The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion review

£25
Price when reviewed

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is role-play for the masses. Gone are the traditional 20-sided dice and pewter figurines, replaced with a slick interface, a first-person-shooter control mechanism and some amazing visuals. That’s not to say there isn’t enough here to satisfy your inner geek; it just isn’t a geeky title.

There’s a core storyline: 16 gates have opened up between this world and a dark, fiery dimension – Oblivion – inhabited by dark Dadera princes, whose sole purpose in life is removing it from others. So, it’s up to you to venture into these foul pits, kill everything in sight and destroy the gates on your way out. You can plough through the key storyline in about 45 hours. However, to do so would be missing the point, because this game has an infinite world of possibilities: solving various side quests; joining and progressing through the different guilds; and fighting in the gladiatorial arena.

The game kicks off with a thinly disguised tutorial, at the end of which you have to choose your character’s class and race. While series veterans can revel in creating unique character classes, you can plump for a pre-made type. And if you’re a complete novice, the basic question is: “Do you want to fight with swords, spells or ranged weapons?”

However, even after you’ve made this choice, you aren’t locked in, as your character can still use all three. But when you start off, your rating is just a little way above incompetent, and it’s only through usage (for example, casting lots of one spell type) that you increase in skill and competence.

Here, the game differs wildly from others. While traditional RPGs increase your level after you’ve gained a fixed number of experience points from killing monsters and/or solving problems, Oblivion bases your level on your skill in certain areas.

After you’ve picked your character class, you’re assigned or can choose half a dozen key skills. When one – or a combination – of these goes up by 10 points, you level up. That’s not to say you can’t use your non-key skills; in fact, there are advantages to cranking up some of these. And for the lazy among us, you can just pay an NPC (non-player character) trainer to increase your skills.

But this is more than just a levelling click-fest. The game takes elements from first-person shooters (albeit with spells and arrows), stealth-action adventure and even a hint of platform, yet it still retains its own identity, and not once does it feel like a jack of all trades.

And then there are the graphics. It’s hard to describe them without falling into hyperbole, but it’s safe to say this is one of the best-looking games we’ve ever seen: from rolling plains through to the lush vegetation, most of which can be interacted with to harvest items for alchemy. Then you have the facial expressions of the NPCs and glorious animation of enemy creatures. They’ve even got Patrick Stewart to do some of the voiceover. This game doesn’t just do atmosphere: it is atmosphere.

So where are the flaws? There are precious few. The only criticism is that mlee combat feels a little repetitive – there isn’t much variety in what you can do, only hit or block. In addition, there’s no multiplayer mode and there are occasional loading glitches between zones, but when you consider that the playing area is more than 16 square miles – all of which are visible from the mountains – it’s a small price to pay.

There’s enough in this game to fill ten pages, let alone just one, and we haven’t even touched on its vast array of spell special effects that will push your video card to the limit.

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