Trent Polack's site for cats, games, game development, and undeniably powerful sociological insight all with a healthy dose of narcissism.
Close Shut the Jaws... Of Oblivion!
Published on March 24, 2006 By mittens In
I think it's safe to say that The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion is one of the most widely anticipated games of 2006 -- one of the few MMORPGs of my favorite definition (Massively Multientity Offline RPG). I will add to this statement by saying that although I really enjoyed Morrowind, Oblivion is not one of my most anticipated games of 2006. So keep in mind while reading this "review" that I went into this game with fairly average expectations -- in short, I think I'm fairly unbiased in regards to the game. Something I can't really say about some games.

With all the necessary background information, I feel safe saying that Oblivion is one hell of a game. It's hard not to go into this game and be almost immediately captivated by the world that Bethesda has created. And that's probably the best way to describe the world in Oblivion: captivating. Despite its stale, generic, middle-age fantasy setting, Oblivion still manages to have enough depth to really reel in its players. This is, in part, due to the fact that Bethesda has gone absolutely crazy in populating the world with NPCs powered by SkynetRadiant AI (as Bethesda has coined it) which maintain their own unique daily schedules. It is also due to the extreme amount of detail which the developers have taken notice of in-game: the volumes upon volumes of readable books, a shop sign wavering to-and-fro as a result of an arrow fired at it, and even its own reservoir of unique flowers and plants which can be harvested and combined to create potions and the like. The game just feels alive.

And in this feeling of reality comes one of my biggest gripes about the game: with all the extensive attention paid to Oblivion's graphics... They're probably the most disappointing aspect of the game for me. While I play the game I just continually see cool things that beg to have a screenshot taken of them (which is good), but very rarely do I see a beautiful animation or uniquely-designed enemy or character (which is bad). The game's rendering engine seems custom tailored to create good screenshots but, like Everquest 2 the characters, enemies, and animations feel so stale and stilted. It's quite a shame, actually; seeing Oblivion-caliber realism combined with World of Warcraft animation quality and we'd have a sure-fire graphical winner. Don't get me wrong, you'd have to be blind to not realize the amount of beauty this game is capable of. I just feel that a lot of the graphical prowess is put to waste as far as fluid animation is concerned -- each individual action is well-done, but as a whole there is simply something off. It's part of the problem with trying to recreate Real Life on modern hardware: you may make a lot of overall progress, but the closer you get to reality, the easier it is for people to spot rough spots. That said, check out some of my favorite "Oh, that's purdy!" moments (this was before I had to reduce my overall visual quality -- sadface):

Shortly after the above screenshots were taken I was forced into downgrading the visual quality in an attempt to actually live through combat without sinking into a single-digit framerate. I was quite sad to have to do this as it marks a first for being required to lower image quality to maintain a 30+ framerate, but hey, my AMD64 3500+, 2gb DDR400 RAM, 256mb 6800GT rig had a nice run of being top dog for most of my gaming needs. In the end I got rid of the ridiculously lengthy viewing distance, dropped the HDR rendering (which especially made me a sadpanda), dropped shadows, and added bloom (in place of the HDR). One of the nice things about this change was that I could swap in bloom and 2x anti-aliasing in place of the HDR and still get a 10-15 overall framerate boost. I would really like to see this game on my rig with HDR and anti-aliasing but Bethesda must have realized that some things were not meant for the eyes of mortals. Which is a shame; it would've felt neat to spontaneously combust in a cloud of joy.

Speaking of joy, I'd like to spend a moment to relay the true reason that Oblivion surpasses Morrowind in every way: the combat. Bethesda must've imported a team of super-coder-monkeys to completely overhaul the system from the previous games because, this time around, the combat has a whole lot of weight to it. And I mean that quite literally. When I swing my sword at an enemy, it feels like it oughta hurt. When an enemy blocks my swing, my speakers emit a shrill clank while my character recoils back and prepares to take a big, unprotected blow from my adversary. The new ability to quickly and easily cast spells while still having a sword and shield (or two-handed weapon, if that's your thing) equipped makes playing a Battle Mage, of some sort, a truly fantastic experience. Enjoy some screenshots of combat.

