The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

by MaxPower

I was a convert to The Elder Scrolls series when The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind’ came out for the Xbox (as well as the PC). Previous incarnations of The Elder Scrolls’ series had been exclusively on PC and interestingly enough never registered on my game playing radar screen. However, when I played Morrowind things changed for me Morrowind could be described as “an epic, open-ended single-player game where you create and play any kind of character you can imagine. Your actions define your character, and your gameplay changes and evolves in response to your actions.” Essentially it is a giant world that can be explored at your own pace. You can walk around for hours simply exploring caves, looking at the scenery and interacting with characters. Sometimes you will get stopped by people asking you, for example, to look for their lost pets. You have a choice to help them look for their pet, tell them to get lost and walk away or the ever popular tell-them-you’ll-help-them-and-then-bash-their-head-open. It is that kind of game.

Oblivion Screenshot

When I first heard that the newest version of The Elder Scrolls was coming out to the Xbox 360 and was entitled The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I was pumped. When I got a look at the game at a demonstration given at X’05 in Toronto I was taken aback at its graphics and was impressed by its size. A quote from myself: “The developer rep told me that the “main story line” would take about 22 25 hours to complete (Fable sized) but that to do all of the side-quests and explore the entire beautiful terrain would take well over 200 hours.”

Even though I only spent about 30 minutes with Oblivion at X’05, my initial take was pretty much bang on. After spending much (much) more than 30 minutes with the game, I can now say it is indeed massive, the combat system is much evolved over previous Elder Scroll games, the controls are more intuitive and magic is now useable as a stand-alone concentration. Oblivion has received consistent and remarkable reviews including PC Gamer 95%, IGN 9.3 Editor’s Choice Award, Gamespot 9.6 Editor’s Choice Award, Worthplaying 9.8 Editor’s Choice Award, Gamezone 9.7 Editor’s Choice Award and on and on and on Game of the Year awards are next, just you wait.

I won’t go on to catalogue the reasons why I think this game is one of the best I have played to date. No, I will focus on constructive criticism on the parts of the game that could be improved. Why? Well honestly there are fewer things that Oblivion does poorly than does well and after reading through the above list of glowing reviews, I think a few points of well thought-out criticism may be more enlightening. However, I do encourage readers to check out some of the above reviews for your in-depth fix of superlatives about Oblivion (see below for some links).

Oblivion Screenshot

  1. Complaints by internet bloggers and hardcore RPG gamers that Oblivion has been “dumbed down” for mass consumption is somewhat true. On the Oblivion official forums and in blogs around the RPG-world there has been much teeth-gnashing and moaning that Oblivion caters to the lowest common denominator, which in this case is know-nothing Xbox-360 gamers. I beg to differ, in that what many people feel are necessities in traditional RPG games are not in Oblivion, however I think that the game fits neatly in the North American style of RPG games established over the last five or so years (Knights of the Old Republic I and II, Jade Empire, Fable) rather than the more “conventional” Japanese-style of Final Fantasy RPG. What actually is dumbed down though? Well for instance (and this is not the only source of complaint) is the compass with a red arrow which shows exactly where you need to go to find the next item in your quest. Essentially gone is the random exploring of Morrowind based on obscure clues such as “you will find a cave by a mountain and a tree” which led to extremely frustrating (and long) searches. The compass and arrow is borne more so from necessity than a “dumbing down”. The Oblivion game mass is large and varied in terrain and for the creators, Bethesda Softworks, to have just launched gamers into the world with no directional clues it would have incited anyone but the hardest core of RPG fans to grow frustrated with the endless searching. From my experience, a 200 hour game (to get all the side quests done) would grow into a 400 500 hour gaming extravaganza, which I doubt would attract many people. Granted, Bethesda could have done things differently by having a directional arrow on your compass which then disappeared or grew fuzzy as you got close to your target. This would allow the developers to get you in the right direction of your quest but leave some excitement in exploring.
  2. Another source of endless internet-based complaining is Oblivion’s “leveling system”. Essentially what this means is that as you progress in the game the creatures and characters you fight grow along with you. This has two functions, not allowing the game to be too hard at the beginning or too easy at the end as well as allowing for the Oblivion land mass to be completely explorable even if you are level 1. All creatures you run across will be “scaled” to your level. Most games do this to some extent however it is more noticeable with Oblivion because of the amount of different caves and ruins you can explore. The downside to the scaling system is, therefore, more obvious and includes the fact that no matter where you go you are pretty much guaranteed in meeting monsters equal to your level so you don’t have to worry too much that you are going to go to an area which is too hard for you. This enhances the free-form nature of the game (go wherever you want, whenever you want) but makes exploring less rewarding (why explore if you meet the same creatures everywhere).
  3. Additionally, and this is the one part of the game that really annoys me, is that items (armour, weapons, special items) level with you. So at the beginning of the game you will only find normal weapons’ with no chance of finding a super weapon’ and when you are close to the end of the game, all weapons are super weapons’ no normal weapons’ to be found. This robs the game of the excitement of finding a really rare piece of armour or a weapon as they are everywhere! Bandits on the side of the road are wearing extremely expensive armour, you go to loot ruins and end up leaving behind thousands of septims (in-game currency) worth of weapons because there is so much of it. Definitely too much of a good thing. Bethesda should scale back the leveling of items so that there is a higher percentage of crappy weapons so that finding a good weapon would actually mean something.
  4. Finally in my list of pretty-nitpicky-complaints is the fact that Bethesda is charging a fairly high amount of money for players to download official mods (mini-expansion packs) to the game via the internet (for PC) or Xbox Live. When I first talked to a game rep about Oblivion he said and I quote from my previous review: “Bethesda will have multiple staff employed only to pump out downloadable content. Examples of such content (available on the free Xbox Live feature of Xbox 360) will be from the simple new forms of armour, to the complex “event days” where vacations will be held in towns on set days of the year.” I don’t have a problem with pay-for-content specifically, however I don’t necessarily like the economics of Bethesda’s offerings on Xbox Live so far. Their first mod armour for your horse came out literally days after the game was released for US$1.99. Why that wasn’t included in the release package I’m not quite sure, but bottom line, that content plus other pieces of downloadable content (check it out at for US$1.89 don’t seem to be a steal. No one is forcing you to get these downloads and they are cheap in the grand scheme of things but I am wondering if these new mini-purchases are the new “expansion pack”, and if so, I don’t think that I will be purchasing them as what they add to the game is minimal. Bethesda hasn’t released its first official patch for the game yet. This patch should be able to be downloaded for Xbox 360 players via Xbox Live which will be great. Morrowind was rife with bugs that essentially killed the game for me and you could never patch it like a PC game. I assume that the official patch will be for free and if it isn’t you will hear about it.

Oblivion Screenshot

So the moral of this long and complaint filled story? Oblivion is one of the best games I have ever played, reviewers on the whole agree wholeheartedly with my assessment (or me with theirs) and while there are some bugs to be worked out I am confident in Bethesda Softwork’s ability to listen to their fans to tell them what new generation gamers want. And what they want isn’t the same thing packaged up into a fancy new box. I can wholeheartedly endorse the purchase of Oblivion to any Xbox 360 or PC gamer to as you will get your $60 worth and much more.

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on May 17th, 2006
9 / 10
GameSpot Review
X'05 in Toronto

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