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Brendan
26 Apr, 2006

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review

360 Review | You'd best book some time off for this one.
The Elder Scrolls series, then. It’s long been revered for its absolutely gigantic scale and play-at-your-own-pace gameplay. The last outing in the series, Morrowind, was a damn good game, if somewhat flawed. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is different. It manages to be just as huge and epic as past games in the series – even more so, thanks to the extra horsepower of the Xbox 360 and the modern PC. But this is a game that even the most casual gamer, the one who scowls at the mere thought of playing a huge role-playing game, will quite probably be interested in, simply because Oblivion lets you play how you want to play and at the speed you want to play it at. Want to hack away at everything that moves with your sword? Fine. Covertly sneak into houses and night and steal stuff, just because you can? Not a problem. How about be an apparently geeky wizard that’s capable of ruining your opposition with a mere glance? That’s OK too. Unlike the vast majority of games out there, Oblivion lets the player decide what they want to do next, opening it up to a broader audience than the average RPG could ever hope to achieve.

As you’d expect, Oblivion features a compelling fantasy plot at its heart. Your character – be it along the lines of Nord, Elf, Arconian, or whatever other race you choose – starts the game in a jail cell. Why? Who knows. It’s not just any jail cell, though. It also happens to contain the secret exit out of the big city, to which the Emperor and his guards are headed. You see, the Emperor is fearing assassination, and is fleeing from the Imperial City. Upon meeting you, the Emperor remembers you from a dream and feels that you will be of great significance to his land, one way or another. This prompts him to tell the guards to let you aid in their escape – and yours, as it turns out. Lucky day, much?

It’s then on to the game’s first dungeon, where you can get a feel for the game and the different skills available before choosing your skill-set – the game will even recommend what class and sign you should decide on, based on how you’ve been playing. Brilliant. The number of potential character possibilities is nigh-on endless thanks to the create-a-class option. From there, you can basically continue on with the main story (which has assassinations, treachery, epic battles, visits to hell, saving the world and pretty much everything in between - anymore detail could be considered a spoiler, so we’ll leave it at that), head into town to chat with the locals, or simply run around the forest like a loon.

No one is here - quick, get looting!

No one is here - quick, get looting!
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The leveling system in Oblivion works rather logically, funnily enough. Using an ability more will make it stronger. If you want to increase your blade skill, kill things with a sword. If you want to improve your skill with a bow, you – shockingly – shoot things with arrows. No experience points of the sort, here. What this means is that your character is naturally fairly well-balanced and suited to your style of play, which is rather nice. However, parts of the game – typically those associated with the main quest – tend to level up with your character in order to make the game a constant challenge. And boy, does it ever work. Parts of the game will have players tearing their hair out due to the difficulty – even more so when they go away and level up a bit, only to return to find it is just as hard as it was before. Good or bad? We’re leaning towards bad, but it depends on your preference.

Oblivion lets you pick from a first- or third-person viewpoint with the click of the right thumb stick. It’s good to mix and match both of these, although you will generally want first-person for combat, as it’s a lot easier to actually see what you’re attacking. Pulling the right trigger will make your character attack with your currently equipped weapon, holding it will deploy a stronger attack, holding L2 will bring up the shield, hitting R1 will cast your currently selected spell, and so on. Stealth is also an option – just click the left stick and your character will go all shifty-eyed and crouch, moving at a slower, quieter pace, allowing you to avoid enemies completely, or sneak attack them with fatal results. While the combat system is a lot better than Morrowind, it still feels a tad clunky, especially when surrounded by multiple enemies, where it becomes a case of "button bashing ahoy"! The power attacks are also a bit off. Performing one will see your character rush in your direction of choice before attacking, quite often missing the target by a fair way. Collision detection is also a bit iffy at times – sometimes the player or enemy will shield a blow, despite the fact it clearly hit them in the face. But, overall, the system is still quite good and fun to use, despite the odd moment of frustration.

