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An Elder Scrolls Retrospective: Oblivion

Oblivion box.jpg

We're almost done. There's only one major title left in the Elder Scrolls universe to cover before we can bring this tribute to this incredible RPG series to a close. Once again, we find ourselves in the Imperial Prison, with only a racist Dark Elf for company. But a chance encounter with the emperor frees our hero from his/her shackles and charges us with finding the heir to the Septim throne and saving all of Tamriel from the encroaching demonic forces. Oh, and the emperor bites it right in front of our eyes.

Best of all, we get to start collecting nirnroots in this game. This is Oblivion. Make the jump.

What is there really left to say at this point about Oblivion? The game served as more of a testing ground for future improvements and a baby step between the ultimately stronger 3rd and 5th entries. Yes, it once again brought new levels of detail to Tamriel, keeping Morrowind's theme of having everything in the world be hand placed rather than random. The world was more beautiful, even if the people were somehow uglier, and a new fast travel system made getting around easy as pie without a single bug-ship transport like in Morrowind. Leveling became easier and the skills were streamlined, all in an effort to simplify the systems and encourage people to play without caring about stats. Of course, since the entire game levels to your character anyway, none of your stats really mattered anyway. A bit of a backfire, honestly, but it didn't dampen the fun.

Oblivion farm.jpg

The biggest advancement in Oblivion was the complex AI system Bethesda designed to give the world a feeling of vibrancy. Unlike Morrowind, where people stood in fixed spots and the world felt more like a snapshot that you passed through, NPCs in Oblivion actually move about. And with purpose, too! Every character has their own schedule and routines, even varying depending on the day of the week. People stop and talk to each other, which serves as a clever way to give players hints and quests without straight up telling you "Bro, go here and find this thing." Compared to Bethesda's later games like Fallout and Skyrim, Oblivion's NPC AI seems pretty limited, and yes, when they first turned it on, everyone ran around stealing everything in sight (just like the players), but this game still had it first.

While Oblivion does have a mod community, the dedication just isn't there the same way it is for Daggerfall and Morrowind. Fortunately, Bethesda filled in the gaps with a series of bit sized downloads, like the highly controversial horse armor, and two large updates, Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles. The Knights of the Nine expansion added a new guild, a clan of knights serving the Nine Divines, which your character rebuilds and recruits new soldiers into. Once your army has been built and the holy armor of the Knight Crusader reclaimed, you take the fight to an ancient race bent on reconquering Cyrodiil. While a fun distraction, the best part was definitely your armor, a nifty set of armor with crazy-strong enchantments and the power to adjust them to suit your character's level.

 Oblivion Knights.jpg

Shivering Isles went the opposite direction, adding a portal to the Shivering Isles, realm of the Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. This quite literally insane new chunk of world to explore casts your hero as Sheogorath's champion to fight against the Hordes of Order, which have been invading the isles recently. Filled with new equipment, monsters, and hilariously absurd characters, Shivering Isles does something totally unique among Elder Scrolls games. Yeah, we've met gods before, even bested them in combat, but with this expansion, you get to be a god. And not one of the lame ones like the god of destruction or slaughter, but madness. What could possibly be a better reward for an adventure?

Shivering Isles.jpg

Bonus fun fact: Any experienced mage noticed the lack of levitation in Oblivion, but why? The answer lies in the game's architecture. Because Oblivion loads the entire world at the same time to try and have seamless gameplay, Bethesda needed to take shortcuts. In order to ease the processing burden, cities were walled off, forcing players to enter through gates. This allows the game to load these detail rich areas independently, and thus, avoid crashes and slowdown. If players could levitate, they could fly over the walls and into the negaverse outside the graphics (and would do so with reckless glee). Sure, Bethesda could have put up invisible walls, but everyone hates those, so out went levitation.

2 Comments

Brent A. B. said:

Nice series of articles, but, I do have an objection to "While Oblivion does have a mod community, the dedication just isn't there the same way it is for Daggerfall and Morrowind". Having played and modded both TES3 and 4, I can say that Morrowind never had the range of tools developed for it that Oblivion did (Obmm, Boss, TES4Edit, Gecko, WryeBash, obse, etc.), much less the wide range of mods made possible with these tools (Better cities, FCOM, Unique Landscapes, QTP3, etc). In my experience, modders are at least as dedicated to oblivion as they are to morrowind.

Shin Gallon said:

I put close to 500 hours into Oblivion and the expansions, first on the 360 and then on the PC where I proceeded to mod the hell out of it. My love for the game has rarely been overshadowed, and whatever flaws it had were more than compensated for by how fun it was. My Khajiit thief got to be really special to me, as I played and filled in his personality mentally, I started refusing certain quests that would seem out of character for him. That, I think, is the biggest draw of these games, the ability to shape your character however you want to. My Skyrim character is also a Khajiit with the same name, and my personal canon for him is that he's the great great grandson of my Oblivion character. You don't often find game series that allow that level of personal connection to your character.
Skyrim has, thus far, been a mixed bag for me, because the UI in Oblivion was much better. I'm waiting for the mod community to give me a mouse/keyboard friendly menu system for the game, then I'll be truly happy.

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Shin Gallon on An Elder Scrolls Retrospective: Oblivion: I put close to 500 hours into Oblivion and the expansions, first on the 360 and then on the PC...

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