The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Reviewed: 04/26/2006

The Elder Scrolls series by Bethesda Softworks is easily one of PC’s most notable and lauded role playing game series. This series began back in 1994 with The Elder Scrolls: Arena The newest title in this Series, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which has been in development for over four years, has recently been released. Oblivion is one of the most highly anticipated RPGs and PC games of this year, promising an epic adventure and vast open ended gameplay with a unique physics based combat system. Oblivion is the spiritual and gameplay successor to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, however early fans of the series will notice a great amount of changes.

Oblivion has one of the richest and deep character creation process in recent memory. The player first selects a race for their character and is then presented with a face creation tool in which the player can easily spend hours manipulating every aspect and angle of a characters physical appearance. Players start life in Cyrodil, the country in which Oblivion takes place, as a prisoner locked within the imperial jail. A commotion breaks out and without warning the guards force the player’s character away from the door and the Emperor enters the player’s cell. After a brief conversation with his personal guard the players character is informed that today is his lucky day as the secret escape route of the Emperor starts in this jail cell. The entire beginning of Oblivion, lasting roughly an hour or two of gameplay, players are introduced to various aspects of gameplay, melee combat, magic, ranged combat, block, alchemy, etc. all of this goes on while the story is getting set-up, almost seamlessly. As players make their way through the sewers and underbelly of the imperial palace players are meet with different obstacles whether traps, or beasts that players are forced to decide how best to proceed. This all is leading to something as once the player makes his way out to freedom he is presented with the suggested best class based on the way players acquired their freedom along the way. Players can, of course, choose from any of the available templates, or create a custom template. And thus begins Characters journey into the wide world of Cyrodil with nothing except a name and the meager equipment found within the sewers.

Oblivion is one of the most open ended games with an extremely large variety of choices available to players. Players could easily spend dozens upon dozens of hours within the game and never even begin the “main” quest to save the empire. It is all at the players discretion. There is a deep history built into Oblivion, as it builds on the past games database of lore. There are several guilds and/or factions players can join that provide much needed services, quests, and equipment, along with a way to gain a reputation, good or bad.

Combat within Oblivion is a thing of beauty as players first experience it. Each individual system, melee, ranged, and magic, each feel unique and equally rich as players decide how best to dispatch foes. All objects within Oblivion are programmed with the Havok physics engine. In order to get a hit in melee combat a player most actually connect with his enemy. The connection gives a very pleasing visceral feel to it as the physics can force character’s opponent back, or if the characters attack is blocked force a sword to clang off a raised shield, temporarily stunning the player. Magic, while it begins fairly basic with just a fireball and a simple heal spell once sufficiently explored can easily make the player feel god-like.

There are several non-combatant skills ranging from speachcraft and athletics to armorer and alchemy. Alchemy providing a dual role of making potentially helpful potions for the player as well as allowing one to craft several types of poisons that can then be applied for single use on either a melee weapon or arrow. This presents the player with another option to spend time foraging, or possibly stealing, for alchemical ingredients to increase the character’s skill or stock up on much needed potions.

GET BACK! I have a fire stick! Gold, natures most powerful armor…huh? Truly a beautiful place to live

Oblivion uses an entirely new type of NPC artificial intelligence. Dubbed Radian AI, it provides NPCs the ability to live and interact within the gaming world and go about their daily business without elaborit scripts. Each NPC within Oblivion has a set of goals of varying import. NPCs then proceed to evaluate how best to accomplish said goals while at the same time creating by all appearances a very organic world where players may never know what will happen. Even enemies such as robbers, or the Oblivion demons are equipped with Radiant AI; everything all the way down to lowly rats, deer, and horses all have varying degrees of intelligence provided by Radiant. Radiant AI is truly a wonder to watch, and is an accomplishment of Bethesda’s programming prowess.

The graphics in Oblivion are top-notch. It takes a fairly powerful computer just to run the minimum requirements of Oblivion. Players will be able to increase the playable graphics within Oblivion as they update their systems. The outdoor landscapes of Cyrodil and its surrounding provinces are a wonder to behold. With a lush landscape and gorgeous Plant and wildlife all around. The dungeons, ruins, and caves are equally stunning in their dank dark atmosphere they emanate. It forces the player to take caution while exploring, not to rush into impossible situations Oblivion‘s graphics will more than likely remain top-notch for a few years to come.

Music within The Elder Scrolls series has always been good. Oblivion continues this tradition of greatness with soothing ballads, and upbeat energetic and engaging music that accurately sets the mood for players. Sound effects seem very accurate. The sound of a sword crashing against a shield or a powerful war hammer slamming into flesh evokes a raw visceral emotion within the players and helps support and increase the immersion experience. Aditionally, all dialogue within Oblivion is spoken, all of it.

All tolled players can easily spend several hundreds of hours on a single character within Oblivion and never “beat” it. With the expansive continent to explore full of caves, ruins, Oblivion gates, and hundreds of quests a player could conceivably never need to start a new game. Players will most likely want to try out many different combinations of characters though and this builds upon Oblivions richness and replay value. That coupled with the Radiant AI promises players will never play the same game of Oblivion twice.

Although no game can ever be perfect, Oblivion comes as close to this mark as any other game in the last several years.

-Michael Wayland

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Excellent
Story Very Good
Graphics Legendary
Sound/Music Great
Replay Value Legendary
The Verdict: 9