Hindsight is a mark of wisdom. It would bring one to realize that despite having been a much-awaited entry to the Elder Scrolls franchise, Oblivion had its own issues that marred its purported improvements over its predecessors.
Although Oblivion marks the point where the series departed from its RNG-heavy roots and shifted its focus onto open-world gameplay, it also brought about changes that reduce its sophistication below that of its predecessors. DITCHING THE DIGITAL DICE:
The most recognizable element of Oblivion's departure from its roots is its lack or absence of systems that are oriented around random number generators, or RNGs for short (and which are sometimes called "digital dice"). This can be best seen in how the player character attacks enemies; there is no longer any chance-to-hit roll. If the player character's attacks seem to connect, they generally connect, barring the occurrence of bugs. Luck as a factor is also removed from many other aspects of the game, such as spell-casting.
Some players may bemoan the loss of these 'old-school' gameplay elements, but luck has never been unanimously considered as an acceptable gameplay factor, despite arguments that RNG systems prove their viability in the long-run.
EVERYONE IS HUMANOID:
Another important change that was introduced is that every race is now practically humanoid, including the Khajiit and Argonians. This means that these two races now can wear shoes, boots and full helmets, as their anatomy has been altered to resemble the other races more.
Although this has solved balance issues about the Khajiit and Argonians, this has also irrevocably eliminated their unique characteristics and animations.
Nevertheless, this has made character creation a simpler process.
BIRTHSIGNS & BIRTHSTONES:
Birthsigns are a trademark of the Elder Scrolls series, so it is not a surprise that they return in Oblivion. The player still picks a birthsign for his/her player character during character creation, which then imparts passive bonuses and/or setbacks to him/her in actual play.
However, Oblivion also introduces the gameplay element of Birthstones. Birthstones are monuments in Cyrodiil that can grant another Birthsign onto the player character. This can make a player character more powerful than he/she deserves, especially when he/she is still at low character levels.
Of course, the player character is restricted to just one Birthstone-granted power, but this does not solve the aforementioned issue, especially considering that the player character can swap this power by visiting different Birthstones.
Birthstones are often situated in the wilderness, but due to a level-scaling system that will be described later, finding them is not too dangerous.
Most of the statistics that concern the physiology of a player character has been retained from Morrowind. There are familiar statistics such as Strength, Agility and Intelligence, and they generally retained their functions.
Then, there are the secondary statistics of Health, Magicka and Fatigue. Health still works like it did in previous games, e.g. if it goes down to zero, it is game-over.
Making melee attacks cost Fatigue, which is generally drained faster than it can regenerate. Eventually, having greatly lowered Fatigue not only prevents a character from making further attacks, but also causes them to be especially vulnerable to fatigue-draining attacks.
The most important change in Fatigue since Morrowind is that it no longer drains while the player character runs – it merely regenerates slower, if at all. Fatigue also no longer affects spell-casting, which further reduces its sophistication.
Magicka now works a lot like the mana seen in so many other RPG titles. Magicka regenerates over time, unless a character is affected by the Stunted Magicka status effect, which is usually brought about by the Atronach birthsign. This does make Magicka-restoring items less critical, yet renders them into tactical items. After all, having an item that accelerates the regeneration of Magicka gives the player a tremendous edge in battle.
Instead of picking Major and Minor skills for the purpose of level-tracking, the player only picks up to seven major skills. Otherwise, the level-increasing and skill-increasing systems that have been seen in Morrowind and earlier games are fundamentally unchanged. TRAINERS:
Part and parcel of building a character is paying trainers to increase the player character's skills without having to practice them. In Morrowind, there were many factors and requirements that held back the player from perusing this system so much. Oblivion does away with many of them, and more importantly, introduces side quests that give narrative consequence to this feature of convenience.
In Morrowind, the player character can wear undershirts underneath armor, with the restriction that he/she cannot wear more than one enchanted apparel item on any body part.
Oblivion restricts the player character to just one apparel item – enchanted or otherwise – per body part. The excuse for this change is that armor items have accommodations for underclothing, and this seems so, if one is to closely examine their models.
This may seem like a reduction in sophistication to some followers of the franchise, but to others, this is the elimination of frivolous game designs.
However, there are a few changes that can be easily considered as a convincing reduction in sophistication. One of this is that the shoulder and foot elements of armor sets have been done away with. Another contentious change is the re-categorization of armor sets to just light and heavy from light, medium and heavy as seen in Morrowind.
These changes are purportedly intended to prevent player characters from having too many enchanted items like those in Morrowind could. However, this can be seen as "dumbing-down", as it irrevocably reduces the amount of options that a player has for kitting out his/her character with.
The durability ratings of weapons and armor are presented in standardized percentages instead of individual points. However, the ratings of canonically tougher items decrease more slowly.
This is not a wholly cosmetic change. The percentage system allows the developers to introduce a feature to increase the effectiveness of a weapon or armor piece to 125%, via a special boon granted by achieving mastery in the Armorer skill.
This made the system of item durability a lot less of a hassle than it seems to be.
In Morrowind, containers have limits to the amount of stuff that can be stored in them, which made them quite believable. In Oblivion, the limits have been done away with, practically turning any chest, barrel, sack or even corpse into a separate physical dimension.
Although such a change has made stash management conveniently easy, it has also made it trivial.
The most generous – perhaps too generous – feature of Oblivion is a system that spawns NPCs and monsters with capabilities according to the player character's level. The system also replaces older versions of existing NPCs and monsters when the player reloads the maps that they are in with stronger versions, if the player character had been away long enough.
This was purportedly done for the sake of letting the player explore Cyrodiil without the worry of running into monsters that quickly slay his/her character. This excuse may be acceptable for first-time players and newcomers to the franchise, who may want to go sight-seeing without running into unpleasant surprises.
