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  • "You are TOO PRETTY to worship in this place!"

  • [awkward silence]

  • [typing, Oblivion theme plays]

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, developed by Bethesda Game Studios

  • and published by 2K Games in March of 2006.

  • And just looking at this box for the PC version it’s clear that Bethesda was keen on correcting

  • the weaker aspects of its predecessor, Morrowind, boasting about fully-voiced NPCs, an improved

  • combat system, Havok physics, and a streamlined user interface.

  • It was also the first time an Elder Scrolls game launched with a console port from day

  • one, with Oblivion on the Xbox 360 released alongside the PC version

  • and a PlayStation 3 port arriving a year later.

  • Leading some to immediately write it off as, quote, a “dumbed downconsole game.

  • Didn’t seem to stop the masses from snatching it up though, quickly becoming the most successful

  • Elder Scrolls game to date, selling over 3 million units by January of 2007 and moving

  • over 9.5 million units by 2015.

  • As a result, Oblivion remains one of most-played entries in the series, as well as being many

  • playersfirst Elder Scrolls game at all.

  • So let’s go ahead and take a look at the PC version,

  • which came in both standard and Collector’s Edition boxes.

  • Each of these came with a single DVD-ROM containing the game itself, but the collector’s edition

  • also had thisMaking of Oblivionbonus disc packed inside a delightful looking sleeve.

  • You also get a little ad for the isometric mobile version of Oblivion for flip phones,

  • the requisite in-game world map, this being the province of Cyrodiil, and a 50-page full-color

  • instruction booklet touching on a wide variety of topics, like classes, skills, spells, weaponry,

  • and general Elder Scrolls lore.

  • And apparently the Collector’s Edition was supposed to provide both a Pocket Guide to

  • the Empire and even a gold Septim coin, but mine didn’t so screw me I guess.

  • Oh well there’s a tale to tell just as soon as you start the game, featuring the dulcet

  • tones of Sir Patrick Stewart.

  • [“This is the 27th of Last Seed; the Year of Akatosh 433.”]

  • [“These are the closing days of the 3rd Era, and the final hours of my life.”]

  • The story goes that while on routine patrol of the Romulan neutral zone, the Enterprise

  • encounters a scout ship seeking asylum in Federation--er, wait.

  • [rustling of papers] Uh, wrong Patrick Stewart game.

  • Ah here we go. Ahem.

  • It’s about six years after the events of The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, and Emperor

  • Uriel Septim VII is freaking out about having seen the gates of Oblivion and is convinced

  • he’s gonna die soon.

  • His three sons have been assassinated and it’s clear that he’s next on the agenda,

  • so he and his Imperial bodyguards, known as the Blades, are fleeing Cyrodiil because crap sucks.

  • And so your story begins at the main menu, where you start a new game and create a character.

  • In classic Elder Scrolls fashion, this begins with you as an imprisoned nobody, a blank

  • slate ready to be molded into whatever weird shape you desire.

  • After you choose your name, gender, race, skin tone and other basic stuff, you can go

  • into a ridiculously complicated character creation tool set and use dozens of sliders

  • to manipulate every millimeter of your appearance.

  • Oblivion became infamous for its uncanny, weirdly-proportioned, pudding-faced characters,

  • and it’s easy to see why using these tools.

  • Just embrace it, I say, and go with the most ridiculous head you can come up with.

  • After this youre greeted with a much prettier sight than your face: the bleak stone walls

  • of a prison cell.

  • In keeping with Elder Scrolls tradition, this first area acts as the tutorial, although

  • it’s more direct in Oblivion than previous entries with pop-ups blasting walkthrough

  • text at every other turn.

  • In-between ham-fisted tutorial boxes you get freed from your cell by Emperor Picard himself,

  • who brings you along with his entourage of meatheads through the underbelly of Cyrodiil.

  • Tutorial messages continue to berate as you perform the Elderest of Scrollsy things like

  • dispatching low-level rats and scouring each room for weapons, armor, and loot.

  • Along the way youll choose both your birthsign and your class, each affecting the skills

  • and capabilities of your character throughout the rest of the experience.

  • Signs are pre-constructed, but as with previous Elder Scrolls games the classes can be customized

  • to your liking and named anything you deem clever.

  • Suddenly you witness the unavoidable death of Professor Emperor Patrick Xavier Stewart

  • Picard the Seventh, who has apparently grown to trust you over the past five minutes and

  • tasks you with protecting the irreplaceable Amulet of Kings.

  • Once you reach the sewer exit, it’s one last chance to adjust your stats and then

  • aw yeah, it’s that big Bethesda reveal moment, providing your first glimpse of a world of

  • possibilities that lie in wait.

  • [peaceful waterside sound effects, orchestral music plays]

  • And wow was this a memorable moment in 2006!

  • At the time I was still impressed by the open world of Morrowind,

  • then to see all this not even four years later?

  • Holy nuts.

  • Drop in that orchestral soundtrack from Jeremy Soule and daggone,

  • youve got yourself one classy role-playing experience.

  • [classy role-playing music plays its role]

  • Granted it ran like week-old garbage on my

  • PC in ‘06, but even at mid to low-range settings it was still the most gorgeous open

  • world I’d ever seen.