Aside from the main quest, there’s a seemingly limitless number of side quests in Oblivion. Some are quite small – find this item and give it to someone else – while others could almost be called games in their own right. The various guilds – fighter’s, mage’s, assassin’s, etc – all have lengthy quests to go along with them, as you perform tasks to climb each guild’s ladder. There is also stuff like the arena, which will put you in a gladiator-style environment until you eventually become the grand champion. You can ignore the main quest completely and still have more than enough game to play. The amount of things to do in Oblivion is quite amazing, really.

Looks like he just blue himself.

Looks like he just blue himself.
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Despite being bigger than Matt’s review backlog, Oblivion makes it relatively easy to keep track of the billions of quests that pop up over the course of the game. Hitting B will bring up your journal, which has separate lists of completed quests and current questions, with a full history of events that have happened so far during each one – even after long absences from a particular quest, a quick spot of reading will catch you right up no problems. You can set the most urgent/interesting quest as your current quest, which will put a marker on your map and compass. All these elements combined mean that there's not a whole lot of time spent wandering around aimlessly unsure of what to do, so a big huzzah for that. Also in the journal are some of the more obvious things; current weapons, armour, potions, spells, statistics, etc. It’s a rather good filter system, which results in a minimum amount of time spent fumbling through inventories. A slight annoyance is that you can’t carry a whole lot of gear, particularly in the early stages of the game. While you can drop things and pick them up later if you remember where they are (nobody else seems to take them, oddly enough), or store them in your own house should you own one, it's still a bit of a pain, realistic or not.

The world in Oblivion is big. Stupidly big, in fact. There are a stack of towns to visit, countless dungeons to explore and conquer, as well as a host of secret locations offering all sorts of goodies. Traversing the land isn’t much of a chore, either. While running isn’t particularly fast, jump on a horse and the journey goes by much quicker. Players have the option of using speed travel, which lets you teleport to any location you’ve previously visited – but using this option will see you miss out on a lot of the hidden treasures in the game world, so be careful with it. But, we have one tiny complaint here. The world outside the towns tends to be pretty damn empty. There’s plenty of foliage and trees about – just not a lot in terms of people or enemies to interact with. The massive world is nice, but it seems kind of moot when such a large portion of it is as empty as the family room when an episode of According to Jim is on the box.

About as epic and medieval as you can get.

About as epic and medieval as you can get.
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Still, this is forgivable, as the best parts of the game are the towns. Each one has its own unique set of quirky characters, overly expensive stores and small quests. The non-playable characters also tend to communicate with each other quite a bit – you can actually listen in on their conversations for some handy hints, or occasionally new quests. Word of your deeds also often travels throughout the land – before long characters all over will love you because of your heroics or loathe you because of your dastardly deeds. Some characters are a bit temperamental, and won’t talk to you – but the odd discussion mechanic lets you bring them around. Or hate you, if you choose. You get a little wheel pop up on screen, with Joke, Boast, Coerce and Admire the options. Inside the wheel is a four pronged mini-wheel, each prong of a different size. Use a big prong on Joke, for instance, and if they like the joke (you can tell what they will and won’t like by their fabulously detailed facial expressions) they will like you more. If they don’t, they will like you less. You have to say something on each of the four categories too. It’s completely bonkers and non-sensical, but amusing nonetheless.

One issue that isn't quite as grin-inducing is the fact that Oblivion seems to be a bit buggy. We can understand the odd bug given the sheer scope of the game, but some of the things you will find are just bizarre (see our forum for just a few examples of this). Some of the glitches are more funny than harmful – but others can be quest-effecting, such as a character not actually being at a location, or not appearing in the next room when they should. And, the worst one – the game crashing during a loading screen. It isn’t frequent, but it’s not something that should happen. Ever. Speaking of loading times – they’re often pretty bad, to be honest. They don’t occur every time you open a door though, thankfully. But, it is understandable given the sheer amount of stuff the game is loading, and how pretty that stuff is.

