Wednesday, July 5

Lost in Oblivion

My latest, and apparently greatest, acquisition for my Xbox360 library is the much talked-about first person RPG, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (or just Oblivion for short). Set in the same world as the previous Xbox's Elder Scrolls III, this title thankfully improves on pretty much everything in the previous game. You needn't have played in Morrowind before to appreciate Oblivion- this is a self-contained game, or world, that is all-new and just waiting to be discovered.

Set in a land called Tamriel, Oblivion puts you in the boots of a prisoner- a hapless soul who was put in the imperial prison for no apparent reason. One day, as you are wasting away in the dungeon, a peculiar sight greets your eyes. Several heavily-armed and armored soldiers enter your cell, escorting a regal old man. It turns out that there's a secret passage right in your cell leading to the outside... and the old man is the Emperor. Apparently, the ruler's life is in danger so he's being spirited away by his Blades, or elite knights. Naturally, you follow the Emperor's party and soon orient yourself with stuff like combat, stealth, exploration, magic and item use. By the end of the introductory dungeon, the Emperor is dead and you've been charged with a quest to somehow save the realm by closing the 'Gates of Oblivion'.

What is that quest all about? Why were you chosen? What will it take to save the world?

I have no frickin' idea.

For starters, when I got out of the dungeon and breathed the sweet air of freedom, the first thing I thought was to go exploring the vast, lovely city nearby. Soon, I was collecting items (some by judicious pilfering), talking to people or listening to gossip, and carrying out a quest for some local merchants in what amounts to a lot of stakeouts and shadowing people. My current interest is earning money by engaging in mortal combat in the city arena, slowly building up my skills in gladiatorial combat while I fatten my purse. Oh, and some hooded weirdo likes my penchant for making people dead so I've been invited to some assassin guild. Ooh. Somehow I'll get to the main quest and try to save the world. Someday.

Oblivion is a huge game, open-ended and expansive with tons of stuff to explore and discover. It doesn't hurt that the game looks gorgeous; the graphics are downright mystifying to see... you can just stare at the beautiful countryside for hours... providing there aren't any rabid monsters chasing you down at the moment. You get the create your own character, right down to facial details like nose width and eyebrow angle (so conceivably you can make them look like anyone you want)... the only problem is that it's a bit hard to get them looking good. Hmm. You can also make your character into a large variety of classes and occupations with varied skills in both magic and combat, from fire-hurling battlemages to stealthy nightblades or relentless hunters and intrepid agents. As you use skills, you get stronger and better.

Combat is also cooler this time around, handled in real time and depending on your agility to maneuver around opponents and waiting for the right times to strike or parry. OR, you can try to master deadly spells and fry enemies from afar. It's not perfect, but it's darn more fun than in the previous game. The realistic rag-doll physics engine also makes fights more realistic than ever.

The quest is also more focused. While the earlier game threw you into the world with no clue, here the interface is a lot more user-friendly. If you want to get to the main quest right away, you'll be aided by a helpful mapping and journal feature, plus a handy compass which basically points you where to go next. Also, once you've been to a place, you can basically 'teleport' there using the map, so you don't have to walk or make a long trek everytime. Genius!

As with RPGs of this type, the main fun is in finding your way and discovering stuff on your own. You can be a glorious, honorable hero and citizen of the realm, or a fearsome villain. The gorgeous fantasy world around you is literally alive with sights, sounds and characters who go about their lives. It's up to you to choose how your path affects theirs.
HIGHLY recommended. If you have an Xbox360, this is THE one game that is indeed a must-have.

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