Oblivion, a retrospective

Ok, so I do own Skyrim now, and I’m fully intending to write a review about it, but I can’t quite make my mind up about what I think of it yet. So while I play through it some more and make up my mind, here’s a short retrospective on the last Elder Scrolls game to grace our screens – Oblivion.

Oblivion is a strange game. It does so many things right, but there are more than double the amount of things wrong with it.

You start the game in prison (it’s probably best to imagine the crime as it’s never explained), and almost immediately the Emperor of  Tamriel (played by Patrick Stewart) swans into your cell, makes you run around a few sewers as he goes on about ‘the stars’ and how he ‘saw you in a dream’ before promptly being stabbed. This leaves a big political mess, and you are tasked with cleaning it all up by finding the next heir to the throne (introducing Sean Bean).

Hitting the Oblivion Gates with an axe tends to fail.

So far, so Game of Thrones.

As if this wasn’t enough, it emerges that lots of evil demonic gates have been opening up all over the country and, rather conveniently for everyone else, you are the only person who can close them up and stop the rise of a demon lord. Fun stuff.

You could do all this, or you could ignore the main story completely and go off exploring the world. It’s probably a better idea, because it’s less boring and repetitive. This is probably the biggest problem with Oblivion – the storyline is dull as hell and quite badly designed. I hope you like the alternative realm to which the demon gates lead, because you’ll be seeing it a lot, and most of it won’t change. You’ll have to do the same series of meaningless tasks to close the gate each time. For a game that wants you to close all of these gates, it’s not really giving you any incentive to, and I personally ended up ignoring the ones that weren’t shoved in my face by whatever quest I was on. The fact that there is even a mod available that allows you to ignore the main quest completely says it all, really.

The NPC characters themselves are all clearly citizens of the Uncanny Valley and also occasionally seem to forget not only what their voice sounds like, but also how physics works. You therefore sometimes get beggar women floating on ceilings occasionally sounding more posh than they did 15 seconds ago when they asked you for small change.

You look pretty clueless yourself...

Where the game really excels, though, is with the many MANY side quests and random dungeons and caves it has. I can guarantee a different set of side quests will pop up each time you start a new game, and these are usually pretty varied. The world map is similar in scale to that of Fallout 3, in that it can take hours to get from A to B on foot, and there is plenty of exploring to be done in-between (if you like that sort of thing). Therefore it can become so easy to get caught up in doing other things that you often completely forget where you were supposed to be going and why.

The environment itself, despite looking like something straight out of Middle Earth, is very pretty (especially if you tart it up a bit with a suitable hi-rez mod), and paired with the orchestral music and the hours and hours of walking along empty roads you will inevitably face, you will get your own personal adventure experience.

Oblivion tries to direct you into its pre-written story, full of repetitive quests and unnerving NPCs, but what it loses by doing this, it gains by presenting you with a whole world just waiting for you to explore every inch of it and loot every treasure chest (all set to heroic background music, of course). If it wasn’t for this, it probably wouldn’t have been such an acclaimed RPG, and Skyrim would never have got as much pre-release hype.

Has Skyrim delivered more?