STAFF REVIEW of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, The (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006.
by Adam Rivard

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, The Box art Alright let?s just put it this way, this is coming from a hardcore first person shooter fan and not your general RPG fan (don?t get me wrong though I have had the privilege of enjoying the in depth experience of Morrowind). What can I say I just really love these next gen shooters. But if any game can break my addiction to GRAW, the shooter of the year, in my eyes (well so far I guess), then that game most definitely has to be Oblivion and without a doubt it deserves your hard earned cash. The 360 now has two early front runners for game of the year, it?s as simple as that. I?ve been playing Oblivion for the past 5 days straight and I am about 30 hours into the plot and from what I can gather it is only beginning. Anyone familiar with Bethesda?s previous work will know exactly what I am talking about. Right where the majority of games in stores nowadays would be rapping it up, I am just starting to really seize my character and the story line. It literally does have a hold on me. I recommend this game to any RPG fan but if you don?t have the time to sit on your couch to the point that you have an !&%$@#* groove imprinted where you were sitting when you get up then I?m not quite sure if this is the game for you! The game should have a warning label stating ?Danger, this game is highly time consuming? rated A for Addicting. For all of you that worship the 360's achievement scheme Oblivion is a game with tones of riches. It has about 50 achievements to earn starting with simple things like escaping from the sewers to more compelling ones like having to complete the fighters guild quest line. The world of Oblivion is enormous to say the least and packed with things to do! The use based character development and skill system is insanely rich and full of choices, and there are more core quests, side quests, mini-quests, and simple oddball things to do than in any 10 games combined. So, while I've only begun to get an inkling of what the overarching plot of the game is, I'm already knee deep in involving missions in the Dark Brotherhood 's Guild. I've discovered dangerous networks of caverns filled with treasure and murderous goblins, I've righted numerous wrongs in the day to day lives of the citizens of multiple towns, and I've custom created gallons of potions and poisons and am about to start creating my own spells. It just never stops. Bethesdas motto is ?Live another life in another world? and I think this game is true to that motto. Now for the plot this is basically it: the game takes place in Tamriel's capital province, Cyrodiil. You are given the task of finding the dead emperors son, to take the throne that sits empty, the previous emperor having been killed by an unknown assassin. With no true Emperor, the gates to Oblivion (the equivalent of hell in the world of Tamriel) open, and demons begin to invade Cyrodiil and attack its people and towns. It's up to you to find the lost heir to the throne and unravel the sinister plot that threatens to destroy all of Tamriel.

Now the most important thing I thought Oblivion needed was to give the gamer a little bit more of a sense of direction then Morrowind did. Yes we all love the fact that this is an open ended game and that you don?t really need to follow the story because of all the other things you can do in the game but a little bit of a sense of direction isn?t bad especially to lure in some casual gamers that don?t have the time to join all these guilds, etc. To my great relief Bethesda came through once again and delivered on what the fans of Morrowind were asking for. It is amazingly easy to manage what's going on in the game, practically dummy proof if you are a fan of the series. The quest journal is nowhere near as unwieldy as before, and the menu system neatly organizes all the important stuff, character stats, spells, inventory, and so on, for about as much ease of use as you could expect in a game this enormous. Travel is also a lot friendlier this time around; instead of being forced to walk repeatedly back and forth across the continent, you can zip to locales on your world map with a simple click. However, you'll miss out on the numerous roadside attractions if you do that; so, in order to make these medieval road trips more appealing, a horse is made available to you early in the game. Once you reach your destination, the towns are laid out in a much more navigable way than Morrowind, and the game map helps make sure you're never unsure where to go next. There's even a handy pointer on the compass directing you to the next objective in your currently active quest. One thing that I have noticed that gets on my nerves a little bit is the frame rate. At some occurrences, fighting among foes slows down the actual gameplay, making the normal time of defending or simply running away from the battle somewhat frustrating. Also players all around the world have found all kinds of glitches and problems with the game already and have submitted the info to Bethesda, but hey who hasn?t heard of an RPG without this problem. It is bound to happen with a game this complex but hopefully in the near future there will be an update on xbox live to fix all of these minor issues.

