Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Apr 5, 2006

The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

Bethesda Softworks has a history of making games that are very ambitious in concept but sorely lacking in execution, almost as though their enthusiasm took over and ran ahead of their ability. The most notorious example of this phenomenon, is, of course, Daggerfall, with its miles of randomly generated dungeons that resembled nothing so much as a plate of spaghetti, repetitive random quests (I need mummy wrappings! Okay, you brought them to me, now I need more mummy wrappings!), and problematic graphics. Even the people that loved the game admit that it was, well, more than a bit difficult to play. I have been known to joke that it won RPG of the Year because it was the only RPG produced that year. It certainly wasn't because it was good.

Some other mediocre games followed (Battlespire, Redguard), then a lengthy hiatus during which it seemed that Bethesda had disappeared off the face of the earth. This proved not to be the case.

One day I went to the computer store and there, on the shelf, was this game. Morrowind, said the front of this tidy but unremarkable tan box. I'd been burned by Bethesda before, but the game looked intriguing so I decided to give it a try. Sometime later, when someone was able to winch me away from the keyboard, I decided that it was worth it! Here was a Bethesda game that incorporated all the good elements of their productions (enormous size and variety, tremendous flexibility) and was also overall a good game!

Not content with that much, or with the success of the add-ons they produced for Morrowind (Tribunal and Bloodmoon), they've released a new game, Oblivion, and it's even better. In the vernacular, this game kicks serious ass. Everything that was good in Morrowind has been retained and upgraded.

The graphics in Oblivion are so fantastic that simply tooling around in the countryside (on horseback, if such is your desire) is enjoyable. Still, you probably won't have much time for it, because you'll be busy discovering the numerous quests and career paths available in the game. The really nice thing is that they actually are paths; quests are related to other quests and form a contiguous whole that eventually adds up to something. It's quite cool.

In addition, quests are adjusted for your level, meaning that you won't manage to stick yourself with a job you just can't do. Some may be more difficult than others depending on how you've organized your character, since there's a lot of variety possible with custom classes and the numerous races. I haven't found any, however, that were flat-out undoable. The in-game map works wonderfully, and it's integrated with your compass so that you don't have to try and guess where you need to go from here. You just have to go there, which may turn out to be difficult if there's something nasty in the way.

Given, there are some caveats to go along with all of this praise. Firstly, do not try and play this game if your graphics card is not on the list. They've installed an ogre for a bouncer and it won't work. Not even a little. You can stretch processor speed (especially if you have a lot of RAM, a lot meaning a gig or more) but the graphics card is an inescapable absolute.

Secondly, although the path quests are well-integrated with themselves, the varying paths and the main quest are not well-integrated with each other. While all characters now speak, conversation is still somewhat lacking. You don't ask questions in complete sentences, but by choosing one or two word topics, which makes me, at least, feel like my character is an outside observor instead of directly involved in the events. In other words, it's not the game I would have made.

However, for the game that it is, it's objectively very, very good. Well worth the price.

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