Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I Know Your Type... MURDERER! Hey, It's The Champion Of Cyrodiil!

Oblivion (Bethesda Softworks)

It only took me nine months, but I've finally finished Oblivion. When I say 'finished' of course I'm just referring to the main storyline, I still have all the guild missions to finish off, plus all manner of side quests and half the map still to explore. And I just bought the expansion pack.

Oblivion is the fourth RPG in the Elder Scrolls series, and stylistically it is virtually identical to it's predecessors. You are given complete customisation of your character, informed of a direction to go in should you wish to follow the main storyline and then dumped into a huge, detailed world where you are free to go anywhere, do anything, talk to (or kill (or attempt to kill)) anyone and of course to engage in Barnes' favourite pastime, picking up everything no matter how worthless it is in order to sell it for more money.

The story of Oblivion is based around an attempt by an evil demon prince, long ago banished from the Earth, to conquer the empire in which Oblivion is set. He does this, imaginatively enough, by opening huge fiery portals everywhere which spew forth nasty demons who head off and wreck havoc. If this sounds like typical fantasy tripe to you then you're quite right. It was a little bit disappointing to have such a straightforward 'battle against evil' tale in this instalment after the more nuanced, original back story of the previous game in the series (Morrowind). Still one of the strengths of the series is the writers determination to present these fantastical scenarios with realistic consistency and believability, and I appreciated the hints here and there that the invading army of demons (a bloodthirsty, warlike lot who come from a lava filled dungeon world and are fond of saying things like “Kneel or die, slave!”) are really just trying to get back to the home they were exiled from many years ago.

As a game Oblivion is superb. The art and graphics are truly breathtaking, and on a decent computer you feel fully immersed in a genuinely huge, living, breathing world as you traipse around the countryside, admiring the views, picking pretty flowers and getting mauled by wild animals, bandits and wandering demons.

The gameplay is almost perfectly balanced. No other game in recent memory has kept my attention for such a long time. You'd think the endless dungeon clearing and errand running would get old fast but the designers have shrewdly extracted loads of variety from the same old RPG game mechanics that have been employed for decades now. Even just sitting here thinking about it while writing I'm tempted to go back to it... there's a Daedric shrine near where I am at the moment and those quests are always fun. Plus I've got to return to the assassins guild for my next mission from them (and there's nothing more fun than sneaking into a highly secure fortress and offing some unsuspecting chump)...

If I have one criticism it's that a poorly chosen character type can make the game unnecessarily hard. I played a destruction magic/archery based character, and only made progress an inch at a time until about five months ago when with the aid of a few choice magic items my character hit that sweet inflection point and began carving a swathe of destruction through his enemies (and any friends with poor enough AI to get in front of him). Still, the game was good enough to keep me coming back to it often enough to reach that point.

I figured it was past time to write something about this game now that I've finished the main quest, but with the first expansion sitting on my desk and another due in a few months I don't think I'll be putting it aside any time soon...

Edit: Misspelt Cyrodiil. Fucking fantasy names...

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