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Reviewed: Oblivion
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: August 27th, 2006
Page: 2
For the first disclaimer of the day: while I've played plenty of Oblivion on the PC, my primary exposure to the game has been on the Xbox360.

In some ways, this is bad. On the 360, user-created quests, mods, and expansion add-ons aren't usable, and the tools to make them aren't available. On the other hand, it's harder to break the game using those tools to create ultra-powerful items and just drop them at your character's feet.

Graphically, Oblivion's amazing. Bethesda, just as in their previous days with Morrowind, have pushed the limits of what hardware can do. A highly variable character creation system allows players to make their character look almost exactly as they want, although the designers appear not to have spent too much time with it creating NPC's (there are several NPC's running around with similar faces and a few with similar faces and outfits).

The actual mechanics of the character creation system are mixed. Bethesda's idea of character creation is rather simple, in a skill-by-doing approach: ideally, according to them, a barbarian will increase in skill (and therefore level) by fighting, a mage by spellcasting, and so on. The skills to do this are tied to six physical statistics, so that when leveling, it's important to have practiced specific skills. Unfortunately, of the dozens of skills, only seven are actually related to leveling, and so several new schools of thought revolving around creating custom classes and specifically avoiding leveling until maximum statistic gains are available have evolved. One good thing they have done, however, is to integrate the character creation dialogues into the opening prelude of the game, allowing players to explore and practice interacting with the world before completely deciding what they want to be.

The questing system of the game is well expanded beyond what Morrowind was capable of. In Morrowind and previous games, quest completion was almost entirely related to the killing of NPC's or the retrieval of specific items as flags. In Oblivion, by contrast, many quests involve following an NPC, or exploring merely to examine specific items, or simply talking to various NPC's in the right order. The guild system is also present fully, allowing players to reach the top ranks as an assassin, thief, fighter, mage, or even to join certain other minor organizations. In addition, thanks to the expanded world, there are plenty of ruins and dungeons to explore, and several storylines in each of the major cities.

The only real problem I have with Oblivion: at the same time that the game's main storyline pushes players to complete it as quickly as possible, there's no real impetus to do so. You can abandon the main storyline, run around the world, level from level 2 to level 40, and then re-enter the storyline with no questions asked. A player can be the leader of the fighters' guild, but NPC's not involved in a fighters' guild storyline will take no notice of this. Everything is at once wonderfully created, and compartmentalized so that it makes no difference in any other quest or storyline.

Oblivion's physics system is also somewhat laughable, as most games: while it's possible to use an item like a poison apple on someone, the mechanics for actually getting the apple to land on the table (or for setting up anything else, such as perhaps setting an hourglass on a specific table in a house) are impossible to accomplish. Note to game designers: try working on this for your next title, rather than assuming players are just randomly going to drop things at their feet at all times.

For overall gameplay, despite the few flaws, Oblivion's got so much going for it that players will easily get sucked in. Enjoy the expansive world, play for half an hour or three hours, and it really doesn't matter - there will almost always be something new to do. I'm especially looking for the next round of expansion quests.

Added:  Sunday, August 27, 2006
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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