However, this can be exploited by wily, experienced players to gain access to loot of fixed statistics, which can result in player characters of imbalanced power. After all, NPCs and monsters are not scaled according to the gear that a player character is packing.
Speaking of loot and gear, the scaling system applies to most treasures that are found too.
This does not mean that a low-level character would end up with lousy loot after having romped through a dungeon. This is due to caveats within the system that apply tweaks according to the depth of the dungeon and specific locations within it (namely secret rooms). However, the opposition within the dungeon is also tweaked accordingly.
Generally, as the player character delves deeper (or higher) into a dungeon, the denizens become nastier and more varied. Eventually, the progression culminates with a particularly powerful enemy at the deepest floor, usually in or close to the room or chamber that holds the best pieces of treasure.
Therefore, the player can still expect substantial challenge and satisfactory rewards from plunging into a dungeon. However, the player should not expect the same when exploring the wilderness of Cyrodiil, which is unfortunate.
SLEEPING & WAITING:
In Oblivion, the player character can only sleep on objects that have been designated as beds, such as sleeping rolls, haystacks and actual beds. This is opposed to Morrowind, where the player character can sleep at any place if it is solid ground. Returning to Oblivion, the player character can only "wait" at any place without a bed.
Of course, one can argue that there does not appear to be any functional difference between waiting and sleeping in Oblivion. Both grant Health recovery, while Magicka and Fatigue are automatically restored (unless the character has the sign of the Atronach). However, lack of sleep is still a concern that has to be allayed, though the effects of lack of sleep only come about after many in-game days without sleep. Sleeping is also a requirement for levelling up.
The player character cannot and will not sleep on beds that he/she does not own. On the other hand, beds are assigned to certain NPCs, though which is not clear, and if the player character can slay said NPCs, the beds are freed up for use.
Of course, it may be easier to just find more legal means of sleeping accommodation. Besides, there are many of these, such as paying a small fee for a room in an inn.
Hitting something when one actually appears to hit it is not the only change from Morrowind to Oblivion. There are also other changes that reward skill instead of luck. Unfortunately, some of the other changes can seem to detract from the sophistication of the franchise.
Blocking is no longer a matter of luck. There is a dedicated button for blocking, which allows a character to perform a block with anything, including one's own shins if he/she is unarmed. This is a splendid change.
In the previous game, Hand-To-Hand combat was amusing, but not always practical if the player has more than one enemy to deal with. In Oblivion, it is not exactly more practical, but punches now deal damage to both Fatigue and Health, thus allowing the pugilistic character to incapacitate an enemy a lot quicker.
Somehow gone are the melee attacks that are dependent on the player's directional input in Morrowind. Instead, the player character gains so-called 'power attacks', which are performed by entering control inputs in certain ways. This is essentially not any different. However, instead of getting all power attacks available for use, power attacks for a type of weapon have to be unlocked by improving the necessary combat skill.
A step back for the series is the simplification of ranged weapons to just bows, where in Morrowind, there were far more than just these. Spears and other polearms are also absent.
Of course, it can be argued that Cyrodiil offers the would-be assassin far fewer tools than very deadly Morrowind could, but this is still a reduction in sophistication.
Continuing an often-contentious tradition of the Elder Scrolls franchise, its weapon-oriented skills have been restructured for Oblivion – perhaps not for the better, as it introduces stark oddities.
The use of bladed weapons both short and long is now covered by just one skill, which can seem convenient and still quite believable (though martial enthusiasts would argue that swords of various lengths require different skill to use).
A convenient change that is not so believable though is that the use of axes and maces are now governed by just one skill, "Blunt Weapons", which is perhaps a misnomer. Of course, it can be argued that axes and maces are inelegant weapons that can practically be used with the same modicum of skill.
In the previous game, the player can resort to cheesy tactics to give enemies the slip, mainly because they cannot transit between maps. This can no longer be done in Oblivion, where enemies can actually go through barriers that separate sub-areas, such as the doors in between a citizen's house and the city's outdoors.
This means that enemies such as city guards can now pursue thieves into houses and buildings, which can be an unpleasant surprise.
However, the enemies in Oblivion would not seem any smarter than those in Morrowind. They still act as individuals, and can be goaded and ambushed rather easily.
Like the previous games, Oblivion trivializes the Imperial religious system as a set of relationships with various clergies and statistical boons from the deities, at least those of the Nine Divines.
The easiest way to foster relationships with the clergies is to donate a lot of money to them. This can seem difficult at first, but after the player has learned how to exploit the other systems in Oblivion to gain gold, it would not be so anymore.
The more fun way is to perform pilgrimages to the wayshrines of the deities. Praying at these wayshrines allow the player to make use of the altars in the temples for free healing and other bonuses. However, getting the locations of these wayshrines is an unofficial quest in itself, as it requires the player to loosen the tongues of priests and/or do literature research. Some priests are also quest-givers, and solving their quests in ways that they like also earns the favour of their clergies.
The main benefit from cultivating good relationships with the various clergies is access to some practical spells, usually of the divine variety, as well as some goods like healing potions and food items. They are useful for low-level characters, but they lose value as they increase in levels and gain access to better vendors.
The Daedric gods offer benefits that are far more lucrative and entertaining though. They involve amusing quests, and though their rewards may seem all too familiar, they are very powerful and fun to abuse.
Guilds have always been one of the ways that the Elder Scrolls franchise ties some of its secondary quests with, if only to give them narrative consequence. Oblivion would not be any different, at least thematically.
Gone in Oblivion are the skill level requirements for advancement in the guilds. Considering that the notion of guilds is that they are organizations for people of the same profession and have the capabilities for their professed careers, the removal of this requirement can be difficult to justify.
The developers have cited the removal of what were seen by some as a hassle and an obstacle in the pursuit of side quests, but they could have invested more narrative consequence to the requirements instead of taking the easy way out.
