The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

April 13, 2007

The land of Cyrodiil is an immense land of beauty and danger that breathes with life and thrives in its nuananced details. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion basks in its open world environment, giving the player a plethora of choices, opening an infinite spectrum of gaming alternatives. Whether you want to be a mage, thief, melee fighter, or any combination of all three, the game lets you choose the path you want to go down. Don’t like the main storyline? That’s okay; there are literally hundreds of side quests to delve into. Originally released for the PC and the 360, Playstation 3 finally gets a suitable well-thought-out RPG to bolster its lineup and really use its graphics potential. As a bonus, this version also includes the upgrade packs up to and including The Knights of the Nine expansion.

The game opens with you in a jail cell and the Emperor just passing through. You see he is on the run from assassins who have already dispatched his sons, and his escape path leads right through your cell. Whatever you may have done is irrelevant now, as the Emperor gives you a reprieve while asking you to help him save the kingdom. The gates to Oblivion are opening, and the baddest of the baddies are coming to destroy everything in their path, ensuring the utter annihilation of the land. Now, all you have to do is find the illegitimate heir to the throne and have him seal the gates. Simple, right?

This game is anything but simple; right from the get-go, you choose your race, sex, and appearance. All of these affect your basic stats, making you more inclined to certain professions. Shortly after that, you choose your birth sign and major and minor skills, allowing you to craft the playing style that best suits you. There are three major classes which contain a combination of multiple different traits; for example, the thief has a proficiency in sneaking and security, the mage has intelligence and alchemy, and the fighter excels in blade, blunt, and athletics. These are just a smattering of the skill subsets, but if you didn’t want a strictly thief character, you could create a mix from predefined lists or build your character from scratch, choosing your own proficiencies. The more you use these skills, the greater they increase in level, even those that didn’t get set in the beginning. So if I didn’t factor Block into my initial skill-set, and I find myself blocking throughout the game, my blocking skill increases, allowing me to reduce that damage when I block those hits. For completionists like me, it is possible to max out every skill, but just know it would take hundreds of hours to do so.

Navigating through the initial dungeon and outside world took a little time for me to get used to; I’d say by about hour 3 I finally had a real grasp of the controls. One nit-pick I had is that they gave you the option to reverse the Y-axis for the R3 button controls but not for the X-axis, causing me to constantly look the wrong way. I guess I just think backwards or something. Oblivion gives you the option of navigating in third person or first. While it was nicer to have the former to see what was around you, toggling to the latter for battles made it my default running around option. Crosshairs in the first-person mode allow you to inspect and pick up almost anything and everything to add to your inventory, but make sure you really need it because it will weigh you down, possibly to the point of being encumbered where you can’t move. This was a different style of play for me, I’m used to looting everything in my path; hey, I can pick up that bone? That’s got to come in handy for something. Uh, not really.

Fighting requires some strategy and a bunch of button mashing. The strategy comes from maneuvering yourself into position and timing your blocks, while the close combat devolves into a sheer first-person hack-fest, or in the case of mages, running backwards while shooting fireballs at your target. Overall the fighting doesn’t completely win me over, but it does strike a nice balance between intelligence and instinct. The enemies are mostly few and far-between, and with careful planning you could pick off opponents one-by-one, but it was the thrill of seeing a horde of goblins running at me that truly won me over in the combat. I just wished it would happen more often. Quick keys, assigned to positions of the L3 knob, were extremely useful in toggling between sword and bow or healing and damaging magic, but they more than once got me in trouble as I wasn’t accurate enough in my L3 positioning, causing me to cast the wrong spell.

The graphics are amazing; dungeons are so realistic you can almost smell the dampness and decay. The first step outside proves awe-inspiring as the sheer size and detail of this world really hits you; from castle spires in the distance to individual flowers around trees, Oblivion nails this point, setting the bar high for any game that follows. Each town has its own personality and feel, with distinctly different layouts and ambiance. Character modeling surpassed my expectations; honestly I thought it would be a wax-like scary equivalent to The Polar Express, but expressions and movement were accurately captured and appropriately matched to the excellent voice work. You could knock the fact that no one looks angry or sad like they say they are, but for the amount of realism affected, it is well worth it.

Leveling is another tough one to qualify; for me, it wasn’t so much the level that I was at, rather what level the skills I was using were at. For the most part, the game follows the current level of the protagonist, throwing level-appropriate monsters at you for each area. Once you reach a higher level, the same dungeon will contain the same old baddies with some new ones at a closer experience to you, always making each area interesting. But like I said, the skill level is what is really important, and if you remember, by constant use you can increase your skill from novice to master, encouraging you to repeatedly use your skills. By this method, I really got proficient in the areas that I used most; now that’s personalization for you. Later in the game, you can max out each of your skills, but believe me that is for the perfectionists only.

All in all, just going through the main story line would take you approximately 40 hours to accomplish. But if you add in all of the side quests and exploration, you are talking about adding literally hundreds of hours more onto your gameplay experience. And believe me; the game encourages exploration as there are so many unmapped dungeons and caves just waiting to be looted. Beyond that, there are several different guilds with their own stories to be uncovered, whether it is the mages guild where you climb the ranks and gain access to making your own spells, or whether it is the fighters’ guild where you gain glory for greater and greater exploits. If you get infected by a vampire, you could just have your condition cleared up for the right price, or you could play the game as an undead till the end. These are just a few of the many places to tap into the vastness that is Oblivion‘s gameplay.

Since this was already released on the PC and 360, it begs the question: should you upgrade it on the PS3? The short answer is: no. While there are some slight visual enhancements, mainly to the outside world, the graphics jump is negligible between the PS3 and the 360. Another slight improvement is concerned with the loading times. While initial loads do take time, minor loads for new areas and going indoors are slightly improved from the other consoles. Neither of these improvements warrants a second copy of the game.

But if you don’t own this game, you need to. The sheer size and beauty of this world allow you to delve in as deep as you are willing to go, and its presentation on the PS3 makes it memorable and fun. The depth of the story and side quests will keep you coming back for more, so if you call yourself any sort of RPG aficionado, you need to own this game. Right now. Go.

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.