Life-Sucking at its Finest
Some time ago, on a console now reserved only to the dustiest shelves of my closet, was once king of my entertainment kingdom. It was haughty, it was brave, and it consistently dealt out massive damage to any competitor who dared to traverse its murky underpinnings. It also liked to make little children squeal with glee as they shot me full of hot, alien juice or perhaps forcefully sodomized my cybernetically enhanced avatar with a “plasma sword”. This console was called an X-Box. It was big, it was beautiful, and it brought me more gaming hours than I’d care to recant here.
The reason I recall the times I spent with the big black box is simple; a game stood out on that console more so than the rest. It wasn’t because it was good or terribly challenging. It wasn’t because it had a fantastic story or perhaps because of its amazing visuals. No. This game stood out because it handled poorly, it was horribly glitched, and of course, it sucked your social life dry and destroyed relationships, friendships, and your paycheck.
I am of course, talking about the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
The reason I bring this game up is not because I particularly enjoyed the experience, but merely to say that I owned it, and it brought me pain. Lots of pain. Another reason as to why I bring up this ancient relic of poor gameplay is because the other week I had decided against my better judgment, and bought the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Game of the Year Edition).
Now, you may be inclined to ask why it is I decided to bother with this game, with the bruising I received from its predecessor still freshly yellow on my poor brain. I honestly couldn’t confess a real answer to that. I can only just say that, in my gut, it felt like a good choice.
And it wasn't.
Although, that isn’t quite for the reasons you might think. If you can believe me, Oblivion actually managed to take all of the problems found in Morrowind, and sweep them away with nearly ninety-percent accuracy. (The problems I had were more academic in nature; mainly, late reports and three hours of sleep a night for two weeks because of this damn game. Anywho, I digress.) Gone are the days where you’re left wandering, horribly confused as to what to do next. Gone is the frustratingly painful Journal system that seemed more labyrinthine than helpful. And perhaps, most of all, gone are the days of waiting fifteen to twenty hours in to unlock the main quest (and being able to kill things out of the gate helps, too). Instead of like its predecessor, Oblivion manages to build on its promise of “incredible RPG experience” and delivers something that, in all honesty, looks and feels more like an RPG than most games to come out recently.
I am aware that it is a year old now, but that doesn’t seem to matter. The amount of **** you can do in this game (which seems clichéd nowadays) is vast and numerous. The land is expansive and well-nourished, and the main quest is both intriguing and well rounded. Of course, the main quest isn’t really the point of this game and, come to think of it, neither is the player.
The game, from what I can gather, is all about choice and consequence. In order to effectively convey this clichéd idea (and it is clichéd), the developers over at Bethesda have managed to create an incredibly open world where really, your choices do affect the kind of game you play. Just want to go and kill the guy who has been hounding you to finish a quest? Then do so… but at a price. Want to just steal that shiny, awesome weapon from a blacksmith? Then have at it! … At a price.
Yes, just like choice seems to be the center of this RPG experience, so does consequence. No action in Oblivion can really go unseen. Whether or not the guards are alerted to your mischievous deeds or not is completely irrelevant; people will still hear about the good (or evil) you have done… as it seems the people in Cyrodiil are worse than a sewing circle in the gossip that they share.
What this does is quite simple in hindsight, but probably proved almost nightmarish to pull off. The game, while it doesn’t center around you, leaves you in a pivotal role to make choices that either affect you, or indirectly affect the world around you. Killing Christophe Armand of the Thieves Guild will more than likely end any hope of joining the guild, but it’s also just fun to see it done.
And upon reflection, one usually thinks that in order to have an incredibly open world, the developer must sacrifice its narrative in order to meet the ends. This is not true. In fact, you can go damn near forty-fifty hours without touching the main quest at all… should you so desire. Avoiding or completing the main quest just changes the circumstances a little bit.
