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Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review

Developer: Bethesda Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: March 20, 2006 Also On: PC and Xbox 360

What a long wait it’s been. Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion finally released on Xbox 360 and PC on March 20th, 2006, and since then, my gaming and real-world lives haven’t been the same. Oblivion is, without a doubt, one of the most astonishing video games ever created and in every single way that comes to mind it manages to impress me. Bethesda proves once again that they are in fact the masters of the role-playing genre.

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Once again, Elder Scrolls throws you into the shoes of a completely unknown character that becomes immersed into a worldwide threat. From the start of the game, you create
every aspect of your character, including his or her race, appearance (detailed as far as the color tint of his or her skin), and attributes. These parameters are set and level up as you progress through the game, using different skills, weapons and abilities. From there, you’re thrust into the huge world of Tamriel, where Emperor Uriel Septim is assassinated by a mysterious cult. It’s eventually your job to find and destroy his murderers and discover the secrets of Oblivion, the hellish world attacking the otherwise peaceful land.

I say that it is “eventually” your job to complete the main quest because Oblivion, like its predecessor Morrowind, is an extremely huge game that is composed of far more side quests than storyline missions. Almost every one of the hundreds of NPCs you interact with have something for you to do, whether it’s finding a lost loved one or spying on another character. There are four factions scattered throughout the cities in the game where you can obtain quests and earn a rank, including the Fighters, Mages, and Thieves Guilds returning from Morrowind. Last of all is the Dark Brotherhood, a band of murderers and criminals that give you quests that involve a lot of sneaking and a lot of killing. Beside these quests, there are self-induced quests, like closing Gates to Oblivion. These gates pop up across the world, even more commonly when you’re at a high experience level. Running parallel to the side quests is the storyline that takes you from a being a prison rat to a personal friend of the emperor and hero of Tamriel.

Oblivion is one of those games you could talk about among friends for months. “Have you done the quest where you spy on this person?” Or perhaps you’d talk about closing the Oblivion gates scattered across Tamriel. One of my favorite stories to tell is the first time a horse died. I was galloping across a cliffside and decided to try and run down the side, discovering the hard way that the hill was far too steep. My horse crumpled and my character slid down the cliffside as I watched my horse’s body flop around with the Havok physics engine. In Morrowind, this would have resulted in an hour or so of walking across the map, but in Oblivion, the trusty teleport feature was there to bring me back to civilization.

The things that Morrowind lacked the most, cohesive controls and an interesting battle system, are two of Oblivion’s strong points. Finally, traversing the world doesn’t require the effort of a champion. Sifting through the game’s menus and inventories is very tedious at first, but eventually I learned my way around the system and it wasn’t difficult at all. The map is the press of a button away, and travelling is made easy with a new teleport ability. Exploration is made faster with the inclusion of horses, which can be bought, found, or stolen throughout the course of the story. Battling enemies is no longer a flailing match, and in fact many of the battles can be rather intense. A new hotkey system allows you to switch between weapons, armor, and items with the press of a directional button on the D-Pad, which makes almost everything combat-related easier. If you realize that you need an enhanced weapon and you’re equipped with a bow, switching weapons no longer requires you to go into the menu and fumble through tiny icons. Overall, fighting is similar to Morrowind, but much more accessible.

In fact, the game as a whole seems to be an improved, nearly-perfect, accessible version of Morrowind. Other than the battle system and menus, the world of Tamriel is simply more interesting than Morrowind. It’s not as barren, it’s not as brown, and it is definitely a hundred times more full of life. There are even more distractions along every forest path, caves and caverns loaded with treasure and dangerous enemies. The Speechcraft system is now a mini-game in itself, one that’s fun to use and experiment with.

Visually, Oblivion isn’t the best-looking game ever made. In fact, I can pick out at least four or five Xbox 360 games that look better. But none of those games have better art or detail, and that’s where this game shines. The amount of vegetation is stunning as you ride your horse across the countryside. Every character you talk to is individual, either in his or her appearance or his or her dress. Argonians no longer look like grown-up combinations of lizards and toads, and in fact, they look pretty menacing with the detail put into their eyes, skin textures, and skin color. Armor and weapons shine and even get bloody in the heat of battle, and they’re detailed with the same style of medieval design as in Morrowind. Animations are still a little stiff, but the Havok physics engine makes for some interesting (and humorous) floppy-body moments. Each and every city has a design, layout, and style that could only be described as elegant or beautiful, or both. The cold, snowy village of Bruma and the bustling Imperial City, the port of Anvil–every in-game location is a work of art.

The soundtrack is also something to note; the score being as epic and powerful as anything you’ve ever heard from a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings film. Of course, the custom soundtrack is only a few button presses away if you don’t want to listen to beautiful orchestral pieces, but you’d really be missing out. The voice acting, though it’s filled with typical medieval British and Scottish accents, is pretty awesome. There is passion and care in Emperor Septim’s voice, firm confidence and power in Jauffre’s, and evil in every member of the game’s cults. There are so many lines of speech that credit must be given to Bethesda for working in all of the spoken dialogue.

The only complaint I have with Bethesda’s masterpiece is that I’ve lost hours of life that could have been spent elsewhere, but that’s not a bad thing. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is an early candidate for Game of the Year, and I for one think it’ll make that mark. It’s the perfect RPG, filled with hundreds of quests, leveling-up, an interesting and exciting battle system, beautiful graphics, and a fantastic soundtrack. Xbox 360 owners have really been treated in the last two months, with releases like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Fight Night Round 3, and now this monster. Downloadable extras in the future are the only thing that would make this game better (hint hint, Bethesda) and until then, I’ll continue to ignore life’s essentials for the life I live in Tamriel.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.6
Written by Cliff Review Guide