Fortunately, the secondary quests for the guilds are surprisingly involved. They can even be considered almost as epic as the ones for the main plot, albeit with less otherworldly villains.
As for the benefits of joining guilds, there is access to services and vendors, which are nothing new in the franchise.
SPELLS & POWERS:
Magicka and its use in spells are expectedly a significant part of Oblivion's gameplay. There have been changes, though not all are for the better, such as the aforementioned removal of Fatigue as a factor in spell-casting.
On the other hand, the better changes ditched the luck-dependent systems of spell-casting in the previous game. Spell-casting skills are no longer a mere factor in RNG rolls. Instead, they determine the strength of spells that the player character can possibly cast, as well as his/her efficiency with them.
To address a balance issue in the previous game, the spells that summon so-called "bound" weapons and armor have been tweaked so that they conjure magical gear that are not any more powerful than actual Daedric gear. More importantly, these gear pieces do not come with enchantments.
However, to ensure that a conjurer that uses "bound" items still have an edge, the items that are conjured have statistics that are dependent on the power of the spells that conjured them. Yet, without the necessary combat skill to use them, a conjurer that uses "bound" gear does not have as much finesse as a warrior that is skilled in using Daedric gear.
The most convenient change in spell-casting is that a character can cast spells even if he/she has a weapon or shield in his/her hands. In other words, he/she can pop off a spell, without having to do all the stereotypical weaving.
This change can displease old-school purists of high fantasy though, who would contend that fantasy fiction often portrays magic as something that is not easy to manipulate.
If there is any limitation that has been implemented to balance this, it is that wearing armor reduces the effectiveness of spells. Thus, the player character cannot be developed into an armored killing machine that deals death with spell and sword, like the player could in the previous game.
Spell-staffs are no longer merely enchanted quarterstaffs. In Oblivion, they actually fire off spells, the strength of which depends on the properties of the spell-staffs and not anything else. This means that characters that are not magically-inclined can carry their own staffs to compensate for their lack of magical prowess.
The player can craft custom-made spells at spell-making altars – rather easily, in fact, and all that is needed is a fee of gold.
Of course, one can say that this was in the previous game too, but followers of fantasy fiction would still remark that magic is rather trivial in the Elder Scrolls universe.
However, crafting spells, or buying them, is not to be done lightly. This is because the player cannot remove spells from his/her spellbook, though there is no limit to the spells that he/she can have. This can cause the player's spellbook to be cluttered with obsolete spells. Of course, it can be argued that one should be careful with what spells he/she learn in the first place.
In the previous game, the Detect spells are of very limited use, mainly because they merely create icons that appear on the mini-map instead of onto the player's direct view of the surroundings.
In Oblivion, this has been rectified by highlighting models with wispy clouds of gases, which can be seen even through walls, floors and ceilings.
However, as convenient as this is, it is a halfway-there improvement. This is because there is only a single Detect spell in the game. It can detect NPCs and monsters, but does nothing much to differentiate them.
As for the other spells, they have been mixed around since Morrowind. For example, the Absorb spells are now under the Mysticism school instead of the Restoration school. This is a typical tradition of the series, of course.
Powers, which are special spells that are granted by one's race, birthsign or some other source, return in Oblivion. They are still generally self-buffs, which can be invoked even when the player character has been silenced. However, they are categorized into two kinds: "Lesser" and "Greater".
Greater Powers would be familiar to veterans of Morrowind. They are still spells with no Magicka cost yet have massive benefits, but can only ever be used once per in-game day.
Lesser Powers are more like regular spells, but some of them do not have Magicka costs. These ones can be abused, but they do not have very potent benefits.
For better or worse, many of the spells that were in Morrowind are absent in Oblivion. Chief amongst these are the convenient Mark and Recall spells, as well as the Divine and Almsivi Intervention spells. Yet, they have been removed, apparently to balance Oblivion's convenient fast-travel system.
The very useful Levitate, Jump and Slowfall spells are also absent, apparently with the reasoning that players were abusing it in Morrowind to get to places that they should not.
The summoning spells in Oblivion are more balanced than those in Morrowind, mainly because the player character can only have one minion of any kind at any one time. This is opposed to the policy of minions in Morrowind, which allowed characters to have one minion for each type of monster.
As in the previous game, Oblivion has systems that allow the imbuing of mundane pieces of gear with magical enchantments, provided that the player has the necessary materials for it, such as the usual soul gems that are filled with souls and the necessary spells to impart on it.
However, there have been changes, some of which may seem to detract from the sophistication of the enchanting system. The quality of the item to be enchanted no longer affects the quality of the enchantment. The Enchant skill is also gone.
On the other hand, the changes do simplify the process to just the considerations for the aforementioned materials. More importantly, luck is no longer a factor. However, the catch to these benefits is that enchanting can only be done at altars.
A change that is more interesting is that enchanting apparel items has different results from enchanting weapons. Where weapons apply their effects on anything they hit and consume charges for doing so, apparel items apply their effects to their wearers indefinitely.
This differs greatly from the enchanted items in Morrowind, which were practically tools to cast spells with.
Amusingly, the player can craft apparel items with seemingly counter-productive properties. By exploiting the system of pick-pocketing and the basic A.I. scripts of NPCs, the player can plant these items on NPCs that he/she intends harm towards. These NPCs will unwittingly wear anything that they are not already wearing in place by default, so, for example, an NPC that does not already wear a ring can be duped into wearing a cursed ring by the next morning when he/she dresses for routines during the day.
Enchanted items that cast spells unto others often have limited capacities for doing so. In Morrowind, their charges replenish automatically over time, but in Oblivion, this convenience is removed, which can seem a surprise as Oblivion introduces more conveniences than takes them away. Therefore, the player has to recharge enchanted items by other means, namely using filled soul gems on them.
Speaking of soul gems, for whatever strange reason, only filled soul gems have value. The soul that fills the gem is the main factor that determines its value. The quality of the gem is not a factor at all, which is a step back in sophistication.
