The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (in the spirit of BrevityQuest 2006) *

Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release: March 21, 2006
Format: PC DVD, XBox 360, Direct2Drive
Genre Keywords: Role Playing Game, First Person, Sandbox, Plot

Your quest

The King is dead, long live the King - and he better, since his royal bloodline is the only thing saving us from HELL. You get to deal with both (the King and er, Hell).

Your world

Cyrodiil, the central province of Tamriel; a pleasant, green land of mostly lakes and forests, with a touch of Sea and Mountains thrown in. Populated by interesting people with various agendas and allegiances, as well as assorted monsters with nasty dispositions. The other visitable realm is Hell: dry; hot; population: you, monsters, good loot.

Your tools

A race (determines certain traits), a set of 7 primary skills (will improve the fastest, with use), a birthsign (granting special abilities) and anything you can get your hands on. You can be a stealthy backstabbing assassin or thief, a fireball-hurling mage, or a righteous warrior with a mighty blade. Each approach will have its own drawbacks and benefits, although having a stout stick to fall back on will help every type. You can also brew potions to help you along the way, buy a horse to get around faster, and enchant weapons and armor for extra special effects.

The pros

  • Gorgeous graphics, again. Thanks to technologies such as Gamebryo, SpeedTree and Havok, the world of Elder Scrolls once again astounds around every corner.
  • More interesting characters. Unlike Morrowind, the inhabitants of Cyrodiil have more varied routines; they go to work, they go to church, they sleep, they drink, they hang out in dark alleys muttering paranoid delusions (yes, really).
  • Greatly improved quest variety. In addition to the Hell (Oblivion) mini-quests, the tasks given from NPCs are actually interesting and often multi-part.
  • Highly improved viability of mages and sneaky types. Blocking, rapid renegeration of magicka, quest variety and criticals on hidden attacks mean that combat is a lot more interesting.
  • Automatic level adjustment means that every encounter is rough, but not instantly deadly (mostly).
  • A difficulty slider means that you can tailor encounters to your liking. The game is set right in the middle by default.
  • Fast travel - click on a place you've visited to travel to it instantly (game time still passes). Excellent for casual gamers who like to explore but also like being able to STOP exploring and head back to town in an instant.
  • Bethesda has again released its Construction Set. The mods are already pouring in.

The cons

  • Auto-leveling may not be for everyone. The "even" experience means that when you have Godly Expensive Magical Enchanted Armor of Foozle .... the common forest bandit has to have something similar. This is a little silly, and it also means gold virtually grows on trees in later game.
  • Insufficient voice talent for the scope of the game. Cyrodiil may be a miniature world (the entire "continent" has fewer inhabitants than a decent town), but you will keep running into the same voices far too often. Some of them are really jarring when used on characters of wildly varying ages.
  • It's possible to mess up your character by picking non-combat skills as your primary skills. The auto-leveling content means that when your primary skills (say, focusing on being a smooth-talking cat burglar) vault you to level 5 - your foes will be level 5. However your combat skills necessary to deal with those foes will be lagging behind at level 2 or 3, since you smooth-talked your way to 5. Unfortunately it is not possible to get through all quests without violence - it's just not that kind of world.
  • Slight consolitis in menus and text; neither allow for high resolutions and proximity to PC monitor. Fortunately there are mods to provide some relief.
  • The story and the actions of some of the plot-centric NPCs you meet couldn't be much more wince-worthy. "I just met you and you look somewhat scruffy. Yet, somehow, I believe every word you say about the Emperor, and the fate of the world! Here, take my car.". Indeed.
  • The much-vaunted Radiant AI isn't. While there may be a larger pool of responses to situations than the previous games, the out-of-combat AI still spends a lot of time being brain-dead.
  • Rain still falls through overhanging roofs. Tsk.

Overall, and barring the grumbles of discontent from the power-leveling number crunchers (did you know it was possible to finish Morrowind in 17 minutes?), Bethesda has done it again in providing a large, highly explorable, rewarding and interesting world for you to play in. A metric tonne of complaints from the previous Elder Scrolls have been addressed and the result is a much friendlier, vibrant and compelling game. Finally, most of its internal consistency shortcomings are a result of gamers being less forgiving when games become this convincing and immersive - and it's hard to damn Bethesda for doing just that.

* Yes, this is short for me. Hush, you.

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