Sunday, March 6, 2011

Game 1257: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The answer to the question "Where the hell have you been for the last week?" is a funny one. (Unless you've been eagerly awaiting my next Demon's Winter posting, or my next Bard's Tale III posting, or my next any posting that re-establishes some kind of regularity and order to my blog.) Here it is: my CRPG addiction has been my CRPG addiction.

Here's how it started. Five or six weeks ago, Irene (my wife) and I were looking for something to do on a Wednesday night, and she suggested that we go buy an X-box 360, having never upgraded our original X-box. She had read that you can get Netflix Instant Play on it, as well as stuff from Zune*, and anyway she likes games. Actually, to clarify: she likes watching me play games while she shouts helpful suggestions and looks up hints online.

Now, you hardcore gamers are thinking that I have the perfect wife, and I admit she can be pretty cool. But she only likes a small subset of games: cinematic, fairly linear, plot-heavy CRPGs with lots of dialog options, like Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. This is great, because I like these games too, but frankly once you get past them there aren't many like them. I tried to show her Morrowind on the old X-box, but she was bored to tears with it.

So. We pop over to Gamestop (yes, I'm that square) and pick up the console and two games she likes the look of: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Lost Odyssey. I try to tell her that the Star Wars game isn't going to be like KOTOR, but she doesn't listen. We get back, and sure enough she soon gets tired of it when she realizes there are no dialog options. She likes Lost Odyssey a little better, but I don't. So we stop playing games for a few days and watch all the seasons of The Guild (great show; I should do a special topics posting on it later). Then, a few days later, she's reading X-box 360 game reviews online and says, "Have you ever heard of this Oblivion game?"

"I think I played it once a few years ago," I say, teetering on the verge of an outright lie and then finally going over the edge. "I didn't get very far." (She won't want to buy it if she knows I've won it three or four times.)

"It's supposed to be really good," she says. "But I guess it's a sequel, so maybe we should play the others first."

"The first two aren't available on the X-box and you wouldn't like them anyway," I say quickly. "And you don't need to play the first games to understand the fourth. It takes place in an entirely new part of Tamriel and your character is unconnected with the past plots."

"Apparently," I add, as she looks at me suspiciously.

So we go buy it. All the time, a warning is ringing through my ears that she won't like it, but I don't listen to it. If I can get her to enjoy Oblivion, it's like synergy. I can spend quality time with her and play games. Thoughts of what will happen to this blog are there, but not in the forefront.

She's enchanted at first. We spend what seems like forever making the character. A cat lover, she immediately wants to play a Khajit.

"You can't play a Khajit your first time 'round," I explain. "You have to unlock some achievements first."

We finally settle on a Dunmer (female of course) and get started. The game immediately fools her (like it fooled all of us) by pretending like it has dialog options when you first speak to the emperor.
One of about five dialog options in the entire game (and no, choosing what topic to ask about is not a "dialog option").
She spends an eternity deciding on a class, carefully reading the game manual to me while I tell myself, "You can't tell her you already know all this. You can't tell her about custom classes. You can't tell her about the leveling problem. Just go with it." We make the character an agent.

Within a couple of hours, she's seen past the game's facade and has realized that she doesn't like it, especially when I insist on doing side quests (she wants to just follow the main quest). So she's done with it.

But of course I'm not. I'm hooked again. And for the past week, all of my normal CRPG time has gone into Oblivion. When she abandoned me, I created a new character and laughed maniacally as I decided this would be a complete game: all quests solved, all Oblivion gates closed, all skills to 100, all places found! As she headed off to work every morning, I made a show of firing up my laptop and recounting all of the things I had to get done today. Then, the moment her car left the driveway, I kicked on the console and sat on the couch for 8.5 hours. The moment I heard tires crushing ice, I saved, turned off the console, and leaped back to my computer.

"Did you get a lot of work done?" She'd say, as she took off her coat.

"A little," I'd reply. "These clients are killing me, though. I spent most of the day just cleaning data." Yes, I'm a horrible, horrible man.

