Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Posted on June 2, 2009


I’ve had my eye on this throwback for years. Released in 2006, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion won numerous awards and created a buzz as one of the greatest games to be released on seventh-generation consoles. Medieval combat. Wizardry. Custom characters. Huge open world. How could a guy not be excited?

I’ve played an earlier installment of the Elder Scrolls saga on the old XBox, and the game put me off…which is probably why I hesitated to pick up Oblivion. The game I played, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, looked amazing even with the older XBox graphics processor, but it failed to deliver a story I could follow. Perhaps I just wasn’t ready for a truly open-world game, as I got lost looting villagers’ houses and roaming the massive forests. Sticking to a mission was impossible…and I can’t even recall one main mission. So, I can’t put it all on Elder Scrolls for fouling up, as I was an unruly young gamer. But, retooled, matured, and patient, I returned to Elder Scrolls with renewed confidence and a readiness to explore the daunting world of Elder Scrolls.

Pierce, Pulverize, Or Poof?
Oblivion didn’t do much to improve on some of the mediocre gameplay features that its predecessors suffered from. The combat is still rudimentary: light slash, heavy slash, spin slash just about sums it up. Archery is fun, but after loosing the first shot, enemies charge…fast, which ends your chances to survive solely as an archer. And with virtually no vantage points and multiple enemies in virtually every combat scenario, archery and wizardry comes with inherent difficulties.

Being a wizard or mage in this game truly looks appealing. There is a huge variety of spells from destruction (harmful) spells, to conjuring undead allies, to manipulating NPCs, to using spellbound weaponry. But, unless you use a serious amount of restorative and protective spells before jumping into battle, your geeky mage will probably be as vulnerable as late-blooiming teenager in the varsity football locker room.

There are a fair share of enemies who will try to pick at you from a distance, but if that’s the case there will invariably be another enemy (or two) charging right at you. So, by process of elimination, it is the easiest to play Oblivion as a bruting fighter.

Playing as a hacker isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination though. There’s an awesome variety to weaponry and armor, and increasing your brutes badassity becomes half the fun of playing the game. And who’s to stop you from using a few spells even with your swordsman? There are plenty of hybrid fighters out there–so creating a custom-tailored NPC killer is an ongoing process throughout the game and is highly enjoyable.

Where fighting goes a bit sour is in the variety of stylized moves. Like I said, slashing comes down to light hack, heavy hack, and spin hack.  Why not give these attacks different looks at times?

Developer, Bethesda Studios, does players the favor of allowing us to view the world from either 3rd-person action or first-person perspective. So, we can shoot arrows with a cross-hair in first-person and pull out to 3rd-person when its time to unsheathe your sword for close combat. But, watching the swordfighting is REPETITIVE and drab. I can’t imagine anybody making it out of medieval times with the moves these guys boast. I can’t stress this enough as fighting is obviously one of the main parts of the game. So, why not add a few more attacks to the arsenal?

I would also liked to have seen some strategy-enhancing tools or attacks. Maybe a Bow shot to the knee that could stagger a foe to slow him down, or bear traps to snare attackers if they blindly charge. It could greatly increase strategy and give players an edge.

There are potions available that can hinder foes, but these are used quickly or often need to be created with an alchemy skill…which proves difficult as you need very specific ingredients to create a desired effect. There are attack bonuses for higher levels for archery, such as a chance to paralyze, but it takes so long to reach that upgrade that the achievement is self-defeating: to get to it you have to use the bow ALOT…but using the bow alot leaves your character vulnerable to close encounters and ultimately dying over and over again.

The story is engaging enough. You are the only hope for the empire and without your efforts the world will fall prey to the bad guys. I’ve seen it before, I’ve played it before…it’s always fun. What makes Oblivion truly robust are the factions you can join. There are achievements (for XBox 360) and stories to go along with the five or six factions you can join along the way. The missions range from tedious, to fun, to challenging. Factions also give you reason to play the game more than once, as you can’t join all the factions in one playthrough. I believe Bethesda may have put more time into the guilds and factions than the main story…which is bizarre but it works.

With a shorter main story (though short is a relative term as you can probably get 40 solid hours of gaming just for the main quest) this opens up gamers to play more than once without feeling like they’re dragged through a long main quest. So, playing the second time to go for extra achievement points with different guilds isn’t that hard to do.

I was shocked that Bethesda left some technical errors in the game. There are forums dedicated to some of the troubleshooting you may encounter when playing Oblivion. A word for the wise: do not start Oblivion with your online account then play with your console un-jacked from the internet. You lose the ability to save while you are unplugged, and trying to load games erases your saves! A HUGE oversight on Bethesda’s behalf. I lost a day’s worth of questing, but you don’t have to look to hard before finding someone who lost 200+ hours. That’s gotta sting.

Also, there is some light glitching. My PC found little pockets in the world where the screen blanked out or fragmented. There are also several spots where your character will get stuck, and don’t try to get off your horse if its left-side is up against something…it’s not pretty and you’ll get stuck every once in a while. This just supports the idea that Oblivion is a game with a very wide scope, but shallow depth. You can’t dismount your horse on the right side! Come on!

All in all I definitely recommend this game. The customizations you can give your character are just too vast and fun to pass up. Choosing your major and minor skills is so much fun and gives players more control and variety. Having the game guide is almost a prerequisite. Fighting some of the baddies can be grueling if you don’t know the ONE thing they’re not immune to. Maps can be mazes. And you’ll invariable miss some cool amulet or sword if you don’t know exactly where (and sometimes when) to look.

Leveling up is decent, but is shallow compared to other Bethesda’s juggernaut Fallout 3. It is apparent that Fallout wouldn’t exist as it does without Elder Scrolls paving the way, I just hope the next Elder Scrolls title adds a bit of style and depth to combat. Also, I’m sure the Oblivion was gorgeous when it came out, but I wasn’t dazzled by the graphics at this point. It’s pretty, but it could be just a smidge tighter…but now I’m just being picky.

I haven’t played the expansions yet, but I heard Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine are a good time. I look forward to popping them in after the 100 hours I’m going to dedicate to the core game. Phew…I’m definitely getting alot of bang for my buck.

Posted in: Op-Ed