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Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion Hands On

After months of envious glances at our PC and Xbox 360 owning buddies, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is almost ready to hit PlayStation 3. So pulling on my chainmail shirt and rusty iron sword I met up with Ubisoft to finally get my gauntlets on one of PS3’s most eagerly awaited roleplaying games.

It’s been almost 12 months since Oblivion hit PC and 360, but if you’re yet to encounter the world of Tamriel and wouldn’t know a Daedra from a Daffodil; let me give you an idea of what PlayStation fans have been missing.

Oblivion 101

The Elder Scrolls series began 10 years ago with The Elder Scrolls: Arena on PC. Arena pioneered free-roaming, open world, fantasy roleplaying that has since become synonymous with the franchise. Create your bespoke fantasy character and let them loose upon a world where you can pretty much go anywhere and do anything in your search for adventure.

With the fourth in the series, Oblivion developer Bethesda had finally polished their sandbox gameplay to such a degree, that it was time to let console gamers in on the action.

The plot sees the sword and sorcery realm of Tamriel in turmoil after the murder of their much-loved Emperor, and the appearance of numerous magical gateways that are letting in the hellish denizens of the Oblivion dimension. Your mission (should you decide to accept it) is to locate the missing heir to the throne, restore him to power and shut the Oblivion gates once and for all.

Of course, freedom is the Elder Scrolls watchword, and saving the realm or going on a month long bender of monster slaying, dungeon raiding, burglary and murder is completely up to you. That’s what makes Oblivion such an astonishing game, and why it has sold over 2 million copies on PC and 360. Luckily for us PlayStation partisans, the PS3 version is the best yet.

The Power of 3

First and foremost, Oblivion on PS3 is the most complete version to date. It includes all the updates Bethesda have released so far, so all the extra locations, bug-fixes and gameplay tweaks that PC and 360 owners have had to download piecemeal, we get built-in from day one. What’s more The Knights of the Nine expansion pack, designed especially for PlayStation 3 and featuring a whole new set of quests, comes fitted as standard.

Gameplay-wise Oblivion remains unchanged from either of the existing versions. The storyline is still the same, the voice acting is still that mixed bag of bizarre shared dialogue and on and off accents, and the action still revolves around first- or third-person swordplay, magic and thievery. Where the PS3 version shines like a mithril breastplate is when it comes to graphics and speed.

Whatever platform you play Oblivion on it will look awe-inspiring, but playing in High Definition on PS3 wins out over both PC and 360. Unless you have a PC monitor bigger than your TV and a high-end graphics card capable of dealing with such a screen, exploring Tamriel on a large HD display can’t be beaten. Every blade of grass, every pock-mark on the goblin’s face and every ripple on the water’s surface sing out of the screen at you making you want to stop and just enjoy the visual symphony going on around you (of course, the goblin may have stabbed you to death by now, but at least you’ll die happy).

Even when compared to the HD display put out by Xbox 360, PS3’s rendition of Oblivion’s jaw-dropping countryside is considerably crisper and richer than its soft focussed rival.

Load Warrior

A regular complaint levelled at the 360 version was the long loading times compared to PC, and I must admit being worried that PS3 would suffer a similar fate. But curse me for ever doubting Sony’s mighty machine because the combination of the speedy Cell and RSX processors and the sheer amount of data that Blu-ray can spit out in one go, means that Oblivion on PS3 loads very quickly. I’d estimate it loads as fast, if not faster than the PC version (on a mid-spec machine); moving from outside to in or vice versa, loads in a second or two, with fast-travelling across the entire map taking just a few seconds more. Also, bear in mind I’m looking at preview code, not the finished game, and load times can be optimised further prior to launch.

While Oblivion doesn’t take advantage of the Sixaxis’ motion sensing capabilities, the game’s many controls do fit very nicely to the combo of buttons and analog sticks. Having played Oblivion thoroughly on PC, I can safely say that all the one button controls I access on my PC’s keyboard can also be triggered with one button press on the Sixaxis - with the exception of maybe "Quicksave/load".

Being an Oblivion fan already, I was confident the PS3 version would be good, but even with the brief hands-on I had, I’m sure this is going to be one of the system’s must-have titles when the game arrives at the end of March. I’m even tempted to start my adventures in Tamriel from scratch, just so I can do it on PS3.

We’ll be bringing you an interview with Bethesda very soon, and look out for a full review of Oblivion on PSU in the coming weeks.