As to the number of quests or guilds available, you will find a plethora of quests to be found. Anything ranging from simple fetch quests, assassinations, pocket theft, grand theft, or even conjuring and cultivating spells. The amount of quests and the sheer creativity of the grand whole is alarming. One would think that either developers Bethesda drank caffeine by the metric ton to get all of this done, or perhaps sold their collective soul to Dagon himself.
As an example of this creativity, I was on a quest to retrieve a book from a well known writer, stalking outside his home in the dead of night in the ImperialCity. I was then approached by a strange Dark Elf lady, who requested my presence for her master, a man named Seridur. Intrigued by the Dark Elf and wanting to learn more of her master, I decided against my better judgment (I had originally thought it a ruse by another Thief, as this was the initiation quest to the Thieves Guild), to follow her. As we walked under the starlit double moons in the sleeping city, we approached a home not far from the original quest.
It was there that was I led into the quaint home and was greeted by this mysterious Seridur. He proceeded to tell me about the vampire epidemic that seemed to be sweeping the ImperialCity. After learning his sad story about how he was unable to save a woman being attacked by a vampire (who lived right across the garden, no less!), I decided that I would take him up on his offer of joining his brotherhood. A secret society dedicated to the eradication of vampires.
There is of course, much more to this particular quest, but it is better to experience it yourself. There just seems to be no way of telling what happens next without spoiling the end.
And that’s another thing that really struck a chord with me. This game is a true representation of personal choice. A man is begging for his life; do you spare him, or destroy him for the (speculated) evil deeds he committed? Do you choose to just walk away, leaving your backside exposed for a righteous ass kicking?
In any choice you make, you’re essentially making a leap of faith… providing you don’t use GameFAQs. This is perhaps why I find this game so alluring. Everything, every nook and cranny, every gesture and every piece of dialogue spoken is rife with exploration. Overhear a conversation while on your way to another objective, and you might overhear someone speaking of a ghost ship in the city of Anvil, which leads to a fun quest in and of itself.
And I think that’s why the side quests in this game are so great, and cannot be considered side quests at all. Each quest has its own story complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And it is up to the player, ultimately, to decide the fate of that story.
The graphics in this game are decent, even judging by 2006 standards. They weren’t extraordinary then, and they aren’t extraordinary now… but there is some medieval charm to the designs and architecture of the land. However, pop-in and noticeably bland/repetitive faces on NPCs also bring it down from a B+.
The audio in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is complete with a sweeping orchestral score, an oddly catchy main theme, and is rife with awe-inspiring musical cues that leave you with a sense of wonder and exploration, while the dungeon tunes leave you with an unsettling, eerie mood. The Oblivion Planes themselves have little to no music, which oddly enough fits the desolate and dystopian ruins. The only negatives I can consider are the repetitive voices that you experience along the way. In grand total, it seems that only fifteen voice actors were brought in, all of them unable to alter their own voices enough for different characters. D’ah well. A complaint, but not a huge one.
The one main problem I had with the gameplay of Oblivion, is that, while there were noticeable hitches, it seemed on the whole more driven towards hacking and slashing. This could be avoided all together by specializing in Bow attacks and Sneak, but then you find that there are some pretty big battles where, if standing back, you can’t really tell if the friendly NPC will get out of the way long enough for you to land the killing blow. We shouldn’t even discuss what happens if he doesn’t.
On the whole, the gameplay itself is very good. The lack of a true third person view (for both combat and maneuverability) is sad, but its also not unexpected. I just wish the team would also spend a fair amount of time creating realistic animations for the third person camera so that ones eyes didn’t implode every time they wanted to check out the armor on their given hero.
REPLAY VALUE: A
This is definitely a game that will keep you busy for a long, long time. It is also, if you’re like me in any way, one of those games that if you’re bored and have nothing to do, you can just throw the disc in to your X-Box 360 and have at it, immediately picking up where you left off before. The main quest itself will only take you about twenty-five hours to complete; but everything else… well… that’s an entirely different matter.
OVERALL GRADE: B+