  • The Gamebryo Engine had certainly had its detractors over the years, and rightfully

  • so with its penchant for instability and bizarre technical shortcuts

  • that can result in legendarily glitchy gameplay.

  • But you have to give it props for providing such lovely scenery, and breaking new ground

  • with HDR lighting, specular mapping, and lush vegetation.

  • Even though it absolutely killed my computer to do so, there really was nothing like cranking

  • the lighting, shadows, and grass settings to the max and admiring the flora and fauna.

  • Just look at that grass!

  • There’s so much of it! And it wafts!

  • WAFTS I SAY.

  • Then there’s another graphical aspect that has, in my opinion, aged poorly, and that

  • is the intense bloom.

  • Effects like this have dated games from the mid-2000s almost more than anything else,

  • it just looks strange in retrospect with its blown out colors

  • and artificial-looking glow around objects.

  • Still, even going back to it now it’s no deal-breaker, since the gameplay of Oblivion

  • remains pretty darned enjoyable.

  • Youre given a huge map to explore right from the beginning, and whether or not you

  • choose to follow the main story path is entirely optional.

  • If you want to immediately head underground and hunt for treasure, go right ahead.

  • If you wanna explore one of the big cities, go for it, there are even fast travel points

  • provided from the start.

  • Personally I just pick a random direction and start walking.

  • Er, well, more accurately I start running and jumping constantly, gotta get those athletic

  • and acrobatic skills up, nawmean?

  • [jumping, skill increase sound effects]

  • And if I’m not run-jumping I’m riding a horse, because horses are a thing again.

  • Stables can be found outside each major settlement, and you can either pay for one outright or

  • go full bandit and steal one to ride off into the sunset.

  • And it won’t be long until something tries to kill both you and Mister Ed, so it’s

  • a good thing Bethesda overhauled the combat system.

  • Because as much as I absolutely love Morrowind,

  • I’ve never been tremendously fond of its combat.

  • I mean, I understood and accepted it, dice rolls and all that.

  • But Oblivion was the first time with any Elder Scrolls game I just *didn’t* think about

  • what I was doinwhen killinstuff.

  • Swinging axes, clubs, and swords into your enemies feels more intuitive now, like youre

  • actually connecting with a body and not just flailing their general direction, hoping for a lucky hit.

  • And ranged attacks in the form of bows and magic come across as more satisfying with

  • predictable results right from the start, no need to level up a ton to dole out notable damage.

  • Part of this has to do with Oblivion’s dynamic level scaling, where enemy strength and damage

  • dealt adjusts to your current abilities.

  • So as you level up, each new enemy becomes stronger, with the idea being to provide a

  • smoother difficulty curve and to keep combat challenging.

  • But the strength of this system is also its weakness, and that is that no matter what,

  • there’s always a chance youll get pummeled by some random encounter even after youve

  • become a battle-hardened warrior capable of slaying the baddest demons around.

  • But that’s more of a late-game balance problem and it doesn’t affect every playthrough

  • in the same way.

  • Besides, I’m more interested in sneaking into places and stealing all their stuff anyway,

  • and thankfully that remains quite a good time indeed.

  • I especially enjoy combining stealth and thievery skills with magic to crawl around nearly-invisible

  • and take advantage of every attack I can.

  • Mm, sneak damage multiplier, that never gets old.

  • Still gotta be careful though, since NPCs often jump at the chance to run and call for

  • guards instead of fighting, which means: ["STOP RIGHT THERE CRIMINAL SCUM!"]

  • ["NOBODY BREAKS THE LAW ON MY WATCH"]

  • ["I'M CONFISCATING YOUR STOLEN GOODS. NOW PAY YOUR FINE,"]

  • ["OR IT'S OFF TO JAIL."]

  • [sick beats play in jest]

  • Heh. So here’s another highly-discussed point of contention, the voice actors.

  • Or rather, the lack of them.

  • It’s not that the acting itself is bad, for the most part it’s actually quite good.

  • And considering that this is the first Elder Scrolls to feature fully-voiced dialogue for

  • every NPC, it’s impressive in sheer sense of scale.

  • Youve got Bethesda game staples like Wes Johnson, Michael Mack, and Elisabeth Noone,

  • in addition to Hollywood actors like the aforementioned Patrick Stewart, as well as Lynda Carter and Sean Bean.

  • ["Something has changed."]

  • ["Jauffre believes that the death of the Emperor and the darkening of the Dragonfires is the key."]

  • The issue arises from the fact that there are around 50,000 lines of dialogue that were

  • only voiced by about a dozen people, so you ended up with tons of NPCs that sound identical,

  • especially if theyre the same race or character class.

  • The repetition is bad enough that it’s a meme to this day, yet in a sense I find it charming.

  • It’s like this whole world is an amusement park that spent most of its budget on set

  • dressing, and the staff is just doing the best they can to act out a story with the

  • limited resources on-hand.

  • Same goes for a large number of the dungeons, they really start to look confusingly similar

  • and rather bland before long.

  • There’s nothing wrong with using a bunch of pre-made components to build these things,

  • and besides, apparently there was only one guy at Bethesda in charge of building all of them.

  • But more often than not, in Oblivion it’s painfully obvious, which led to me ignoring

  • most of the tertiary caves and dungeons in favor of those from the main story.

  • And the story itself is, ahh.

  • It’s an Elder Scrolls story.