One of the many great things about The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is that even though it features well over 100 hours of excellent role-playing gameplay out of the box, it includes the potential for much more. Following the release of Oblivion for the PC and Xbox 360, publisher Bethesda Softworks proceeded to supplement both versions of the game with downloadable content packs, leading up to the most ambitious one yet in Knights of the Nine. Knights of the Nine is a full-on quest line along the lines of Oblivion's main series of subquests, such as for the fighters guild or the thieves guild. It involves you seeking out a way to defeat a dangerous villain once thought to be dead, while restoring a sacred order of knights to its former glory. The six to 10 hours it takes to fight through this quest is time well spent, and though this download is priced higher than the previous Oblivion downloadable content packs, there's a lot more to it.
Unlike the other Oblivion content downloads, Knights of the Nine is seamlessly integrated into the game. With the other downloads, as soon as you install them and load up a saved game, your character automatically receives a quest update telling him or her where to go; it's pretty contrived, but at least you know exactly what to do. With Knights of the Nine, you don't get a convenient quest update, but must instead ask around for rumors to get your first clue that something's up. It's not that hard to figure out, but apparently it's hard enough that the retail PC version spells it out for you as part of the meager documentation. This particular story begins in the town of Anvil, where you find that the local chapel has been desecrated, its priests slaughtered. An outspoken prophet preaches doomsday nearby to all those who will listen. He informs you that the evil Umaril the Unfeathered has come back to life and will bring about all kinds of wrongdoing if left unchecked; unfortunately, he's immortal. If only there were a way to stop him!
There is a way, of course. It involves questing for the long-lost weapons and armor of the divine crusader, a man who once slew Umaril but didn't entirely succeed. So you'll embark on a very traditional sort of quest: Scour the world for some powerful, ancient artifacts, and use them to kill the bad guy. As your first order of business after taking the prophet up on his challenge, you must gain the favor of the Nine--the gods who preside over the land of Cyrodil--by visiting the wayshrines devoted to them, which are scattered throughout the land. This may or may not take a while, depending on how much of the map you've already uncovered; you may or may not have already discovered fast-travel locations near the different wayshrines. Since Knights of the Nine simply adds another set of things to do in Oblivion, it's yours to decide at what point in your character's life to try to tackle its challenges, and it'll naturally be easier if you go into it with a stronger character. However, the foes populating Oblivion's world gain experience levels as you do, so the challenge does scale to a certain extent.
Things get more interesting after the initial world tour is over. Without spoiling much, you find the ruined sanctuary of the Knights of the Nine, the order of knights who once stood against Umaril but met with an unfortunate fate. As you find the lost relics that were once protected in this priory, word of your quest will spread, and you'll meet characters looking to join your cause. One day you'll come back to the priory to find it all spick-and-span, populated with noble knights who hail you as their leader. Some of Oblivion's other main quest lines did something similar, giving you the sense that characters in the gameworld are increasingly impressed with your actions, and the effect is still remarkable and rewarding in Knights of the Nine. Plus, the armor and weapons of the divine crusader are pretty sweet. Once you have everything you need, it's time for the ultimate showdown, which is fairly predictable but has a suitably epic feel.
Knights of the Nine is available as a stand-alone download for about $10 for either the PC or Xbox 360 versions of the game; there's also a $20 retail content pack available for the PC, which includes Knights of the Nine as well as the seven previous content packs. Either way you slice it, this is a solid value. Not all of the content packs are winners, such as the infamous "horse armor" pack, which was the first content piece Bethesda charged for. But later ones like the Wizard's Tower and the Orrery are more substantial, giving you some more questing to do and some worthwhile rewards at the end of it all. If you haven't bought any of the content piecemeal for the PC, then it's nice to be able to get all eight of the downloads on a single disc. Of course, Oblivion also has a thriving player community that's created an untold number of original, free content updates and mods for the PC version, but there's still appeal in having access to all of the official content updates to Oblivion. And Knights of the Nine, in particular, stands out as having the same very high level of quality as much of the original game.
The content seems to be identical whether you play it on the PC or the 360, and the inherent strengths of the respective versions once again come into play. Don't expect much in the way of different graphics and sound from what you've already seen in Oblivion, but Knights of the Nine features plenty of new voice acting, a couple of powerful new enemies, and a few new effects. It's mildly disappointing that the Xbox 360 version of Knights of the Nine doesn't include any new unlockable achievements to commemorate your accomplishments, considering the other main quest lines all have achievements tied to them. But all in all, Knights of the Nine gives you a good day or two's worth of questing for a low price. If you haven't played Oblivion in a while, this new quest will be a great reminder of what makes it such a remarkable game.