Bethesda have created a game which treads into a realm of freedom, and that is something that few games do these days. Oblivion doesn't dictate the experience to you, it allows you to dictate your own experiences, and that is a very fine prospect indeed. Oblivion is also a technical masterpiece, which adds immersion and realism to a very lively gaming world. However, ones immersion is lessened by certain game mechanics which are unorthodox, but also clumsily executed in many cases. Hardcore and purist RPG gamers in particular won't be particularly enthused by these puzzling designs which contradict the main focus of the greater game, but the fact is that there is so much delicious candy to be found in oblivion and most gamers won't really care about the questionable facets of the game.
Speaking of candy, oblivion provides plenty to the eyes. Oblivion is quite simply a stunning graphical masterpiece, and one of the first glimpses of technological brilliance in the next generation, which is in its infancy. Even the milder settings exhibit vivid scenery which few other games have churned out. One of the first things you should do is stand atop the northern mountains and gasp in awe at the beautiful view provided, its absolutely spectacular. The environment may be excellent to look at, but the character models don't quite reach the same standard. Many characters don't look aesthetically pleasing, and for some reason, you will struggle to find or create a visually stunning character. Many of the NPCS express very angry facial expressions, sometimes regardless of their feelings towards your own character, and gives the unintended impression that the game simply doesn't like your character, at least at first anyway.
Much has been spoken of the Radiant AI system which Bethesda have implemented into oblivion, unfortunately, it doesn't live up to the hype created by Bethesda prior to release. In the past, games have become victims of the unfulfillable ambitions of their designers (see: Fable as an example). Great games have become lacklusture simply because of the improbable contexts envisioned previously, and that is exactly what the Radiant AI system falls victim to. Even with computing power at an unprecedented high, it is still impossible to create a virtual world which socially imitates our own using raw computing power, and there are a lot of optimistic and gullible people who thought this would of been possible. However, the AI in oblivion is the closest any video game has come to achieving this. If you murder an innocent civillian, other bystanders will feel obliged to kill you in return. However, if all hell is breaking loose outside, the people inside their homes will still worry about their own problems, rather than the greater problem developing and that is the limit. People have their own daily( and weekly and monthly) routines, which makes the world seem quite realistic, but once again, even if a notorious assassin has completly killed the greater population of their locality, they will still want to go the pub for a beer every sunday. When you walk into any major city, you are likely to hear various conversations between the residents, and these conversations can provide important clues for the various quests contained in Oblivion. But, of course, it won't be long before you hear the exact same conversation again, even if two different people are involved.
The world itself is quite a marvel to look at, but does it ooze with greatness? To a certain extent it does, yes. You will spend your days exploring the continent of Tammriel, a large land crowded with various Ruins, forts, mines etc. The dungeons of the game,of which there are many are exciting to raid at first, but after 200 hours of gameplay, become a little bit bland, because while there are hundreds of actual dungeons scattered throughout the game, they boil down to only 4 basic prototypes, the cave, the fort, the ruin and the oblivion gates. The first three should be self explanatory, but the Oblivion gates are a concept unique to this game and play an integral part throughout the span of the game. Oblivion is a dimension of hell and the gates lead to the planes within it. At first, these gates offer an innovative challenge, but once you become confronted by hordes of these, they become one of those "Urrgh... I can't be stuffed" activities.
However, the non-linear nature of Oblivion allows the player to embark on adventures which complement the players mood. Whether you want to sit down and read a book about the history of the world, or violently slaughter the monstrosities which inhabit the dungeons of the world, Oblivion caters for all moods and tastes. That said, there are some aspects of oblivion that are very poorly implemented, and many of the said aspects seem to have been constructed with little common sense. I speak of the levelling system, the single largest flaw of Oblivion, and one which raises many questions? I cannot figure out why Bethesda decided to implement scaled levelling, which makes levelling counter-productive, and save for a few quest requirements, absolutely pointless. For those who don't know, the enemies level up with you in Oblivion. Goblins will become uber, daedric wielding tanks if you are of high level, and no, those guards will always be a few steps ahead of you. The method of levelling is good in theory but once again poorly executed. When you create your character, you choose a magic, stealth or melee specialisation and choose 7 major skills which if levelled, which start at the Apprentice level, and become your overall levelling skills. The remainder become minor skills, which can be still trained, but start at the Novice level. However, if you want the best of your character, you must train minor skills; if you train majors only, your stat increases will be minimal. To add to the problems, some skills are easy to train, such as athletics and acrobatics, which simply involve running and jumping around. Other skills, such as alchemy and magic skills are much harder to train. In a simular vain, some skills are made obsolete by other, more involved skills, for instance, Alteration almost eliminates the need for the Security skill entirely. To sum it all up, the levelling system in Oblivion is a cumbersome mess, but luckily, these flaws can be repaired with various user-made mods.
My only other complaint is the UI. Since this game was initally designed for the Xbox 360, the interface feels like it was designed for it. For a start, the text in the journals is way too big and that means unnecessary scrolling is required. Also, unless you switch the spell with the hotkeys, there is only one button I can use to cast a spell, which is riciculous for a PC game. Why cant I set a certain key to a certain key, ala World of Warcraft?
The combat physics in Oblivion are excellent, and provide a real sense of immersion. If there is one positive effect which the levelling system has, it's the fact that every battle feels like an epic, which is mechanically questionable, but provides a greater sense of enjoyment overall. Sword swings feel meaty, ranged combat feels precise and the various "knock down" effects make it so much more realistic and satisfying. Unless you slide the difficulty bar to the extreme ends, combat is immensely fun and it is the aspect which provides more delight than any other.
Think of Linearity as a political wing; with Linearity on one end and Non Linear on the opposite end. Radical poilitical ideologies often believe in policies which simply don't work, and thats what Bethesda have done wrong. By making the game as Non-Linear as possible, they have implemented some mechanical features which just don't work, namedly the levelling system, which is as successful as a former Communist regime. With the freedom of the world surrounding it, the system becomes a contradiction to the games intentions. Everything else is cookies and cream, the graphics, audio, combat and value, and damn nice cookies and cream at that.
This is the first truly stunning game of the next generation.
The quality of the audio and the voice acting is something to behold. However, both become bland due to little variety.
This game is a behemoth. Contact me when you have done everything. Hope to hear from you in 2010.
Excellent combat physics and questing are in the shadow of the cumbersome levelling system. However, this doesn't ruin the game at all. Besides, you could always download a mod.
Just so realistic. The people have daily routines, hold conversations and the dungeons are an epic experience.. until you realise you have raided 200 different Alykid Ruins already.
-Levelling system -Lacklustre UI
Overall: B+ If the levelling system was better, just a little better, than Oblivion would be A grade. However, a B+ signals just how great the rest of the game is. A must buy.