Okay, I can see there will be a lot to say about this one. First, the usual ten races are back: Argonian, Khajit, Breton, Redguard, Nord, Imperial, Dark Elf, High Elf, Wood Elf, and Orc. They also come with about the same bonuses as in Morrowind

The skill system has changed somewhat. In Morrowind, you had Major, Minor, and Miscellaneous skills. Now there are just Major and Minor (which is everything not Major). Major skills have been increased from five to seven.

Also as before, there are 21 classes, seven each for the specialties of Combat, Magic, and Stealth, and the opportunity to create your own custom class. All skills under the specialty are given a bonus, as are the major skills for each class.

One big difference is that skill levels are now broken out into novice, apprentice, journeyman, expert, and master. Depending on the skill, certain bonuses accrue as you travel up the hierarchy. Example: a Novice blocking attacks is fatigued, where an Expert is not fatigued and has a chance to do a knockback with the shield. I like this, it makes going up in skills much more worthwhile.

Birthsigns have been kept in, and give special abilities or one-time stat boosts. Oddly, these are not detailed in the manual; you don’t see them until the time to choose.

Character creation is more involved. You choose only race and gender at the start. Then you customize the look of your character, which can take awhile. This is all with the face, and you can alter the shape, the eyes, nose, cheeks, etc. Just fooling around here can eat up some serious time. I took my favorite race, Breton.

Saving is the pits. You can tell this game was designed for the consoles first. Using the regular save, you get a number (e.g., Save 6), your character’s current level, and how long you’ve been playing, along with a pic of where you were at the time.

The only way to name your saves is through the cheat console. You invoke that, type savegame and then the title, in quotes. You don’t get player level that way, but who cares? I’d rather have named saves to track my progress. It still gives you the playing time and the picture.

Sad to say, the Mark and Recall spells are gone. Foo! They were so convenient for doing quests. Just pop right back to the questgiver without a waste of time.

The graphics are really good. Much better than in Morrowind. I’m running Oblivion on a 2 Ghz machine with 1 Gig ram, Nvidia GEforce 6800GT card (256 ram), at 1024×768 resolution. The auto-detect set up for high quality graphics and so far, everything is running well. Of course, this is in a small place. We shall see if this holds up outdoors.

So the game starts with you in prison. One of these years, maybe Bethesda will come up with a more creative opening. Anyway, the emperor and some guards come in, fleeing assassins. Just so happens, your cell is a secret escape route. Convenient.

It’s a long and winding road, though always straight ahead. No mazes, just keep going forward. First opponents were rats, then some goblins, including one spellcaster. Fights have not been bad, but this is the “beginner dungeon”.

My Breton came with both a minor attack spell and a healing spell, plus the ability to regenerate magic faster than others. That’s been handy. I’ve been able to keep in good shape so far.

Fighting is the usual “have a weapon ready and click on the enemy” style. Left mouse button attacks, right button blocks. If you have a shield equipped, that is used for the block, otherwise your weapon. Spellcasting is done by targetting and hitting the “c” key. Spells can be hotkeyed for quick switching. So can weapons and items.

Lockpicking is very different now. You actually use lockpicks to raise tumblers in a closeup of the lock. How many to raise varies with the lock difficulty: 1-5. The idea is to get the tumbler up so it doesn’t drop. There is also an “auto try” if you get tired of trying to raise tumblers yourself. I’ve been using that after giving up, and it works, though I’ve had to use it more than once on a lock. Note: there is also a chance the lockpick will break during thge attempts.

Anyway, I’ve been keeping on the emp’s trail, and caught up to him again. This conversation is automatic, and here is where the birthsign choice comes in. After that, onwards to the moment the emp croaks. Of course he gives me a mission before dying. Then I talk to one of his surviving guards. This is when you choose your class.

I was nonplussed when he asked, “You’re an experienced assassin, aren’t you?”. ME? An assassin? Whoa! No Charlie, you have that all wrong. Just ’cause I used stealth a few times, and managed to backstab one goblin, doesn’t make me an assassin.

After looking over the classes, I decided to go with Spellsword, which had a pretty decent selection of major skills. This also gave me some new spells, including one for light, although right now it doesn’t last long. However, it allowed me to use my shield for protection.

Then it was…through the sewers (why did it have to be sewers?). Again, it was a straightforward route, and not very long. A few combats along the way, but nothing difficult. This has me worried; I have the feeling it won’t be this easy again.

At the sewer exit, you have one last chance to change your birthsign, class, and/or race. Then you’re out into fresh air and sunshine. Whew! So now it’s on to complete the emp’s quest. Stay tuned, sports fans.

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