Bit-History: The Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion

You know, it would be easy for me to sit here and write an entire essay about why I love Skyrim so much – despite the fact it has a ton of flaws – but I would rather go against the grain and talk about a title I didn’t like: Oblivion. This game was highly anticipated by RPG fans around the world, and after its release, was applauded for being the greatest adventure to hit pop culture since Tolkien released his Lord of the Rings novel in paperback. Curious to see what all the fuss was about (since I had never had the pleasure of playing its predecessor), I picked it up and hoped for the best.

At first, I was amazed. Stepping out of the underground tunnels and into daylight for the first time was simply jaw-dropping. Everything was so beautiful and lush, and to have complete freedom – and I do mean COMPLETE freedom – was jarring, and I mean that in the best possible way. To stumble upon other travelers or bandits and decide how to deal with them, or to cut through the dangerous wilderness as opposed to taking the safer passage of roads… it was all up to me. I didn’t have to start the main quest if I didn’t want to, and I never had to play by the rules. The choices were always mine and mine alone to make… and so were the consequences that followed.

After a while however, that novelty began to wear off. “Novelty you say? Preposterous.” Yes, novelty. Perhaps it was just a result of limited technology, but the more time I spent in this open world, the less I felt immersed in it. I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but here’s what ultimately turned me away from Oblivion – Everything was pretty much the same. The entire ‘over-world’ was pretty much the same damn thing being recycled over and over again. Elevations would change as well as the density of trees, and there would occasionally be patches of tall grass, but for the most part, there was very little differentiation to speak of. Here’s what I heard a lot of my friends and people on the internet say:

“For the game to be truly immersive, you’re going to want to do all your traveling on foot. Sure, you can fast travel to locations you’ve already visited, but you’ll miss out on certain events that your path would unexpectedly lead you to, as well as some solid grind-time, since every action helps to level your character in some way.”

That’s all well and good, but the ‘leveling up’ incentive is just silly. Oblivion allowed you to level up by performing actions, as opposed to actually accomplishing something. You could jump in place for hours on end and gain something from it, and there’s nothing I loathe more than this primitive method of grinding. It just feels broken to me, you know? It just serves to bloat the time you spend in-game (read: it isn’t fun). Take Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for example – If you wanted to 100% the damn thing, you HAD to spend countless hours doing idiotic tasks, such as swimming, going to the gym, etc. You had to stop playing the game in order to grind, for no purpose other than to say “I got 100%”. Oblivion sort of did the same thing – I didn’t have to actually engage in battle to level up, I just had to perform each task on a dry grind in order to level. As a result, I never wanted to explore anything… I just wanted to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. Still, I tried the ‘walk everywhere for total immersion’ method, but it grew stale because I never felt like I traveled anywhere new!

The dungeons were even worse. They all had the same generic texture blocks throughout their entirety. The only thing that ever changed was the layout of the maze, which was easy to get lost in since no room/path looked any different than the last. The caves were a little better, but not by much. No, the only places that actually felt different from one another were the major towns and cities. They were actually fun to roam and interact with. They also had the most intriguing side quests, not to mention the various factions you could join, so that’s where I spent most of my time until I decided I had done enough and should start plowing through the main quest.

And the main quest was laughably like the rest of the game – The same boring crap over and over again. Go here, do that, and once things finally picked up and Oblivion portals started to open everywhere, that’s when I really started to get pissed.

The first Oblivion portal was cool – Inside was an evil-looking dimension filled with rocks and lava, and you had to make your way to a tall tower that was guarded by nasty foes. Once inside, you had to work your way up, defeat the keeper and wait for the next portal to open. Get this though – The innards of the next portal was almost EXACTLY like its predecessor. The only difference was a slight increase in difficulty. Each subsequent Oblivion portal was also the same, more or less, just a little harder than the last. To me, it seemed like Bethesda didn’t even try in delivering a competent, engaging quest. The focus was all on the open world and being able to do whatever your heart contented. Great concept in theory, but listen up, ‘Thesda – The main quest acts as the glue that holds everything else together. If I don’t care about the central plot, then what’s the point? Granted, there’s a decent story to be told as you progress throughout the game, but the framework of each individual quest feels so lazily thrown together, I just felt disconnected from everything else. Literally doing the exact same thing in each Oblivion portal, and in every other part of the game, was actually game-breaking for me, as it did little else than ruin the illusion of the open world Bethesda had created.

One last complaint, was that the combat felt like an afterthought. Since most are likely to complete this game entirely in first-person, how could such an important aspect of this game be so damn sloppy?

“Pfft. I bet you were playing an inferior console port. The PC version is far superior, duh. There’s far more environmental effects, which makes Oblivion feel less like a green sandbox and more like a living, breathing entity.” Yeah, I played this game on the Xbox 360. It was the superior console port, but I thought maybe, JUST MAYBE, its limitations acted as the catalyst for the game’s overall blah-ness. So, some years later I revisited the game on the PC, hoping the additional effects would help with the major gripe I had from day one. Well, it did a tiny bit, but to a negligible degree. “You just didn’t give the game enough time to suck you in.” Yes, many RPG’s require a hefty investment before it reaches its true potential, but I played Oblivion for 20 hours before calling it quits. I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s more than enough time.

I may write an article on Oblivion’s successor in the not-too-distant future, but let me say this – Skyrim improved on everything that Oblivion got wrong. The story was more engaging, the quests and land more diverse, the world fully realized, and the combat was much more enjoyable (although still awkward overall). Skyrim is up there as one of my favorite games in the last generation, but in contrast, Oblivion was one of the most disappointing. Although it still wasn’t as bad as Duke Nukem Forever… which was so terrible, I dare not mention it again, for fear of opening a real-life Oblivion portal.

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