Ah, The Elder Scrolls, easily one of my favourite video game series of all time. Allow me to take you on a trip down memory lane, to where it all began.
I was a wee boy of nine years of age at the time, it was Christmas Day 2008 and I had just received my Xbox 360, one of the games I had asked Father Christmas (That’s what we Brits call Santa, my American chums) to get for me was Oblivion. My only prior experience of it was a brief spell at my Uncle’s house which essentially had me play an Argonian assassin while he worked on my ever-present fear of water in games. Bloody slaughter fish.
Anyway, this time I played an Imperial Warrior and bloody hell it was love at first sight. Nine years later, I still play Oblivion, though not as much as I used to. While I still love the game, I’m no longer enamoured by its beauty like I once was.
Anyway into the review. Oblivion is the fourth instalment in The Elder Scrolls series, a role-playing game series developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. The game was released in 2006, with the Game of The Year edition being released a year later.
Now, while Oblivion is the fourth game in the series, it is actually preceded by five games; Arena, Daggerfall and Morrowind of the main series and two spin-offs; one called Battlespire and another called Redguard, which is the only game of the series that isn’t an RPG.
Enough with useless trivia, let’s talk about the game. Oblivion is set in the Imperial Province of Cyrodil, the central and main province of Tamriel, a continent in the world of Nirn. Cyrodil is the home of the aforementioned Imperials, a race of Humans who are known to be shrewd diplomats and the race that sits at the top of The Empire, the faction that rules over Tamriel. Though Cyrodil is the Imperial Province, it houses many of each of the ten main races and unlike the other provinces, everyone mingles just fine enough with only a bit of casual racism.
The game begins with a speech from Emperor Uriel Septim VII, the ruler of Tamriel throughout all of the preceding games, who is interestingly enough voiced by Patrick Stewart. After the opening cutscene, we begin with your character in prison, you walk towards your cell door as some snarky Dark Elf named Valen Dreth mocks you, with each race getting their own unique insults, but it all ends the same way, with the prick trying to get you to believe you’re about to be executed as you hear some plated-footsteps on the stone steps leading down to the prison.
Lo and behold, it’s not actually the guards coming to take a little off the top, it’s actually Emperor Uriel and his bodyguards, The Blades. The Emperor comes and hits you with a bit more exposition, revealing he has prophetic dreams and he’s about to join his sons in the afterlife.
Well, it turns out The Blades are leading the Emperor out a secret escape route through your cell, lucky you! After 5 feet assassins strike and kill the Captain, revealing the dark and slimy sewers perhaps wasn’t the best escape route for fleeing from assassins after all, well the Emperor and his two remaining bodyguards bugger off and you’re left to fend for yourself for a bit.
After cutting your way through some rats and goblins, you reunite with the Emperor and his companions, after the assassins manage to bump off one more of The Blades, Uriel gives you the symbol of The Empire, the Amulet of Kings, a sacred relic back from the First Era, when Saint Alessia rebelled against the Ayleids, a group of Elves who enslaved mankind, and formed a covenant with the Chief Deity of the Divines, Akatosh, who gifted her the Amulets and promised to keep the forces of the Daedra, a race of Demons from the realm of Oblivion (Roll credits), at bay.
After that, one final assassin kills Uriel, before quickly being dispatched by you and the last surviving Blade, Baurus. Who allows you to choose your class, gives you a bit more exposition smacks your bottom and sends you off on a world saving quest that reveals the nature of the Septim Dynasty and allows you to spend some quality time with the talented Sean Bean.
After you leave the sewers, you’re free to do whatever you want in the game. You could go on your world saving quest, or you could join a gang of thieves, a guild of assassins, a mercenaries guild of warriors or study magic. Hell, you don’t have to do any of this, you can just randomly adventure to your heart’s content, you don’t have to affiliate with any faction or group, you can just be your own man on the road.
So, does Oblivion hold up eleven years later? Well, to answer that question I’ll have to analyse its strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s begin with the good stuff. Oblivion has, hands down, the best story out of the three TES games I’ve played. Unlike Morrowind and the game that proceeds it, Skyrim, you are not a chosen hero. You’re just some twat who gets caught up in all this divine business that’s above you, but as a result of being less important in the story, you feel like a much bigger badass when you charge into hell a hundred times over, slaughter the demons within and nick a rock that holds the particular gate you used to enter hell, open.