On the surface, Oblivion is simply gorgeous. The environments look tremendous with plenty of plant life and detailed buildings, as do the characters themselves – particularly the facial expressions, which are among the best we’ve ever seen. Their faces contort in a way that just seems real. There are also plenty of spectacular effects, such as the wonderfully impressive high dynamic range lighting. The art design is just as good, with creepy dungeons, overly realistic homes (aside from the complete lack of bathrooms – zuh?) and impressive looking constructions everywhere you look. But, there are some pretty unnerving technical issues here. The most obvious is the pop-up/fade in of objects just in front of you, which tends to happen far more than it should in the overworld. Similarly, the frame-rate tends to dramatically drop in the overworld, usually when too much flora is on screen or during a loading phrase, as you’d expect. These drops don't happen as often or severely anywhere else – except for the occasional heated battle – so they are forgivable. Animation is also a bit iffy and stiff, particularly for your character in the third-person view, who seems seem to skate more than run.

Ha-do-ken!

Ha-do-ken!
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The game is backed with a rather nice fantasy-style score, as you’d expect. The audio is actually essential in detecting trouble, doing the old ‘dramatic music when danger is near’ trick and keeping you in the know of those pesky enemies who tend to sneak up on you from behind. The voice-acting – fittingly headed by Patrick Stewart as the Emperor – is generally very good. There are two problems, though. Some characters sound ridiculously stereotypical – but there aren’t many, so it’s not a big deal. But, more importantly, too many characters share the same voice-over artist. It’s particularly noticeable when both a friendly character and an enemy character share the same voice. Given the number of characters in the game though, it’s understandable.

On the whole Oblivion is excellent. Really excellent, actually, and arguably the strongest contender for game of the year yet. It’s possibly the most accessible RPG ever made, with a limitless scope for character creation and the fantastic ‘do what you want, when you want’ gameplay. It’s also really freakin’ huge, with a massive world to explore, a great central plotline and an endless number of side quests to conquer – it’s completely pointless to try and put an hourly figure on it. The flaws – frame rate issues, loading times, a somewhat empty world and a subjective world leveling system – are really miniscule in comparison to the magnificent journey the game offers. Everyone with an Xbox 360 or capable PC should already own a copy of this most excellent game – if you don’t, ring up work and ask for a month off, then rush down to your closest store and grab it right now. Oblivion – it’s here, it’s brilliant, and it will take over your life.
The Score
A wonderfully crafted world with plenty of things to see, do, achieve and kill. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has absolutely everything. An essential purchase for all. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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10 Comments
7 years ago
I didn't even know you were playing Oblivion icon_eek.gif
7 years ago
Oh trust me, he has been playing Oblivion alright icon_razz.gif
7 years ago
I'm glad the leveling system was touched upon, again, not a game breaker but a pain in the ass.There was something satisfying with the diablo(2) style leveling system, getting your ass handed to you in hell only to come back and hand all the enemies there ass in return after you trained up and gained some levels on earlier stages/maps.

Edit-it's arGonian too not arConian.So yeah..
7 years ago
On the lifespan bit, my first game took 95 hours to complete the Main Quest, Mage's and Theives Guild, The Arena and the Dark Brotherhood, as well as about 6 or 7 Oblivion Gates and over 100 quests logged completed, with a end level of 35 (and carrying 150k+ in gold ^_^'). And that was mainly sticking to the cities, venturing out slightly around towns or remote places for quests (shrines etc.) To add on The Fighter's Guild, a lot of Dungeons and close 10 or 20 gates (more if you do what i did at the end, cast Invisibility[Illusion 75+) and run through to the Sigil Stone), probably looking towards 200 or so hours, on medium setting.

This game really is for everyone, except the extreme non-gamer i suppose.
7 years ago
^whoa
7 years ago
jibbs -> i see how you'd have some trouble with the levelling up system but I haven't had any. Like i've basically hacked my way thru most of the game and there have been times when i've just jumped around on the spot a lot, or done heaps of training and that sort of stuff and my guy seems upto scratch (stuff that doesn't require too much work).

You gotta remember to level up the important stuff first....like intelligence, willpower, endurance and strength. I can see how someone who has spent all their time levelling up acrobatics, sneak, personality and athletics would have trouble (not that this is what you did)....along with any other similar combinations.
7 years ago
Yeah but heres the gay part ugh.Certain skills determine what stats you can boost and by how much when you level up.So for example blade is tied to strength so the more the gain lvl's in blade the more you can upgrade your strength attribute when you finally gain a full character level.Sounds good......?In theory yes.

