Monday, 27 September 2010

Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion: The Time Sink Diaries

Bethesda really blew me away with this cracking Action RPG and the sheer size of the game and potential for replay value seriously makes me consider my mortality. There is so much to see and do and the level of freedom makes Oblivion feel more like an adventure simulator than a game that has a full blown story mode or anything like that. Once you've constructed your character, which is done in neat little steps throughout the opening tutorial section you will get one last chance to rethink your character's race, profession, appearance and star sign (yep) before being set loose on the great expanse that is the game world of Cyrodill.

Cyrodill has witnessed the opening of portals to hell-like parallel world Oblivion and the ensuing invasion by all kinds of demonic nasties. The portals are able to exist because the Dragonfire lamps are dark and can only be set alight again by the members of a particular imperial bloodline and as luck would have it all but one known heir to this bloodline have either died or been assassinated. Oh, and this mook has to be wearing The Amulet of Kings in order to do all of this and guess what... It's only gone and got itself nicked. So it's up to your custom designed ass to sort it all out. Well, that is if you can be bothered. You can ignore all of these dramatic goings on and have a really good time as the world falls to ruins if you like and it's a lot of fun doing that too. 

And don't expect to be able to be good at everything either. This isn't Final Fantasy 7 where you can have all your cakes and eat them. You will not be a master swordsman and a master spellcaster and have loads of summons and be good at being a thief and you will certainly lot be able to please all of the people all of the time which in itself is refreshingly important in a game like this. Making the most of your Personality stat and Speechcraft skill gets you in the good books of NPCs who are more likely to divulge sensitive information and trust you with some variety of sidequest. On top of that you had better keep a clean criminal record if you wish to be accepted into the more noble factions and guilds. Similarly, don't expect Cyrodill's black marketeers and master thieves to associate with a blue blooded knight who barely knows how to pick a pocket anyway. Being your character and faithfully playing your role is the key to success here.

This ethos also applies to combat. Each character class comes complete with its own selection of Major Skills which have an initial starting bonus and also tend to level up faster whilst the other skills level up far more slowly and aren't so high to being with. All of these skills are divided among melee, magic and stealth and level up when the player actually performs the actions in question. Want to have more skill Blocking with shields? Then you had better use one. Want to be more skilled in healing? Make frequent use of restorative spells. Gaining enough skill levels in your major areas allows you to level up your base stats by sleeping once you've gained enough experience.

Oddly, Oblivion's world levels up as you do which does and doesn't work. On one hand, you never really suffer from the age-old "Oh my gosh I can kill everything with one hit this is so dull" syndrome of RPGs and you'll be able to visit all of the locations you can find whenever you want and still find there is a reasonable level of relative competence in your enemies but there is the possibility that you will level up in such a way that the enemies become disproportionately stronger than you and it does mean that old-school RPG'ers miss that "Oh my gosh I'm invinciblez lv. 999 warriah lolz" buzz. Both of these problems can be solved by adjusting the difficulty of the game (which can be done at any time) but this seems to be a bit of a ham-fisted and dissatisfying way to solve such a serious gameplay mechanics problem. Ultimately it hasn't ruined my experience of the game (yet, I have aeons of content to explore yet) so I heartily recommend this title, even more so because it's such a bargain these days and has technical support and expansion pack and hell it even has a wiki if you're into that kind of thing. Top stuff.

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