Tying into the main plot is another method to enchant items. After a certain point in the main plot, the player is introduced to Sigil Stones, which can only be obtained via unsettling sojourns into the plane of Oblivion. These stones can be used to impart a particularly powerful enchantment onto a mundane item, but each stone can only impart one type of enchantment, which can seem inflexible. The strength of Sigil Stones is also scaled against the player character's level.
Oblivion makes use of the lore of its Cyrodilic setting to introduce Elven artifacts known as Varla Stones. They fetch a splendid price, but players are more likely to obtain them for their ability to recharge all enchanted items in the player character's inventory.
On the other hand, Varla Stones, and their lesser cousins, the Magicka-restoring Welkynd Stones, do not respawn at all. This is perhaps intended to balance against the possibility that low-level characters can enter Ayleid ruins to get them and thus obtain an early-game advantage.
Perhaps just for the sake of novelty, the player character can pick and hold loose objects in mid-air without touching them, as can be seen using the third-person camera.
There is not much point to doing this, because most loose objects only become useful when they enter someone's inventory and are manipulated from there. There are also very few if any official quests that make use of this feature.
On the other hand, it can be used for some shenanigans, such as piling corpses or making stacks of loose culinary items.
The only practical use of this feature is to pick up display items in shops and carrying them over to nooks and crannies out of the sight of the shopkeeper and anyone else before stuffing them into one's inventory. The same kind of trickery can also be performed in NPCs' own homes.
Considering the length to which Bethesda Softworks has gone to in order to design measures against thievery, that another feature of the game can be used to circumvent them can seem silly.
For better or worse, Bethesda Softworks has decided to implement Havok physics in Oblivion.
This means that while most loose objects and corpses would react in believable manners when lightly manipulated, they become outrageously flighty when forcefully handled. For example, killing an enemy with heavy strikes more often than not tosses their corpses across unbelievable distances.
These peculiarities are of course good for some laughs. However, having loose objects and corpses being stuck somewhere the player character cannot reach is hardly amusing. This can happen all too often, such as items being stuck in crevices that the player character cannot reach. If not this, the items sink into the ground and drop out of the map, which can cause crashes too.
These can even occur to plot-critical items, thus forcing the player to either reload a game-save or turn on the game's developer mode.
Then, there are times when the game seems unable to compute physical occurrences. In most of these circumstances, the game resets the locations and orientations of objects that have been thrown into places where they do not belong. Corpses can even reset into the neutral pose and stand staring into the air, making the game look silly and creepy at the same time.
There are better-designed aspects of the game's physics-scripting. One of these is the introduction of drawbacks to using ranged weapons underwater. In the previous game, arrows are not impeded by fluids. In Oblivion, they decelerate quickly underwater, eventually stopping to float in the water.
Arrows that miss their targets are not completely lost, as they will fall to the ground and be considered as loose objects afterwards. This design is much better than arrows were in previous games, where they are simply lost if they miss.
Every Elder Scrolls entry has an overarching story to justify its settings within the Elder Scrolls universe. In the case of Oblivion, its story involves the royal line of the Septim emperors and their mystical legacy, which in turn presumably justifies the setting of Cyrodiil.
Of course, one can argue that this setting has been used more than a few times before Oblivion. Still, having the setting return with the touch of the Gamebryo engine may entertain some followers of the series.
Anyway, a calamity has befallen the aforementioned royalty. Seemingly through sheer fate alone, the player character is drawn into the troubles that ensue. He/She would become involved in tracking down a previously unknown member of the royal family and thwarting the schemes of an ancient and vengeful god.
Unfortunately, as exciting as this sound, the observant player would realize that as instrumental as the player character would be in the events that unfold, he/she is at best just a secondary actor in an epic saga. The game does attempt to gratify the player with the granting of titles and other benefits for pursuing the main plot-line, but players are likely to find them less satisfying than those from side pursuits.
To prevent the player from breaking the main storyline like he/she could in Morrowind, characters that are associated with the main plot are rendered invulnerable until certain stages in the main plot, at which they are made mortal for the purpose of urgency. These characters are marked by the crown that replaces the regular cursor that comes up when the player character moves up to them to begin a conversation.
There is a measure to preserve quest-critical items from being lost. Quest items, when they enter the player's inventory, are rendered completely weightless and are lumped under their own specialized category of items. It is hardly believable, but it wards against the consequences of absent-mindedness.
As for the journal system in Oblivion, quest entries are arranged according to quest topics, and not just mere chronology. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the conversations that are associated with quest-lines cannot be viewed, unlike in the previous game. On the other hand, as compensation, the journal entries often contain instructions that are concise.
The player can stumble upon some quests without obtaining their proper starting points, such as discovering a place of significance to a quest. In these cases, the quests are registered in the player's journal with an entry that appropriately suggests curiosity on the part of the player character.
However, for certain quests where chronology is of importance, especially those of the main plot, quest-critical locations are completely off-limits to the player character until he/she has progressed to the stages that are associated with them. This can seem like shoe-horning.
In the previous game, the map and journal systems are separate from each other, which made finding out where one needs to go difficult. In Oblivion, quest markers and user-assigned waypoints are introduced to make this easier, albeit perhaps a lot less believable.
SEMBLANCE OF ROUTINES:
Bethesda has trumpeted about how Oblivion would feature Cyrodiil with inhabitants that live believable lives. In practice, the NPCs in this game have been programmed with sets of routines that can be observed to be quite repetitive with few if any deviations.
Of course, that statement is a result of the game being judged with present-day bias. For its time, Oblivion certainly did what so many other games in its genre before it could not do, namely having NPCs that have seemingly lives of their own instead of just standing on one spot or making a circuit around a small area.
