Four years after the release of Morrowind on the PC and Xbox, Bethesda follows it up with the long awaited sequel, Oblivion. The game keeps most of its predecessors open-ended feeling and throws in a much smoother combat system, but at the cost of watering down the excellent interface.
At the start of the game, you wake up in prison and meet the Emperor, Uriel Septim the VII (voiced by Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame). During this time, you also create your character using a strong lineup of tools to create the desired physical attributes.
Shortly after, you are briefly hired to help the Blades (the Emperor’s private guard of sorts) defend Uriel. Unfortunately, he has been assassinated, and his heir doesn’t even know that he is Uriel’s only living son.
So your main goal is to find this heir and so he can be crowned emperor, and save the land of Tamriel from Oblivion, where its gates will stay open an emperor is crowned.
A field that Oblivion excels spectacularly in is the feel of the gameplay. It controls just like any standard shooter, and fighting is just as simple. Combat allows you to cast magic, swing a sword, fire bows, and block with a shield.
Unlike Morrowind, however, the combat system has been refined enough so that dice rolls no longer determine if you hit or not. Fighting relies on physics; if you visually see your sword hit an opponent in the leg, it will hit them in the leg and they will react accordingly.
This is a major change from Morrowind and makes the game more interactive and strategic, as you make sure your next swing of the sword doesn’t miss so as to give your opponent an opening to unleash a Power Attack (holding the attack button for more than 2 seconds) or blow you away with a Fireball (casting magic is done by tapping C).
There is also Fatigue, another important factor in battle. Much frustration stemmed from this in Morrowind as running in that game depleted your Fatigue bar, and Oblivion now uses Fatigue to change the tide of battle dramatically instead of annoyingly disabling your combat ability.
Blocking or attacking with low fatigue gives your adversaries a gigantic opening and advantage, similar to real-life boxing. If decide to stray away from the main quest at any time, you can. Even during quests, you can just plop yourself right into a cave and kill every skeleton inside.
You also have the freedom to do anything in the game, such as pick up all the bones you have found and throw them into a pond. If you wanted to, you could summon a few scamps and make them attack city guards, or you could break into a store or home during the night and steal personal items, then sell those things to the right people.
Obviously, the game is not without its flaws, specifically its console-focused interface. For starters, the HUD in PC games usually resize according to the screen resolution. Oblivion lacks that feature. So, you’ll see bad textures on the edge of the screen, and items inaccessible in your views.
Also, the inventory is more of a menu than a box showing icons of what you have. This means you have to scroll down quite a ways to see what’s in your inventory. Another downside to watch our for is the lack of damage indicators.
The battle music plays when an enemy has spotted you, but that doesn’t mean you will know where they are, and when they attack you, you will NOT know what hit you or where you were hit from. It’s very frustrating.
From a graphical standpoint, the game is impressive and very realistic looking. It could pass as the most realistic forest simulator that runs well at this time. Oblivion makes full use of the HDR lighting effects, but only if you have a system powerful enough that can process it.
The game has a full night-day system, and an incredibly detailed weather structures. It’s so vivid that you can feel every group of leaves sways left and right according to the wind while it’s raining.. Not trailing behind the graphics is the audio.
Oblivion supports surround sound systems, and adjusts accordingly. The sound effects are nicely depicted, and the voiceover work is lifelike and not boring like so many other titles of this type.
The music is well scored and is done by Jeremy Soule of Guild Wars and Dungeon Siege II fame. Oblivion is a gem, despite its overlookable flaws. It’s a game shooter and RPG fans alike will fall in love with.