The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Xbox 360
Published by 2K Games
Developed by Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Out Now
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, an introduction.
Owners of the Xbox 360 have had to wait four months for an RPG to be released whilst several racing and FPS games have filled the game store shelves since release day. With the release of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion though the wait is over. The sequel to the highly celebrated Morrowind, Oblivion has been one of the most anticipated games on both the PC and Xbox 360 since it was first announced. Those early screenshots of the game looked very impressive and it was clear, even at that early stage, that the graphics were above and beyond anything we'd seen in an RPG before. With the game now on store shelves and with us having spent a considerable amount of time with the game, it's clear that this just isn't a graphically improved Morrowind though. It's much more than that.
What's the game about?
The game begins with your character imprisoned and unable to do anything. However, this helplessness doesn't last long as the Emperor and his guards come into your cell and activate a secret door. Before walking through the secret door the Emperor, Uriel Septim, makes a reference to you being an important person whose life is about to take a very different direction. As for Uriel Septim he's in the final hours of his life. Before he dies though, you're informed of a previously unknown heir to his throne and are asked to find him out. Of course the main plot is only a tiny fraction of what Oblivion has to offer, as the game is chock full of optional quests that could keep you occupied for months.
What's good about the game?
I have to say it's just impossible to mention everything that's great about Oblivion. In fact this review would probably read like a celebration of the game rather than an objective review so we'll simply focus on some of the highlights. Oblivion, like Morrowind, is an open-ended RPG. Whilst the game has a main plot this is, in actual fact, only a small percentage of the game. One of the big complaints with Morrowind was that it was too open-ended and that it was possible to lose direction. Oblivion avoids this problem by leading you straight into the main plot from the very beginning. You can still deviate from the plot after an hour or so but by that time you'll be steeped in the main story and you'll be fully aware of what needs to be done.
Travelling around has also been improved and is less of a chore than it was in Morrowind. You can ride around on horseback if you wish (as soon as you have access to a horse that is) or you can use the fast travel feature for places you already have on your map, which are well known and discovered locations. You simply access the map, place your cursor over the location you want to travel to and then press the A button. This is a much better way of going between locations on quests etc. and allows the game to progress more quickly. Of course exploring the map is essential if you want to discover unknown locations and it's a great way of earning experience but there are times when you'll want to move back and forth with the minimum of fuss and Oblivion allows you to do this. Oblivion allows you to sort your quests and activate the ones you want to carry out. The compass will show you where you needed to be heading in order to complete your objective, which makes things much more clear than in Morrowind.
The real beauty of Morrowind of course was that you could play the game exactly how you wanted to. You can even play the game as a first person or third person RPG and you can alternate between the two views by pressing the right analogue stick. There are ten races to choose from when creating your character with each race having their own advantages and disadvantages. Each character has major and minor skills and whilst it's ideal to play in such a way that suits your character's abilities, you're free to develop your character any way you want to. A special mention has to be given to the character creation tools. There are tons of options for making your character look just how you want them to, ranging from their complexion to their hair length. No other RPG has character creation tools that are this advanced.
What's not so good about the game?
RPG fans will seriously risk losing contact with the real world given how much there is to do in Oblivion. Seriously though there's not much wrong with the game from what we've played (and in truth we've not seen everything the game has to offer, when you bear in mind that Morrowind has around 200 hours of play time and Oblivion is supposed to offer more than that, is not surprising). There are some frame rate issues here and there (particularly when riding on horse back) and some graphical pop-up occurs in places but for the most part the game is impressive from all angles. There are some aspects of the game that could have been better for deaf gamers but we'll come to those later in the review. When conversing with the many NPC's in the game you'll notice that there's a new persuasion mechanic. Persuasion allows you to change a character's disposition toward you. Basically you have to carry out a round of telling a joke, boasting, coercing and admiring. Each action will modify the disposition score the character has. You can bribe the character in question in order to boost the chances of one of your four actions having a positive affect, although it doesn't always work. Whilst this seems like an interesting concept it just doesn’t feel like a solid enough feature and feels out of place with the general excellence of the game. An NPC's disposition toward you is important, for all kinds of reasons, so you'll have to adjust to using this persuasion mechanic if you want to get the best deals in bartering and haggling etc.
How does it look?
In a word the game looks outstanding. Given that even high end PCs (that would take in excess of £1,000 to build) can't run Oblivion without experiencing some frame rate issues, it's amazing to see what the Xbox 360 (a console that costs less than £300) can do. Those of you playing on a standard TV should be aware that this is another 60Hz only game but even on a standard TV the game looks superb. On a HD display the game looks absolutely fantastic. Sure the frame rate isn't always smooth (although it's never a slideshow) and graphical pop-up rears its ugly head in a few places but for the most part the game looks superb. The character models are impressive. You will notice that the shadows cast by the character models are a little jaggy, which looks odd but there's some impressive lighting and shader effects that you'll be too impressed to be upset by this. There are quite a few load times (when exploring the outside world) but again these are not damaging to the overall experience and the impressive nature of all the regions of Tamriel and it's inhabitants more than make up for any rough edges you'll experience.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
Oblivion is fine for deaf gamers. Not all speech in the game is subtitled but for the most part deaf gamers will have no problems. The game offers both 'General Subtitles' and 'Dialogue Subtitles' in the options menu. By default only dialogue subtitles are enabled so you'll want to make sure both are enabled before beginning a new game. On beginning a new game you'll have the rather dramatic introduction by Uriel Septim, which explains that he is in the final few hours of his life and he also warns of the impending doom. Unfortunately this isn't subtitled. So far this is the only important dialogue I've found that isn't subtitled. Some peripheral dialogue, such as when you walk near to characters who are talking to each other, isn't subtitled but this isn't a problem. However, I have to make it clear that I haven't experienced everything in the game (you'd be having this review around Christmas if that was the case) so I can't say for definite if somewhere down the line some other important dialogue isn't subtitled. Certainly everything to do with the game's main story and the quests on offer, as well as tutorial messages are shown in text. Deaf gamers will be at a slight disadvantage when it comes to being notified of the presence of enemies. The game's music changes whenever an enemy is making their way toward you, which gives hearing gamers a few seconds warning to be on their guard. Deaf gamers don't have this luxury however.
Morrowind set the standard by which Oblivion will be measured but Oblivion has not only met those standards, it's surpassed them in every way imaginable. It's fair to say then that The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a masterpiece. It's not perfect, as we've pointed out earlier, but even with the few problems the game has, it still has a level of excellence rarely seen in games. This is quite simply a game that RPG enthusiasts cannot afford to miss out regardless of whether they play the game on the Xbox 360 or PC.
Overall Game Rating: 9.6/10
Deaf Gamers Classification:
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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is quite simply the best game on the Xbox 360 to date. It's a rich, open-ended RPG that just keeps on giving. Whilst it's a sure bet the Xbox 360 will have more RPGs in the future, it's doubtful it will have any that surpass Oblivion.