Let me just begin by saying that I had to tear myself away from Oblivion to write this review. It’s just that addictive. There is so much to see and do in game that it can be difficult to choose where to go next. For example, I am almost 40 hours into the game and have only just barely scratched the surface of the main plot. Every time I start to work on it, I get sidetracked by guild quests, or dungeon crawling or robbing everyone in a castle. Oblivion is not a perfect game, but it is one of the best I have played in a while.
Oblivion is all about options. From the start you are presented with a huge variety of options for character creation and class choice. It would be possible to spend an hour just playing around with all of the sliders at the character creation screen. Once you’re satisfied with your character, you progress through a dungeon, where you have the opportunity to practice the game’s stealth and fighting gameplay. I chose to play a stealthy thief character. At the end of the dungeon, you get to pick your character class. You can pick one of the pre-made ones, or make your own. The possibilities are nearly endless.
After you exit the dungeon, the world is open to you. You can follow the main quest line, or you can join some guilds or pick up other random quests. There are very few places in the world that are inaccessible to you. Things get even more interesting when you start encountering Oblivion Gates, portals to the Plane of Oblivion that have opened up in the world. Your job is to close them, and loot everything you can from the place in the process.
One thing that makes Oblivion a very open, non-linear experience is the fact that the enemies level up with you as you go. Though areas may get somewhat easier as you level up, in general the enemies increase in difficulty as you increase in level. This means that you can really attempt anything at any time. Incidentally, you level up by increasing your major skills, which you do by using them. It’s very simple and allows you a lot of freedom when strengthening your character. Some people have written articles on power leveling and intelligent character design, but I prefer to just play it by ear. That’s just how I roll.
The mechanics of the game are simple to learn, difficult to master. The PC version allows you to map whatever keys you choose to different actions. I’ve stuck with the default because it works well enough for me. You can map different actions, weapons or other items to hotkeys 1 through 8. This is useful, but it would have been nice to have multiple hotkey menus: one for magicka, one for weapons, another for potions…you get the idea. Having a maximum of eight is somewhat limiting.
Combat and spell-casting are streamlined compared to Morrowind (the only other Elder Scrolls game I have ever played), and it’s pretty easy to get the hang of it. You attack by clicking the left mouse button, block with the right mouse button and press another key to cast whatever spell you have ready. The combat controls occasionally feel a little clunky, and fighting can get tedious, but overall it works well and is a big improvement over Morrowind.
Graphically, the game is beautiful. I am constantly impressed with the distant vistas and weather effects in the game, and my computer is only powerful enough to run it at medium settings! Really, it’s a beautiful game, and you will need a powerful computer to run it. It occasionally looks odd when the grass gets drawn in as you get closer, but I understand that there are ways to fix that (one of which is, of course, to buy a better computer).
The sound effects are a mixed bag. The music sounds great, the nature sound effects are solid and most of the voice acting is quite good. My one major complaint is this: not enough variety. All of the cat-people sound the same, all of the lizard-people sound the same, etc. Even more strange is the fact that sometimes a person will change voices depending on what they are talking about. The beggars are a particularly striking example of this. They sound sickly and bedraggled when they ask for a coin, but when you ask them about rumors they suddenly speak smoothly. Is it all just an act to win your pity? Perhaps. Also, why does my character grunt like a man when injured? I play a female wood elf, so why is her voice so manly? I just don’t get it.
And now onto the topic of bugs. Yes, Oblivion has them. Yes, they can be a serious pain in the butt when they keep you from completing a quest (something that has not yet happened to me). The two bugs that I have had the most trouble with are more annoyances than anything else. Occasionally my computer will decide that it is very tired, and will minimize Oblivion for absolutely no reason. Once this happens, it usually freezes my game. Even better is the “random restart” I get sometimes when opening doors and such.
But I forgive Oblivion for these things. Oblivion is like that friend you have who is a complete jerk a few days of the month, but then bakes you cookies and helps you with your homework the rest of the time. I can forgive its random restarts and occasional glitches because it is so good to me the rest of the time.
Basically, Oblivion is one of the most impressive games to come by in a while. I’ve been neglecting my work to play it for about 40 hours, and have not even come close to running out of things to do. It is, essentially, a huge time sink. If you allow it to, it will possess you completely. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys RPGs and has lots of free time on their hands. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some quests to take care of.