The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review

The first post in our series of themed writings about The Elder Scrolls - here I review the predecessor to Skyrim, and follower to Morrowind. 

NOTE: This review does contain minor spoilers for the overall game story, and very minor spoilers for the Blades' interactions in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. 

Oblivion, to many people was a little weird. After picking it up myself at the very beginning of last year in a sale on Steam I began to read a little about it and talk to my friends about the game as well. What many people said to me was of great interest. That Oblivion was neither their favorite or their least favourite Elder Scrolls game. It was simply there as a gap fill between what many regard as the best: Morrowind, and what many others regard as the best: Skyrim.

For a game to be sandwiched between two titles like that is unhealthy to say the least - especially when looking back (at the time of release, obviously nobody knew about Skyrim yet).

However, for me Oblivion was a special game that is somewhat underrated by many people. I think the story is fascinating, it actually still looks decent (and was released almost ten years ago) and had some incredibly interesting extra features.

As the game begins, the player finds him or herself in a prison, captured by the guards. This is of note because of the trend in Elder Scrolls games (something I've mentioned before) and almost a running joke now that they always start in a prison, or with the player being captured. It works though. It brings about the first milestone for the player to reach: escape. In this case you have the added job of helping to protect the Emperor as he escapes as well, which gives two goals and helps to really kickstart the game.

Overall I think the story of rising from prisoner to Hero of Kvatch, then almost being classed as the new Emperor is incredibly empowering to say the least. But, I'm not hugely convinced about the way in which the developers have set about you doing it. The main point of the story is that portals of Oblivion are opening all around the land of Cyrodiil as the Emperor has no heir and the Dragon Fires are no longer lit to keep out the Daedra. The portals to Oblivion are an awesome idea, but I found that I was forced into doing too many of them through side-quests or having to find a piece of armor or something along those lines. This made an incredibly cool idea turn stale fairly quickly.

While this by no means ruins the game, it does put a negative tint on one of the major plot points.

As the story continues, we find that Uriel Spetim (the Emperor at the beginning of the game, who dies shortly after it begins) has an illegitimate son, Martin. Now we have to find Martin and try to raise him to the status of Emperor.

While the main story is incredibly rewarding to play and very interesting to do so, I found the quests in each city and the Fighter's Guild quests to be rather boring.Often they are simply "fetch this", "protect her" or, in the strangest case, "block up the hole in the woman who has big cats in her basement". However, this is all turned around by the Dark Brotherhood who really do shine in this game, and is something I urge you to play.

What follows is some excellent action with the Emperor's protectors, The Blades. If you played Skyrim, The Blades are what Esbern is a member of, but in Oblivion you get to see the whole force in action at one of their top-secret temples (very similar to the one showcased in Skyrim). It was great to see them take centre stage a bit more, and that is why I was pleased I played the games in the order I did: I learnt alot about The Blades in Skyrim and could extrapolate that and use it to really understand them in the previous game.

As well as an excellent Blades story, we also witness amazing character progression from Martin Septim who begins as an unwilling-to-help Monk and ends up being ready to inherit Emperorhood. It's fascinating to return to Martin and see how he's changed in the time since your last visit and this really makes him feel real as a character, which is something Bethesda do excellently in their games.

For a game from 2006, Oblivion looks remarkably good, and it's clear to see the progression from here to Skyrim as the art-style remains very much the same, even with much better overall visuals. However, as with many of The Elder Scrolls games and bug hangup is the strange faces which every character owns in the game (and if you pay close attention, many actually have the exact same face!)

Combat also leaves something to be desired. Much like in Skyrim, combat is simply "click, whack and eventually kill" - which is OK seeing as the game isn't supposed to be about combat, but I would love to see an Elder Scrolls game where it is actually realistic and fun to fight.

What Oblivion does do right, however, is be an RPG. The levelling system is very similar to that in Skyrim, and works just as well here as it does in the next game in the franchise. However, something that Oblivion has over Skyrim is the ability to craft and use your own spells. The player can do this is the mage's mansion thing which is given for free, as is a warrior's castle and a pirate's-hideout (amongst others). These are very cool in their own right (you can buy and upgrade furniture for each home until you get them how you want them) but the ability to craft spells in extremely fun for the magic-centric player.

One of the things that sticks at the forefront of my mind as I look back at Oblivion is the incredible ending to the game. It ends in an unexpected way, but one that fits the game so well and really does it justice, while also rewarding the player and giving him or her the opportunity to see a Daedric Prince (I won't spoil what happens).


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