A week later, I'm a bit Oblivioned-out. I certainly haven't finished. And this isn't my official posting on the game, of course, which will come for real some time in 2023, probably. But here are some notes from my fifth or sixth playthrough:

  • I decided to do something fun this time. First, I picked up Martin immediately on arrival in Kvatch, and I took him on my quest through the city to kill all the Daedra. I decided we were fire-forged friends at that point, and rather than return him immediately to Weynon Priory, I enlisted him to follow me all over the province, exploring dungeons and solving quests. He fights well and can't die. Sometimes I lose him in a dungeon, but he always shows up at the exit when I leave.
  • The game is most fun, in my opinion, between Levels 2 and 10. After that, it gets a little ridiculous, with every roadside bandit sporting Elven or ebony armor. Fortunately, if you play it right you can decide when you level up. I wait until I have at least 50 skill level advances since the last level.
  • The disadvantage to playing on the X-box is that you can't install any mods, some of which I found delightful, correcting the very problem mentioned above and making the game both harder and better-balanced.
  • The NPCs are, in my opinion, the weakest part of the game. Unlike some reviewers, I'm not enthralled by the fact that all of the dialog is spoken. I'd rather they'd spent their time offering actual dialog choices to the PC. The voice acting isn't even all that good. It seems like the same five voice actors did all the voices except the Emperor and Martin, and sometimes an NPC (often a beggar) changes voices in the middle of a chat.
  • Related to this, there's essentially only one way to solve any quest you get in the game. And the game gives you quests without so much as a by-your-leave. Yes, you could ignore them in the quest list, unless you have CRPG OCD like me.
  • I don't see how you play this game "evil." It's hard to reconcile becoming a member of the Dark Brotherhood with caring about the main quest line and serving the Blades. If you play "good," it's hard to reconcile doing anything but the main quest line. With Oblivion gates popping up all over Cyrodil, what possible justification do I have finding Ayleid artifacts for some rich dude, or bottles of wine for a publican? And the simultaneous existence of the main quest, the Shivering Isles quest, and the Knights of the Nine quest makes little sense. The only logical way to play the game is to solve the main quest as soon as possible, and then do everything else, unless you do what I do and come up with some kind of external role-playing reason to take a long break in between stages of the main quest.
  • Thus, it isn't the plot that I like but the game play itself. Things that I find absurdly enjoyable: lighting up a torch for the first time as I enter an unexplored ruin; using a Nighteye potion to spot enemies at long range, then sniping him with an arrow soaked in a Damage Health poison from a hidden alcove; loading up on everything I find when I first enter a dungeon and then slowly discarding things that aren't worth their weight in gold, then aren't worth twice their weight in gold, then three times, and so on, as I get more overburdened; saving up incredible loads of reagents and then mixing up a huge batch of potions all at once; luring enemies into booby traps; throwing the bodies of each slain enemy all the way down the Oblivion fortress spire; saving up low-level damage scrolls that I find and then using them all at once against a single enemy; whacking a bandit with a dagger poisoned repeatedly with Damage Fatigue, waiting until he collapses in exhaustion, then beating him to death with my fists; pickpocketing enemies before I backstab them.

I can't show images of any of this, of course, since it's on my TV. (Cue six people telling me how I could, in fact, show images.) But it doesn't matter, because I'm done with Oblivion for now. It's taking too much of my time, and I don't just mean CRPG time. The benefit of playing CRPGs on my computer is that I'm at my computer and thus not liable to forget my "to do" list.

Although I still prefer a PC to a console, there is something enjoyably lazy about playing CRPGs from the couch on a big screen. I keep meaning to look up how to connect my computer to the television, but I don't suppose it makes much sense until I get out of the era in which I still need DOSBox.

For the next two weeks, I'm back on track and will have a posting at least every other day. I promise.

*Addendum: trying to purchase Microsoft Points through X-box Live failed with every one of four credit cards I tried, and it also led to every one of those credit cards being frozen for potential fraud. I had to call them all and explain the purchase attempts were legitimate, but even after doing so, the charges still wouldn't go through. I had to buy the points through Amazon via gift card and then "redeem" them. Message boards were full of people with similar stories. I'm mystified.


