Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Archive Review: The Eldar Scrolls IV: Oblivion

(PC review)

What do you want to do today?

There has been a serious lack of real masterpiece titles recently. We have seen a constant rollout of average games and whether they be for the PC or consoles nothing since Halo and Half Life 2 has had much impact. Gaming has been in a state of limbo as the standard fails to grow or decline, just stay put. This period wasn't that harsh for gamer though as we have seen some great titles, just nothing next-gen. The future was a thought and we could only imagine it... then Oblivion was released.

Oblivion is a single-player only RPG that comes from the developers of Morrowind and that old classic, Daggerfall. Both these former games offered an insane level of freedom and little in the way of linear story telling. The problem with them was this freedom came at the expense of not feeling any sense of depth or quality to what you could do. Everything could be done but in little detail. In this respect it felt like the GTA: San Andreas of RPG games in that you had lots to do but it all felt like a taster of some deeper game based in each area.

Oblivion gives us something very special. It offers the same level of freedom in a world so detailed and realised that you feel as if you are in some crazy multiple game land. One minute its Hitman as you find yourself completing contracts and sneaking around houses at night with potions to get sneaky kills. The next minute you are in Fable, focusing on killing monsters in dungeons to gain skill levels. All of a sudden you are reminded of good old King's Quest as you have lengthy chats with friendly townsfolk. Every area Oblivion lets you play is detailed and rivals any other game that specialises solely in that genre.

To sum this game up is to paint a picture in your head. Relax and get comfy on that crappy office chair of yours as you read this review and imagine this world. Picture a game where you can create a character in what is probably the most in-depth and natural system ever computed. Give them a name, gender, profession, star sign, race, and customise the face and hair to achieve a final result that rivals The Sims 2 for downright excellent results. Now with your ideal char made imagine being put into a world of expansive and beautiful wild scenery where leaves fall from trees and deer's play in groups deep within pine forests.

Watch butterflies flicker by and realise it was just a microcosm of the world you are in. A world where around one thousand NPCs get on with their daily lives. A world where every other char is driven by an impressive AI system dubbed Radiant AI that means every individual char lives a life. They hunt for food, work, pray, sleep, chat, walk around, get killed by bandits, and even commit crime. Never before has a game created such an immersive world.

The only comparison to this game comes with the GTA series. Where that game offered freedom and lots to do Oblivion offers the same but only in a way that is simply a hell of a lot more detailed. GTA games are linear in the sense that progression only comes with completing the missions/answering the phones. Oblivion lets you do whatever you want and you will never feel the need to do something you don't want to do. Whatever road you take the world is at your fingertips.

Of course the game has a main quest. It starts with you in a prison where you escape through what is effectively a simple training section before you are let loose on the Province of Cyrodiil. I won't go into the quest as I believe its best to discover it for yourself and in my Oblivion experience I am not even remotely doing it! Many players will pursue it and have an awesome gaming experience but many, like me, will kiss goodbye to all that as soon as you have reached the outside world beyond the prison sewers...

So far I have helped a man fish to meet a quota, watched arena battles and considered becoming a fighter (maybe when I'm a little tougher), helped a paranoid elf called Glarthir spy on those he was convinced were following him, and become an evil assassin for the Dark Brotherhood and kill a pirate captain in his cabin aboard a large fully crewed ship! I have friends who have never seen any of this, opting for a totally different path... and we are playing the same game!

Going back to Glarthir, he represented another awesome element to the game. Each char you meet comes over unique and with a strong personality. All dialogue is convincingly spoken by chars and you hear a very varied mix of lines, phrases, jokes, etc etc. This all seems location specific which makes sense. Along with this we have one mesmerizing orchestral score continually in the background.

The world you play in is vast and nothing repeats itself. It is hard to explain how stunning this world is. Graphically it is inconceivably awesome. Woodland, rivers, towns, castles, all look real and somehow right. I have often just walked around dense rich forests purely to take in the visuals and listen to the inspiring sounds of nature. For those of us living in drab urban sprawls Oblivion actually offers escapism in the sense that the natural world gives you a feeling of awe and wonder.

This is a game where if you play Pink Floyd whilst moving around the rural realm you start forgetting the real world... this one is better! These are the kind of graphics where you spot things and actually get the "take a pic" sensation you would get in real life when around such visuals. Screenshot folders will build up as will your frustration at the fact you can't set the graphics any higher to get even better visuals! This is where my gripes sneak in.

This is one hell of a demanding game! Clearly the XBOX 360 crowd won't have any problems but for the PC gamers I suggest you only try this game if you have a certified ub3r rig. Don't go thinking that mid-range Dell will cut this diamond as it won't and you will be left in 10fps hell (even at 800by600 res). I don't consider this a problem with the game as this is seriously next-gen and its a case of catching up or holding up till you can.

When I first played Daggerfall back in the day I wasn't aware of the ability to teleport to a location on the map instead of traveling in real time. I put a paperweight on my up cursor and went AFK for an hour only to find I had been clipping a tree for 30 mins! Oblivion offers the ability to travel to locations without having to constantly ride or run. All it means is the time will reflect how long it took to travel as this game evolves around a fully realised time system of days and hours.

This is UO in terms of the skill developing and shear amount of items you can find, buy, collect, and make! You are free to wear all sorts of armour, clothing, and misc items. The skill system like everything in this is deep. However it all feels intuitive without a steep learning curve. This is another element to Oblivion that makes it so impressive. In this vast world you feel confident with how to play it and how to go about your gaming within an hour tops. This gives you all the rest of your time to explore and generally play as you will!

My only issues with this game come with the problems groundbreaking programming give us. The Radiant AI does odd things like fail to acknowledge you have broken into their house in the middle of the night and instead greet you normally as you wake them up. Enemy monsters etc will also never give up the chase meaning a quick ride to Skingrad stables will mean 3-4 bandits on your tail. However every city has guards who will defend you and everyone else. Guards can be annoying... until you reach level 20 and find yourself pwning them if they try to take you on ;) The cutscene of them confronting you is annoying though as it always relates to stealing items.. even if you have murdered someone! I can let these minor issues pass as they are merely slight imperfections on this emerald. I love Eldar Scrolls IV: Oblivion and I want you to know that.


+ Is this real? Am I dreaming?

+ Fully realised world

+ Stunning graphics/sound

+ A new level of gaming freedom

9.6 / 10

This is something special

by The Critical Alien
© 2006