Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review

How do you evaluate a product that is over 300 hours of potential gameplay?  At what point do you say

For this review, despite being logged in the PC section, we will cover the 360, an average PC, a higher-end PC, and my brand new Dell XPS M170 gaming laptop.  I feel this will help you make an educated decision as to whether you have enough horses to make the game enjoyable, or whether the console version is for you.

The first system that I played Oblivion on was the Xbox 360.  With system specs that do not change, and a graphics subsystem that can be tweaked without regard to driver incompatibility, you can easily see that this game pushes the Xbox 360 very hard.  In fact, the very first scene of the game

The incredible production value of Oblivion isn’t just limited to the graphic engine.  The folks at Bethesda have collected some A-list star power including Linda Carter, Sean Bean, and Patrick Stewart, as well as some local talent to flesh out every character in the game.  While you will notice some repeats (which are sometimes mismatched) after you hit the 30+ hour mark, the voice work serves to bring an already expansive world even more alive.  There is nothing out there to compare it to

Morrowind was Bethesda’s push on to the original Xbox and attempted to bring a PC interface to the console world.  While the game was ultimately very successful, the control interface was cumbersome at best.  As Bethesda built Oblivion, it was always made as a dual launch for PC and Xbox 360.  This ensured that the interfaces between the two games would be almost exactly the same.  The end result is a control scheme for the Xbox 360 that allows for mouselike-control using the analog sticks, and a surprisingly easy to mod PC system that was simply too console-like. 

The Xbox 360 control system utilizes every button and trigger on the controller.  Movement and camera swing are handled by the analog sticks, and blocking and attacking are mapped to the triggers.  The right bumper allows you to cast a spell, regardless of what is in your hand

There is simply no way to sum up over 300 hours of potential gameplay in a few short paragraphs.  The game is set in an area that is roughly 16 square miles.  This doesn’t sound like a great deal of space, until you have to walk from town to town.  The world is absolutely massive, and there are over 200 hand-crafted dungeons that you don’t even have to set foot in if you don’t want to.   The primary mission is roughly 25 hours long, but the odds are that you’ll be so busy doing other things that you’ll end up neglecting that mission until you have, as I did, risen to the top of nearly every guild, and amassed several fully-furnished houses.  The game has a depth to it that will drag you in and hold you captive for longer than any other title you have probably ever played. 

The game is not without issue, however.  There are balance issues in the game.  While it is true that you can play the game as a barbarian with heavy armor, wielding a two-handed axe, or as a shadow-dwelling rogue who snipes his enemies from a distance with a bow, there are balance issues that become evident by the end-game.  Having played both ends of the spectrum, as well as somewhere in the middle, I found that the fighter classes and magic using classes have a far easier time with the end bosses and enemy encounters required by the main quest when they reach the mid 20s levels of the game. Despite wielding a very powerful magic bow, with high skill, and with magic arrows, I still found that latter encounters involved me taking a very long shot with my bow, scoring triple damage, and then running around like the Benny Hill show around tables and cave columns to throw enough arrows into my target to finish them.  My warrior on the other hand could go toe to toe and rarely had any trouble in single or multi combat situations.  It was at roughly level 25 that my last 10 or so levels of suffering with the bow came to an end In a day where 8 to 10 hour games are the norm, and epic 40+ hour linear roleplaying games are few and far between, Bethesda has brought a product that would clock in at over 300 hours to complete every quest just once. Playing through the game again as a different class, or trying to buy a house in every town will take even longer. Many games sport some great replay value, but Oblivion operates on a scale all of its own.  The few glitches in the game are easy to overlook when the experience is this fun.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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