  1. Given your outspoken love for Oblivion in the past, the first thing I thought when you said you bought an Xbox 360 is what you will do when Skyrim releases this November. But don't sweat it, Skyrim will consume the entire world! =)

  2. I have just restarted M&M6 for the eleventieth time, and YOU JUST HAD TO REMIND ME ABOUT OBLIVION AND OOO!

  3. Dean, I've been so consumed by old games for the past year that I utterly missed the news about ES5. Thanks. I'll have to save enough time in November for both.

    Mart, I'm glad I'm not the only one with this weird MM6 fixation over the years. I not only installed and played it about 10 times, but I BOUGHT it almost as many, since almost every one of my playthoughs was followed by a determination never to waste that much time on a game I've already played again.

  4. Your wife does not like Oblivion? She has a great taste :-). Seriously, I don't get how anybody can play such a bland, boring, buggy, and broken (wow, unintentional alliteration) game (the latter one regarding mechanics like the leveling that you mentioned).

    To each his own. It's still good to see you will return to "better" games. I am eagerly waiting for Wasteland which I am currently replaying myself.

  5. I've been on an Oblivion kick myself lately, but I'd never play it on the 360 (which is easy to avoid, having sold mine last year). The mods are an essential part of my gaming experience, and I prefer them to be as absurd as possible.

    I throw mods together with total disregard for balance, continuity, and cohesiveness. My characters travel the world with parties of six or more companions, sometimes entire retinues complete with squires and horses. I recruit NPCs from across the land and populate my various fortresses and houses with them.

    I was even worse with Morrowind modding: I terraformed that island into my character's image. I created new cities, industrial complexes, networks of highways in the sky, and had an entire army to do my bidding. I even used this really well-implemented real-time sailing galleon created by "Mad Max" to travel the seemingly endless seas (I wish this were easier to accomplish in Oblivion, which is too walled-off by default).

    In the absence of interesting dialogue with NPCs like you might get in a Bioware title, game-breaking modding is how I stay interested. Sometimes I like skipping the fast transport options and just wander around for the hell of it. With my new graphics card, Cyrodiil looks better than ever.

  6. Great article! I loved Oblivion ... but mainly for the side quests! I never bothered finishing the main plot but if one play's Oblivion one must approach the Thief Guild and Dark Brotherhood quests! I found them refreshingly entertaining among the deluge of same old boring plots in many later RPGs. But it's true that Oblivion isn't as cinematic as Dragon Age or Mass Effect. It's more of a sandbox game anyway so it's more a player-centric game than a spectator-centric game.

  7. "She's enchanted at first. We spend what seems like forever making the character. A cat lover, she immediately wants to play a Khajit.

    "You can't play a Khajit your first time 'round," I explain. "You have to unlock some achievements first.""

    Heh, that's rather cruel of you...

  8. I agree re: voice acting. I call the phenomenon of having every single line by every single no-name NPC voiced "voice bloat."

  9. CRPG Addict: You should get Mass Effect and Dragon Age for your Xbox 360 - they're much more like KotOR, being made by the same company and all. Mass Effect has shooter-style combat, but if you like the FPS-style combat of The Elder Scrolls games then you should be okay with that.

    I also got bit by an urge to play Oblivion again a couple months ago, but I think I'm over it for now. I've played the crap out of all 4 TES games plus Battlespire, and have never finished a single one. I doubt I ever will because I'm too much of an explorer and there is just too much to see in those games.

  10. I usually have an ethic about mods and cheating. (the two are usually related.) I play the game first, once I beat it on Hard, I let myself play with mods or cheats.

    The Elder Scrolls Games are kind of an exception to this. I think that is because, as CRPGAddict pointed out, the game is so much more about the experiece than the overall story.

    The Elder Scrolls Games have an excellent story but it is a high-level story. To really know what is going on, you have to explore and put it together. I must have beat Morrowind three times before I really figured out what all the character's motivations were, and what had happened. Then I played Tribunal and it blew my mind!

  11. Also: I am ***SO*** looking forward to Skyrim!

  12. Don't know how to play the game evil?

    I managed to pull it off:

    The trick is to murder absolutely everyone ever. Preferably with your bare hands.

