Thursday, March 23, 2006


The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - First Impressions

I never really liked Morrowind that much, so I surprised myself when I decided to pre-order Bethesda's latest RPG in the franchise, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. So far Oblivion has grabbed me like no PC game in a long while, and I just hope it lasts.

The first thing I noticed about Oblivion is the graphics. Oblivion has pretty much the best graphics of any PC game I've ever seen. The forests/outdoors are so realistic it's mind blowing. The only game I've seen that has water in the same league as this is Half Life 2's Lost Coast demo. Oblivion uses an HDR (High-Dynamic Range) technique for lighting that gives it a very realistic feel. Character models and animations are very realistic, especially facial expressions on the NPCs when they are talking to you, it's like they can convey emotion.

So, the eye candy is very nice, but Oblivion also has gameplay coming out of it's ass. But it's a lot like MW's gameplay, so if you didn't like the "explore everywhere, do your own thing, living world" aspect of MW you won't like Oblivion's. But Oblivion does it better, much better in fact than any game I've ever played. It's truly an open-ended RPG, but it also has a pretty interesting main quest so far.

The physics system is perhaps the best I've ever seen in any game. It's absolutely amazing. At the very beginning of the game you find a bow and arrows, and there's a well with a bucket hanging above the well. If you shoot the bucket, the arrow sticks in it, and the weight of the arrow alters the center of gravity on the bucket making it tilt slightly. Retrive yoru arrow and the bucket readjusts back to center. This is just one example, but everything so far in the world just feels right, it's quite amazing. Bodies of slain enemies when falling down seem to fall realistically. There was another scene that was pretty cool where a bunch of goblins were standing around down an incline and there was a stack of logs, I snuck up and pushed the logs over and they rolled down the hill, crushing the goblins.

I've been reading some reports from people that have had crashes and stability issues. So far, I've not had a single crash or lock-up. About 6 hours of play time so far, in two long sessions. It's really too early to say how widespread the crashing is.

The menu interface could be better. Not all functions can be assigned to hotkeys and not all keys are reconfigurable, but most are. I haven't bothered doing it tho, the default interface is pretty good. Much better than Gothic games, I'll say that. And I was willing to put up with a lame UI for Gothic. Oblivion's interface takes a little getting used to but it isn't non-intuitive like Gothic was. The menus aren't terribly efficient, but they're easy to figure out.

You can hotkey spells and equipment to the number keys. So I have 1 set to my sword, 2 set to my bow, and 3 set to my fireball spell. I set 5 up for the healing spell. Stuff like that. Makes it very quick to select what you want to do and do it. And as a bonus, unlike MW, you can have a spell active and a weapon active at the same time so you can bash away and heal yourself without swapping out. I haven't gotten good at blocking, I am going to have to learn that soon. But so far I'm more of a ranged guy, using stealth and then shooting my bow gives a massive damage bonus, so I can take out a lot of enemies with one hit.

Game system is a lot like Morrowind's. I'm just hoping it's more balanced than MW's was. I can't really say for sure if it is or not, still early in the game. I can say that I'm enjoying this game immensely more than MW, and the game system this time around for some reason isn't a detraction. I usually hate systems where you get better at skills by using them versus spending points on what you want, but Oblivion so far is so immersive it just feels right. That may be the "new" of the game tho, so I'll report more back after I've gotten past the initial excitement to see if it still has appeal later.

I just got a new keyboard, a Zboard MERC, which lets me customize the keys even if the game doesn't, and has a very nice "fps" layout with tons of keys very handy together on the left side. I haven't had to customize keys yet but I can see where I might want to a bit. The MERC keyboard so far is pretty nice, I can see this being a real boon for FPS games especially. So far all the keys in Oblivion mapped to appropriate and intuitive keys on the MERC without me having to do anything except for the inventory (tab) key, which is a bit smallish and I might want to reassign that one. There's even a quick-save, quick-load pair of buttons on the merc real handy like and those mapped automatically too.

Going to play more Oblivion tonight and over the weekend, and will post more about it later. I'll also post more about my impressions of the MERC keyboard when I have a chance.

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