Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360) Review

Two weeks ago, I completed my first play-through of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360), and now I am faced with the very difficult task of reviewing the game. Mind you, it won't be difficult at all to go on about what the game does right and wrong, but the sheer scope of this title warrants a lot of thought simply to keep the size of this review manageable. I suppose that to start, despite some shortcomings, it's safe to say that The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is one of the most engrossing games I have ever played.

My love affair with The Elder Scrolls series started in the Spring of '06 when, looking for a good game to play, I decided to pick up The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition (Xbox). In short, it was the best game I never finished, and I was very disappointed with the ultimate lack of focus that it held. There was so much potential there, and yet I found it fell just short on delivery.

Flash forward a year later and I now own an Xbox 360. While looking for another engrossing title to play, I remembered fondly all that The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition could have been, and I decided to take a chance and pick up The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. First and foremost I'm happy to say that it "fixes" most of the issues I had with its predecessor.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion features proper Quest tracking, full dialogue, better combat controls, fast travel between locations, some amalgamated Skills, etc., and while many would certainly say the game has less options than The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (which is true), I say it takes out all the clutter and helps to lay things out more clearly for the player who doesn't have 8 hours a day to devote solely to playing the game.

And yes, like its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is digital crack and will grind your social life to a halt; it's just that addictive. The game's story is classic dark fantasy fair and generally forgettable: A cult has assassinated the Emperor (Patrick Stewart) and daedra (demons) begin invading the land, and only you can find the heir to the throne and put a stop to the invasion. Again, we've seen it's like before, but what really stands out in the game is how alive the actual world is, and just how much there is to explore! The province of Cyrodiil where the game takes place is a marvel to behold. The game world is massive and you're free to travel pretty much anywhere within it that you wish, and every place you go is so beautifully detailed.

There are full fledged cities, towns, dungeons, ruins, camp sites, forests, rivers, streams, mines, mountains, plains, etc., and each region has it's own unique feel. As the player in this open ended title, you are free to pursue the Main Quest, or explore the world and do as you please, or a little of both. There are side Quests to do, Guilds to join, and countless ruins to explore for nice loot (which I found otherwise generally difficult to come by). The game also features a full day/night cycle and weather patterns, and I must say it's quite beautiful to stand high up in a mountain range and watch the sun set behind the Imperial City in the distance while a light snowfall is going on.

To explore the world, you can walk, run, and swim your way around, fast travel between known locations, or acquire a horse and race across the countryside. The addition of horses is really cool, and once you get a fast mount it is simply a joy to watch the insanely detailed world fly by as you gallop off, though there will be frame rate hick-ups as you do so. Too bad you can't fight while mounted though.

At the beginning of the game, you choose from several different races and character classes (or you can make your own class), and you can thoroughly customize how your character's face looks. I chose to be a Male Dunmer (Dark Elf) Scout (Combat focused), and to pursue the Main Quest as well as the Arena and to join the Fighter's Guild. I also took my time exploring much of the world (though certainly not all of it), and I ultimately took about 111 hours to reach Level 38 and complete all the Quests I wished to with this character.

The race you choose and the Guilds you join will affect how others deal with you in this living world, as there is racism and faction rivalries. The people of Cyrodiil also have lives of there own, going to work, to church, and into shops. Some will travel between cities, they'll start conversations with those around them, sit and eat, sleep, etc. Much of their idle conversation gets very repetitive quickly, the same voice actors are re-used constantly, and there's not a child to be found in the land, but given the vast scope of the world, such things are easily forgivable.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion does feature an odd leveling system, however, in the sense that when you level, every creature in the game levels around you. What this means is that if you don't level the right skills first, or come across some good items, you are going to have a hard time against certain enemies, as even basic bandits will sport Glass and Daedric armour and weapons as the game progresses. Generally, I found this odd leveling system made the mid-teen levels ridiculously difficult, but things improved vastly from that point once I really focused on leveling my Combat skills.

I do also wish that the games Misc. item section of your character's inventory was subdivided in further pages. The large amount of scrolls, keys, and gems simply cluttered that menu up so much, and the most useful item, Repair Hammers, were right down at the bottom of the list. Scrolling down for so long just to repair my armour got rather tiresome after a while, and I felt this little tedium could have been avoided with a slightly more streamlined menu design.

I also had the fortune of becoming a Vampire through the course of the game. Vampirism is a disease that can be cured early on like any other disease you can contract (with potions or praying at Chapels), however if left untreated for three days, you become a Vampire and must go on a lengthy Quest to acquire a cure. I found vampirism itself to be quite cool. Your character looks more aged and as the disease progresses you generally become stronger save for taking damage from the sun, which does get a bit annoying. What was a bit disappointing though was that the stages of vampirism you go through, based on the last time you fed on a sleeping victim, were somewhat buggy. I would feed to lessen the disease, take a nap, and bam, the disease worsens again, but if I go a week without sleeping, it never advances in stages at all. Granted, vampirism was still worth it for the Hunter's Sight ability.

When it's all said and done, however, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is an amazing, deep, and rich play experience and in my opinion is a must have title. There is simply so much to do in the land of Cyrodiil, that you can not experience it all properly in one play through, and that single play through will certainly be a lengthy experience. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion offers a very rich world to explore, and is well worth the price of admission.

No comments: