Saturday, March 25, 2006

 

Oblivion - Impressions After 16 Hours

So far I've spent about 16 or 17 hours with Oblivion, and now feel like I'm familiar enough with the game to make some non-spoily comments.

Overall Oblivion is the most immersive game I've ever played, period. You really feel like you're there, in a richly detailed fantasy world, and there's very little to the game to pull you back to reality and make you feel like "oh yeah, I'm playing a game". Every time I've sat down to play I've been under for hours without even realizing the time flew by. The game lets you chart your own path and do your own things. There's a bazillion quests, a bazillion dungeons to explore, and more. YOu can play the game however you want, be it stealthy, gung-ho actiony, or however. It's extremely flexible.

Graphics are probably the best I've seen in any game, especially the outdoors landscapes. The forests literally look like real forests. The terrain looks realistic. There's plants and grass, and it's all so extremely realistic. In towns the detail is astounding, and the architecture has a very realisic style to it, you really feel like this could be a medieval town. The skies are excellent, and quite beautiful no matter what time of day it is, and constantly changing. Indoors, in the dungeons, feels like a dungeon. There are traps to avoid, it's gloomy, the rocks and walls all feel very realistic. The game's excellent physics system is another factor in adding to the immersion of this game.

The faces on NPCs are somewhat ugly in many cases, but look realistic. I think Bethesda was going for a specific realism factor over beauty and style. Facial expressions and the lip synching during the all-voice-acted conversations is also realistic. Almost all the voice work I've heard so far is very good if not great. Patrick Steward did an amazing job as the Emperor. In addition to the voice work the other sound effects are well done, and so is the game's music. The music has an epic feel to it during the highlights and battles, and a more subdued, quiet feel during exploring.

This is a game a person can spend hours and hours just exploring the world. In many ways it sticks to the same formula as Morrowind did. I never got into Morrowind, though, because I felt that the NPCs were too stale and the quests were too boring. So far that hasn't been the case with Oblivion, but this is still an Elder Scrolls game. Don't come to this game expecting a different style of game than it is. If you didn't like the style of MW, you won't like Oblivion either. Non-linear, explore the world at your own pace, that's what this game is about. There is a main quest, and I've heard that some have finished that in around 16 hours or so. I haven't really tried rushing through that, although I did do the first bit of it with the gate to Oblivion. Oblivion is another plane, where the demons come from, and you do get to explore the demon realm of Oblivion, which is kind of cool.

The game system seems pretty much the same as Morrowind's. Basically you have a "class" but that only determines what skills you start with, and the actual gameplay itself determines which skills go up. I had to restart after closing the first Oblivion portal, I couldn't handle the stuff in Kvatch and I was noticing real problems when leveling up my custom class "Asskicker" on my Dark Elf character. I had too many unrelated skills and the character just wasn't focused well enough I think.

So I decided to make a blue-haired mage name Kudos, a high-elf. I made it through the starter dungeon and started exploring some nearby ruins. I think I'm going to like this character better. I said "mage" but really this is another custom class, I call a "Spellsling". Magic specialization, favored stats of Intelligence and Willpower. Skills are Destruction, Conjuring, Restoration, Stealth, Security, Marksmanship, Light Armor. Tactics so far involve sneaking up on people, shooting them with a poisoned arrow, then shoot again until they close to melee, then fry their ass with spells. Seems to be working so far, but I haven't even gotten a level up yet. Anyone want to comment on my choices?

Yet, Oblivion is not perfect. There have been a number of complaints from people who have experienced crashes. I myself have experienced one crash to desktop in 16 hours of play. I've also had the game lock up or crash when exiting a couple of times. Performance, on the other hand, is excellent, the game runs extremely smooth for me. My rig is far from top of the line, but also not bottom feeding either. P4 3.2ghz, 1gb RAM, GF 6800GS 256mb.

The other not quite as bad flaw is the game's interface. It definitely has some consolitus going on. There's not enough customization allowed on the keyboard, and the menu system is a bit slow and cumbersome to work with. Not hard to figure out, but not efficient. The game does allow you to hotkey weapons to number slots (or spells, or potions). But you can only use keys 1 - 8, for some unknown reason. On the plus side, the game pauses if you hit the menu key (i've remapped it, it defaults to TAB), and then you can select spells or equip weapons on that screen, even during a combat.

The Journal automatically keeps track of quests which is nice. It will even put a marker on your compass to let you know where you need to go. You can also bring up a map, and if you don't want to go overland the long way, there is a quick-travel icon that you can click the places on the map you've visited (and some you haven't) and instantly travel to that location. That's pretty handy for getting around this very large game world.

In conclusion, Oblivion has sucked me in like no game since World of Warcraft. I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. Right now if I had to rate this game I'd give it 9 / 10. I consider this a must-own game for anyone who prefers a non-linear, free to do what you want style of RPG. If you played and enjoyed Morrowind, this is a must-own game, it's got everything good about Morrowind and a lot more and does it all all a lot better. If you didn't enjoy Morrowind, you might not like Oblivion depending on what you didn't like about Morrowind.

I'll post more on this game probably in a few weeks when I have played even further and hopefully know more about game balance, have experienced more of the quests, and can give more insight into the setting/story.

Comments:
What I didn't like about Morrowind:

1. The flawed leveling/skill/stat system that actually penalized you if you leveled too quickly.

2. The enchanting system was too good and let you create nigh invincible characters.

3. Exploring was sooo slow, and there was rarely anything interesting in the vast wilderness.

Does Oblivion still suffer from these flaws?
 
Oblivion uses the same leveling system that was used in Morrowind, basically. I haven't done any enchanting not sure if it's even in the game or not. There's a lot to see in the wilderness, it's pretty densely populated with stuff to explore, plus the game has fast-travel, you can click on an icon on the map to instant-travel somewhere you've been before (and a few places you haven't).
 
I've created a similar character. New to this game, I don't know much regarding how to level up the best and efficiently. Could you touch on that a little.

I went from the beginning dungeon to Jauffree. Since then I've been staring at a horses butt wondering what to do next.

Typically, I use a flare to attack from afar then use my short blade to melee. Is there a better way to enhance skills to be better off down the road? How do you poison your arrows?

I wish some of those things were more self explanitory as well as alchemy combinations.
 
Ok the leveling system has officially started to piss me off. I can't stop leveling! I need to actively curtail my activities so i can not level up and save up some gold, because i need more powerful spells that i can't afford and the critters are getting too powerful for what i got, i'm having to "kite" them.

At Jauffree's you can get a free horse if you talk to one of the other monks.

You poision arrows by having your bow and arrows equipped and then clicking on the poison potion in your inventory.

alchemy is pretty easy to experiment with, just start mixing things up to see what happens.
 
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