In blurbs in some of my articles, I’ve stated that my favorite item in my possession is my copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This is not a joke. I legitimately carry the game everywhere I go, so just in case the need arises, I can play Oblivion. This video game means so much to me, and I carry quite the sentimentality with the game series. (Did I mention I am a fan of the Elder Scrolls?)
However, it has been a long time since I’ve played Vanilla Oblivion. I still play the game today, but in modded form with updated graphics, coding, and gameplay changes. I wanted to review the game in a retrospective lens and see how it has held up 12 years after its original release. With that in mind, I popped in my copy of Oblivion and started a fresh new character.
When Oblivion first released, the graphics were lauded for being cutting edge, even photo realistic. This was a huge deal, especially with an open-world game, which usually lacks in the graphics department. Oblivion was released in 2006, so the next generation of game consoles at the time (Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii) were just released. These graphics on Oblivion pushed the limits of these systems already, and fans and critics alike were blown away with the graphics of the landscape, NPCs and items.
My first impression of the graphics were much better than I thought. I expected to pan the awfulness of the graphics; instead, I was blown away with how well the graphics have held up in the twelve years it has existed. Oblivion’s overall graphics have a stylized approach that has stood the test of time. It is more akin to a storybook about a medieval landscape more so than a realistic world, and I think that is why the graphics looks so tight after all these years.
There is one aspect of the graphics that has aged poorly: the NPCs. Many fans of the game will make fun of the NPCs of Oblivion. The human races look like potatoes, the elves look like sweet potatoes, and the beast races (specifically the orcs) look like Shrek. This is all well and true, and I completely agree with my fellow fans. Despite all of this, the NPCs are very charming and are at least good to laugh at how bad they were designed. They honestly look ridiculous and there are many memes on how bad they look. Then again, it just adds to the overall humor to the game’s community.
Oblivion’s controls have been pretty spot on, even in a retrospective lens. Oblivion does have a little learning curve, since there are a lot of functions of the game which requires a lot of commands. An example of this is casting magic or hotkeys. One evolution that Oblivion does very well is assigning positions of your hands to the controller. Assassin’s Creed, for example, does the same layout. If you have an shield in your left hand, the left trigger controls the action for that. If you have a sword in your right hand, you will swing with the right trigger. This is seen in an expanded way in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I have no qualms with the controls of Oblivion.
RPGs such as Oblivion has many facets to the gameplay: combat, exploration, speechcraft, potionmaking, spellmaking, bartering. The list can go on. Oblivion’s gameplay in individual categories may not be so fleshed out, but because you can do so many different things, it aids to the game’s strengths and makes the game so much fun to have that depth of different things to do at any moment. You can be exploring a forest, find a quest deep in the woods, and come out of the quest with tons of loot which you sell at Cheydinhal (a town in the game) for tons of gold. These interactions always feel genuine and organic, which make me fall in love with the adventure of this game.
That is all well and good when combined together, but these gameplay mechanics alone are complete garbage, and I need to discuss this.
Combat in Oblivion is terrible. Simple as that. In many games with fighting, there is an action and a reaction. For example, a character may throw a punch and hit another character. The receiving end would flinch from the punch and get knocked back. This adds weight and realism to the game. In Oblivion, striking an opponent does nothing but reduce the enemy’s health bar, and it looks more akin to fighting your siblings or friends with nerf swords rather than duking it out in actual combat. Enemies are very spongy in terms of damage, and this is unacceptable. If you play an archer, you will find that you can potentially put hundreds of arrows into ONE ENEMY. They might as well be pincushions.
Animations deal with the same awful transitions that combat deals with. In real life, if you fall from a great height, you want to tuck and roll to absorb the impact. Or, if you don’t, you fall over and tumble around. In Oblivion, the transition from jumping to landing DOES NOT EXIST. You go from in the air to running when you hit the ground immediately. In the Elder Scrolls Online, they have this rolling animation when falling from a great height. How does ESO have this, and not a main series entry? It looks unrealistic and ridiculous.
Oh. And the bugs. Don’t even get me started on the bugs in this game. Bethesda is notorious for buggy games, and while I don’t think that Oblivion is the worst offender, it is still awful. I had my save files corrupted before for months. Luckily, it recovered itself. Some people are not so lucky and that is unacceptable, especially for people (like myself) who puts hundred of hours into the game only to find out that the game crashes your save files into a wall. I would go deeper into this topic but that would be an entire article of ranting. Lets just say that bugs are a major problem in Oblivion, even today.
Lastly, there is the leveling problem in Oblivion. I’m not going to delve into this topic either, but the basic gist of it is that the enemies in the game level up as your character levels up. This is all fine and well, but if you do not level efficiently (increasing your primary skills to the max every level) the game will actually become harder and the enemies will become stronger than you. Are you kidding me? This is a huge problem that can be easily fixed by mods, but we are talking about Vanilla Oblivion. This honestly makes the game unplayable if you don’t know how to properly level.
There is one aspect about Oblivion that I do love. This is the alchemy system. I have always enjoyed both the depth and the lucrative potential of making potions and poisons. To begin, one can appreciate the hundreds of alchemical ingredients which are modeled in game. There are plants and flowers to pick, drops from enemies, and food to find. Oblivion does a great job at allowing the player to make helpful potions or turn around and sell them for gold. The only thing I would change with this system is to not make effects of an ingredient determinant on the player’s skill level. Rather, it should be partly based on skill, but if you find recipes (which already exists in the game) or taste certain foods, you can make potions without having the skill to do so.
I’m not about to go into lore mode and dissect the story, but I will give a brief recap of the events that transpired in Oblivion. Basically, a group known as the Mythic Dawn is in kahoots with the Daedric Lord Mehrunes Dagon. They are trying to take over Tamriel (the continent) using these portals known as the gates to Oblivion. The emperor is dead and it is up to the player to find the last heir to the throne and restore balance to the world.
Playing through the story again made me realize how short and inconsequential it was. The story was pretty fun, but the story is very self-contained. It is strange that if you’re not on a main quest, the people of Tamriel do not talk about the impending invasion of Oblivion, and the main quest rarely seems to have any true impact on the world. The gameplay is fun and the story moves along quite nicely, but I believe that it could have been more to it. Then again, many people do not play the Elder Scrolls games for the main story, but I still believe it is important for the main quest to be decent. I think that Bethesda should focus on the main story and make it impactful to the rest of the game world.
Man. If it was up to me, I would give this game an 11/10. Well, it is up to me, but putting the rose-tinted glasses and long modding nights aside, the game as it stands still stands the test of time. It’s a great game that has a lot of flaws, especially the bugs, but it is still a fun game that is to be enjoyed. I love Oblivion so much, but looking back at all of its shortcomings, it makes me realize how Oblivion was a pioneer for the RPG genre, but it really had a lot of growing pains to become that. It definitely pushed the genre, but there needs to be a lot of polishing before it truly shines with its 10/10 potential.
I have a lot to talk about Oblivion, and more broadly, the Elder Scrolls. I will definitely come back to this topic on a later time. In parting, if you want to hear more about a retrospective, check out this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp4-9G47uF0
He talks about Oblivion for 5 HOURS. If you’re still interested in a retrospective view of my favorite game, check this guy out. He goes into detail about all the gripes and goods that the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion brings.