Sunday, August 27, 2006

Review: The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion

You know how this started off as a TV/Video Game/Movie review blog? Let's take a nostalgic turn and delve deep into the artificial realism of all that is Oblivion.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

So i've (...omg I can't remember whether it should be "i've" or "I've." That's not good, is it?)...

Ok anywayyy. I've posted on Oblivion before, and always with enthusiasm. As you may already know, Oblivion is Bethesda Softwork's fourth installment in their long-running Elder Scrolls series. Morrowind (Oblivion's predecessor), was a graphically impressive, extremely open-ended game filled with thousands of npcs and a deeply political/religious storyline. Oblivion continues along the same lines, except the graphics are about 1000 times better, the quests are even more interesting, and the combat has been improved significantly.

Strangely, however, the experience on a whole has not been as great as I would have liked. Sure, in the beginning all the little perks were very enjoyable, but the whole game on a whole started to feel very repetitive.

Gameplay - 4.5/5

Oblivion's gameplay is excellent to say the least. The Elder Scrolls series has always been about exploration, and Oblivion accomplishes this goal without flaw. The world is truly beautiful, and there are little points of interest, dungeons, quests, and just about anything that would pique your imagination just scattered all over the place. Not only that, but Oblivion allows the player to get horses, to speed up exploration, or to quickly get the player past the more dull parts.

Just look at that landscape. It's even more beautiful than the real world! Cuz you know, the people of Oblivion haven't polluted the heck out of it yet.

Combat has also been significantly improved over Morrowind's generic hack and hack system. Yes, not hack and slash. Hack and hack. Morrowind's combat system was inherently dull, and this can be evidenced by one of the game's settings: "Always Use Best Attack." Uh...who would want to use a weaker attack? Note that there were only 3 types of attacks, and the only difference was the damage they dealt based on the strengths of the weapon. For example, spears could do some nice piercing damage, but using it to slash or crush probably wasn't a good idea. But because of the design, if you moved in the wrong direction, these weak and essentially useless attacks would execute anyway. Thus the "Always Use Best Attack." A cheap solution to a bigger problem, but I digress...

Combat now no longer divides attacks into damage type. Now, players will damage enemies based on multiple factors, as well as being able to execute a series of power attacks and flourishes, each with unique abilities. Admittedly, the number of these special attacks was very limited and on a whole they didn't look all that impressive...but still, combat could get very intense, especially with opponents hacking away at you while you try to stagger them with your shield and counter attack.

Eep. This isn't going to be a good day for me, is it?

The roguish arts have also been enhanced. Archery now allows the player to zoom in on enemies for instant kill head-shots. And persuasion and lockpicking now require playing fun little minigames, rather than just simply pressing a button.

Muahaha! Suffer my wrath, wooden board!

Uh...did you not see what I did to that wooden board?

The one thing that I was disappointed with is the magic system. The Elder Scrolls has never been a very good game for mages. While Oblivion has improved the system somewhat - auto regenerating magicka, for instance, the whole design feels somewhat lacking. All the effects look the same, regardless of the strength of the spell...and to be honest, the damage effect spells (frost, fire, and shock) don't really look all that impressive to begin with. Further, while the game allows the player a variety of spells to cast, some of the spells are pretty much useless.

Yea, if only this was a spell you could actually CAST. GAH!

Still, overall the gameplay is decent, if not excellent, and certainly a large step up from Morrowind. And that is saying something, considering Morrowind was one of the top games of 2002.

Graphics & Sound - 5/5

I think most professional game-review sites seperate these two categories, but in my opinion, there's really not much to be said about them. Or actually, I've already said it. Oblivion's graphics are AMAZING. And EVERYTHING looks good this time around, not just the environments (which are dazzling - snowscapes, grassy plains, cities, rivers...all of them are breathtaking). Sound is...well, I've never really cared about sound effects, as long as they sound close. Which they do. And did I mention the game was fully voiced? Too bad they only had a few voice-actors...some of the people started to look & sound very familiar.

I will mention the music in this game. Bethesda hired their long-time friend Jeremy Soule to compose all new music for Oblivion. Mr. Soule also did the Morrowind soundtrack, but while Morrowind's music was definitely very epic, eventually I got to the point where it all pretty much sounded the same. It was almost like the game only had one 30 minute long song and it was left on loop for the entire duration. While on a whole the composition was excellent, the individual songs didn't really have anything that made them stand out.

Oblivion's soundtrack solves that problem. Each piece is very thematic and unique. Did I mention I bought the soundtrack to the game...before the game even came out? It's just that good.

Story - 3/5

And here is where Oblivion left me feeling a bit disappointed. Morrowind's main story was filled with political intrigue, religious fanaticism, ancient prophecies and generally a very engrossing taste. Oblivion's on the other hand, is a rather generic adventure where you stop a great evil from devouring the world. And that evil really has no reason to do so, other than he's evil. The main characters along the story have no real personality (even with the excellent voice-acting). There were some twists and turns here that were somewhat interesting, but truth be told - the whole thing was generic at best.

That's a bad idea, my bony friends. A very bad idea indeed.

And that's not the worst of it. While Oblivion's quests are more interesting, the subplots that drive them are not necessarily. One of Oblivion's features is to allow the player to join multiple guilds (which they could in Morrowind as well). But the guild quests just didn't do it for me either. Really, Oblivion's story aspect is rather unordinary.

What did I tell you? You living dead are all the same...all bones and no brain. Wait, I guess that's kinda the point.

Story is very important to me, I guess. Without a good story, there's no sense of urgency, accomplishment, or anything.

Overall Score: 4.25/5

Despite its few weaknesses, I can not say that I did not enjoy this game. The storylines were just barely strong enough to keep me going, and I guess in the long run that's all that matters. I would definitely recommend this game to anybody aching for a good rpg-fest.

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