One of my favourite moments of the main questline was escorting Sean Bean’s character from a burned down city to a safe haven, protecting him from wolves and bandits alike.
However, Oblivion provides a fair few reasons to explore the beautiful world of Cyrodil, the best example is a village just South of the city of Chorrol known as Hackdirt. Going there, speaking to the locals and the events that proceed spending a night at the local inn there is easily one of the most memorable moments in gaming for me. I won’t give any spoilers to those out there who have yet to play this game, but those who have experienced this know exactly what I’m talking about.
In-general, the side-quests in this game were bloody amazing, I remember in particular if you happened to enter the Temple District in the Imperial City with a certain fame score (Fame is a stat that affects the default disposition NPC’s have towards you and the max disposition you can achieve with them and is improved by certain quests and deeds in the game). You will be approached by a Dunmer woman whose husband asked her to find you, her husband is part of a Vampire Hunting group and they’re seeking your help. This side-quest is easily one of my favourite, among the classic Whodunnit from the Dark Brotherhood (Assassins Guild) questline, as it has a great twist in the middle and this brilliant moral choice.
As previously mentioned, you get to go to hell in this game, well more accurately, Oblivion. During the main quest, you will discover that gates to Oblivion have been opening up all over Cyrodil, with Daedra pouring out and causing a lot of trouble, and the burden falls on you to deal with these gates. Upon entering you will be greeted with ash-layered lands and oceans made of lava, you never quite experience the awe and fear from your first time nearing the gate, the sky turning blood red and you being greeted with this nightmare upon entering the gate. These portals essentially lead to massive dungeons, which end with you climbing to the top of the biggest tower and removing an item called the Sigil Stone, which causes you to teleport out of Oblivion and the gate to collapse. I still enjoy closing these gates to this day, as the feeling of relief upon seeing the green of the grass again after pinching the demons’ favourite rocks is overwhelming each time.
And my god was Oblivion innovative as far as video game RPG’s go, see Bethesda wanted to improve immersion a bit. Despite what Morrowind fans may say, the static and bland NPC’s really killed the immersion in that game, So Bethesda developed a concept called Radiant AI, which allows NPCs to interact with the world, make choices and engage in behaviours more complex than in games of the past. For example, an NPC would have in its code to eat at a specific time and it was up to the NPC as to how to achieve this. This certainly added to the world and made it feel more alive, and this technology was furthered in Skyrim, thus allowing Oblivion’s younger brother to be as good as it was too, good show I see Bethesda!
However, like every game, Oblivion has its negatives. The most glaringly obvious is the voice acting… There are 12 sodding voices in this game, not including the expansion packs. One for each race and then one for Uriel Septim and then Sean Bean’s character so, most of the time, you’ll hear one NPC talking to themselves about some random news from Tamriel or, you know, THEMSELVES! It’s infuriating to have such a massive immersion killer in a game I consider rather immersive.
The dungeons in this game leave me letting out a hefty “Eh” every time. There’s very little difference between each one, with only a handful of the hundreds out there actually standing out in my mind. To be fair, there was only a handful of people actually working on them, but it’s still bloody rotten.
And, as always with TES games, the combat is rubbish, absolutely plain awful. Every weapon feels like you’re swinging a lethal feather about, even the massive bloody Warhammer swing faster than your average guy can wave a spoon about! Is a sneeze in Cyrodil equivalent to the bombs the US dropped on Japan?
Overall, however, this game is rather amazing. It has its flaws, like every game, but if I was to tell you I haven’t enjoyed my MANY hours on this game, I’d be lying to you. Oblivion is legitimately my favourite instalment in The Elder Scrolls series, and one of my favourite RPG’s of all time. Sure, the lack of voices, repetitive dungeons and silly combat ruins the mood at times, none of these issues is so big that they ruin the game as a whole. The better qualities of the game more than make up for the flaws it has. All these years later, Oblivion not only has a place in my top 5 favourite games of all time but also a special place in my heart.
Overall, Oblivion has a well-written main quest, amazing side-quests and the Oblivion Gates. I would recommend it to any TES and RPG fan I’d meet, as it’s still, in my opinion, one of the best out there, even if it’s age is really beginning to show.