For example, the player can stalk an NPC that is a household servant, if only to see whether he/she would have routines that resemble those of a typical servant. The player would discover that the NPC has time slots for sweeping the house (by producing a broom that has been in the NPC's inventory all along), going to the market to purchase foodstuffs and doing cooking animations at the kitchen, eventually retiring to the servant quarters at the end of the day to sleep.
The player also has to adapt to these routines, especially those of vendors, which are described elsewhere.
The player can attempt to break these routines, but he/she will notice that the NPCs somehow go on with them anyway.
For example, the player can take away all the food on the table in the dining hall of a guild after the guild's servants have prepared them. Come meal-time, the guild members sit at the table and make small chat, without remarking on the lack of food. When meal-time is over, as dictated by the in-game clock, they return to their personal routines. The player can attempt to repeat this many times, but the supposedly affected NPCs will not starve to death. This can cause some disbelief when the player realizes this.
Of course, one can argue that the developers can only do so much in having NPCs emulate real people. However, to their credit, they have made the routines of certain NPCs into the cornerstones of some entertaining quests, especially those that demand their very assassination.
One particular noteworthy habit of just about every NPC is that they exchange greetings and bits of gossip when coming across each other. This is perhaps the most natural-looking part of their routines.
However, if the scripts that govern their behaviour decide that they should spend more time talking, they stop to have a chat, which can last several seconds or up to a minute or two, depending on the subject matter. The subject sometimes concerns quests that the player character can undertake, so the player can find out where to go next to find excitement by eavesdropping on NPCs.
Speaking of eavesdropping, the NPCs may have scripts that make them aware of other persons' presence, which do make them more believable, especially in a certain set of quests involving thievery.
Some of the NPCs' chats happen to concern events that occur outside of the game. Charmingly, some of them are references to past Elder Scrolls games. In hindsight, some of them are referring to the next entry after Oblivion too.
ALCHEMY & BREWING:
One of the most intriguing features of the Elder Scrolls franchise is its take on alchemy. Oblivion does not depart from this tradition, but introduces poisons, which will be described later.
Like in the previous game, the player character can gather ingredients – and there are astoundingly many of these – to be mixed and brewed into (usually) useful potions. Poisons can also be concocted if the player is inclined towards the darker side of this profession.
Alchemy ingredients are easy to come by, either from harvesting things in the environment such as bushes and grasses or killing things and 'searching' their corpses for particular organs. As long as the player has the curiosity to look at anything and everything, he/she can find quite a lot of ingredients.
Finding specific ingredients, however, is a different matter. Certain ingredients are chockfull of nothing but beneficial effects, which make them suitable for powerful potions, whereas certain others are doom-laden substances that are perfect for poisons. Finding them in Cyrodiil – or Oblivion – requires some literature research, which can be done in-game via the books that happen to be conveniently near alchemy stations or places of learning.
(Of course, one can just resort to third-party sources.)
One more convincing improvement that Oblivion has over its predecessor is that potion-brewing is no longer luck-dependent. As long as the player can meet the basic requirements for brewing a potion, it can be brewed successfully; being a Master at alchemy allows one to create products with just one ingredient. This would please veterans of the previous game who hated having strokes of bad luck ruining a potion run.
As for the basic requirements, these are merely having two ingredients with an effect that is common to both of them. The resulting potion will have this effect. As the player can use up to four ingredients, each of which can share one effect with any of the others, he/she can create a potion or poison with up to eight effects if he/she can source the proper ingredients.
In practice though, such a combination requires very specific ingredients that can be hard to come by, which perhaps can be seen as a balancing precaution.
There is another balancing precaution, though this one can be seen as too inflexible and perhaps even inconsequential when the player has figured it out.
Every ingredient has four different effects, but only one is known by default. Its other effects (some of which can be surprising) have to be revealed by increasing the character's alchemy skill. This prevents the player from creating multi-effect potions or poisons right from the start. How the game determines whether a brewed product is a potion or poison can be an unpleasant lesson for the inexperienced player.
If the brewed product has any one beneficial effect, it is considered a potion by the game, even if its other effects are woefully debilitating or even outnumber the good ones. This would not have been a big issue, but as more effects are revealed for an ingredient, making a poison becomes harder as the player must find ingredients with incompatible beneficial effects, if any.
Making a potion without drawbacks also becomes more difficult. A player can find out that, to his/her chagrin, ingredients that were once reliable for making certain potions have matching negative effects upon his/her character advancing to the next rank of alchemy.
Anyway, the efficacy of potions and poisons depends on the skill of the brewer as well as the quality of his/her equipment, as in the previous game. However, Intelligence is no longer a factor. Considering that the effects of the factors still stack instead of being averaged, this is perhaps a wise decision.
Brewed products still have weights according to the average of the weights of the ingredients, meaning that the player can still produce impractically heavy products by using massive ingredients like pumpkins.
'Potions' that happen to be brewed to have nothing but harmful effects are turned into poisons. They can be applied to weapons in order to impart additional effects on the next hit that they make, assuming that they are on target (otherwise the poison is wasted, especially in the case of ranged weapons).
This gives the player more options to eliminate enemies with. To elaborate, where there are enemies that are particularly vulnerable to certain types of damage or de-buffs, the player can opt to use either spells or poisons, or both, against them, instead of just spells.
Oblivion was not the first game to implement poisons of course. However, it was one of very few games at the time that allow the player to source poisons from brewing them, instead of the usual shops and vendors.
The player character can have many status effects on his/her person. However, he/she can only have half a dozen or so buffs. Conversely, he/she can only be inflicted with a handful of different de-buffs.
It is important to note here that the effects of a potion or poison count as just one status effect. This means that the player can still circumvent the aforementioned limitations anyway by brewing complex products.
There are also certain status effects that circumvent these limitations, chief amongst these being story-related effects. There is also vampirism, which will be described shortly.
