• The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion which released amid much anticipation and fanfare in late March has become one of the most talked about games to be released for the Xbox 360. When I finally got my hands on a copy of this game, my first instinct was to try and get a review done as quickly as possible in an effort to not be the last person on earth to talk about it.

    My opinion changed though once I started to play the game and I soon realized that in order for me to truly give this title the review it deserved, it was important that I slow down a bit and spend some time getting to know what Oblivion was really all about. After my first few attempts at writing this came across sounding more like a FAQ or walkthough of the game, I decided to just write my impressions of what Oblivion does right, as well as some of the things that could have been done much better, especially considering the amount of time that Bethesda took in developing and building this game.

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

    Your first task is to create your character, and the tools with which you are given to do this are impressive. You’re offered a choice of 10 different races, each having it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Once you have made that decision, your character’s face is rendered and you can begin to customize nearly every aspect of his or her appearance. Trust me when I tell you that with all of the details that you have control over at this stage, you would be hard pressed to create two identical characters even if you tried. But, if you’re not the type of person who likes to spend a bunch of time primping in front of a mirror, the game does offer a randomize option which does all of the tweaking for you.

    The next step is essentially a training mission to familiarize the player with the controls of the game as well as an opportunity to experience some of Oblivion’s “underground” landscape. In an effort to avoid getting into all of the story’s details, let me just say that you are charged with the duty of finding the Emperor of Tamriel’s lost son and true heir to the throne as the Emperor foresees his own death coming soon. Of course, without a person of royal blood seated, the gates to Oblivion will open and, essentially, all hell’s gonna break loose. This initial mission gives you your first chance at adventuring and offers up a small variety of foes for you to practice some of your battle skills on. You will want to explore carefully in these areas since you will need to find some important tools necessary to get you through the early portions of the game. Although you spend a good portion of your time in some very dark areas, you will still begin to realize just how good this game really looks. Once this mission is complete you will be offered a predefined Class based on your style of play up to that point. Each Class emphasizes one of three different Specialization Arts of either Combat, Magic or Stealth.

    Your chosen Class will also define the seven Major Skills that your character will need to strengthen in order to level up. You can take the Class selected for you or you can choose from the 21 available Classes based on your own personal preference. But, if you don’t find one that suits your fancy, you can create your own custom Class to fit your liking (boy, I hope somebody’s writing this all down). From here the game offers you a final chance to change your character if you find that he or she isn’t what you had hoped for. If you are satisfied with all of your choices, you will then emerge from the dark gloom of the sewers and into the beautiful world of Cyrodiil.

    The overall graphics of the game are fantastic….when they work. Unfortunately, this game does suffer from a significant framerate drop at various times that is just too much to ignore. Not only is it distracting during gameplay, it is also just plain disappointing that a problem like this exists considering how much time Bethesdsa took bringing this title to market. At the time of this writing, the company had posted in it’s forums that they would be releasing a patch for both the PC and 360 versions of the game, but the fact is, these sorts of bugs need to be worked out before the game is released. Too many people waited too long for this game only to find out that it needed to be patched. Those issues aside, the world of Oblivion itself is beautiful. Forests, flowers, ruins, architecture, you name it. They all look great. NPC character’s are also very well done. Whether it’s the beggar’s rags or the city guards’ finest armor, the detail is stunning. Another nice treat is the fact that when you are speaking to an NPC, their lips actually move in sync with what they are saying. Their facial expressions reflect the character’s current mood and their eyes wander during conversation adding to the illusion of realism. You also have the ability to switch between first and third player views at any time on the fly. While the first person perspective seems to work best during battles, the third person view can be quite beneficial while sneaking through a city at night.

    Arguably, the best attribute of this title is it’s overall depth. Oblivion offers a world 16 square miles in size to explore, with many hidden locations not visible on your map just waiting to be discovered. In addition to the main mission story line, there are countless other tasks and money making opportunities that will be offered to you from NPC character’s throughout your travels. The game also has 4 different Guilds you can join and the opportunity to rise through the ranks of all of them. The Arena is a great place to become a champion combatant or just lay down a bet on other matches taking place. I’ll be honest, I had a difficult time focusing my attention on any individual mission. With so many different ways to spend my time in this world, I found myself trying out as many different adventures as I could. Since each mission is kept in a log found in the maps menu, it was easy to jump from one to the next by changing which one to have active at the time. If all of this still isn’t enough, then maybe the 50 Achievements to unlock will be. There is no doubt in my mind that this depth pretty much guarantees this title a ton of replay value.

    Speaking of menus, one needs to only press the “B” button to access an incredible amount of information about every aspect of your character. From these menus you can also get information about the weapons you are carrying including their current physical condition which tells you their overall usefulness. Armor is displayed both as to it’s type (light, heavy) and it’s physical condition as well. Spells, potions and anything in your possession with relevant details can be found here too. This is also the area where you can assign your hot-keys. Oblivion allows you to utilize 8 individual slots (up, down, left, right, upper left and right, lower left and right on the directional pad) for assigning weapons, spells, potions, etc. Making good choices for these slots is crucial in times of combat, as you will want to reserve a couple of slots for self-healing options. You can also view your maps from here, which can prove to be invaluable in as large of a world as this is. Chose a known location on your world map, and in most cases you can fast travel right to it’s location. Smaller more detailed maps of current cities you are in can also be useful in finding individual places of business and even residents homes.

    On the not so pleasant side of the game, there is a bit of awkwardness in a few different areas. Battling seems to be a learned art since many times when I thought I was doing quite well, I would actually end up getting killed. Another task that takes a bit of getting used to is horseback riding. While it is nice to move along at a quicker pace sometimes, directing the horse as to which direction you actually want to move in can be a bit daunting. One other quirk that bothered me, although minor in comparison, is watching the way your character moves when you’re in third person perspective. You seem to glide at times instead of truly walking around, which reminds me of the way this sort of movement looked in much older titles.

    One of the other major disappointments in this game is the total lack of Xbox Live play. I don’t understand why they didn’t take the Arena, (which seems like the perfect Xbox Live offering) and enable it for online play. While they are utilizing the Live Marketplace to add content for the game, it still seems that they should have done more to bring the fan-base together online.

    Overall the game is very good. With some of the deepest gameplay, character detail and it’s seemingly endless variety of missions and adventures, Oblivion is without a doubt one of the deepest RPG titles to date. With any luck, Bethesda will be able to correct the framerate problems and move their rank from very good to great. RPG fans should seriously consider adding this title to their collections since most will be able to get past this games shortcomings and manage to unearth the treasure beneath. And for those folks who have never tried an RPG but have always been curious, this wouldn’t be a bad choice to start with since you can certainly just pick up and play this title and still get a very good experience without having to worry about all of the details right away.

    Score: 9/10

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