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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Over one year of playing, so far
It’s been almost a year to the day since I first installed Oblivion onto my hard drive, so this could be the longest period of play-testing ever attributed to one of my game reviews. But Oblivion is a game that requires a long period of play to really appreciate fully – all it’s nuances, charms and misfires – and the year I’ve spent playing and studying it has taken me to places I’ve never been, in a 30 year game-playing career.

Just to put into perspective the
sheer scope of Oblivion: I’ve been playing for 387 days (of game time – not real time) and have completed 147 quests. And I have not yet completed the game or found every hidden place on the map. It constantly amazes me that, fourteen months on from starting to play this game, I still find new places on the map when I play. It delights me to discover new items and weapons introduced into the game, even though I’ve been playing for so long. And that’s still happening to me as I play now.
Years of gameplay!
Wonderful level design.
Amazing music.

A few but nothing major.

Arguably the best role playing game ever made
"Visiting Cyrodiil for a stroll around the beaches of Anvil, or a climb up the Valus Mountains is almost as good as a real holiday."
Keep on runnin'
I completed the main quest some weeks ago, but new quests still pop up all the time. The main quest is an epic in itself – culminating in a huge battle involving lots of monsters, swords and explosions – but is only a fraction of the open-ended nature of Oblivion as a game. Oblivion to me is a sandbox for an alternative life in a beautiful and dangerous land. If things are stressed in real life: visiting Cyrodiil for a stroll around the beaches of Anvil, or a climb up the Valus Mountains is almost as good as a real holiday. Clearing out monster infested caves is a cathartic experience too – especially when the rag doll physics throws them into the air with a single blow of an electrified mace. The whole feel and structure of Oblivion’s quest system and interface make playing a real joy and it is easy to pick up and play even after a long time away.

Deep Immersion
In terms of immersion: Oblivion
blows hot and cold. At times you really do feel like you're in another world, with incredible landscapes, sweeping music and a solid connection between the controls and the limbs of your character. But at times you are jarred from the illusion by some really woeful voice acting, or a weird story paradox or bug that makes a mockery of what you're supposed to be doing. It happens quite a bit and you have to ignore it, but thankfully it doesn't detract from the fact that most of the story-telling in Oblivion is well-founded and exciting to play out as the writers intended.

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Special Mention
Special mention has to go to a number of features in Oblivion - a couple of which I think are absolutely groundbreaking. Firstly: the level design. It's wonderfully creative. It's hard to know how good it is until you traversed a good proportion of it over a long period of time. Bethesda's modellers, texturers, and programmers should be appreciated for their work - the landscape in Oblivion is possibly the most interesting and varied 3D gaming environment ever created. Even inside the hundreds of caverns and ruins the designers find ways of mixing things up so that repetition never sets in. It's an amazing feat of digital engineering.

The second feature I think deserves special mention is
the sound. Oblivion's musical themes and sounds are second to none. The music especially is inspiring, and beautifully produced - especially the main Oblivion theme (heard on the title menu) and the quiet woodwind themes heard during the game. Footstep sounds are brilliant too - not computerised and synthetic, but varied and natural and changing depending on the surface you're walking on (the snow footsteps are particularly impressive). These, combined with a myriad of other ambient sounds effects (birds chirping; rain sounds; thunder) add up to make one of the most impressive gaming soundscapes ever created.

I'd also like to mention how good
the interface is too. With so much going on in Oblivion it would have been easy for Bethesda to mess it up. Thankfully all works well, feels great and rarely crashes.
Most Worthy
At the end of the day Oblivion is the gaming equivalent of Marmite: you'll either love the fantasy setting, or you'll hate it. If you can get past the fantasy stigma you'll find an ocean of excitement and experience here - all of it rewarding and worth the investment of time. I know a great game when I see one and Oblivion is such a game. And I'll probably still be playing it a year from now.
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Review © 2005 Paul Mallinson
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
DEVELOPER: Bethesda Softworks
PUBLISHER: Take 2 Interactive
PLATFORM: Windows XP and Xbox 360
RATING: 96 out of 100

Buy PC version
Buy XBox 360 version
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