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Developer:
Bethesda
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: XBox 360, PC
Release Date: March 20, 2006

by Jason Ferguson




The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was easily among the most highly anticipated RPGs around. There was a lot of hype surrounding the title, and fortunately it wonít disappoint. With the game finally available, gamers have a lot to be excited about!


Mysterious gates to Oblivion are popping up all over the land, and vicious monsters roam the countryside. The Emperor has been assassinated, and although you donít know why, he entrusted you with restoring order. You must seek out the heir to the throne and close shut the doors of Oblivion! The story to the game isnít exactly breathtaking, but it does the job of tying everything together and will more than likely keep your interest. The game offers so much freedom that youíre more than likely going to get distracted from the main quest on many an occasion, but thatís more of a testament to the gameís enjoyable side quests rather than a flaw with the story.


Before you even start your adventure, you need to create your character. You first choose from one of ten different races, from an Argonian to a Dark Elf. The race you choose can have a big impact on the game. For example, the Argonian can breathe under water and the Dark Elf is resistant to fire. Your starting stats are also influenced by your race. While choosing your race, you also get to edit your appearance, which offers a wide variety of options that you can use to customize how your character looks.


A bit later in the game youíll also choose a birthsign. The birthsign you choose can give you a wide range of bonuses, from limited invisibility to increased speed. Just after that youíre given the opportunity to choose a class, which will greatly affect your character in a variety of ways.


Shortly after making these choices, youíre given the option of changing your mind, so if you donít do it right the first time, you can correct the error. The more you use your skills, the more powerful with them you will become, and eventually you may move up in skill mastery level, further increasing the skills strength. Increasing the major skills associated with your class will allow you to level up. When you take this all into consideration, you have a lot of options when it comes to customizing your character. Not only can you choose the race, appearance, class, and birthsign, you have full control over how you raise the character's skills. On top of all this, there are hordes of different items, weapons, and armor to pick up, which can change your character's skills and appearance.


For the most part, raising a single skill is easy enough. Jumping a lot, for example, will increase your acrobatic skill. Sneaking around before attacking enemies will improve your ability to sneak. However, considering the large number of skills, skill levels, attributes, items, and equipment, there ends up being a lot to keep track of, meaning that building your character can be a little complicated. So, it might take quite a while before you understand things enough to take full advantage of the customization. Still, it gives you a lot of freedom once youíve got it down, and most hardcore RPGers wonít have any trouble.


Gameplay, for those who are unfamiliar, is in the form of a first-person RPG. Youíve got a lot of menu screens that help you with your customization and provide info about what you need to do and where you need to go. You have multiple different map views to look at, and a compass that will point you in the direction of your intended destination. There are also hot keys for both weapons and magical abilities, making using them during combat a breeze. Despite the complexity of the game, Bethesda managed to make Oblivion very user-friendly to play.


Oblivion features beautiful graphics, an extreme level of detail, and lots of interaction with your environment. Of course, these are things weíve come to expect from the series. In exchange for this beauty, you unfortunately will also experience a fair amount of loading while venturing through the lands. Of course, the load times generally donít last very long, but when you enter some of the cities and have to sit through load screen after load screen, youíll probably become a bit annoyed. Outside of the cities, however, the game runs smoothly, with very little wait for loading aside from the occasional stutter. The cities are relatively expansive and grand, featuring everything from large palaces to tiny little cottages. Each city has a fairly distinct look and feel to it, which youíll learn to appreciate as you travel across the entire map. The characters are very detailed, from their facial features to their exotic weapons and armor. Each moves convincingly and interacts with their environment, bringing the world of Oblivion to life. Another thing of beauty in Oblivion is the effects, from the burning of fire to the splashing of water, itís very impressive. Iím not joking at all when I say youíll more than likely pause on more than one occasion simply to admire the beauty of the game. One majr annoyance that you will likely encounter in the game are bugs. I've run into one that has halted my progress in one of the guilds and I know a few other games that have had similar problems. While you may be one of the lukcy ones who get through the game without these problems, they an cause major frustration when they do pop up!


Oblivion features some excellent voice work, with talents such as Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean. Thereís a lot of voice acting in the game and all of it, even aside from the stars, is well done. This is some of the better voice acting Iíve heard in a while, but of course, Iím a Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean fanboy! Although they may sound and look good, the AI of most of the characters isn't going to impress. However, shooting them in the chest with an arrow to hear them only respond by yelling "Hey, cut it out" made me laugh for hours. Enemies aren't always much better, so don't expect these characters to be winning any spelling bees.


The game also has some very high-quality music. Thereís a good deal of variety to the tunes that play, but they all sound great and do an effective job of heightening the experience. The music is never intrusive to the gameplay, and instead only heightens it.


Honestly, thereís so much to do and explore that the game can be a bit overwhelming! Of course, you donít HAVE to do it all if you donít want to. Thatís what makes the game so great! If youíre looking for a game with a lot of options and lots of things to do, then youíll be exceptionally pleased with Oblivion. If youíre looking for more of a story-driven game, you can have that too! Although, Iíll admit, youíre missing out on a lot if you choose to skip all the side stuff and go right for the story. Still, it might not be for everyone. Between the deep customization and the somewhat overwhelming world, Oblivion might be a game best for hardcore RPG fans and fans of the Elder Scrolls series.


There might be a little too much freedom for some gamers, though. Despite the strong storyline, itís too easy to totally ignore it, making it seem a little bit pointless. Dark creatures are invading the world and you must find a new heir to the throne and close the gates to Oblivion before itís too late! But youíve got time for a million side quests first, so donít worry about rushing. The game starts out very story-driven, but sort of trails off from there, leaving the gamer free to totally ignore the plot. It certainly takes the away some of the drama from the story, but the quests can be a lot of fun, and, like I said earlier, you donít HAVE to do them.


The game is available on both PC and Xbox 360. My experience with the game was on the Xbox 360, so my review is based on that platform. I would also like to mention that, in some ways, I found this a very difficult game to review. The sheer size of the game results in so many different options and things to do that I couldnít possibly cover them all here. Features such as alchemy, spell-making, guilds, enchanting, magic items, and persuasion, I havenít even mentioned in the least! While the quality of these features may range, you don't have to involve yourself with them should you choose not to. However, if you do enjoy them, the game will suck even more of your life away. Another thing that makes it a difficult game to review is the fact that the gameís greatest strength may also be its greatest weakness. The freedom and open-ness that Elder Scrolls fans crave may seem like a lack of direction with a pointless story to other gamers.


Iíll admit, I had more fun playing Oblivion than Iíve had with any game for quite a while. Traveling across the Kingdom, visiting strange new places, slaughtering the entire population of the occasional village, contracting vampirismÖ it was surely an entertaining experience. Every game has its flaws and Oblivion is no exception to the rule. However, it's a game that I found enjoyable enough that the flaws were easily overshadowed. If youíre a fan of the series then itís a no brainer that you should pick this game up. If you havenít yet experienced the Elder Scrolls series, this is a great place to start!


Final Grade: 94%




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