    Yes I know I am shamelessly plugging a Let's Play I finished months ago. I do not care.

    Also, good luck doing absolutely everything. I tried until I realized that every cave was the same, every gate was the same, every bit of ruins were the same, and most quests were very similar. I got pretty damn close, though.

  13. My sons are big Oblivion fans which they play on their xbox. They are already going on about Skyrim. The thing that annoys me about xbox live is that once you've added a credit card you can only remove it by going online (via a pc).

  14. Not sure if this is the case or not, but often you have to go online and define an address for credit-cards before they will work with online payments. A few MMO's had this problem, and the resolution was to manually define an address online. However, in about 99% of cases this was because they were 'prepaid' credit cards. Not 100% sure if it's all credit cards. Further, different rules for different countries. For as tied as Australia and USA are, sometimes it's bloody hard for an Aussie to buy anything from America. (All the laws which specifically state that it is US ONLY!)

  15. I found Oblivion enthralling for a while, but the seams start to show after a while. And there sure are a lot of them. And on PC you can sew up some of them with mods, but then you notice others....

    Morrowind was where the series peaked, as far as I'm concerned. The setting, while technically the same world, was so much more enthralling and original and alien, and the player's options so much less constrained. Yet there was a level of handcraftedness and attention to detail that made it a world and not a crazed, repetitive mishmash of procedural content like Daggerfall.

    I hope Skyrim will be more like Morrowind. A lot more like Morrowind. But I'd settle for it being like Fallout 3. (I'd be even happier if they used SPECIAL and not their half-assed mess of a levelling system, but that's already confirmed as not happening.)

  16. I wasn't as fond of Oblivion as the other Elder Scrolls games, but I enjoyed it for awhile. I'm hopeless at "real-time" combat, but I really liked sneaking around shooting stuff with a bow. I kept my level low, so I wasn't out-classed by my enemies.

    But for me, it's either too hard or too easy (once I've enchanted my armor so nothing can see me). Or maybe it was just too much like Morrowind. I felt like I'd played the game before.

    I loved Morrowind, and I loved Daggerfall, though I completely ignored the main quest in both games. I think they've taken the wrong direction since Daggerfall (as have all blockbuster games, I guess). I'm really looking forward to the DaggerXL recreation of the latter game.

  17. Anon, one of the advantages to Oblivion on the X360 is that there aren't any "bugs" that I can see. I remember on the PC it would deliver frequent freezes, especially when transitioning from one map to another. I haven't encountered that on the X-box. I also don't have to turn off half the graphics options to get it to work on my laptop.

    On modding, I like to experiment with mods created by other people, but I've never taken the time to get into it myself. I was always impressed by the Baldur's Gate mods, especially since the game was not explicitly designed to be modded. Some of them, like the banter packs for BG1 and "Unfinished Business" for BG2, it's hard to imagine playing without. But I typically follow Lame Brain's approach: beat it once legitimately first, then start messing around. Lame, I agree with you on the story behind Morrowind. If you don't read the old books and scrolls very carefully, it's hard to know exactly what the Nerevarine is (indeed, even if you do read it carefully, it's hard to know who he is). Playing Oblviion this time around, I noted something I missed before: there's a note to the effect that the Nerevarine left Morrowind for "Mysterioius" Akavir after the events of ES3. I wonder if there will be any more references to this in the next game.

    HunterZ, if you like my blog, it's probably a bad idea to suggest more games for the X360. But thanks. I'll try them out if my wife wants to. She's been talking about "Dragon Age" lately because I guess there's going to be a web series based on it starring Felicia Day, who she likes from "The Guild."

    Zink, that was brutal and fascinating. I didn't even realize you could really fight Mehrunes Dagon.

    Malkav11, I like Morrowind's story better, but I think there are gameplay elements that are better in Oblivion, including a better alchemy system, being able to block with weapons, and quest tracking. You're right about the "alienness" of the game world. I miss chitin armor, dreughs, nix hounds, and mushroom towers. I don't miss cliff racers, though. In fact, there's a special topic posting in there: the top X most annoying monsters in CRPGs. Cliff racers from Morrowind, sprites from MM1, floating eyes from MM6...there's got to be a lot more.

    People seem really divided on Daggerfall. I only tried it briefly, a few years ago, when Bethesda made it available for free. I look forward to playing it for real as part of the blog. I didn't like Arena at all: too huge, too random, too repetitive.

  18. I do love the blog, but I couldn't stand hearing about you and your wife searching aimlessly for a specific type of game when I know that at least those two are good ones that should fit the bill perfectly.

    As for the TES games:

    Daggerfall shares a lot in common with Arena, with the vast majority of content being procedurally generated. It has a better graphics engine that allows things like mouselook, but its procedurally-generated 3D dungeons are an absolute nightmare to navigate without getting hopelessly lost. The area where both Arena and Daggerfall really fall down for me is that there's absolutely zero point to exploring the overworld, because it's all random and there are no quests there (just in dungeons and towns). I do like both games though (as well as Morrowind and Oblivion).

    Morrowind was a shocking difference to me, with just about everything but the contents of containers being of static design. It certainly made for a much more cohesive, flowing world that appeals greatly to my exploration urges, although at the cost of slowing down the apparent pace of the game. Oblivion and Fallout 3 continued and refined this, and I think it's a good thing because it's damn fun to just aimlessly wander and explore in an attractive, well-designed world for dozens of hours on end.

    Skyrim looks to be more of the same type of gameplay that was presented by Morrowind and Oblivion. In fact, it will apparently use a small iteration of the Oblivion engine, making it less of a technological leap forward than any TES game so far. They should have waited another year or two and assembled a new engine again, but it probably wouldn't matter since they're cross-developing for the same generation of consoles as Oblivion anyways.

  19. That's pretty funny, actually. I just reinstalled Oblivion and Morrowind and have been looking through my mod archives to decide what to play with this time around. Have you ever tried FCOM? I've never used OOO by itself, but I really love FCOM (basically it mashes OOO and other big overhauls together).

    I've played somewhere between 300 and 400 hours of Oblivion (actual play time, not mucking around with load orders and bashed patches, etc.) and have never beaten the main quest. My experiences with Morrowind have been similar. I think this time, I'll try to actually finish the main quest instead of just wandering around killing stuff, questing and exploring.

    I've always found that the TES games fall pretty flat when it comes to NPCs and such but they have interesting lands to explore and provide something unlike anything else I know of for playing "random adventurer guy" - that's the thing I love about the series the most.

  20. Actuaaaallllyyyyy... you can't fight Mehrunes Dagon.

    I cheated because I wanted a better ending.


    It is also possible through several bugs though. Including using ludicrously powerful spells, using wabbajack (which won't change his model, but WILL change his stats) and several other ways I can't recall right now.

  21. I had a lot of trouble with Oblivion due to the sheer hardness as I didn't know about the levelling system. I found Fallout 3 a lot easier, though part of that was a bad mod that made things far easier then I expected in some ways, though mostly I think it was the non-fully real time combat and better levelling system.

    I still added too many mods to both and they stopped working, and I've not bothered re-installing them as I don't have time to play.

  22. There are some definite gameplay and engine enhancements in Oblivion, to be sure. I think stealth works significantly better in Oblivion, physics are nice, the "Radiant AI" underdelivers but is still arguably an improvement over the much more static NPCs of Morrowind, etc. I just wish it hadn't been accompanied by things like the removal of teleportation and levitation, the drastic simplification of enchantment and consequent massively less useful artifacts, and the condensation of every possible category of melee weapon down to two categories that make no sense (yes, axes are -totally- blunt weapons). To say nothing of the usual complaints re: the world levelling with you.

  23. Huh. Good point, Malkav: I had completely forgotten about the Almsivi and Divine Intervention spells in Morrowind, plus the Mark and Recall spells (or is that Might & Magic)? I don't really miss levitation, which I thought always looked kind of silly. I thought I remembered an in-game explanation for it, but I haven't encountered it this time around.

