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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review

14 April 2007

The launch of PlayStation 3 touted a decent line-up of titles, though it was sorely lacking one genre. The only RPG available, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, was a flawed, last-generation experience. That's why PlayStation gamers were so ecstatic for the recent launch of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the PS3.

The developers of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Bethesda Softworks, aspired to create the perfect RPG, and they came remarkably closer than anyone could have expected. As you attempt to fulfil the Emperor's final wishes to seek out the last heir to the throne and close the gates of Oblivion, expect to get awfully sidetracked. Literally chart your own path by joining guilds, becoming a hero or an outlaw, fighting within the Imperial Arena, or doing one of the dozens of different quests provided for you in Oblivion’s completely unrestricting story.

A feast for the eyes…

Oblivion features an absolutely astounding world. Details within Cyrodiil appear extraordinary from the distance of a mile to a meter. The textures are incredible, holding up from merely inches away. Animations are almost flawless (provided you play in first person mode), while the physics are superior to almost all other titles on the market. Lighting effects work wonders, from perfect usage of the bloom technique to the starry night sky. Expect to be breathless if you lay your eyes upon the rippling reflection of a sunset bouncing off the gleaming water.

When one looks directly into that water, what does the reflection look like? That completely depends. A fantastic feature of Oblivion, its intense character customization, lets players create their protagonist in absolutely any way possible. From race, complexion, and hair style; to minuscule details like nostril size, jaw dimension, and beard density, one has absolute control whilst creating their character. Be advised that after the tutorial ends, there is no opportunity to change your character’s physical traits, so choose carefully.

Oblivion has some graphical growing pains, but they are few and far between. Our biggest qualm is the framerate, as it intermittently drops in a graphically intensive area; though to its credit does not significantly disrupt the experience. A small number of other minor issues caught our eyes. For example, water can look boringly flat from eye level, while underwater land that should appear blue occasionally seems as if not submerged at all (only at a very slim point between above and below water). But minor qualms such as these barely detract from the glorious and visceral experience of wandering the world of Oblivion. 

…and a symphony for the ears

Audio is a frequently underrated part of videogames. We lose our sense of immersion, the key component of games today, if a game’s music or voice acting is lackluster. It would be such a shame if Oblivion’s immersive world went to waste due to poor sound design.

Luckily, the audio is exemplary. In-game sounds such as footsteps are fascinatingly detailed. Walking through caverns, footsteps seem to reverberate off the walls; while on cobblestones they tap; while in shallow water they splash. If a sword is swung against a metal object, a metallic clang results; whereas if that same sword hits a wood surface, a dull wooden thump is heard. Enemies make appropriate sounds when attempting to rip your heart out. Animals such as wolves bark and snarl, while higher life forms tend to grunt and yell. This level of detail is barely noticeable, which is a testament to Bethesda’s development team. Players are usually only aware of bad sounds effects, ones that makes them realize they are playing a game instead of performing a quest.

The music within Oblivion perfectly fits its vast world. The opening theme is grand, as are the rest of the compositions. Whether roaming the colossal mountains, fighting within the Imperial Arena, or walking through a town or city, the music expertly sets the appropriate tone. Battle music begins when enemies are within a certain radius, warning you of nearby danger.

The voice acting within Oblivion is truly magnificent. A professional cast of actors voiced the 200+ hours of dialogue for the game. Sean Bean’s performance as the Emperor is especially excellent. Every NPC with Cyrodiil has full voice acting, complete with their own unique personality (except perhaps the guards; they are generally pretty similar). The only down side to having a massive amount of voice acting lies within the implementation. What that means is that the words being spoken by the characters doesn’t always match their lips. However, this is only a slight dent within the splendid audio of Oblivion.

RPGADD

No, Bethesda hasn’t come up with a new genre (but perhaps a new medical condition). What RPGADD means is role-playing game attention deficit disorder. The point is that Oblivion offers what other RPG’s (Fable, Morrowmind) have only hinted at – complete and total freedom to do whatever you want in a living, breathing world.

Go ahead, find the heir to the throne and seal the gates of Oblivion. The 40 hour main quest provides plenty of exciting gameplay and RPG action. Frankly, Oblivion would still be a decent game if it consisted only of the main quest. However, all the extra content is what makes Oblivion the awe-inspiring experience it is.

The game begins with a lengthy tutorial in which you must escape a dungeon. It leads you step by step through everything you need to know to begin the game. Nonetheless, Oblivion is certainly overwhelming at the start, especially for a newcomer to the Elder Scroll series. 

Don't expect to be clueless for too long as the interface and inventory allow for maximum options and information in a relatively clear and concise manner. Handy reminders will pop up in your journal, and the option to “quick travel” to a place you have previously visited severely cuts down on monotonous walking or horseback riding.

The controls work nearly as well. The parallel between attacking and blocking works perfectly. R1 attacks, whether it be a ranged or melee attack, while L1 blocks. If you are desperate and need to cast a spell, R2 performs whatever spell you currently have equipped. Oblivion remains a true RPG while the control scheme allows for action-packed battles.

The character advancements are actually reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, as peculiar as that sounds. If you want to increase your lock picking skills, simply pick locks. Acrobatic skill? Jump. Defensive skill? Block. Simple advancements like these take the place of traditional experience points, which is both beneficial and bothersome. This means that to level up, you don’t have to go grind enemies for hours upon end. Just perform whatever tasks you’d like and your particular skills will rise respectively. However, you may find yourself performing tedious actions just to raise a certain attribute that is important to your class.

Oblivion should be played mainly in first person mode. A third person view is offered, but character animations look clunky and unpolished. Also lacking is a way to aim precisely with magic or a bow. Oblivion was clearly made with first person view in mind, and since that works so well there is no reason to complain.

However, here’s the bad news. Expect to encounter some problematic glitches when playing through Oblivion. They aren’t the end of the world, but can cause some minor irritations. A few examples – occasionally getting stuck on an object, voices changing mid-conversation (strangely this happens predominantly with beggars), NPCs randomly dying, etc… Luckily none of the glitches are “game-ending;” and they don’t appear all too often over the course of the game.

Bang for your buck

Oblivion came out a year ago for the Xbox 360 and PC. But the PlayStation 3 version is no lousy 360 port. It boasts enhanced texture streaming, shorter load times, and includes side mission Knights of the Nine as standard. Unfortunately, other downloadable content such as expansion pack Shivering Isles is not yet available on the PlayStation Store.

Even without that additional content, Oblivion’s playtime can last well over 100 hours. Maybe joining a guild interests you. Do you dare join the Assassin’s Guild? Or perhaps the Mage’s Guild suits you better. Regardless, you can play Oblivion through a second time and have a completely different experience due to the 250+ points of interest. The value packed into this one title is incredible. 

Oblivion is currently one of the best titles for the PlayStation 3. The massive scale; the tight controls; and the open-ended design all come together to create the “you can’t afford to miss it” factor.

 

 

 

 

-The Final Word-

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is possibly the most immersive RPG to date.
  • Open-ended design is awesome and combat is AAA.
  • Incredible animations, fantastic physics, and a breathtaking world.
  • 100+ hours gameplay.
  • Occasional glitches are a little bothersome.
  • There are minor framerate issues.
  • Lip-syncing is hilariously off.
9.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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