Part of the reason why combat feels more enjoyable to me is the increased emphasis on proper projectile physics and the like. Shooting a bow is actually quite entertaining (more so than any other FPS bow I've ever tried) because when an arrow hits your target, the damn thing remains sticking out of him until you kill him and yank the arrow out. If you miss, the arrow either breaks (if you're shooting a stone wall at point blank -- not that I found this out the hard way or anything) or clatters around the ground. And when you kill an enemy with a particularly devastating blow their weapon and shield will go flying (as will their corpse) out of their hands. So if by some chance you found an enemy with an especially purdy, glowy weapon that is absolutely tearing you apart and you get him down to his final sliver of life, I'd recommend trying to avoid cliffs. Because, and I say this once again purely with conjecture due to the fact that I'd never do something this stupid or anything (cough, cough), if you're near a cliff and deliver a big death blow you might as well say good riddance to that beautiful sword as it goes careening down an insurmountable cliffside. Oh how I miss that pretty blue-glowing sword.

And while this coupling of complaint and praise doesn't really impact gameplay in any way, shape, or form, the physics are spectacular. I have taken to busting into people's dining rooms during dinner and running amok on their table and laughing maniacally as all their lovely meat, silverware, and plates go clattering to the ground. I then run out of the house hoisting my sword in the air and shouting my dinner-miscreant battle cry as I disappear into the fog. My complaint about these physics, which lies in a similar vein, is that there should be destructible objects in the game a la the Source Engine. There have been so many moments in the game where I thought it'd be cool to break through the glass of, say, a display case or to just go crazy and destroy every barrel in a town (how's that for "infamy," eh Bethesda?). This, honestly, was one of the most disappointing things for me going into the game. Though if this is how far I have to go to find a complaint I'd say that Oblivion is pretty well off.

Supposedly the game world in Oblivion is smaller than that of Morrowind's -- oh well, I say. Good riddance to endless spots of land with no discoverable content. Oblivion's countryside is dotted with far more little facets of the game to reward explorers, whether it be a bandit hideout, random encounters with NPCs, or surprisingly large dungeons (redundant in design as they may be) than Morrowind could've ever hoped for. And this more focused land size seems to have helped Bethesda constrict the ease with which the main story quests can be accomplished (the Guild Wars-esque "Fast Travel" is really handy too), which I am very thankful for.

I'm not too far into the main story quest yet -- I've played thirteen-fourteen hours of the game so far and I've really just been doing miscellaneous sidequests for the Fighter's Guild, Mage's Guild, and then competing in The Arena in a one-on-one battle to the death. I've also completed two of the game's sixteen "Planes of Oblivion" which are horrendously annoying to look at, but ever-so-difficult and enjoyable to play through (not to mention the really rewarding items that can be found within). The story in Oblivion seems far more focused and intriguing than I ever found Morrowind's to be too, so here's hoping that the game keeps it up as I get further into the game.

For now, this is about as long as my review of the game will get. If I feel any of my complaints are unwarranted, or if aspects of the game I had previously considered flukes persist to the point where they start to grate me in ways that make me cry myself to sleep at night, then I'll update this article with the appropriate information. And here's hoping there's a patch soon which can address the frequent crashes I'm getting at seemingly random points, which seems to be a nice big bug custom-tailored for Trent Polack. Lucky, lucky me.

Also, hearing Patrick Stewart say the following line made me all sorts of tingly.

close shut the jaws... of oblivion
Comments (Page 1)
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on Mar 24, 2006
o i got it & its very good
on Mar 24, 2006
Nice review. I've been debating getting this (to bring to FOUR the games I'm curently playing, and there is still yet a fifth I want to pick up - just shoot me now), and this has been another nail in my coffin... I mean reason to pick up the game.

Although the graphics requirements! YIKES!

I was going to wait a couple months to get my new rig (my current one isn't quite two years old), but now I'm thinking if I want to play this game, I'll need to do it sooner rather than later!
on Mar 24, 2006
Heh, I know what you mean with the number of games. Currently I'm playing Act of War, Command and Conquer Generals, a Rise of Nations' "Conquer the World" campaign, Red Orchestra and this. So many games, so little time.

And, yeah, the game's requirements are pretty steep, but some moments in the game are just so pretty that it's hard not to consider it worth all the trouble.
on Mar 24, 2006
I've liked the screenshots, and it is a big improvement over the dull brown of Morrowind. Guess its time to buy a nice fat rig to run the few fancy games like this one that I do play.
on Mar 26, 2006
Heh; good 'ol brown. The staple of Morrowind and Quake.