One of the more convincing improvements that Oblivion has over its predecessor is its system for Vampirism and its associated quests. In Morrowind, the official inclusion of Vampirism seemed to be merely there for novelty.
Oblivion's Vampirism is a lot more involved and sophisticated, though whether this is due to the developers' own ideas or the ideas of fans is not clear.
Anyway, becoming a vampire in Oblivion is more than just turning into a pariah with one too many drawbacks (as it was in Morrowind). Being a vampire in Oblivion means keeping one's nature unknown to others when prudent and breaking out when greater powers are needed. This is implemented through a set of stages.
The first and default stage does not make the vampire much different from mortals. Passers-by only make remarks on his/her paleness. However, the first stage also does not confer many benefits, or drawbacks.
To advance to the latter stages, the vampire has to, oddly enough, refrain from drinking blood. Although refraining from feeding is not fatal to vampires in the Elder Scrolls universe, this restraint causes them to become ghastlier, which is depicted in-game as aging of the character's face and his/her fangs becoming more prominent. By the third stage, the character's nature is all too clear to others.
The latter stages grant more benefits such as increased strength and agility. They also grant some special spells that cannot be easily crafted. However, they also impart worse drawbacks. The most apparent of these is exposure to sunlight, which becomes all the more vicious.
Feeding returns the vampire to the default stage. Curiously, anyone that has seen the player character as a vampire happens to forget that he/she is one. Perhaps this was intended by the developers to make the game less troublesome, but it also made it a lot less believable.
Feeding is not just a matter of drinking the blood of anything. The vampire must feed on a sleeping humanoid. This is where the player may want to remember the game's lessons on sneaking, because the sleeping person must be completely unaware of being fed on (though the process is not fatal, fortunately for said person).
Of more entertainment value than the system of vampirism are the quests that are associated with it. To access these, the player character must become a vampire, which in itself is not easy and not immediately apparent to the newcomer.
Of course, veterans of the previous game know the simplest way to become a vampire, though this is a risky method and is rather luck-dependent. There are some side quests that do give the chance for the player character to become a creature of the night, however.
Returning to the quests, these concern an elixir that cures vampirism, ironically. They also offer a view on vampirism that is different from the prevalent one in the Elder Scrolls franchise.
One of the most apparent changes in the interactions between the player character and vendors since Morrowind is brought about by the implementation of NPC routines.
Most shopkeepers sleep for the night and do not entertain customers during this time. In fact, the player is not able to bring up the matter of shopping at all when they are not tending to their businesses (and they are more than likely to be agitated at having their very bedrooms broken into).
To prevent the player from getting goods that make his/her character too powerful early into his/her career, there are two separate systems of inventory that a vendor has. One is for their own individual use, while the other is for goods that vendors offer. The player cannot access the latter system, at least not without using developer tools.
This means that if the player saw a powerful item in the list of products that a vendor offers, he/she is not able to steal it off the vendor's business locale as it resides in someplace separate from the in-game world. However, this does not mean that the player character cannot steal items on display. He/She certainly can, but it will not affect the aforementioned dedicated inventory.
This change can seem unbelievable. However, it is not as unbelievable as another.
In the previous game, vendors have their own reserves of gold, meaning that vendors can run out of money after the player character has sold them many goods. In Oblivion, this otherwise believable limitation has been done away with; vendors now have unlimited reserves.
However, the highest offer price that a vendor can make for an item is limited. For example, a vendor from a seemingly illustrious background can offer only up to 2000 gold coins for any item that he/she is willing to purchase – even if the item is actually worth far more.
On the flip-side, there is no limit to the price that a vendor offers for a sale item. In the case of that example, the vendor may well have an item that costs far more than 2000 coins on sale.
This design can be very unsatisfactory and unbelievable to some players.
That there is a feature to increase the purchase offer limit can seem to sour the impression even more, especially considering that it is part of the developers' attempt to re-invent the Mercantile skill.
Speaking of the skill, there are at least changes that are seemingly for the better. The skill is used for the feature of haggling, which can be used to alter the offered prices at a vendor. This feature also makes more direct use of the NPC disposition statistic, as it is a factor in the chance of success. Speaking of chances, this feature is a bit luck-dependent, so it can irk some players.
GEAR & ITEMS:
The changes in the types and uses of gear that a player character can utilize have been described in their relevant sections earlier. This section is intended for mentions of their miscellaneous designs.
In Oblivion, one would find weapons that are made from many materials. When compared to Morrowind's exclusion of certain materials to certain weapons, this seems like an improvement in the variety of gear. However, this can also be seen as cheapening of the lore of materials in Elder Scrolls canon.
Amusingly, though Oblivion has a much less sophisticated range of gear than Morrowind, it has a lot more knick-knacks and curios. For example, there are cutlery and plates of more shapes and colors on dinner tables than there were in Morrowind.
Unfortunately, this also means that there are a lot more useless things. Gathering them is pointless too, as most of them carry zero value at vendors' shops, if they can even be sold at all.
NPC DIALOGUE & VOICE-OVERS:
One of the most notable and noticeable changes in Oblivion over Morrowind is the introduction of full voice-overs for NPCs. This can be seen as an improvement initially, though its drawbacks become apparent later.
NPCs no longer communicate through lines of text in windows that pop up whenever the player character approaches an NPC. Instead, every line that they utter is fully voiced, though the player may want to enable subtitles anyway as some NPCs can be difficult to listen to, especially the Argonian ones.
Unfortunately, soon enough, the observant player will notice that many of the voice-overs for many NPCs are provided by the same handful of voice talents. The actors and actresses do try to alter their voices for different characters, but they can only do so much. Argonians, Khajiit and Orcs, in particular, sound practically like each other.
(On the other hand, there is not much official lore on the oral differences among different individuals of these races.)
