The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion review
jdarksun

Review

An amazing RPG that makes some unnecessary accommodations for the Xbox 360

Worldly improvements (cntd.)


There are several other features that have returned from earlier Elder Scroll games, or are altogether new. Horses have made a comeback from Daggerfall, as well as a fast-travel system. Security and Speech craft have been turned into fun mini-games. You can now create poisons with Alchemy, and apply them to weapons. So what's the verdict here? There have been many substantial gameplay changes - some toned down, some beefed up - and I can safely say it is an overall improvement. But with all the good changes, there are bad ones as well.

Another much-touted feature of Oblivion is the Radiant AI - Bethesda's answer to making their world come alive. Theoretically, all the AI-enabled NPCs in the game have certain goals that they will go out and fulfill on their own time. If they're hungry, they go to get food. If they want to go hunting, they pick up their bow and jaunt off into the woods. None of this is supposed to be on a fixed script - the NPCs are making decisions for themselves. They also walk up to each other and hold conversations, asking about how different things are going or chatting about local events. You're never lulled into thinking that you're watching humans interact, but it's very good for an unscripted event in a video game.

The other big addition is the Havok physics engine, which causes the interesting chaos that only a semi-realistic video game physics engine can. The game impact ranges from the very cool, like when an arrow plucks a leaping enemy from mid-air - to a little silly, like when dead creatures slowly slide downhill regardless of the friction of the surface. Despite being imperfect, it still greatly contributes to the feel of the world - the ability to knock a goblet off a table doesn't seem gripping until you do it by accident in a tense situation.

Consoles: Bane of the PC Gamer


For reasons unknown, developers still think that "dumbing down" certain elements of a game is required if you want to incorporate the console audience. Sadly, Oblivion is guilty of this in several instances - the inventory / player UI being the biggest culprit. Gone is Morrowind's fully adjustable inventory, map, spell selection, and character info multi-purpose screen, and in its place is an abomination that could only have been designed to be controlled through a joypad and viewed at 480i on a TV. It's big, it's ugly, it's not adjustable, and PC players have to jump through stupid hoops to interface with it. Want to drop something? Shift-click. No drag and drop here, folks. Want to view more than one portion of your inventory at once, or more than ten items at a time? Tough, these views are locked in stone (...well, locked in packaged XML files, and enterprising folk are already at work fixing this slap in the face). When selling multiple items, it prompts you every time if you're sure that you want to sell - requiring you to move the mouse from the item you selected to sell over to the "Yes" button and clicking it. There's no setting to disable that prompt. There's no setting to warn you if you're about to steal something (selecting something by mistake on a console controller is much more difficult, one surmises), either.

During interactions with NPCs, there are no shortcut keys for dialog options - you have to click each response. The number of hot keys is limited to eight - despite nine through backslash being unused. All these little things just scream "not intended for PC users", but thankfully - thankfully - none of these wretched choices translate into actual gameplay deterrents, and look like issues that can be fixed by the ever-growing legion of mod developers (bless their hearts).

Conclusions


Oblivion isn't perfect; this review doesn't speak volumes about all the good qualities, but there's a reason for that - The Elder Scroll series has already established itself as one of the few consistently great RPGs for the PC. If you're a PC RPG player, chances are you've already picked this game up - if you've been waiting for reviews, to see if certain issues were fixed or addressed, I hope this review has been informative. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion currently holds my pick for RPG of 2006, and Game of the Year - despite the flaws mentioned above. Why? Because The Elder Scrolls series continues to represent the ideal Western RPG, combining a vast game world with engrossing gameplay and a heroic story. I literally spent over 100 hours playing Morrowind over the years, and Oblivion is shaping up to get a second play through immediately after I finish it. It's that good.

9.0

fun score

No Pros and Cons at this time