Heres a nice problem though.

Say your a mage, with destruction, restoration, alteration, illusion, light armour, sneak, and blade as your 7 main skills.

Pretty good mage eh?4 of his majors are mage-y type skills, he should get a big boost to his intelligence stat when he level right?

Wrong.

The 4 skills above are NOT tied to intelligence(which determines the strength of your spells and your total mana/magicka pool).The 4 above are tied to willpower(mana regeneration) and 1 is tied to personality.So if you use these spells and play like 'a mage', when you level you will not be able to add a single point to your intelligence, where before long after a few levels of not being able to add to int, your mana pool will be very low and your spells weak.

Sucks eh.

Unless you play around with conjuration, alchemy or mystycism(the only skills that add to int., of which only mystcism is vaguely useful[imo]) you will never get a chance to increase your int. stats, unless you use in game trainers.

Thats only one of the problems you can run into with this lvling system.

And it isn't just a hypothetical problem that can be encountered, it's the exact problem i had until i downloaded a mod that let you add +5 to any 3 skills of your choice, regardless of what skills you used to gain a character level.
7 years ago
Jibbs wrote
Unless you play around with conjuration, alchemy or mystycism(the only skills that add to int., of which only mystcism is vaguely useful[imo]) you will never get a chance to increase your int. stats, unless you use in game trainers.
I've hit a few tough bits, but I noticed that because I picked my star sign as stallion I have a huge speed advantage, so I can literally avoid most hits on me by running backwards and firing using my bow (my primary weapon). That added with the distraction my summoned scamp can cause and this Feather Spell that adds 50 points to my inventory and boosts my speed considerably, I'm quite well off in open battles.

Though I get owned in tight spaces... so I have to be creative during those times (Jumping up onto a statue and camping them where they can't reach me while my scamp distracts them), but I can see it becoming potentially game stopping down the track.
7 years ago
Jibbs wrote
Unless you play around with conjuration, alchemy or mystycism(the only skills that add to int., of which only mystcism is vaguely useful[imo])
Huh? Alchemy got this little Bosmer through the Arena. A good Damage Health poison will give you a headstart with tough combats, and Silence is a lifesaver against spellcasters. Poison is your friend... Also, homemade potions are usually better (and lighter) than the ones you find or buy.

I haven't used Conjuration much except for raising my intelligence, but I imagine a Bound Longsword would make my life easier (once I get around to buying the spell). And Soul Trap (from Mysticism) is essential once you start relying on those magic items (no automatic recharge here, unlike in Morrowind).

As far as the world being empty - huh? With the map compass pointing out nearby sites, it's hard to go from A to B without being distracted by something shiny along the way.

Leveling is the dark side to Oblivion; it does seem to be a little uneven. It has forced me to find different survival strategies, though, something that my uber-characters in Morrowind never had to think about. Most of the time, it's a good thing; that's what I told myself when I was attacked by three liches at once icon_eek.gif
7 years ago
Jibbs wrote
The 4 skills above are NOT tied to intelligence(which determines the strength of your spells and your total mana/magicka pool).The 4 above are tied to willpower(mana regeneration) and 1 is tied to personality.So if you use these spells and play like 'a mage', when you level you will not be able to add a single point to your intelligence, where before long after a few levels of not being able to add to int, your mana pool will be very low and your spells weak.
Yea you're absolutely correct there and yea those are obvious flaws. I guess i've just been lucky with the way i've levelled up.

I don't think Oblivion is perfect....infact it's the most buggiest console game i've ever played/owned because it will stuff up atleast once in a 2-3 hour gaming session and i've never had a console game do this. When it does crash....the rage i feel is indescribable....so yea....I don't think it's perfect.....far from it.....but it is one incredible feat of programming.....cuz the scope of that game is like.....well to me it seems bigger than star wars , lord of the rings etc.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  24/03/2006 (Released)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  2K Games
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2006
Players:
  1

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