    If I'm smart, I'll work my butt off and clear out my schedule in the fall so that I can have an entire week of guilt-free Skyrim playing.

  24. It's refreshing to see that I'm not the only one with mixed feelings about Oblivion. Upon entering the game world for the first time -- which I did only recently -- I was totally blown away and continued to be for hours.

    Years after its release Tamriel is still awe inspiring in its scope and detail. The idea, too, of leveling based on skills that I use is pretty awesome as well.

    However, by level 14 (or so) combat became arduous and prolonged to the point of being dull. My rogue (type) character didn't feel like a rogue as I understand them but more of a fighter who can't be hit or a mage who can't really cast spells.

    After reading around a bit I discovered that I had encountered the 'leveling problem'. While I'm hardly a hardcore RPGer (meaning the actual role play), the way around this was so far removed from anything resembling immersion that it seemed totally counter to what was initially so awesome about the game.

    Without making a conscious decision to do so, I found myself no longer logging into that particular. I did get quite a few hours out of it so it was totally worth the little bit of money I paid but the squandered potential was pretty heartbreaking for my nerd heart.

    I have high hopes for Skyrim though.

  25. The biggest problem with Oblivion, for me, comes down to this: there is no dungeon you can explore as a Level 1 character in which death at the hands of some unconquerable character is near-certain (Umbra is perhaps the one exception). Nor is there any dungeon that you can enter at Level 30 and be assured of a quick butt-kicking.

    I much prefer Morrowind's approach, which would allow you to wander into the Ghostfence at Level 1 and face certain doom, or to lay waste to an Ashlander camp as you flew over their heads at Level 25.

  26. And does there really have to be so much loot in the game? How much cheese wedges and yarn do these people need? Go into some dungeon and the place is littered with chests and bags and barrels. Not to mention all the enemy drops. Need a goddamn tractor trailer to haul all the shit back to town. But it has ruined the feeling of joy one might have gotten from finding a scarce goody chest, since they are anything but scarce.

  27. What levelling problem?

    I recently piucked up Oblivion for 15€ for the XBOX having never played it before on the PC and I am still figuring out whether it is worth my time...

  28. If you Google it, you'll find plenty of longer explanations, but the short of it is: as you increase in levels, so do all of your enemies, in all locations. Where you might have encountered a goblin at Level 1, you'll encounter a minotaur at Level 15. A Khajit bandit wearing leather armor at Level 2 will be wearing ebony armor at Level 17. Thus, the game basically punishes you for leveling up unless you carefully manage it.

  29. The Dread Pirate RodgersDecember 2, 2011 at 3:17 AM

    I liked Morrowind ok, I enjoyed the vastness and alienness of it. I hated Oblivion. The setting didn't grab me like Morrowind, and it seemed so tiny. When they ruined Fallout with Oblivion with Guns, oh sorry, Fallout 3, I decided never to buy one of their games again.

  30. Dear Dread Pirate Rogers: This is an interview with the original creator of Fallout, talking about how he enjoyed most of Fallout 3, except for that he found it too faithful to the origionals.

  31. I'm surprised you enjoyed Oblivion so much. I simply loathed it and though it may be confirmation bias, it seems most oldschool CRPGers feel the same way. It's somewhat ironic as I say this, since I'm finishing up a 150+ hour game of Skyrim, but Oblivion almost killed Bethesda for me. Fallout 3 was a slight improvement, but I still found it a mostly boring mess. Again, ironic, as I simply loved New Vegas - though I think it's because Obsidian has much more of the same appreciation in style of RPG that I do.

    I did like Daggerfall, though I felt it didn't compare favorably to it's competition. Skyrim, despite some complaints I have with the leveling system and reduction in types of gear and weapons, is a huge step in the right direction. Morrowind was almost perfect, though it could do for smoother combat that we see in the modern iterations.

    Oblivion simply took everything I love about CRPGs and broke it. There was almost no point to exploring, as there were barely any NPCs with original dialogue. Wanna explore all the dungeons? Might as well just jump into one and re do it over and over. They'll all have enemies that are your level and drop loot that's good for you right now. You don't have to worry about running into anything too hard or finding anything unique making dungeon exploration virtually pointless. It does the same thing to leveling and the world suffered from the same issues. I also felt going from one of the more unique nations in Nirn to one of the most generic wasn't a good step, though I can see why people would approve of that.

