The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review
The evolution of videogames has slowly moved into freedom over the years, cementing the whole concept of a living, breathing world. Granted, to an extent, RPG games have had living, breathing worlds for decades now, it's just that only recently has that concept been wrapped around other games. Freedom is an amazing thing; it's arguably the most addictive trait in a videogame, as it gives it an almost infinite scope. Oblivion is one of those games. While Xbox 360 owners have been able to enjoy Oblivion for the past year, PS3 owners have finally received their port, which comes complete with noticeably improved visuals and additional content.
Oblivion is my first Elder Scrolls adventure, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Having come off one enormous RPG some months ago (Final Fantasy XII), I wondered what's in store for me with Oblivion. As soon as I started the game, and before I even got to the adventure, I realized what the fuss was all about. The character creation process is absolutely astounding; it is without a doubt the deepest process a videogame has ever seen. You can customize virtually every detail of your character's face, which means that no two creations will look a like. I spent over an hour just tweaking my character, I was absolutely floored by the depth. On top of that, you can be any race you wish, so you're not limited to just human characters, pick a reptilian, elvan, ogre/orc, and so forth.
When the game started, I found myself locked in a prison, but in the prison is where the story begins. The Emperor of the Imperial City and his guards come into your cell, and you find out that your quarter contains a secret underground passageway. You then find out why the Emperor needs the passageway, and he informs you that his destined death is fast approaching. Emperor Septim sees something in you, and believes he's seen your face in his dreams, so he allows you to escape the cell through the passage with him and his guards. I won't go any further with the story, so as to not spoil anything, but from here on you will be fighting through the sewers until you reach the exit and find yourself out in the game's gorgeous world.
Within that first 30 minutes of play, you'll realize all of the game's superb qualities. After the Emperor and his guards fight off the first group of assassins, you'll be able to pick up everything they had on them, and make it your own -- and that goes for practically every enemy (or combatant) that you encounter. You won't necessarily be limited to taking items from only your dead enemies, but if you choose to, you can pick a fight with an imperial officer, kill him, and then take his armor, sword, shield, and anything else. Oblivion gives you full control of your actions, so you have to be well aware of what the repercussions are.
If you commit a crime within policed territory, you'll have to either pay a fine, resist arrest, or go to jail. Resisting arrest raises your bounty, so unless you want to be on the run for good, I'd advise against this. You can pay the fine if you have the loot. Or you can go to jail, but that negates some of your experience levels. Longer sentences negate more experience from more skills, and vice versa. And don't worry, jail sentences are served simply by sleeping (an instantaneous process) - but when you look at your statistics page, you'll be able to tell how long your sentence was.
The best thing I can tell any gamer is that if you're a fan of all sorts of RPGs, aside from Japanese-RPGs, and you love games like Baldur's Gate, then you might as well kiss your social life goodbye with Oblivion. The amount of journeys, quests, side-quests, and options the game has is absolutely absurd. I thought Final Fantasy XII had value, imagine three times what FFXII offered. Every little crevice of Oblivion has additional crevices, and the entire game's land is enormous. The game defines freedom, as it allows you to access anything that you see in the background.
Furthermore, interaction with NPCs (non-playable characters) is well done, as every NPC has something to say. And there's a ton of guilds and factions you can join, and climb the ranks in. Oblivion is the very definition of what it means to be non-linear. You can side-quest from, practically, the very beginning of the game and that's just amazing.
Because Oblivion is a first-person RPG (there is also a third-person view), you don't have a party (like Final Fantasy) following you everywhere you go. Likewise, for those of you who've never played an Elder Scrolls game, battles are completely real-time and fighting is completely dependant on the class you granted your character - if you choose to be a warrior, thief, knight, battlemage, mage, monk, etc. And hey, here's some more freedom for you, if none of the classes satisfy you, go ahead and craft your own.
There's more to be said about Oblivion, but if I were to do this game proper justice, the review would be monstrously long. Just take my word for it, no other RPG game plays like Oblivion. If you don't limit yourself to J-RPGs, Oblivion has everything you could ask for in a role playing game. Even if you do limit yourself to J-RPGs, I still highly suggest playing Oblivion - it may open your eyes.
Aesthetically, Oblivion is one of the prettiest next-generation titles out there. Its art direction is spot-on. Nearly everything about this game is so detailed that it's hard to imagine how future Elder Scrolls iterations will look like this gen. As soon as you crawl out of those sewers at the very beginning of the game, your breath will be taken away. The greens are so lush, and the scenery is so vibrant. Texture detail, overall, is simply amazing - especially considering the sheer size of this game.
I've never played a game that had a world as alive as Oblivion's Cyrodiil. As you walk around, you'll notice the cobblestone roads, intricately detailed and complete with superb texture mapping. In addition, you'll notice just how remarkably detailed your weapons and armor are. The trees, the swaying grass, and anything else you can think are just a sight to behold. Oblivion's lighting is yet another fantastic aspect. Because the game has a night-and-day cycle, you will witness varying kinds of lighting conditions. My personal favorite is when the sun's out in full force, as it lights up the greens and makes the entire world as vibrant as possible.
Still, there are some rough spots. You'll notice that some of the NPCs have unusual details to their face, like wrinkling and such, but they tend to look more like burns than anything else. The extra details on the NPCs actually make them look worse, and a little on the scary side. When you walk around exploring, one thing in particular is going to bother you...the framerate. Because the game is streaming and loading so much content, the game tends to hiccup when the camera is swinging around. The good news is that it's actually better than the framerate of the Xbox 360 version, but the bad news is that it's still not that consistent.
Lastly, area loading freezes the game for only a split second and no longer, as opposed to the Xbox 360 version. As far as the differences between the two go, the PS3 version is easily the better of the two. Texture detail is noticeably higher, draw-in distance is longer, the frame-rate is better, the load times are better, and even character detail was raised. Oblivion is a port done right, and we salute Bethesda for a job well done with the visuals.
The audio in Oblivion is well done, as you'd expect. The soundtrack consists of soothing melodies that totally wrap you around the entire experience. Honestly, the audio and visuals work together flawlessly to capture your attention, and really have you wrapped in the moment. As if the soundtrack wasn't enough, the ambiance totally seals the deal; the birds chirp and sing lively, and leaves rustle as they sway in the wind. The voice acting is solid, with Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean doing most of the notable work. Because there are so many characters in the game, a lot of them do have the same voice - it's a little annoying, but nothing terrible. The quality of the audio, as a whole, is brilliant and crystal clear; a proper audio system will only make the experience of Oblivion that much more enjoyable.
In the end, Oblivion is one of those games that lives up to every bit of its hype. In case you haven't played Oblivion yet, I highly recommend that you do. Between the Xbox 360 and the PS3, the PS3 version is the superior one. While it doesn't feature some of the downloadable content that's already available for the X360 version, Bethesda has assured us that it'll be coming shortly. The PS3 version does feature additional content, such as the Knights of the Nine faction and more. On top of that, visually, the PS3 port is the clear victor. In any case, Oblivion is one of those RPGs games that you'll likely play for months and months, without end. The sheer scope is so immense, that it feels as if the game has no end. Furthermore, the sense of freedom is arguably the best an RPG game has ever seen. But most importantly, Oblivion's learning curve is what you make of it. Meaning, it can be complicated or easily accessible - the choice is yours. Do not pass up Oblivion if you're an avid RPG fan, you'd be a fool if you did.
3/31/2007 Arnold Katayev