Oblivion: First Impressions

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is one of those games that is so large that it is difficult to review or even to begin to cover in any meaningful way.  I am playing ES4 Oblivion Game of the Year Edition (GOTY) on the PS3.  The GOTY includes the original Oblivion game, the Shivering Isles expansion pack (which became a standalone game on many of the consoles) and the Knights of the Nine downloadable content pack which is practically a game in its own right.

First, let me attempt to define Oblivion is terms that most gamers can understand.  In today’s video game marketplace the concepts of adventure, RPG, jRPG (Japanese RPG – interactive fiction with RPG elements) and first person shooters (FPS) are beginning to merge in many instances and Oblivion is one of these examples.  Oblivion is an action traditional RPG.  It is action (i.e. real time and not turn based) but is a true RPG unlike Diablo or Dungeon Siege which are action games with some RPG elements added.  Oblivion’s goal is its role playing whereas Dungeon Siege’s goal is its action.  In Oblivion most of the action can simply be avoided if the player so wishes.  It is a traditional RPG in that the player maker character decisions and significantly affects gameplay.  The game is not linear and interactive fiction like a jRPG (a la Final Fantasy.)  Oblivion is obviously a rendered, three-dimensional game that would appear, in many ways, like a first person shooter but with RPG goals rather than action goals.  And, of course, there are some amount of puzzles built into the game bringing in adventure characteristics.  It is redundant to mention but Oblivion is a sandbox game (like Grand Theft Auto III) in that you can freely move around and go wherever you like.  This is a key tenent of the RPG genre but one that people not used to true RPGs are often surprised by.  In many ways the newer members of the GTA series are closer to RPG and Adventure games than to any other genre.  It takes a lot to define a game these days.

The original Oblivion game is often said to be one to two hundred hours of gameplay.  Being an open-ended RPG there is no good means of determining exactly what constitutes being “done” with the game so measurements vary dramatically.  Completing the core storyline can be done quickly while numerous sidequests, not all available to all players based on in-game decisions, make up the bulk of the storyline portion of the game, and then there is the exploring that needs to be done!  The Shivering Isles expansion adds, what is said to be, another thirty hours of main quests not including side quests and exploration time which is mount to a total, likely, of fifty or more hours.  The Knights of the Nine expansion is said, according to Guide2Games, to add at least another six hours of content again.  In total, I am guessing that I have around two hundred and fifty or more hours of gaming to which to look forward in the world of Oblivion.

Oblivion first released in 2006 so it is hardly a new game, but even now in early 2009 Oblivion still stands as the finest example of traditional role playing games on the market.  The graphics are amazing, the game is immense, the voice acting is suppurb and the score is just amazing.

I put in about twenty hours at this point and have seen a lot of the game including a good chunk of the main storyline, several side quests and lots of world exploration.  The main storyline grabs you right as the game begins and thrusts you right into the action.  It does not take too long before you are given the flexibility to set off on your own to explore the world as you would like which may include racing along to fulfill the main quest as quickly as possible or ignoring it completely.  Oblivion is full of options.

Oblivion, like the other Elder Scrolls titles, is an action RPG and is not a console RPG (aka a Japanese RPG.)  The gameplay is very non-linear and events happen as you interact with the world around you.  Your own style of gameplay will alter the gaming experience is many ways and everyone’s game is very unique.

If you have played Morrowind, Oblivion’s predecessor, one of the first things that you will notice is that the world is smaller and very densley populated with creatures, ruins, cities, dungeons, etc.  It is so densley populated that it feels very, very awkward.  When the Oblivion gates start opening you might notice them popping up several hundred yards away from each other!  While Oblivion is very large it does not have the expansive space feel that you would expect from a game of this type and makes you feel more confined than Morrowind did.  The close proximity of people and places makes it feel much more realistic as you stumble from one “major ruins” to another every few seconds.  Everything is so close that people in the major cities should be able to hear people talking in “long lost ruins” as well as the worshipers at the secret woodland altars.

One of the great things about Oblivion is that everything is voice acted.  Every character that you meet talks to you.  This benefit is tempered by a lack of recorded dialoge and a paucity of voice actors.  It is very obvious very early on in the game that even main characters are often voiced by the same few voice actors which takes away from the game and the range of recorded dialogues is very limited.  You will tire of speaking with the locals very quickly except for those involved in the main quests.

I am disappointed in the world “integrity” within the game.  By this I mean that events or character interactions in one place don’t always seem consistent.  For example, there is a woman in a chapel that I rescued from the horde of evil things attacking her.  Her dialogue with me did not change from the time that I first discovered her and she didn’t know who I was through the time that I rescued her until the time that she went to the camp away from town for safety after I had defeated the evil creatures destroying her town.  The game would have been a lot more interesting if her character was made aware of the fact that we knew each other and that I had saved her, that she had changed locations or that I would be asking different questions of her.  Characters seem to react to basic “world” level stimulous rather than to direct character interactions such as is seen in the Fable series.

Overall the initial impression of Oblivion is that it is gorgeous, sounds great, is expansive and exciting.  Oblivion is consistently rated as one of the top RPGs of all time and an instant classic.  It has held its ground for two years, at this point, as the definitive RPG for the PC over the last three years and of the PS3 and XBOX 360 consoles.  Impressive to say the least.  I am excited to delve into the story, explore the sidequests, take in the grand vistas and see what all this game and its expansion sets have to offer.

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