An Oblivion GateFourth in the Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion takes us to the imperial province of Cyrodiil, home of the emperor. Naturally, sinister events are taking place, and your character will have to set things right.

The goal, as usual, is to save the world. Mehrunes Dagon, nasty daedra (demon) lord, through his pals the Mythic Dawn cult, has the current emperor and his sons assassinated. The magical dragonfires die, and the daedra can now open gates to invade the world.

However, Martin, an illegitimate son, remains. He is brought to safety, but the Amulet of Kings is stolen. Your job is to retrieve the Amulet so Martin can light the dragonfires and close the Oblivion gates permanently.

Following just the main path, you can push through Oblivion rather quickly. Unlike the previous Elder Scrolls games, this one uses a levelling system for enemies and treasure.

Opponents are almost always attuned to your character’s level. So you don’t encounter monsters that are either overwhelming or wimps. This is true regardless of where you are in the world. That doesn’t mean combats are easy, only that whatever you encounter should be all you can handle, no more and no less.

It works the same with treasure. The better stuff only starts showing up as you gain higher levels. Sweating through a complicated dungeon at level 4 will net you little more than trash, where the same place at level 20 could be a treasure trove of goodies.

Character creation is much as before, though some changes have been made. The same races are back: Argonian (lizard), Breton, Khajit (feline), Nord, Dark Elf, Redguard, High Elf, Imperial, Orc, and Wood Elf, each with its own advantages.

Our hero - face by yours trulyAlso as before, you can choose from 21 different professions, or create your own. Unlike Morrowind, where each class had major, minor, and miscellaneous skills, now there are only major and minor. The minor skills are what the misc. skills were last time.

New in the creation process is building your character a unique face. This can be quite involved, as you can alter nose, chin, mouth, cheeks, lips, forehead, hair, skin color, etc., in several ways each.

The big change, however, is that creation is piecemeal. First you choose race, gender, and looks. Then you start in prison.

During your escape, you talk to the emperor and choose your birthsign. Later, you talk to a guard and pick a class. Finally, at the dungeon exit, you have the chance to change any of the foregoing in case you have second thoughts. After that, the game proper begins.

Oblivion follows the typical pattern of Elder Scrolls games. There are guilds to join, errands to run, ruins to explore, and the main path to follow, all pretty much in whatever order you like.

The quest system has been revamped, making it much easier to keep track of those numerous jobs. There is one menu each for completed quests, quests to do, and the active quest. Only one task can be active at a time, but you can switch around among them at any time.

Facing the Minotaur LordBetter yet, the active quest has map and compass markers to help you along. You always know where the place or person is that you need to visit. Getting there may be another matter.

The transport system and the old favorites, the mark and recall spells, are gone, replaced by fast travel. Open the world map, click on a location, and you’re there – provided you’ve been there before, or it’s one of the main cities. Otherwise, you have to go the hard way. Despite “instant movement”, time does pass during fast travel, as much as if you’d walked.

Graphically, Oblivion is a treat. The visuals are much improved over Morrowind, and the detailing is well-done. The screenshots don’t really do justice to the graphics.

Speaking of which, I was concerned by all the reports of graphic problems, crashes, and slowdowns when the game was released. Since my system is only 2 gigahertz, though with a gig of ram and a good Nvidia card with 256 meg on board, I was nervous about running the game.

So I am happy – astounded, actually – to report that Oblivion ran perfectly well on my computer. The autosettings for 1024×768 resolution gave me no trouble at all. Nothing had to be turned off. There were, on rare occasions, very minor pauses, but so short as to be hardly noticed, and they had no effect on gameplay.

Perhaps best of all, the game didn’t crash on me once. I think that’s a first for an Elder Scrolls game. Keep in mind here that (a) this is the 1.1 patched version and (b) I played in fairly short spurts of no more than 3-4 hours before quitting and starting up again. I’ve noticed in the past that many games tend to get a little flaky after extended play sessions, so I avoided that this time.

Imperial City - aerial viewFor all that, there are things about this game that are less than perfect. Saves are not named, only numbered. The only way to have save titles is to use the cheat console with the “savegame” command.

This is nonsense, and Bethesda ought to know better. There is no excuse for foisting this worthless save function on us. “Let’s see. Save 26. I’m outside a dungeon. Wonder which one?”. While the cheat command makes up for this in part, it shouldn’t be necessary to save that way.

Combat is another sore point. Unlike previous games, your weapon skill has no effect on your chance to hit. Whether or not your blow lands depends entirely on your own reflexes. This is much the same system as in Daemonica, only worse.

In that game, at least, opponents stood face-to-face with you. Here, they move around, back up, sidestep, circle you. Oblivion combat may be more “realistic”, but it is also difficult and I struggled with it much of the time.

The main path becomes dull very quickly. Get this, get that. Close all those Oblivion gates. Not much thought seems to have gone into this, especially the gate closings. All but one are the same: jump in, find the tower, reach the top, grab the sigil stone. Eight of these is far too many.

The one exception was the worst of all. It is the last gate, and the only one that has a time limit: fiften minutes real time. If you don’t make it out with the sigil stone by then, the game is over.

Fight for gold and glory in the arenaThat is very little time to find your way through the network of multiple towers. As mentioned in my post “Oblivion – Finished”, I finally gave up and cheated to reach the main tower. Otherwise – who knows? – I might still be trying to get through. I hated having to do that, too.

Why, suddenly, a time limit, and at a crucial point? Why so little time? It may be enough when you know exactly where to go and what to do. When you don’t, and with opposition to slow you down, it might just as well be fifteen seconds.

If there will be an Elder Scrolls V, some changes come to mind that would improve things. First, a new beginning. 3 of the last 4 games started off in prison. The exception – Daggerfall – had you shipwrecked, which was hardly better. Surely, by now, the developers can come up with something a bit more interesting and creative?

Second, speaking of creative, how about a main line that is more than repetitious padding? Some of the unrelated side quests were far more interesting to do. More variety in what is, after all, the story of the game, would be appreciated.

Third, return to the traditional style of combat, or at least provide a choice between “reflex” and “dice roll”. Not everyone who plays CRPGs came up through Mortal Kombat or Doom. Shooter-type fighting doesn’t really belong here. But I am all for choice, so each player can have the kind that is preferred.

Fourth, dump time-limited stuff, or at least give a reasonable period so that constant restoring and trying over and over isn’t necessary.

Fifth, dispense with the “leveled monsters” system. It is ridiculous that a low-level character can go anywhere and do anything, including finishing the game. This also makes for a lack of suspense, since you know that whatever is in the dungeon, you can, with care, handle it.

Finally, go back to named saves. Simply because they may not be available on consoles doesn’t mean they should be left out on the PC. Just remember guys, if it weren’t for the PC games, you wouldn’t be here now.

So, is Oblivion horrible? By no means. There is much to enjoy in this game, just as there is much to scream about. In fact, you can have a lot of fun by avoiding the main line and doing guild quests and jobs for individuals. Or you can finish the main line quickly, then do all the other things, as the game doesn’t end when Mehrunes Dagon is defeated.

Overall, if you liked Morrowind, you will probably like Oblivion, despite its flaws. However, if real-time, reflex-based combat leaves you cold, you might want avoid this one. I’m no fan of that style, but I am playing again – although this time, I’m skipping the main line ;)miniscorp

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