into which I can get so hopelessly immerged, that someone could take advantage and turn my ass into batteries. Oblivion isn’t it.
- Icon size. Now, I know the Xbox plays on a TV, but I don’t. I don’t want G I A N T – I C O N S taking over the screen. Make them smaller!
So, so far that is it. Fun and wonderful. I have only touched on the polish on display in this game and haven’t even outlined the adventures I had hunting deer and coming across an old church full of skeletons and ghosts. I haven’t mentioned the dungeons, or the plant collecting or the horses!
Buy it and see for yourselves guys and girls. It is a winner. 9/10.