The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review
publisher: ZeniMax Media
developer: Bethesda Softworks
PIV 2000, 512MB RAM, 4.6GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Mar 20, 06
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My story with the Elder Scroll series begins not so long ago. About half a year back, I got injured while playing basketball. Two of my vertebrates perturbed... and, well, the bottom line is, I couldn't sit or walk for ten days. I was off World of Warcrack at the time, and honestly, I couldn't use the desktop PC at all, so I resorted to playing some old Xbox games that I had laying around. As luck would have it, I ended up firing up Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the GOTY Edition.
Arise, hooded knight!
Like some town in Germany.
I spent those ten days literally combing the world of Tamriel and cursing at myself for missing the game when it originally came out for the PC. I had a good reason mind you. The game ran like shit on my system, and choppy frame rates were enough at the time to put me off from playing it.
Oh what a fool I was.
Years have rolled by, and I have gone from being an FPS freak, to becoming a total RPG addict. (But still a freak nonetheless. -Ed) Luckily, the memory of the third Elder Scrolls game is still very fresh in my mind, so it was rather easy to review Oblivion from that standpoint. Incidentally, that would be the long-overdue point of this overly elaborate introduction (I was gonna say page filler, but I'm being polite).
Before I continue, I should also warn you that I have absolutely no intention to repeat what I've already said about Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in my extensive preview of the game. Everything you need to learn about its features is there and (surprisingly) most of it is true. Instead, I'll simply focus on how the series has evolved from its last iteration.
While talking to Vader the other day, we both concluded that Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a tried-and-true game sequel in every possible way. If the goal of game sequels is to advance the franchise in every possible direction, then none comes closer to doing that than Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Bethesda has once again shown what crazy dedication, patience, ingenuity and love for a genre can do for this favorite pastime of ours. In many ways, they have once again revolutionized gaming as we know it.
Oblivion pushes technical boundaries, but what it also does is improve on almost every single gameplay flaw that I found in Elder Scrolls III. It really is marvelous to play a game where it's so apparent that the development team listened intently to its community, while still ensuring that the game world grows into something bigger and prettier than ever before.
Visually, Elder Scrolls IV is a powerful experience. Each new item of scenery is a site to behold. The dungeons are extraordinarily moody and even though a bunch of the environments are repeated throughout the game world (after all, Tamriel is a HUGE world, and this is a single-player game), the overall impression of the HDR lighting, the intricate detail on the characters, weapons and objects in the environment is remarkable. Yes, some might say that the objects in the distance look bland and empty, but even having a view distance alongside such detail in the foreground is a huge burden on the video cards. It would take a card with at least 1Gig of RAM it seems to load all the textures in the foreground and textures in the background (if they were any more detailed than they are). Simply put, while Oblivion is pushing the technical boundaries of today's games, some trade-offs had to be made so that the game would run semi-decently on mid-range rigs. Saying that Oblivion is a hardware hog is an understatement. To top it off, some people have experienced certain memory leaks that might decrease performance even further (after a couple of hours of playing), or even crash it at some point. Granted, this wasn't a common occurrence (and nothing that a patch can't fix), but it's still worth noting. I played the game on a mid-range and a high-end rig. On my AMD64 3000+/1GB RAM/GeForce 6800 rig, the details were set to "high" and the frame rate would still get down to 10 FPS when the screen was clogged with characters or foliage. My high end rig ran the game in "ultra high" detail (AMD64 4200+/2GB RAM/7800 GTX), and it didn't have many problems with it. Providing you don't mind shelling all the cash for one such rig.
Bottom line is that Bethesda has created just about the most viscerally engrossing video game to date. The addition of voice-overs for each and every character (even if many of them are done by the same actors) is a huge step up for the single-player/FPS/RPG genre. It literally draws you into the world of Tamriel and doesn't let go.
From a gameplay standpoint, the biggest change is the introduction of the fast travel system - which (I'm happy to say) works marvelously. What this does is allow you to "portal" to various (discovered) locations on the map so as to save time while completing the main story. One of the biggest complaints about the third game was that the main story was just too spread out. Many less patient players would simply give up on it after some time. The travel and waypoint systems for each quest allow you to move through the main plotline effortlessly, while enjoying the grander and more spectacular fight scenes (often involving friendly NPCs) in Oblivion. The game therefore becomes a lot more focused and streamlined for the less patient of players. However, to truly enjoy Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, make sure to get up on your mount, ride across the countryside, and explore the countless (and often very interesting) side-quests that are spread all across the land. So essentially, the game as it is, has it all. It lets you choose the style of playing you're more comfortable with, and that's about the biggest gameplay improvement that Bethesda could introduce into the series.
Another gripe I had with Morrowind was the lackluster combat system. When sword fighting in first person, the player had no sense of wielding a heavy sword or casting powerful spells. Due in part to the physics engine (but mostly because of the clever audio and visual design), the combat feels just right now. Hard, gritty, and clad in steel, so it's ultimately a lot more fun. Not to mention that the graphics engine now allows for some mighty spectacular spell effects to be cast as your character grows in strength.
Probably *the* most immersive (and impressive) single player RPG experience ever, huge advances in both design and programming;
Huge hardware hog, memory leaks, minor visual tradeoffs, itemization issues, AI quirks, friendly NPCs would sometimes "get into the line of fire."