Tuesday, April 18, 2006

VG REVIEW: Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Bethesda Softworks, for Xbox 360 and PC
rated T for Teen (blood and gore, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol, violence), $59.99 (Xbox 360), $49.99 (PC).
Rating: 4 stars

How much is too much? How many missions, quests, abilities, characters, menus and other extras can one video game hold before a player starts screaming "enough"?

I ask this question having spent time with "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion," a game that abides by the rule that too much is not only never enough, but also de rigeur. You could spend 50 hours with this game and still not see it all.

For a lot of gamers, particularly hardcore rpg fans, that option is a dream come true. The developers’ goal was to create an immersive, believable fantasy world, and to a large part they have succeeded.

Right off the bat, you are keyed into the game’s high level of detail and complexity when you are asked to create your character.

Will you choose a Wood Elf or an Orc? Will it be a knight, thief or mage? Do you want to excel in intelligence and combat or armor and magic? What kind of magic: illusion, destruction or restoration?

It’s at this point where lesser mortals could easily get bogged down by relentless decisions to make.

The game’s central storyline revolves around the murder of Tamrielian Emperor Uriel Septim VII (voiced by Patrick Stewart) by an evil cult dedicated to unleashing a literal hell on earth.

Your job is to find the heir to the throne and save the land from the invading marauders. Doing that involves closing the various "Oblivion Gates," blood-red dimensional portals that owe more than a bit in their look to "The Lord of the Rings."

But there’s no need to start closing gates right off the bat. Spend some time learning new skills by joining one of the guilds. Or fight it out gladiatorial-style in the arena. Or, better still, go on a hunt for the ancients shrines that dot the countryside.

You can spend weeks with the game and never even touch the main quest.

Unlike a lot of role-playing games, consequences are key here. Attempt to pick someone’s pocket or steal an item and you can get yourself thrown in jail.

Details count here, too. Just about every object will have an effect. That mushroom on the ground can be ingested or used to make a potion. Cupboards are filled with food and clothes and books. Get sick, and people will comment on your ill pallor. Carry your sword while walking down the street and people will shy away.

Unlike a lot of other video games that attempt to fall under the "rpg" banner, "Oblivion" actually feels closest to the old pen-and-paper, 20-sided dice days of yore. Here’s a role-playing game that actually asks you to role play.

There’s no question that "Oblivion" is an awesome achievement. The stellar graphics, the excellent voice work, the vast, interactive world all bear the marks of a development team that loved its project.

But it’s all to easy to get lost in the game’s world, and not in a good way. Players could easily feel overwhelmed by the wealth of choices offered to them.

Because, regardless of what some people might say, you can have too much of a good thing.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


At 3:52 AM, Blogger Kafka said...

I so agree. The game, though not without its flaws, is quite brilliant in its execution. It is involving and creative, and both interesting and exciting. Such a creation deserves sincere commendation. To say that Oblivion is overwhelming is certainly an understatement. Sometimes I'm hesitant to play, merely because there is too much choice!

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Chris Mautner said...

Thanks, glad you liked the review.

Yeah, I definately think Oblivion is worthy of the accolades it's recieved. It's technical prowess and sheer scope is unlike anything I've ever experienced in a video game before (including Morrowind). At the same time though, I can easily see a lot of people, especially those not familiar with rpgs, get confounded by the game's endless options.


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