Oblivion is an incredibly good game. It does precisely what it sets out to do. There are a few little quibbles, of course â€“ there always are. But in the long run, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m stretching my neck out too far by suggesting that itâ€™s among the finest RPGs of all time.
See, the thing that makes Oblivion so great is that the designers have created a game world and thrown the doors wide open. â€œDo what thou wilst!â€ they appeareth to say. There are towns where you can buy new weapons and armour; taverns and castles where you can overhear rumours that send you off on new adventures and ruins and caves filled with monsters to heroically murder and rob. So your typical RPG tropes. And thatâ€™s really what you get. If youâ€™re looking for intricate, novel ideas, youâ€™re going to come up with precious little here. But what it lacks in originality it makes up for in consistency and depth. Thereâ€™s loads to do all the time, and the simple-yet-elegant quest system makes it easy to keep track of whatâ€™s going on.
But on to those quibbles I mentioned.
The voice acting is, for the most part, dire. Everyone in the kingdom seems to have one of about four or five voices â€“ and I know voice actors cost money (and no doubt most of the budget was splashed on the gorgeous, gorgeous graphics), but just a little more variety would have really gone a long way toward helping with the suspension of disbelief. Itâ€™s a small complaint though, because most of the time youâ€™re playing Oblivion youâ€™re there â€“ riding your horse over a verdant meadow to emerge on the banks of a river just in time to witness a dramatic sunrise. Creeping around in the shadowy corner of a goblin-infested ruin, so close to the scaly brutes that you can hear their mutteringsâ€¦ Oh my. It really does get you.
Let me emphasise my next point by using the time-honoured method of repeatedly using the word â€˜reallyâ€™: In an RPG such as this, the game mechanics are really, really, really important. I donâ€™t just mean the user-interface (although this is important, and is a something of a weakness in Oblivion). I mean the game â€˜rulesâ€™ that govern what you can do and how you do it. Letâ€™s look at magic items. Every hero in a fantasy gameâ€™s got to have a magic sword, right? A couple of levels into any RPG and youâ€™ll soon find that your mundane sword just canâ€™t keep up, no matter how shiny it is. Oblivionâ€™s got a ton of magic items, as youâ€™d expect, and even lets you make your own (in keeping with its â€˜go anywhere, do anythingâ€™ ethos). BUT every magic weapon has â€˜chargesâ€™. No charges, no special magical effect. Which means literally hours of game time spent managing an extremely fiddly and frankly unnecessary round robin of specific magic spells and inventory management to keep all your magic weapons working. Hours of game time spent waiting for the fun to come back. Whoever in the design team decided that this was the way to go was WHOLLY WRONG. Itâ€™s that simple. Itâ€™s too fiddly, and you get through charges too fast.
And another thing. Not only does the game level the monsters up as you increase in level (leading to a predictability in near enough EVERY combat), the levelling system itself is horrendously awkward. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that youâ€™re rewarded for not only micromanaging your activities but also doing a little bit of everything. Which sounds fun, right? Well, it does mean your barbarian character will spend a load of time casting illusion spells and your wizard character will be picking locks just in order to keep up with the game curve, whether you like it or not. HOW IS THIS FUN?
The thing is, there is a lot of fun to be had immersing yourself into a game world. Game balance, as we all know, is a difficult thing to perfect, but in order to keep things going the way they should itâ€™s more important to keep the player involved in the world, having fun. Struggling to remember how many of your non-class skills, with agility as their governing stat, have levelled since your overall level increasedâ€¦ well, itâ€™s not as fun as fighting orcs, now, is it?
Let me stress that these are QUIBBLES, not full-blown GRIPES. The whole freedom of choice idea behind the game has enabled an army of modders to fix anything they donâ€™t like (but a word of warning â€“ mods are sometimes a little ropey, and Oblivion is no exception). There are mods to fix pretty much any of my little problems with it â€“ thanks, general public! Let me finish by giving my esteemed Chopps a comradely slap on the back and declare that I proudly agree with his enthusing. â€˜Bliv is a superfly way to waste hundreds of hours.