Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Game of the Year Edition

“I don’t spread rumors, I create them.” – Lucian Lachance

You’ll find Lucian and many other “colorful” characters in Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion.  Oblivion is an open world western RPG available on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

 To steal a line from another great game, Fable 2, “Who will you become?”

The choice is yours.

Like most adventure/RPG type games, you begin as a nobody.  A nobody in a prison cell being mocked by the prisoner across from you actually.  Why are you there?  Aside from it being necessary to get the game going, your guess is as good as mine.  Of course, your past misdeeds aren’t relevant.  It’s your future that matters.  Like most games in the genre you soon find out you just might be the chosen one.

You are informed of this possibility by none other than the Emperor (voiced by Professor X/Captain Picard) as he conveniently uses a secret passage from your cell to escape from …well something.  With an exit in your cell and the Emperors endorsement, you begin your quest through the tutorial.

Eventually after choosing your skills class and area of expertise (I myself an a dark elf battle mage).  You will stumble out of the dark sewers and into the light of the sky.  The moment you step outside you’ll be left speechless by the scope and beauty of the land of Cyrodiil.

The game boasts beautiful and sufficiently “Next Gen” graphics.  There really is nothing quite like standing high on a mountain and looking across rolling hills, valleys, and woods towards the walls of the Imperial City and the majestic white tower in its center.
Of course that’s not to say the game has no issues.  It does suffer from quite a bit of pop up and occasional jaggies.  Also, you’ll be seeing quite a few loading screens, which tend to break the flow at times. Though these loading screens offer up tips and a little back story after reading the same one for the 15th time, you’ll stop caring and start getting a little annoyed.

The Land of Cyrodiil is fairly large with hundreds of ruins and caves to explore along the way to its nine cities.  These caves and ruins are populated with everything from giant rats to Vampire covens. They’re great places to hone your skills and get some really great loot. As you make your way from ruin to ruin or city to city you’ll find yourself accosted by bandits and wild animals along the roads. Luckily there are Imperial guards regularly patrolling the roads and every so often you’ll get a little help from them or you can bail them out of trouble as well if you feel so inclined. However the game does offer a Fast Travel mechanic that lets you warp to any location you have previously visited instantly, while this does take a little out of the whole “adventurer trekking the wild” feeling, its an invaluable time saver if you really need to find a bed to rest in or drop off some loot or you just don’t feel like hiking. You’ll also have the ability to procure a horse as well, which is a nice compromise between walking and fast traveling.

Don’t think you’re all alone in this huge world.  Through out your travels you will run into a wide assortment of people from beggars to Counts.  Most of these people will need you to fetch items, gather information, and even commit the occasional murder. You have the eccentric collector of ancient artifacts that sends you out like a medieval Indiana Jones to recover loot from lost civilizations. Unlike Indy however, you don’t have that pesky need to see things in a museum, you get a nice reward that clinks when you return a lost artifact.. You even get to participate in a fun little Agatha Christie “whodunit” in a locked mansion.
Most of these tasks are voluntary and not doing them will have no effect on the main quest but you’ll really be missing out on a lot of fun, money and local color if you decide to skip them.

Yes, you will meet many people throughout your travels which interestingly enough is one of the games major shortcomings. Not only are the character models far from aesthetically pleasing though they are for the most part pretty life-like, most of the characters of any given race look very much alike. Meaning it is a fairly common sight to see a couple of people on the street corner talking to themselves and if you don’t see them but just hear them it sounds like a schizophrenic having a conversation with themselves. Not only do these characters look a like but their voices sound alike as well.
Though the principle characters are voiced by some pretty great talent, as mentioned above The Emperor is voiced by Patrick Stewart and his son Martin is voiced by Sean Bean (The Sharpe Series, LOTR) not to mention The main villain being voiced by none other that Terrance Stamp (General Zod, Superman, Chancellor Valorum, SW: Episode 1), for the most part each race is voiced by a single voice actor. There’s also a jarring inconsistency in characterization. One moment you ‘re talking to a whiny beggar asking you for a coin and the next moment that same beggar is speaking to you with the tone and accent of a highborn lady. Its not game breaking but it does take you out of character.

During the course of the game you’ll have the opportunity to join a few different factions. Whether you’re a warrior, a wizard, a thief or a cold-blooded assassin there’s a guild for you. Joining guilds not only gives you a variety of different quests it also offers quite a few perks. Being in a guild automatically makes every other member of that guild like you more. It will also give you access to armor, weapons, alchemy ingredients and a warm bed to sleep in free of charge whenever you need it. You’ll start out as just another lowly member but can rise through the ranks until you become leader of the faction, which will offer additional perks such as having the option to choose someone to go adventuring with you. If you join all of the guilds and get all the expansions and DLC you could potentially have your own small entourage dungeon delving with you.

If you find yourself getting a little bored of the landscape and people of Cyrodiil then you can head on over to the Shivering Isles, a place you won’t soon forget. While the people you find in the Shivering Isles look just like the people of Cyrodiil you’ll quickly find out that they are…um…different.
The Shivering Isles is divided into three areas; The Fringe, Dementia and Madness. Upon your arrival you’ll find yourself in the Fringe, the area outside of the Shivering Isles “proper” but don’t worry, there’s enough nuttiness to go around in The Fringe.
The Shivering Isles is ruled by the delightfully odd Deadric Prince Sheogorath, also known as the Mad God (and believe me, he deserves the name). I don’t want to give anything away but I recommend at some point you save the game and then attack Sheogorath afterwards, his reaction is definitely something you won’t want to miss.

If you don’t mind getting completely sucked into a video game void for months I recommend you run out and get The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion The Game of the Year Edition and if possible go with the PC version.  While the console versions of the game are excellent (I did my first play through on the 360), The PC version will allow you to customize the game to a greater extent and also open up the ability to utilize user created mods that will keep Oblivion fresh, new and exciting for months to come. Regardless of what version you purchase I highly recommend the DLC. Not only will it give you some pretty cool places to live (one of which comes with your very own minion, another with your own pirates and another with a castle full of knights) The also give you access to certain fun and necessary items early on in the game.

Just one more word…

Don’t buy Horse Armor.

1 comment:

Jim said...

the voice acting is marvelous and helps make the game even more worthwhile. Lynda Carter and Patrick Stewart are especially recognizable throughout.

When you get overwhelmed by the gloominess of Fallout3 return to pick flowers in the fields of Tamriel.

I could wish it had a little more of Daggerfall though. I miss that huge thing. If you remember that game from the 486 days it was larger than England. One of the sites tested it in real time and it did take 2 weeks to walk the length of the world of Daggerfall.

of course even with a thousands of cities and caves it was largely empty in comparison to Oblivion and by todays standards the graphics sucked big time.