The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is simply one of the best role-playing games ever made.
Greg Kasavin takes you inside The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the PC.
Impressive artificial intelligence and hundreds of believable characters
Outstanding symphonic score, as well as excellent voice acting and sound effects
Tremendous replay value, plus gorgeous graphics to make it easy on the eyes.
Huge, lavishly detailed world offers tremendous amount of action and adventure
Main mechanics like combat, stealth, and magic are fun and well designed
Frequent though fairly brief loading times
You might run into some technical issues with performance.
This is a rare and remarkable achievement--a huge, open-ended, complex, detailed role-playing game that's fun to play and a pleasure to behold. Oblivion not only delivers everything that earned the Elder Scrolls series the devoted loyalty of a huge following of fans, but also significantly improves on the weaknesses of its 2002 predecessor, Morrowind. Morrowind earned recognition for being one of the best role-playing games in years, but the immersive and long-lasting experience it provided wasn't for everyone. Oblivion is hands-down better, so much so that even those who'd normally have no interest in a role-playing game should find it hard to resist getting swept up in this big, beautiful, meticulously crafted world.
The Elder Scrolls series is known for its sheer size and depth. These are games that you could lose yourself in, spending hours exploring a fantasy world, traveling for miles, or just looking for minutiae, such as rare plants or hidden treasure. Oblivion lives up to this pedigree, putting you into a massive, cohesive, highly immersive world. You get to create your own character--the possibilities for customization seem limitless--and then explore the world as you will. There's a compelling main quest for you to follow, which takes about 40 hours to finish the first time through, but the majority of the game's content is peripheral to that main quest. You can root out evil in hidden dungeons, join and climb the ranks in a number of different guilds, visit all the different towns and try to solve everybody's problems, compete in a long series of gladiatorial battles to the death, break into someone's home and rob them in their sleep, get caught and face the consequences, contract a disease that leads to vampirism and then try to find a cure, buy a house, steal a horse, invest in your favorite shop, and, if you can believe it, there's much more.
So the breadth of content is as remarkable as ever, but the most important thing is this: The many types of gameplay in Oblivion are well-designed and deeply satisfying, even when taken on their own. That's the main difference between this game and Morrowind. This may be a role-playing game, but you could play it like a pure action game, or like a stealth game, or like an adventure game, and it'd still be at least as good as, if not better than, games that are specialized in these regards.
Oblivion does a great job of quickly introducing you to all these different aspects of play, successfully engaging you rather than overwhelming you. You see the world through your character's eyes, but a behind-the-back perspective is also available. Initially you just pick a name, race, and gender for your character, and the game opens with you stuck in a dungeon cell, being taunted by a fellow inmate. Somehow, though, you get swept up in a desperate escape attempt by the emperor and his loyal retinue of protectors. The emperor, voiced unmistakably by Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men), recognizes you from a portentous dream and entrusts you with the search for his illegitimate heir. But first, you'll need to escape from the Imperial City's sewers. As you make your way through this basic dungeon crawl, you happen upon ill-fated adventurers, their stuff, and some ornery goblins, so you immediately get to play around with close combat, ranged attacks, magic, sneaking, lock picking, equipment repairing, and more. How you survive is up to you--it's just as viable to kill your enemies with destructive magic, weapons, or bare hands as it is to sneak or run right past them. And even though the sewer setting might sound unimaginative, the quality of the game's visuals, the exceptionally good atmospheric sound effects, and the realistic physics all serve to quickly draw you in.
Toward the end of this sequence, the game does a clever job of recommending a character class to you based on how you've been playing. For example, if you've gone toe to toe with every goblin you've seen, hacking them up with an axe, you might make a good barbarian. But the game's numerous premade character classes aren't nearly as interesting as the ability to create your own custom class. The choices are numerous but clearly presented, and while you could go out of your way to create a fairly useless character, your intuition will easily guide you through what's a complex process. You choose an underlying specialization--combat, magic, or stealth--then you choose a couple of primary attributes, seven major skills, and even a birth sign. Basically, you're choosing your character's talents. Every character can use every skill; it's just a question of how well. Ultimately, this character-creation process is much like Morrowind's, and it shares the same ingenious design: You get stronger in this game by practicing and improving your primary skills, not by killing stuff and earning generic experience points
IGN 9.3 / 10
GameZone 9.5 / 10
Game Chronicles 9.9 / 10
VideoGamer 9 / 10
Worth Playing 9.8 / 10
1UP 9 / 10
GameTap 9 / 10
RPGFan 90 / 100