Over 130 hours later and I consider my venture through the realms of
Oblivion to be completed. Now this was a momentous undertaking. That's
about the length of 60 full-length feature films. The equivalent of
over 5 solid days of gameplay without sleep or bathroom breaks. And now
having spent so much time playing, I'm now able to give it the thorough
analysis it requires. Because I can't give an in depth review without
really getting into something and delving into every nook and cranny.
130 hours gave me a chance to do that.
I have a tendency to get bogged down in the problems of a game and
ignore its good points. I'll try not to do that here and so I'll begin
with praise. Oblivion is an amazing undertaking. The world you get to
explore is simply massive, and often quite beautiful. The game is so
open-ended that only a minor percentage of my total time playing was in
pursuit of the main "storyline". The rest was spent exploring,
adventuring, and playing through all of the side-quests created by the
designers. The world of Tamriel is more alive than any other CRPG that
I can think of. This game truly swept me in and kept me playing.
Despite the advances that Bethesda made, there were some missteps. I
think that by acknowledging these issues, the CRPG industry can truly
achieve some wonderous things. Maybe they can even learn their lessons
here and make Fallout 3 the best CRPG ever made. Who knows?
Mostly, I'll address my one biggest problem with the game, its greatest
flaw: uniformity. In making such a massive explorable environment, the
creators seem to have sacrificed any kind of uniqueness. Yes, the
architecture between the cities varies considerably and this is a very
welcome touch. The rest of the world doesn't fare quite so well.
Scenery, though quite lovely, seems to change little from the west edges
of Cyrodiil to the east.
One of my greatest joys in Morrowind (Elder Scrolls 3) was to scour the
landscape looking for Dwarven (Dwemer) ruins to explore. And though a
few of the ruins did contain scraps of information about their
histories, I felt that the authors missed a great opportunity to
surprise players with any interesting storylines (or even some
entertaining historical reading) involving these ruins. In Oblivion, I
encountered much the same problem, except to an even greater degree.
Cyrodiil boasts an impressive number of ruins, either caves, towers, or
ancient Ayleid citadels. A number of these are involved in quests,
either the main story or side-quests from guilds and such. Even so, the
amount of uniformity between any two towers or any two Ayleid ruins is
startling. Floorplans change and inhabitants will vary depending on
your level and whether or there is a quest associated with the ruin.
The rest of the experience is painfully similar. There's little sense
of why each structure was built or who lived there or what might have
happened to the original inhabitants. A few quests might involve a
diary, which are nearly always penned by a recent inhabitant, never an
ancient scribe. There's only the shallowest sense of history.
In Oblivion, every line of dialog is voice acted. This is an impressive
achievement though one that comes at a cost. Except for a few important
NPCs (such as Patrick Stewart as Emperor Septim, Sean Bean as Martin),
the rest of the people you converse with share only a handful of voices,
meaning that the voices of random NPCs become achingly familiar. Also,
most of them share the same pool of dialog and in some cases the same
person will have different accents for different lines. For example,
beggars often start a conversation in a ragged, provincial accent, but
ask them about rumors and they're likely to switch back to the same
voice and tone used by the local lord. And while there's a lot of
customization that can be done to a model's facial characteristics, body
type is exactly the same from person to person, including height and
In creating an effects-based spell system, the developers gave players
an opportunity to build their own spells to fit their own particular
needs. It's unfortunate then that the system combines yet again more
uniformity with a bad interface. There's only the shallowest of
categories presented for "organization", and by the time you reach the
end of the game, any magic-oriented character will have a hundred or
more spells to scroll through. You can't rename spells and you can't
delete obsolete ones. There's no way to sort by spell type, only by
name and mana cost. And when you actually cast the spells, there's
little to visually distinguish one from another. Each fire-based spell
looks pretty much like any other fire-based spell. You can adjust the
damage and the area of effect when it hits; the visual effect remains
constant and uniform.
All in all, it's a good game. I really enjoyed it, as evidenced by my
130+ hours of play. Still, I think it could have been even better.