    Oblivion gates likewise merely became a nuisance by the end. There were only a few dozen quest outside of the main, linear questlines and they were all (if I remember right) standard MMO quest of kill x amount of y or find x amount of y. It didn't even offer up the pretense otherwise.

    Most importantly, the lack of roleplaying options and poorly written story killed me. I can't find a link now, but I do remember Bethesda saying something to the effect that writing in RPGs was not important - and that view shows in Oblivion.

    TL;DR version: I felt Oblivion killed the need for exploration, character development, NPC interaction and story progress. These are the things that makes RPGs great to me, and thus why I was so thoroughly disappointed in that game. On that note, I think I have to go figure out how to become the thane of Riften now...

    1. Mods fix the terrible level scaling, making exploration more worthwhile. I can recommend Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul.
      But I must agree I don't understand how people can enjoy the vanilla or console version of Oblivion so much.

    2. Damn. My comment bellow ("I agree with some...") was meant to be here. And yeah, Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul is a truly great example of what can be done with Oblivion via mods.

  32. I agree with some of the problems you have with Oblivion, but still I have a pretty different opinion to yours regarding the game.

    For one thing, I never got the impression that I was playing a game with exclusively "MMO style" quests. Sure, there are plenty that will have you kill a certain character or retrieve an object, but so do most RPGs. However there is variety to Oblivion's quests, particularly if you do the Thieves Guild quests. You'll get missions where you have to steal objects without being caught or where you have to navigate labyrinthine locations. There are other examples of quests that go beyond simple kill/fetch missions.

    Regarding the notion that there are barely any NPCs with original dialogue, I disagree. The are probably a few hundred NPCs that have at least some original dialogue and about 200 of them are marked as "essential"; that means they're crucial to some quest line or another. Sure, it may seem that there aren't enough characters with someting original to say, but I think that's only because of the game's scale: the game world is pretty extensive, most of it is wilderness, there's over 1500 named NPC and countless other generic ones (guards, soldiers, bandits) which are randomly generated by the game. It could've been better on the NPC front, but all in all it's not bad.

    The major problem with Oblivion is that it's character leveling mechanics are highly exploitable and that all enemies are scaled to your level. You could probably finish every single quest in the game, barring a few that require skills of a certain level, as a level 1 character. That's obviously wrong; it didn't really stop me from enjoying the game to a degree, but it did bring it down considerably. Fortunately the modding community has done some amazing things for those playing on the PC. Nowadays there are some exceptional mods that rebalance practically every thing Bethesda got wrong in terms of game mechanics. This includes character leveling and enemy scaling.

    Regarding the main story... I thought it was a bit rubbish, it felt like a chore at times, and I particularly hated those Oblivion gates popping up everywhere. However I think Elder Scrolls games were never about the main story; they were about large open worlds with expansive and immersive lore, where you could do anything you wished within the game's generous limits. You never had to do anything; that even solves the Oblivion gate nuisance: you can simply ignore the main story once you exit the sewers and they will never appear. I suspect the only reason why Bethesda bothers to include a main story is because everyone seems to expect one, regardless of the nearly sandbox nature of its RPGs.

    In short, Oblivion is far from a masterpiece, and Bethesda did mess up certain aspects of the game, however it doesn't deserve the unmitigated hate it gets among some circles. Besides, those playing on the PC can fix most of the things Bethesda got wrong. I guess that sucks for those that bought a console version and can do nothing about those problems, but hey... modding has long been one of the greatest aspects of PC gaming.

    1. Morrowind had a great Main Quest, and you were actually encouraged to get more experienced before working for Coiades. Oblivion is better if you ignore all the nonsense with the Gates of Oblivion, since they just sit there. Nobody cares about the gates and the supposed demon invasion, and no monsters come out of them before the player character comes near anyway.
      Both the main quest and especially the Knights of the Nine are prime examples of bad roleplaying in a game that calls itself an RPG.
      Oblivion is better if you load it up with mods, ignore the main quest and just explore, do quests and rise in power in the guilds.

