Big budget games release almost every week of the year, and brand new indie games are released just about every day. In this modern deluge of gaming, it's simply impossible to play everything that comes out.
One game I was particularly disappointed that I had missed the first time around was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I have several friends who have logged insane amounts of hours in that game. Of course, I have other friends who picked it up for a bit and hated it. But whether you loved it or hated it, one thing's clear: Oblivion was an important game.
Thankfully, I was recently given a second chance at experiencing Oblivion, since it was rereleased for its fifth anniversary. So how does the game hold up five years later?
Quite frankly, not very well.
First of all, it's hard to get over the NPCs. They all look like awful mutants who've had acid splashed in their faces. This wouldn't be so bad if the camera didn't zoom in on those messed-up faces every time they spoke to you. It's almost as if Bethesda wants you to notice how bad everyone looks.
To make matters worse, the voice acting is absurd. There are hundreds upon hundreds of characters in the game, yet only a few voice actors to cover them all. With each actor having to deliver an unreasonable amount of lines, it's not surprising that they all start to sound like they were getting pretty bored of this gig.
But long before the voice actors pretty much stopped trying, the writers started getting desperate. Oblivion is jam-packed with conversations that seem like they were written by randomly assembling pieces of shredded newspapers. At first you might think that Oblivion's dialogue should be more famous for its campiness, like the original Resident Evil. Yet it has so many bad moments that no two players will pick up on the same one. There's no definitive "Jill sandwich" moment here; there are several hundred "Jill sandwich" moments, making each one less memorable. It's simply impossible to determine which is the worst of all. However, there are several YouTube videos showcasing hilarious snippets of dialogue if you want examples.
Of course, Oblivion came out during the beginning of this console generation, and probably looked pretty mind-blowing back then. In fact, a lot of reviewers praised it for its gorgeous visuals. However, this many years in, it's showing it's graphical age. Oblivion just doesn't look as good when compared with newer games like Final Fantasy XIII or Uncharted 2.
The controls are utter garbage. Try lobbing a fireball. It will take a second or two before the thing even leaves your hand, then it trails across the sky so slowly that whatever you were aiming at will have long moved on by the time your fireball reaches it. Forget trying to fire arrows. And even swinging a sword is an awkward experience, as you're never quite sure if you're going to make contact with something.
However, despite all these flaws, Oblivion holds up well in one area: its enormous world. It's easy to forgive all the flaws I mentioned when the game world itself is so engaging. No matter how strangely the characters look and act, Cyrodiil feels like it could be a real place. The amount of detail put into it is just remarkable. For example, just about everything sitting on a shelf can be picked up. Every book can be read (or stolen). If you want to steal a wooden plate off someone's dinner table, you can do that. Then you can steal the pitcher of water, the cups, the utensils, and each piece of fruit individually. If you want to fully explore everything this game has to offer, you could easily lose weeks of your life.
Yet Oblivion never overwhelms you with too much content. This is one area where I think modern RPGs—especially MMORPGs, though Oblivion doesn't fit into this category—fail too often. There needs to be a lot of content, yet it needs to be presented in such a way that players don't just see a list of a hundred things to do and put the controller down in frustration. Oblivion is gentle with its players. It lets the user explore the world on his or her own terms.
A part of this is Oblivion's character progression system. You can level up, yet everything around you levels up with you. I know a lot of people hated this aspect of the game, but it makes so much sense in this context. Since you can do anything in any order you want, a traditional level-up system simply wouldn't work. You'd constantly be out-leveling things or encountering areas you weren't experienced enough for. In Oblivion, no matter where you go you can be presented with a challenge that's perfect for your level. If you think something is too easy or too difficult, you can always adjust the difficulty slider.
Adding the swift travel option was brilliant. If you want to travel to any major city, or any point of interest you've discovered in your explorations, just click it on your map and you'll travel there instantly. This is another area where I think RPGs often fall short. Going from place to place often becomes tedious, and even the most gorgeous backdrops become boring after being forced to traverse them for the umpteenth time. Oblivion allows you to do the things you feel are most important. If spending absurd amounts of time traveling from place to place isn't one of those things, you can skip it. Cyrodiil stays interesting longer because you get to see the parts of it you want to without having to see all the stuff in between. Unless you want to see all the stuff in between, of course.
If the next Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim, can provide a world as engrossing as Oblivion's while offering stronger writing, voice acting, graphics, and combat mechanics, it's going to be nothing short of incredible. If we can forgive Oblivion's many flaws and lose ourselves in its rich world, how much more so will we be able to lose ourselves in a world without these flaws?
I know I can't wait for November 11.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*