And though the screenshots of Oblivion look fantastic (and they do); the dungeons are still terribly repetitive. I think the general structure of every dungeon is pretty much the same and, for the most part, they all share the exact same texture set. The underground dungeons all look pretty good, so it's not a problem, but the Planes of Oblivion are neat for about twenty minutes and then the repeating orange/red combo with lava textures gets old. Real fast. There are sixteen of these things. :/

Personally, I'm looking forward to Hellgate: London more than I am any other game (including Oblivion) right now. Spore and Supreme Commander look fantastic as well... But Hellgate: London? Yesplzkthx.
on Mar 26, 2006
I get decent performance, have a single-core AMD 3500+ (~2.2ghz), 1500 megs of DDR RAM, and an ATI Radeon X800. The videocard probably makes the biggest difference. I do get lag in some places, but it defaulted my video settings to high and most places I run fine.

Oh it turned off 'tree canopy shadows' by default; I turned that on and it didn't hurt performance, plus it made the forests SO much better. Check and make sure it's on, because it's awesome. The video options menu can scroll down and show more options, which I wasn't aware of until recently.

I'm deeply deeply immersed in the game but don't have much to add to what Trent said. The combat is hugely improved compared to Morrowind, it's not just about swinging until the thing dies. The balance is improved, you no longer have to rush to the nearest Daedra ruin and get some uber armor right off the bat to survive some encounter which is very likely too hard for you.. now everything is set so, while you MIGHT be slaughtered horribly no matter if you're a spellslinger or a warrior, you DO have a chance of victory!

I disliked the auto-balancing in Daggerfall, but seeing the overall benefit of it and the fluidity of combat I like it in Oblivion. Compared to the mostly static encounters and loot in Morrowind, it's a huge improvement in consistency. Autobalancing does inject a certain futility into character advancement, but while it means opponents will always be just about your strength it also means you'll get better and better loot as you progress. It means every quest that involves combat is =still= a challenge but doable no matter when you come across it.

I get the crashes now and then too. Still, I would say this is the most un-buggy Elder Scrolls game so far.
on Mar 26, 2006
Well, of course. It's not an Elder Scrolls game without the bugs.

As generic as the setting in Oblivion is, I'm really digging the game. I'm finding myself increasingly put off by RPGs. Especially the Final Fantasy-esque games; I enjoy them, but I just no longer find myself interested in long, drawn out clones of games that I played growing up. This game, though, is really quite overwhelming in its awesomeness. It's just so easy to start up the game and completely lose yourself for a few hours before you realize you're missing some kind of key obligation in your life.

Also, let me say this to any players: join the Dark Brotherhood. The missions are an absolute blast to play through and you get some hella good items.
on Mar 26, 2006
Although the graphics requirements! YIKES!

Take the easy way out, Graphics Requirements: XBOX 360
on Mar 27, 2006
Oblivion, while not perfect (hey what game is?) is still a master piece any gamer should have. It's truly a wonderful experience, and man...I waste so much time enjoying the scenery. It's blissfull. 16 square miles is alot to cover. its about 4 times bigger than morrowind was and it's alot richer in live and vibrancy. Oh and there is no copy protection other than a simple cd check so back it up all you want.

You probably should not get the pc version if you do not have a nvidia 6 series or higher card and 1gig of ram along with a processor that is 2ghz or faster. Get the xbox version instead. Otherwise enjoy the pc version if you have the hardware.
on Mar 27, 2006
To get the XBox version would require that I own an XBox, and have a desire to own an XBox. Neither of which is true.

And before this degenerates into a PC vs. console flame war, just leave it at me not being interested in pretty much any of the XBox games. I can count on one hand the number of games that have come out on the XBox that I wanted to play, and after removing those that were also available on the PC, I'm not sure there is a list left. But that is just a personal taste issue, and leave it at that.

Well, that and I hate every console controller ever made. Mouse and Keyboard all the way!


I downloaded the sucker to my hard drive yesterday (yes I bought it, Direct to Drive, great stuff). Took a few hours to bring down almost 4.5 GB of game (even compressed). Even averaging 230 Kps it took a while. But I did some other stuff, had some supper, watched some tube, and played a game that wasn't too intensive on my CPU or HD, and all was good.

