Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 2006 - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion


The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was a mess. It was a grand, sprawling mess of amazingness, but it was a mess. Embarrassing animation, glitchy terrain, cheap-sounding spell effects, horrible AI... the list goes on. It was epic in scope and did what it set out to do, but there were plenty of bumps along the way. Its successor, Oblivion, fixed pretty much everything and expanded the Elder Scrolls series in magnificent ways. It sacrificed some player freedom and Morrowind's unique identity along the way, but it ultimately became for a far more polished and playable experience. The massive fantasy world of Cyrodiil held mysteries to solve, pirates to duel, books to read, mansions to rob, magic to learn, horses to ride, arenas in which to do battle, and a lot more... and I'm still talking about the capitol city. Yes, Oblivion was huge, and it provided one of the most convincing worlds ever conceived in a video game. Every AI-controlled NPC had his or her own schedule, from the moment they got up until they went to bed, as the world moved along in real-time. Farmers tilled the fields until the orange dusk descended, lords and ladies allowed visitors to their great halls before retiring to their personal quarters, and shop owners kept their stores locked up tight when at home. Meanwhile, you could go virtually anywhere you liked and do virtually anything you wanted to do. The combat was fun and satisfying and the quests were interesting, despite the fact that there were a staggering amount of ways to fight and places to go. And forget the main (and, might I add, optional) quest; wandering from town to town and fighting off bandits kept me occupied for hours. Of course, that was the beauty of Morrowind, too. But in Oblivion, things actually looked good!

The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone, and you must follow, if you can.

Picturesque countrysides, rolling hills, quiet townships, and flourishing forests made Cyrodiil a beautiful place that was worth spending time in. I still can't get over how remarkable it was to stand in the middle of the wilderness with nothing but dozens of trees, bright flowers, and thick bushes in all directions. Very few games capture that sense of depth and realism. The dank places under the earth were appropriately creepy, and I swear you could cut the tension in those caves with a knife. In fact, all of Oblivion's atmosphere was fantastic, the first-person perspective adding to the immersion. Also a vast improvement over its predecessor, Oblivion featured a physics system, which was a little on the iffy side, but far better than nothing. The soundtrack was quite simply some of the most beautiful music I've had the pleasure of hearing and refused to get old no matter how many days of play. But no part of Oblivion-- not even the music-- makes it what it is. The subtle, expansive world truly was the sum of its many parts, which made it a near-endless adventure in which you wrote the story. It's true that very few things in Oblivion were perfect (usually far from), but the astounding amount of cohesive, eye-opening dungeons, towns, and events that scattered Cyrodiil more than made up for the flaws. It doesn't matter if you compare similar games such as Okami, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess or Rayman Raving Rabbids against it; Oblivion is just too big to ignore.

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