Quite like Morrowind, on your nature walks you will also meet animals and creatures of all descriptions, some very pleasant others not so pleasant. Oh and let's not forget the dungeons, 200 of them! All shapes, sizes colors and textures. Now for the fun part; if you have played Morrowind you know that you can?t write a review about this game without mentioning the heart and soul of the whole experience, the guilds. Well maybe it?s not everyone that enjoys these side quests but personally I love the longevity it adds to the experience. Now if you think the guilds in Morrowind kept you busy, you haven?t seen anything yet!! Oblivion has the Fighters guild, the Mages guild, the Thieve guild and the Dark Brotherhood underground guild. Faction quests (Guild quests) take up most of my time I love earning my accomplishments on the 360. This is how it works basically the same as before; if you have a gift for beating up bad people then you should join the fighters guild, if you feel like assisting in a little bit of research then you should join the Mages guild, if you feel like being all sneaky and stuff then you should obviously join the thieves guild and if you just feel like killing any random innocent civilian then you should pick the Dark Brotherhood guild. Me being the upstanding guy that I am joined, well the Dark Brotherhood guild (I couldn?t resist). Although nothing in the future is stopping me from joining another guild, unless I don?t meet the requirement necessary to join a certain guild. For example if I have a bounty of over a 100 then I would not be able to join the Fighters guild because of my criminal records.

Now for the graphics, this is definitely a next gen title. The game's visuals resembles almost realism, the grass blowing in the wind, the smog of the oblivion gates, and the wonderful expressions of almost real characters really flexes the 360's muscles. Although some people may argue that the PC version of the game is bar none better then the console version but they are painfully oblivious to the power behind the 360. Riding a horse through all the different towns and exploring the map must be one of my favorite things to do (can you say eye candy). The environment and how it changes is definitely the most impressive I?ve seen; some times it will be foggy, snowy, and even shimmer the dark with lightning, the weather is always different on the different days. Taking your first steps into Oblivion's outside world, which you'll do about half an hour into the game, you?ll be amazed at the level of details. Screenshots don't do this engine justice, seeing it in motion will impress the most jaded of gamers. Like I said insanely detailed and full of vivid, rich color, it puts even the most graphically detailed of FPSs to shame. Even after many hours of play, you'll still find yourself looking around in awe at a particularly dramatic view. Although it's a staggering looking game, nothing's perfect. Oblivion is a little heavy handed on the bloom effect, which tends to underline the fact that the game's faces are decidedly on the ugly side; if you're really picky that is. You'll also notice characters can't always move around each other and end up nudging each other with an unrealistic sliding motion. But out of the doors it's nothing short of stunning. Oblivion shows off the 360's potential in a way that no other game has done. Another minor issue is as scenery comes into view, it tends to "pop" into existence rather than fade in smoothly. It is simple things like that, which can easily be forgiven.

Where the sound impresses me the most is in its coherent sense of place. Stroll into a bar in the evening, and you'll be greeted by the hustle and bustle of the townsfolk relaxing. Bottom line is that Bethesda has created just about the most engrossing video game to date. The addition of voice overs for each and every character (even if many of them are done by the same actors) is a huge step up for this genre. It literally draws you into the world of Tamriel and doesn't let go. Now for the soundtrack it's been a long time since a soundtrack has been this good. Jeremy Soule really captures the essence of fantasy in this masterpiece! The dialogue is both spoken and written out. There's no need to read the explanation unless you're deaf because the enunciation is perfect. Everything is very clear. The dialogue is sometimes corny, but reflects common human like personalities. People complain about headaches often, and they are not afraid to tell you what they think of you. The environment is alive with bird calls, chirping crickets, animal noises and footsteps. At certain times, thunder can be heard and it will start to rain. When you take into consideration all of the elements that create this game (sound fx, music, graphics, gameplay, story) it really feels as if you are staring in your own role in one of todays Hollywood top flick. Roger and Ebert would be proud of giving this game a two thumbs WAY up if they were game critics.

In a nutshell, there's very little to dislike about Oblivion. Some minor graphical glitches occur and sure, it's essentially a polished version of Morrowind with a better graphics engine and a different plot. But the amazing level of attention payed to details and inspired AI make it a huge improvement. And if I haven?t convinced you yet that this game deserves your attention and perhaps your hard earned money then do yourself a favor and just rent it, that?s the least you could do if you have never tried it before. Remember this is coming from a Halo 2/GRAW addict. I love multiplayer games (Xbox Live all the way BABY!!! ) and it is weird playing a single player RPG for a change but if you do like I did and just give it a shot then you will know exactly why you spent all that money on your Xbox 360. And for all of you that know what this game is all about but just don?t have the cash to fork out right now, I suggest skipping rent this month, trust me you won?t regret it.

Overall: 10.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10



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