My machine is almost 2 years old, and wasn't exactly top of the line at the time (Athlon 2800, ATI R9600 w. 128 MB VRAM, 1 GB RAM, 240 GB of hard drive), but I haven't any complaints with the results. It did default to low graphics settings and wanted to run at only 640 x 480, but I pushed that up to 800 by 600 without issue. I do have to turn off everything in the background (suspend Virus scanner, block network traffic, etc.), but that isn't a big deal. I think I'll be good until I get around to buying and building my new rig.

It would be nice to push up the graphics settings some, but even so they aren't bad.

So far I've been pretty happy with it. It crashed on me when I hit TAB three times rapidly (go into stats - I don't want that - oh yes I do) but I had been playing for several hours at that point, so I took at as a sign to go to bed (plus I had just exited a shop, so HOPEFULLY it had just autosaved).

The dungeons are kinda drab. The sewers and the Sideways cave I crawled through did look a lot alike. Oh well.

I also almost died a couple times. Almost. Fortunately the game pauses when you go into your inventory, so I sucked back some potions and was back at it.

I've also had no problem with the combat. Although so far I've found little use for a bow (if I see someone at range, I'll wack them with Flare, and then smack them with my sword if they live to get close). So far I haven't found any call for blocking, but it seems you can carry a shield AND a torch, so that may enhance the utility (a bandit with a big hammer almost killed my ass, so blocking his hammer with a shield might have been nice). Moving around more when fighting that big slow hammer might have been good too.

So far I'm pleased. Probably get my monies worth out of it.

Its just that I don't have time to play all the games I have!

I'm going to have to take a couple weeks off work to catch up on my gaming!
on Mar 27, 2006
32hrs in, lvl 17, barely touched the story still... Doing missions for the various towns, the mages guild and the dark brotherhood. Probably going to try to join the fighter's guild too later. I'm basically just wandering the world, delving whatever caves or ruins I come across. Found some nice loot so far doing it and a LOT of money. With an estimated 200hrs of gameplay, I've got a good number of weeks ahead of enjoyment ahead of me.

This has definitely been one of the better values I've gotten in a while from a game. And with all the mods that are sure to come out, and hopeful expansions, I'll be enjoying Oblivion for quite a long time to come
on Mar 28, 2006
200hrs of game play is alot...most people just don't realize just how much it is.(baulders gate2 and it's expansion equaled about 200hours if you were meticulous. Most people will probably never do or see everything. Also this number doesn't take into account all the free form sandbox stuff you can do in the game. Nor does it take account of the alternate paths in quests. so like morrowind or Deus Ex, this game will be played over and over until the next version comes out. Very good value.

The Pc version is the best as you can get mods for it. People made tons of great mods for morrowind, and Oblivion will be no exception. In fact people have already released a number of great game play tweaking mods that really improve the game ALOT. This thing is only going to get better.

Oh, and this game is sooo freaking huge it took a good 15 min on horse back to get from just the blades monestary to cloudtop (a breathtakenly beautiful ride). So it would probably take about an hour to get from one corner of the map to another or more. The Fast travel feature is great when you are short on time.
on Mar 28, 2006
Fast Travel is also handy once you've gone over a particular area a couple times and don't feel like seeing the sites any more.

In the arena last night - just as a level 2 dweeb - I had a really great fight ()died once) and the second time barely came out alive. Definitely not just stand there and slash until the guy dies. Had to move around, use my shield, heal myself, etc.

Yep. Definitely an interesting ride.

Just wish it wouldn't crash every now and then (good thing it saves often, although most of my crashes were WHILE autosaving - fortunately it keeps a backup of the last autosave).
on Apr 01, 2006
I've been fortunate with the crashes. Only get them once in awhile. Usually when closing the program or moving between zones (rarely crashes but does sometimes while loading a zone). Bethseda is working on a patch but they don't have an eta just yet. (I've noticed that your system must be defraged well in order for the game to function properly, very sensitive to file fragmentation).

Try these mods with your game:

combat behavior
natural wilderness
hunters mod
wilderness creatures
tom servo's rare items
steel hurts

This mods working together make for an AWSOME game. ? has all of these and more.

the arena is cool, wait till you have to take on the 3 argonian prisoners...never realized just how cool hand to hand was until they started smacking me around the arena....very intense fight.
on Apr 02, 2006
Hand-to-hand combat seems surprisingly strong (at least, when I face enemies that use it). They get a lot more staggering hits, from what I've seen. And, yeah, the Arena was amazing. The final battle is kinda sad though.
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