Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls IV (10/10)
"We make a pretty good team, even if we don't work together." - My sonWe put the "RP" into RPG!www.neverdarklands.net
Quite simply, the best RPG ever made.
A lot of stock to draw upon, not the least of which is the collective of previous Elder Scroll incarnations (particularly Elder Scrolls III:Morrowind), but when it comes to crawling through dungeons armed with a sword and your wits,Oblivion is the game you've always wanted to play since you picked up your first gaming console.
The most impressive feature of this game is the absolute, consummate level of immersion; meaning once you're in, you are IN and want to STAY in. There are many long lasting moments as a game player where you will lose yourself in the vast world of "Tamriel", where 5 hours of game time can whisk away if one is not "cautious". The minutae of the game, by design, will not be covered in this review, making allowances toward the "unfolding" of each wonderfully crafted event during gameplay. Suffice it to say, the main quest is engaging and moderately complex, not out of place in an Arthurian setting, and one which you actually end up caring about in short time. All in all, the craftsmanship is first rate.
The other impressive feature is the level of free play. This is the paragon of "sandbox" gaming; again with the exception of Morrowind which could be jeered as "too open ended", no other game comes close to the level of character freedom associated with this game. There are almost 400 side quests (with the expansions). They are often superior to main missions on other RPGs, to give some indication as to how engossing they can be. Figure the minimum time to finish a quest is about an hour of game time (some much higher), you can hope to spend almost 500 hours of gametime "finishing" the game, and Bioware Software continues to support this product with updates and plugins to keep the consumers engaged. It is easy (quite easy) to ignore the main quests altogether in search of something else to do, to quell more... immediate player needs shall we say. As they unfurl throughout the game, the player will have plenty to do to keep himself occupied.
All the proper fantasy devices are prevalent in this game: essentially a search and rescue to restore the land of Tamriel, a richly detailed and markedly expansive world; the likes and size of which have not been attempted in any other RPG with any real success (there are about 20 square miles of actual "footage") Shamelessly cluttered with ruins, dungeons, caves, and other adventuring areas of interest, there is always someting to do. One of the hallmarks to this game is the lavishly detailed towns that make up Tamriel, each with it's own identity and each providing enough personality to properly align the roleplaying elements this game has furnished for you.
Character customization is a must for any RPG, and of course, Oblivion delivers. A number of different races, astrological signs and professions allow for quality character and personae generation. Later in the game, the character can embark upon a sequence of guild based side quests; rather a charter that promotes either thievery, wizardry, mercenary skills or assassin based vocations... all of which serve as their own reward.
The voice acting is superb (if not repeated a bit), the graphics (and artwork, to keep them separate) are wonderfully rendered and genuine to the architecture of the medieval period. THe animation sequences, mostly during combat are done with precision.
The mood of the game is perfectly augmented by an effective score by composer Jeremy Soule, who has effectively hit a home run with every other RPG he has laid hands upon (notably the Balder's Gate series). As an experiment, this reviewer had the soundtrack muted during gameplay which made for a very sterile gaming experience.
There is genuine satisfaction with this game the further your character travels throughout the main quest. But the game may not be for everyone. It is first and foremost a cerebral game; i.e. if you have had unpleasant experiences with RPGs in the past this will likely not solve your problems. Indeed, there is a narrative richness to this game: the more it unfolds, the more attached you will be to your avatar, and the satisfaction becomes a bit more passive than actualized. In other words, if you find tedium with leveling up a character for the sake of completing a game, you could find yourself ignoring the artifacts during elevated play that make this game as grand as it's intentions.
The gameplay is photo-realistic, and the melee sequences are a means to an end; do not expect the level of technique and showmanship of Halo or even Mass Effect. But these are not the Gods that Oblivion pray to, in fact it is part of its appeal.
Finally, one of the strongest indicators for a successful RPG has been deployed throughout the development of Oblivion: there is no penalty for relaxing gameplay and returning days, weeks or even months later. THis serves as a perpetuating gaming experience, one that doesn't force you to re-acquaint yourself the with the mechanics or lore of the land in order to continue seamlessly. You are never punished for NOT playing, as the rhythm of gameplay is obvious and self-evident, and with the help of an intuitive journal, you can re-familiarize yourself with your previous actions, decisions and history. This is a remarkable achievement for Bioware, for a game of this caliber and size.
There is simply nothing wrong with this game for those looking for the ultimate role-playing experience. Whether it be through tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, or the family of turn-based Balder's Gate games there is something here for both camps. Consider Oblivion your reward for having an active imagination, and an excuse for unleashing its true potential. And if done properly, for many years.
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