The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review

  • First Released Mar 20, 2006
  • PS3

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is an amazing role-playing game that should not be missed.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is an unequivocal role-playing masterpiece of epic proportions. After strong showings on the PC and Xbox 360, Oblivion is now available for the PlayStation 3, and it's still every bit a fantastic game. That said, if you've already played Oblivion, you won't find much of anything new in this version. The graphics are slightly better, the load times are shorter, and there is a bit of new content in the form of the Knights of the Nine add-on, which is available as a separate purchase on other platforms. However, if you own a PlayStation 3 but haven't played Oblivion yet, this is one game you won't want to miss.

It seems like you're always stumbling across a new dungeon to explore in the world of Tamriel.
It seems like you're always stumbling across a new dungeon to explore in the world of Tamriel.

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Oblivion takes place in the massive fantasy world of Tamriel. It's an immersive world full of adventure and intrigue that you can easily get lost in for hours at a time. You begin the game by selecting a race and gender to create a character. After a short introductory sequence, you can choose a class and birth sign to further customize your hero. The classes are typical role-playing standards, such as warriors, wizards, and thieves. There are also several hybrid classes, so you're sure to find a perfect class for your style of play. As flexible as the character-creation system is, you can take it a step further by assigning skills and attributes as you see fit to create your own class. You aren't limited by the class you choose though, because all of the skills and abilities in the game are open to anyone. Designing your character is simply a matter of assigning proficiencies. There are seemingly endless options for creating your character, which gives an early indication of just how deep and customizable this game is.

Once you create a character, the world is yours to explore. The main quest involves closing a series of gates to the hellish alternate dimension of Oblivion, which is spawning hordes of evil creatures that are attacking the cities of Tamriel. You can stick closely to the main story quest, which will take about 40 hours to complete, but the majority of the content in Oblivion is entirely ancillary. This is one role-playing game that does a fantastic job of nailing that feeling of truly being in control of your own destiny. Something as simple as picking herbs or hunting deer in a forest can suddenly turn into a dashing adventure as you're attacked by bandits or stumble upon a secret cavern that's just begging to be explored.

The world is full of hundreds of characters, each with unique names, personalities, and problems. It pays to talk to these characters because you never know when one of them might send you on a lengthy and rewarding side quest. You might have to spy on a suspicious person, assassinate someone, collect rare plants to create a potion, expose a crooked merchant, and much more. There are also guilds for each of the basic classes, and each guild has its own elaborate quest for you to complete. If there's a problem with Oblivion, it's that there's so much to do in the world of Tamriel that the scope of it all can feel daunting at times. Rather than trying to experience everything the game has to offer, you might find yourself simply walking about the countryside taking in the beautiful sights, which can be every bit as enjoyable as fighting for your life on the fiery planes of Oblivion.

Fighting is one of the more exciting aspects of Oblivion because the combat is fast and frantic. The tension is also heightened by the game's default first-person perspective. Fighting is as simple as pressing a button to swing a sword, shoot an arrow, or cast a spell, but the adaptability of the combat and the solid artificial intelligence of the enemies ensure that no two battles will ever feel quite the same. You can approach combat head-on, go for a stealth approach and stab an enemy in the back, stay back in the shadows and fire arrows, cast spells to inflict damage or status effects on your enemy, or even conjure up other monsters to do the dirty work for you. If you're averse to confrontation, you can simply make yourself invisible and sneak past enemies, avoiding combat altogether. No matter what strategy you choose, the combat is satisfying because it's quick, dynamic, and challenging enough to make you feel as if you're really fighting for your life rather than slogging through an endless stream of obligatory battles. You're rewarded for your efforts with piles and piles of glorious loot.

As you play the game, you'll get stronger. You don't earn experience points as in a traditional role-playing game. Instead, your skills become stronger as you use them. This means that if you stick to using a sword, you'll get better with blade weapons. If you primarily use magic, you'll become a stronger caster. It's an intuitive system that eliminates the need to go out of your way to train and strengthen your character, which lets you focus on the more enjoyable aspects of the game. No matter how strong you become, you'll never feel invincible because all of the enemies that you fight in the game also level up with you. This does deflate the ego a bit because even after putting hours into the game, on the default difficulty you'll often find a respectable challenge fighting even the most common enemies. But there is a difficulty slider that you can adjust at any time, just in case you find yourself having a hard time staying alive.

Not only is the world of Tamriel massive, but it's also a gorgeous, organic place full of spectacular sights and experiences. There's plenty of variety to the landscape as well, and you can do everything from scaling a snowy peak, to taking a horseback ride up a rugged mountain path, to going for a swim in a crystal-clear lake, to searching an ancient tomb. The draw distance in the PlayStation 3 version of the game is a bit further than in the Xbox 360 version, which means that when you're looking out across the world, you'll see huge castles, lakes, and mountains perfectly clearly in the distance. When you're exploring the world, you will notice some objects and textures pop into view a bit late, which looks a bit awkward but is certainly forgivable because the rest of the game is so pretty. The cities are also thoughtfully designed and arranged as if each place you visit is entirely unique. The claustrophobic dungeons are vast and deep, full of fearsome enemies and abundant treasures. When you enter these cities or dungeons, you do have to look at a loading screen, but on the PlayStation 3, the load times are thankfully brief and usually last only a few seconds.

There are plenty of opportunities to create a little mayhem, but if you step out of line you can expect to suffer the consequences.
There are plenty of opportunities to create a little mayhem, but if you step out of line you can expect to suffer the consequences.

The fantastic presentation also extends to the audio in Oblivion. The rousing orchestrated soundtrack sounds great and enhances the grand feeling of adventure in the game. When you encounter an enemy, the music will suddenly change to a more upbeat track that keeps you on your toes and often serves as your only alert to nearby danger. There's a ton of voice work to listen to here as well. Every single line of dialogue in the game is fully voiced. Some notable actors lend their voices, including Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men) and Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, National Treasure). But for the most part, all of the residents of Tamriel share the same few voices. The delivery is very good, but it's a bit off-putting to hear almost every character in the game speak with exactly the same voice. The sheer amount of spoken dialogue in the game is impressive nonetheless.

The PlayStation 3 version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is every bit as impressive as the Xbox 360 and PC versions. However, this isn't necessarily the best version of the game. This version does come with the Knights of the Nine add-on, which will add about 10 hours of gameplay to the already lengthy game, but it doesn't come with any of the other downloadable additions made available on the Xbox 360. In terms of extras, the PC trumps both other versions because of a wealth of free player-created content. Even with a relatively modest amount of added content, the PlayStation 3 version of Oblvion packs well over 100 hours of adventuring to keep you entertained for months to come. Ultimately, the version you decide to purchase comes down to a matter of preference, but one way or another, you should definitely play this game.

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The Good

  • A massive and gorgeous world to explore
  • an engaging story and dozens of hours' worth of intriguing and exciting side quests
  • core role-playing mechanics like combat and magic are as adaptable as they are enjoyable
  • excellent music and hours of good voice acting

The Bad

  • slightly annoying performance issues

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