Saturday, June 10, 2017

Game Talk #19: The Elder Scrolls - Oblivion

So, I have a lot to say about this game. Pretty much all of it good.

I'd like to preface this by saying that I had never played an Elder Scrolls game before Oblivion. I know, I'm a horrible blasphemer, I never played Morrowind. I actually tried it, but I just don't have the patience for it.

Let me set the stage.

It's late 2006. My mom had gotten an Xbox 360 for me for my birthday several months ago. At this point in my life, the most expansive games I'd ever played were World of Warcraft and Knights of the Old Republic. I had never really played an 'open world' game, and they weren't nearly so common back then.

I had been hearing so much about Oblivion and I finally managed to grab a copy. I knew that the game was going to be big, and amazing, and beautiful, but I really had no idea. One of my most distinct memories is playing the game with my wife beside me, (at that point, we'd been dating for just a few months), and I had just left the Imperial City and had crossed a bridge. Making my way up a steep incline, I killed a giant rat and immediately noticed the way its body actually reacted to gravity. I remember hitting it with my sword and watching it roll a few feet down the hill. It looked so realistic.

My mom came out and was like, "What the fuck are you doing?"

And we had to explain to her why physics like this in a game were so amazing.

Also, as a kind of final side note, there was once a period of time where my wife would come over after work and play the game until she had to go home. That's about an eight hour block of time. And she did this for several days in a row. She'd never really played video games before we started dating, but she'd always wanted to, and I became a gateway. At this point, she plays more games than I do.

In The Elder Scrolls - Oblivion, you play an unnamed, unspecified protagonist who has been locked up in prison. You get to determine basically everything about your character in true RPG style, and that was something that blew me away. Before, the most customization I'd ever encountered was probably KOTOR, which isn't really a lot, or WoW, which was more, but still not much compared to this game.

Honestly, is there anyone out there actually interested in this game who doesn't know the specifics of it?

The sheer amount of stuff to do in Oblivion was crazy. I mean, looking back on it now that we have Skyrim, it doesn't seem like all that much. Skyrim outperforms Oblivion in basically every way. And I imagine if you're going back from Skyrim to Oblivion, then it'd be hard to get into. But I was there at that perfect moment in time when Oblivion totally blew my mind. There were just so many people to talk to and entire towns with buildings you could go into. You could go into basically every building! I'd never seen anything like that.

And then there was the environment. It's obvious that the designers spent a lot of time painstakingly handcrafting that environment. It wasn't just beautiful, but also unique. There were just so many little things you could come across, so many little scenes with contextual storytelling. By that I mean, there were whole areas that had nothing to do with the main quest, or any quests for that matter, that had been set up to tell very simple little stories about the people inhabiting it or why it was there.

One thing I remember is coming across a tent with some garlic hanging down from the top and a book inside about vampires. Really basic stuff, but it just worked. Maybe I'm easily impressed, but little stuff like that was always so neat, especially considering they didn't have to do that. How many missed out on most of these little details because a lot of people don't naturally go exploring? It's actually a little depressing.

I could go on for pages about the specifics.

Final thoughts? The game has a lot of problems, but that's the nature of Bethesda games. When you make games this huge, there's going to be bugs. But Oblivion was, for me at least, and I imagine a lot of other people, groundbreaking. I understand that a lot of people who were already invested in the Elder Scrolls series, specifically Morrowind, were fairly disappointed with this game, as they felt it had been dumbed down and made into generic fantasy. Which, given how intricate and difficult Morrowind was, I guess I can see it. But this is just my perspective, and my opinion, and for me, Oblivion was simply amazing.

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