The enthusiasm with which the voice talents voice their characters varies a lot. For generic characters like townspeople and other unnamed NPCs, they sound bored, except when voicing their lines for fights. Most characters of actual consequence are better-voiced, especially those that are associated with the main plot-line. Urgency, in particular, is well portrayed in their voices when a scenario that necessitates this arises. Argonians, unfortunately, sound rather laidback, even when they are excited. It is not entirely clear whether this is due to their being considered cold-blooded or the drawback from the voice talents having already strained themselves by giving gravelly and hissy voices to the Argonians.
Part and parcel of interactions with NPCs is the revamped system of dialogue and its associated skill, Speechcraft.
In Morrowind, the wily player can manipulate its system that determines the disposition of NPCs towards the player, even if the results can be unseemly. Oblivion does not let the player do this easily, perhaps to the dismay of players who consider the system in Morrowind to be more sophisticated.
However, Oblivion's system does address some of the exploits in Morrowind. For one, the player character's Personality attribute places a cap on disposition. Factional relations and the player character's reputation impose yet more limits.
Yet, perhaps for the worse, Oblivion introduces a mini-game that can be played to change NPC disposition. It can seem silly, especially to players who prefer old-school interactions.
Anyway, the mini-game can be started after having started a dialogue with an NPC (assuming that the NPC would do more than just give a passing remark). The player is presented with a dial display at the bottom left of the screen.
Each of the four segments of this display corresponds to one of four speech options. The player must pick each and every option to complete the mini-game, but he/she is allowed to pick them in any order. Picking one renders it unavailable for selection later.
Different NPCs have different reactions to different options, which is believable enough. What is not believable though is that the player can see their would-be reactions by simply having the mouse cursor hover over the segment of each option.
For the more humanoid races, their reactions are easy to deduce, but the Khajiits and especially the Argonians can be more difficult to examine. Still, experience would solve this hurdle, though the player may want to keep in mind that the mini-game imposes a time counter.
Selecting options that the NPCs like increases their disposition. Conversely, selecting the ones that they dislike lowers it. However, the player must pick all of them to finish the mini-game; exiting it prematurely resets the NPC's disposition.
Therefore, in an attempt to inject nuance into this mini-game, the developers have assigned weights to the effects of each option. There are several weights of different magnitudes, though their exact values are not clear. Their magnitudes are qualitatively represented via yellow-orange wedges of different sizes that appear on the dial. For example, the option to "admire" may be assigned a rather large wedge for a certain NPC, thus making its effects more pronounced.
Unfortunately, the assignment of these weights is randomized. Attaining higher ranks in Speechcraft does give the player a tool to use in the mini-game, in addition to reducing the effects of options that NPCs dislike while bolstering the ones that they favour. However, there is nothing much that the player can do about the random assignment of weights.
Indeed, if the player has a stroke of bad luck, he/she would be replaying the mini-game more times than he/she would like.
As a side note, certain NPCs can be goaded into attacking the player character if the player can deliberately lower their disposition ratings, but not every NPC can be taunted into murderous rage.
CRIME & PUNISHMENT:
Following the tradition of the series, Oblivion has a system that levies the player character with penalties for performing crimes that are detected by others. Yet, it allows the player to get away with crime if he/she is careful.
Generally, actions that are deemed as crimes are reasonably convincing crimes, such as the murder of NPCs that have not posed any threat and of course theft. In the case of theft, the player is warned before committing it via context-sensitive changes in the cursors and user interface.
If the player character is caught red-handed performing a crime by a witnessing NPC, guards will run over to the player character to accost him/her. The guards' actions afterwards depend on the severity of the crime. Murders are likely to provoke immediate armed reprisal, whereas lighter ones either have the guards demanding the payment of fines or attempting to arrest the player character.
The player can make things worse by defying the guards violently. In this case, the guards will keep respawning and NPCs will run away from the battle, ensuring that the player will not be doing much of anything constructive (beyond just practising combat skills) until his/her character escapes.
After the player character escapes, the player will still have to deal with the attention of the law. This is represented via a bounty counter, the rating of which determines the attitude of certain NPCs towards the player character.
More importantly, the presence of a bounty causes guards to spawn indefinitely in a town or city and seek out the player character to accost him/her. The magnitude of the bounty determines the number of guards spawned, as well as their response. At high bounties, which are often caused by resisting arrest repeatedly, they attack outright instead of trying to arrest the player character.
Interestingly, this is not much of a change from Morrowind. However, the disposition of guards towards the player character and his/her reputation can influence the outcome of getting caught committing crimes. If their disposition is high enough, i.e. the player has spent time sucking up to the guards, and if the player character is renowned enough, guards that are accosting the player character may let him/her go with just a warning.
For relatively low bounty ratings, the player character's notoriety can be lifted by either agreeing to imprisonment or paying the fines – or be imprisoned if he/she cannot or will not pay the fines. The former method wastes a lot of in-game time, of course, but unlike in Morrowind, it is not an instant game-over.
The latter method is not any more favorable, at least until the player character has amassed a lot of wealth. However, any stolen goods in his/her possession will be confiscated and lost forever.
If the player character escapes in the middle of imprisonment, he/she is still saddled with the bounty. Yet, escape is the only option, because sentences can go on for a very long time. To facilitate escape, the player character has the wisdom to hide a single lock-pick, if he/she has any.
Fencing can be an amusing activity. Stolen items cannot be readily sold to any vendor. Their icons in the inventory system are marked with additional symbols to denote them as stolen. (This is a design that was absent in Morrowind).
Brandishing stolen items would not immediately mark the player character out as a thief, at least in places where guards are not scripted to recognize them. They will be removed if the player character is arrested though.
Most crimes – and fights – can be performed much more easily if the player character can stay hidden. Oblivion introduces some designs to facilitate stealth, but also retains some dubious ones.