    2. I agree about Morrowind's main quest and I think Morrowind is the only Bethesda RPG that has a great main story, though I haven't played it in years and I suspect my memories regarding it are a bit nostalgic. Yet even there the main story was purely optional, just another aspect of an otherwise mostly sandbox game.

      In Oblivion those gates simply miffed me, partly because nobody cared that they even existed (barring a few NPCs involved in the main quest), partly because I thought they were eye sores in the beautiful, yet generic, landscape of Cyrodiil. The fact nobody cared about the gates also spoiled much of the game immersion... unless everyone in the province thought "yeah, we have an Oblivion Gate outside of town. I'm sure that if we ignore it and pretend it's not there, it'll simply go away."

    3. I'll just respond in this thread for simplicities sake. When I said the side quest in Oblivion were 'MMO' style, I was excluding the faction questlines. I felt that outside of the linear, heavily handled questlines there were no side quest of merit. And while I really did enjoy the Dark Brotherhood quests, I found the rest to be weak and lackluster.

      I also disagree it felt like there was a strong variety in NPC interaction. I don't remember many saying anything unique, most of it just shared generic dialogue. I don't remember anything like what you see in Skyrim where you'll find members of a family in one town talking a similar problem their relatives in another also share with you. It helped build up a sense of developed NPCs, even if it was just a few lines, that Oblivion's never held for me.

      It may be a bit of confirmation bias, though. I remember being so offended by how purely dumb Oblivion's vaunted 'radiant AI' was that I could never take their NPCs seriously. They basically proclaimed it as the best innovation for months, when other games like Gothic had already done it and done it in a way that was believable and not nearly parody.

      As for the main quest writing for Bethseda's games, it tends to vary I feel. Oblivions was trash, but the Dark Brotherhood was good - and each faction questline is basically a 'main story' in itself. Morrowinds I remember being quite good, and Skyrim's is merely ok, mostly weakened by the superior writing in it's side questlines much like Oblivion was.

      I do believe mods make the game better. I played it at release, however, and was so underwhelmed I never see myself going back. I do revisit Morrowind occasionally, decked out fully with mods, but that's because the game made a good impression in the first place. I don't really feel a need to revisit Oblivion, even though I can easily believe mods would make it a great game.

  33. My opinion repeats many of the points already made here. It was a beautiful facade, a wonderful landscape, the spoken dialogue, some things made easier, like travelling. But there wasn't much content behind that facade, well... still extremely much when compared to other games, but it does not match Morrowind. The levelling and the item system was boring. And I hate how monsters respawn in dungeons. That gives me the feeling that I can never finish the game, so I shouldn't try (Skyrim at least marked the locations you already completed.). The game was not mysterious enough, the quests came by too easy, there was a lot of repetition. However, the original quests were all beautifully done, especially some of the daedric shrine quests. I didn't like the minigames, I'd rather keep the probability based lockpicking of Morrowind, or the bribing of people.
    I see what they wanted to do: A polished version of Morrowind, crispier, quicker, more beautiful. But they made the game a bit bland. I still played 200+ hours though. And Shivering Isles was a great expansion.

  34. rival my own abilities of spousal subterfuge - although my wife has become quite adaptive to my storytelling methodology and my growing inability to mask my hidden snickering and grins of delight which I usually try to only reveal to my mind's eye -

    It really is an art form to appear totally unaware or non-plussed to the idea of buying an XBox 360 + a couple of games, and then Oblivion - my god I am shocked ;) - for me, there is a very dark corner of my mind where the gears of these kinds of thoughts dream up their dirty endings .... Well done sir.

  35. I'm sure you've long since moved on from Oblivion, but if you ever feel like dipping your toes again there's a fantastic complete replacement mod called Nehrim. Same engine, textures etc but the quest is all-new, massive and impressively polished despite a couple of rough edges. It introduces new mechanics and feels satisfyingly challenging. Well worth checking out, especially if as I do you share a lot of the grievances outlined in the comments above.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.