Monday, July 13, 2009

Beaten : The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion

Well, it wasn't King's Field, but it was still an epic, well-crafted gaming experience. Back in April I took the plunge and picked up The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion : Game Of The Year Edition for my XBox 360, and a few days ago, I finished it - for now.

When I first bought it, I only played through the tutorial, and then set it aside to play some other games I had received for my birthday. I knew that Oblivion would have a steep learning curve as well as bucketloads of content, so I put it off until about a month ago, only stopping for a week to play Ghostbusters.

Oblivion has a vast land full of cities, people, and points of interest, all meticulously engineered to create a richly complex virtual world. People come and go about their daily business and the player does, too. None of this is particularly new in adventure games, but the depth and detail in Oblivion really set it apart. It is without a doubt the premiere fantasy RPG of this generation.

There are quests just pouring out everywhere you go. In addition to the main storyline involving an invasion by the nightmare realm of Oblivion and its denizens, I quested through the Fighter's Guild, Mages Guild, Arena, Thieves Guild, and Assassin's Guild storylines, each almost big enough to have made their own game. You get missions with each of these, and as you progress an over-arching storyline emerges. The Thieves Guild was my favorite of these, with a great twist-ending.

There's so much to do beside these quests, and even though I beat the game, there are many more of these standalone tasks I've left unfinished. In addition, the Game of the Year edition I purchased comes with both expansions, which I'm sure offer even more hours of gameplay. I finished all the main game and guild questlines in around 70 plus hours of play.

The player can go about all of this either in first-person (like the above-mentioned King's Field), or third person, and the combat is in real-time, with swords swinging and spells flying. The inventory, map, and other screens are a complex set of interfaces that take some time to master, but it's not overly clunky or cantankerous.

The game advises players to save frequently, and I couldn't agree more. Make multiple saves, too - don't just allow the game's autosave mechanism to write over the same ones, as the game's hyper-complexity can create situations where you wish you had a earlier save available.

For example, I took on one of the side quests early in the game, which sent me to a tomb full of vampires. In this game world you can become a vampire by just swordfighting with one, and I contracted vampirism. A few days later, sure enough, my life became a nightmare, with people running away from me and a serious aversion to sunlight making my normal questing and travelling a living hell. I found out that there was a cure, but I was required to gather so many items that I found it insanely hard. I choose to go back to a save before taking on that original quest, losing about two days worth of play. I really didn't want to play as a vampire.

The game had some challenging parts and some easy parts, all of that determined by what skills and items I had, as the creatures you fight are generally scaled to your own level. The ending was epic, if brief, and the game goes on, with so much more to do and see, that it's almost like an MMO.

I'll be returning to land of Cyrodiil for more adventures at some point, but after nearly a month in that land, I need a break. The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion is a massive masterpiece, complex but fun, rich and full of detail. My only disappointment is that it wasn't a King's Field game, but then again, only From Software can make a King's Field game, and they're not doing that anymore.

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