One of the dubious designs is that only the footwear of the player character is a factor in how much noise he/she is making when he/she sneaks. This means that the player character can go barefoot while still wearing cumbersome armor when sneaking, which is silly. A benefit that is obtained from attaining Journeyman rank in Sneak completely negates this factor, which makes this even less believable.
The illumination of the player character is now a factor in stealth, which is likely made possible via the implementation of Havok physics. This is an appreciable increase in sophistication.
Lock-picking can still be performed as a luck-dependent process, but there is also a mini-game that rewards skill and observation on the part of the player character. Players that have played the likes of Splinter Cell may be familiar with the mini-game, as it involves manipulating tumblers so that they stay up and locked in place. Time does not pass when the mini-game is played, which is not believable but is otherwise convenient.
The step of locking a tumbler up is the most critical one. If the player fumbles, failure may cause already-set tumblers to fall, causing the player to lose progress as well as the lockpick. Moreover, the player character's rating at lockpicking merely becomes a factor in determining how many and which ones fall; it does not directly help the player in manipulating the tumblers.
On the other hand, players who like skill-based challenges may appreciate the mini-game. However, it has to be mentioned here that due to a design mishap, the mini-game's animation speeds are dependent on the refresh rate of the player's monitor screen.
In previous games in the series, locked containers can be rigged with traps. This is not so in Oblivion. However, to compensate, many containers tend to be located in the end of hallways that are rigged with traps that the player either has to avoid or disarm, if possible.
Oblivion introduces the notion of off-limits areas. The game will inform the player when his/her character gets into one. If he/she is seen, the nearest guard will come running over to accost him/her, unless he/she can hide quickly enough. Usually, he/she is given a chance to be escorted off the premises, but at the cost of having any stolen items confiscated, even if they are not taken from the same place. OWNING PROPERTY:
Certain side endeavours are quite forgettable, because they have so little benefit in the vanilla version of Oblivion. One of these is the collection of real estate, specifically at least one house in each of the established settlements in Cyrodiil. They are intended as places where the player can stash stuff, but without a tool to help the player recall which house has which loot.
There is also not much else that the player can do after having obtained them. He/She can furnish it, but this is merely for the sake of vanity and is at best an excuse to burn otherwise abundant money on, after the player has learned to exploit the system of merchants and vendors.
EXPLORATION & TRAVEL:
Free exploration is something that many players would do. However, compared to the in-game world of Morrowind, Oblivion's is more difficult to explore because the player does not have certain useful tools in Morrowind. The aforementioned Levitate, Jump and other spells were among these.
Oblivion inherits the Acrobatics skill, but it grants much less impressive and reliable jumps. Moreover, the Havok physics system can cause odd glitches if the player somehow manages to bolster the skill beyond a rating of 100 points; the same can be said about Athletics.
(Incidentally, Acrobatics and Athletics are the only skills that have effects beyond 100 points.)
If anything, Oblivion does introduce more tools to get one's bearings in Cyrodiil. The changes to the map system and how it ties into quests have been mentioned earlier, but there is a compass strip in the heads-up display that show nearby places of interest. This can make exploration rather involving, as the player bounces from one locale to the next.
The main plot would later populate Cyrodiil with ominous otherworldly gates, which make exploration more entertaining though more dangerous.
Quest pursuits and side endeavours are made easier by a fast-travel system that lets the player use the map screen to get the player character from one place to another in just a few seconds in real-life. However, the game causes in-game time to pass, depending on the player's method of travel. It calculates distances using straight lines, though, which can be exploited.
Speaking of methods of travel, the player character can now ride a horse. Riding is very useful if the player plans to use the network of roads in Cyrodiil, move through plains or take shortcuts through light forests and less harsh hills. However, one cannot conduct combat while riding a horse; he/she must dismount.
Perhaps for the worse, Bethesda has decided that any further official content for Oblivion comes with a price tag. It even backtracked on its promise for the last add-on package, which was supposed to be free. The most infamous package is of course the barding for horses, which was perceived by many as overpriced.
Most of these packages have to be purchased from Bethesda's Online Store (now for all purposes, defunct) when they debuted, and unfortunately they are incompatible with future versions of the game. Moreover, they introduce a lot of bugs into the main game.
Fortunately, there is another aspect of the game if the player is looking for more content for the game, but away from the official offerings.
Support and infrastructure for mods was one of the plus-points of Morrowind, and it is even more so in Oblivion, which has a dedicated system for activating mods and having them override original scripts.
Incidentally, this system has been used by some to re-implement elements from Morrowind, as well as fix some of the bugs that Bethesda Softworks overlooked.
For better or worse, Oblivion was festooned with bugs upon launch. Fortunately, support by the developers fixed most of the issues. Yet, one would wonder about the quality control over at Bethesda Softworks – something that would continue to this day.
GRAPHICS & SOUNDS:
Oblivion's visuals were not cutting-edge for its time, but it was adequate for portraying its open-world gameplay.
The game does resort to thick fogs, conveniently steep mountains and deep water to conceal the invisible walls that restrict movement outside of the considerably large expanse of Cyrodiil. However, getting to these artificially implemented boundaries can be daunting in itself.
The game's draw distances are usually up to the task of showing the player the horizons that his/her character can get to, but this is because the map-makers resorted to clever use of rolling terrain to obscure far-away places. If the player were to somehow travel along mountain-tops (or outright cheat), he/she can see through this trick.
The character models in Oblivion are certainly a lot better-looking than the ones in Morrowind. However, they still give the impression that Bethesda Softwork's modellers at the time were not very skilled in making visually appealing characters.
The particle effects for spells consist of clouds of gases with the odd lightning bolt or two, but otherwise they are unimpressive. This makes magical combat seem stale.
The titular plane of Oblivion is perhaps the best-looking locale, despite, or rather because of, its otherworldliness. It is a severe place, as befitting the tyrannical Daedric god that created it.
Outside of the main plot, the sound effects heard in the game are mundane, especially to players that have