Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

My copy of Oblivion arrived on Wednesday, and I’ve been playing it fairly steadily since then. I try to limit my time to less than two hours on week nights, but this weekend I’ve been able to play about as much as I’d want. Up to this point I’ve racked up 17 hours of game play. I’m still no where near finished with it, but I think I have enough experience to talk about it.

I played the last Elder Scrolls game, Morrowind, and simply loved it. The graphics where stunning, the world was huge, and the game play was quite good. For me, the most important part wasn’t the fighting, it was the feel of exploration. I never did finish the main story line, I just wandered around finding quests and discovering new things.

Oblivion follows in Morrowind’s footsteps. The graphics are simply amazing. My computer is somewhat high end, but not top of the line. I wish HDR work, but it appears to be not supported on my video card. I’m able to run at 1024×768 pixels — which is high enough resolution for me (for now *wink*) — without the frame-rate dropping to terribly low. The skies, flowers, grass, trees, water, architecture and characters all look great. I find myself stopping every now and then just to enjoy the scenery.

The world feels just as large as Morrowind. I think it’s supposed to be larger, but to me it doesn’t feel that much bigger. It could be that I still haven’t explored it from end-to-end, or because of the new fast travel system that lets you quickly jump to certain locations that you’ve already visited, or maybe it’s the compass that keeps you from getting too longs, or who knows… it could be the larger viewing distances that let you see half way across the map. Whatever it is, I don’t have that same feeling of hugeness, but it is still a very, very, big place.

As for other improvements: I think the quest tracking system is terrific. One of the big problems with Morrowind was that the only good way to keep track of your quests was to have a paper and pencil nearby. The game maintained a log for you automatically, but it was nearly impossible to find important entries when you needed them. Oblivion has three pages for quests: one for the active quest with all of the important things you’ve learned, one for open quests (where you can select your active quest), and lastly a page for completed quests.

As far as game-play goes, the biggest improvement that I’ve noticed is that you can join as many of the guilds as you want. In Morrowind, you could get kicked out of the Mage’s Guild if you took a job from the Fighter’s Guild that involved killing one of your “friends”. It really got quite annoying. In Oblivion, they’ve taken special care to avoid this problem. So far, I’ve joined five guilds and am having a blast with all of the quests.

On a more technical side, they’ve made some other great improvements. Load times as you move between interior spaces never takes more than a couple seconds for me, and I can run all over the outdoors without any noticeable pauses for loading content. Morrowind was notoriously bad a pausing for a few seconds every minute or so as you walked down the road.

The folks at Bethesda Softworks (the people that make the Elder Scrolls games), have also done a nice job with mini-games to enhance game play. Lock-picking and persuasion now depend a little on the skill of the player, not just the character they’re playing. Alchemy is a lot more intuitive, and some real skill is involved in hand-to-hand combat. Overall, Oblivion has met my expectations (which is saying a lot — especially considering how much time I’ve spent preparing my computer for this one game).