The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review

It’s impossible to think of a game more deserving of the adjective “epic” than The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This game is so large, so detailed, and so full of life that it delivers a role-playing experience on par with MMORPGs. Its first-person viewpoint and intuitive controls make for some exciting battles and make a case for the game to be considered an action-RPG more than a pure role-playing game. It has enough interesting content to keep you playing for months, if not longer. In short, Oblivion is not only a strong candidate for game of the year honors only a third of the way into 2006, it is hall of fame material.

You’ll know that Oblivion is different than most RPGs right from the beginning. After selecting a name, race, and gender for your character and tweaking your face to your liking, you’re unceremoniously dropped into a locked jail cell. Not only that, the prisoner across the hall is passing the time by unleashing a steady stream of insults at you. You’re not forced to spend the first quarter hour or so of gameplay picking a character class and tweaking stats or to play as a predetermined character. Instead your put into the game with a chance to play for a bit and try things out before committing yourself to a profession or style of play. Brilliant.

The game features a rich set of scharacter skills.
Your first adventure in the game begins with the appearance of the emperor in your jail cell. He is being pursued by a band of assassins and there is an old secret passageway out of the castle whose entrance is inside your cell. As if this turn of events was not unexpected enough, the emperor recognizes you as the mysterious person who has been appearing in his prophetic dreams. You then follow the emperor and his guards into the passage and your adventures begin.

This opening adventure serves as the game’s tutorial and introduces you to the game’s controls and the mechanics of play. You’ll have the opportunity to try your hand at melee combat, spell-casting, archery, stealth, and more as you make your way through the underground passage. At the end you’ll be asked to choose a class for your character and in a very cool touch the game will suggest a class for you based on your play in the opening adventure. For example, if you snuck around a lot trying to backstab creatures, a character in the game will comment that you appear to be an assassin or rogue. Of course you are free to choose any class from the game’s extensive list, and if you don’t find anything suitable you can even create and name your own class built along one of the major archetypes of play – stealth, combat, and spell-casting. In Oblivion, your choice of class determines which of the game’s extensive skill list are your “major skills”. You start out with a bonus to your major skills and can advance faster and further in these skills than you can in the others. This does not preclude you from using the other skills in the game – a fighter can make use of spells and a mage can try his hand at picking pockets. Oblivion also eliminates the whole experience point concept in favor of the much more intuitive approach that you get better in a skill by actually using that skill. Jump around a lot and your athleticism increases. Try to sneak up on everyone and your stealth skill increases. Your character will “level up” in the game, but as a result of building up your major skills rather than amassing generic experience. This system ensures that your character gets better in the areas that match your style of play, which I find much preferable than spending time assigning skill points each time I amassed the right number of experience points. Each skill also has a number of ranks associated with it and as you move up the ranks you’ll gain bonus abilities. For example, as you achieve a higher rank in athleticism you’ll gain new abilities like the ability to attack a foe while jumping.

Oblivion also departs from the traditional RPG model in that enemies and monsters are not assigned levels. As you improve, so do your enemies, ensuring a consistent level of challenge throughout the game. This system has a few consequences, the first of which is that you won’t be able to seek out weaker monsters in an attempt to beef up stats or get easy treasure. Of more import though is the slight chance that if you mismanage your character you may reach a point in the game where your enemies become too much for you to handle.