Every few years a new game or series arrives on the market and is seen as one of the most revolutionary releases of all time. However, just like gaming hardware… This can go from the new standard to beat, to a harsh lesson of how not to make a game a few years later. Are older games as bad as we remember? Or are some older games seriously over-hyped instead? Let’s once again venture into the plains of the Daedra, with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
In November of this year The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, will turn seven years old. It’s amazing to think that a game this old is still getting releases and ports so far into it’s life span, but why not? The game was massively successful and has huge replayablity and exploration, even to the point that some people refer to the series as a whole as just “Skyrim” and not “The Elder Scrolls“. It became the defacto best rounded RPG to play, and even though I haven’t played the game in a long time (and think it pales in comparison to more recent RPGs) I have to admit that I had a massive amount of fun with Skyrim, with a huge chunk of hours spread over my PS3 and Steam versions with long nights and several different characters to explore the land of Skyrim.
However there is a pretty sizable amount of people who think the game is over hyped, how it’s sort of boring, repetitive and uncreative compared to it’s predecessor – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Speak to anyone who played Oblivion when it came out and you’ll always get two replies. How it’s an amazing game that hits the nostalgia strings hard and was one of the first true RPGs they experienced in their mid-to-late teens, but how it’s also aged horribly to the point where it’s pretty much unplayable (I do have to agree to an extent). What you find with a lot of people who played Oblivion on release is their age range; I was 17 at the time and many of my friends who reminisce about the game were about the same age. We were all in college, growing into our adult selves and also getting out socially. While the game doesn’t factor into this, it was still something we went back to after experiencing the more mature world we were growing into, and for that reason we all love the game, for being that window into another world when we did want to escape for a bit. We all love the game even though the second point is also true, it has aged awfully. But, is it actually that bad? Or we do we all just jump on the band wagon because it’s fun to poke at what was considered revolutionary?
Leaving the sewers for the first time is something everyone remembers.
Around the start of this year Oblivion was added to the PS Now service (Because giving us backwards compatibility would be giving us too much power apparently) and in my recent game drought I thought it was time to go back to Cyrodiil and relive the days of Oblivion. While well aware it wouldn’t be the same experience I had as the days past, I thought I could at least experience the game as some one who’s actually into RPGs this time, compared to back then when I just needed a game to play. So how did it go? Better than I thought to be honest. I thought my play through would only last 2-3 hours max before the game started to bore me, but I kept playing until the early hours of the morning, and for the next few days I was once again lost just like I was over 10 years ago. Let’s get this out the way first. Yes the game has aged poorly in certain areas, and there are certain design choices that I feel were just bad, so I feel it’s important to get the obvious bad points out the way first. One of the first things you’ll do is create a character, and the character creation is useless. Every character looks like an over-inflated shiny potato and not really like a rugged tough warrior or creepy wizard. No matter what you do your character will always look nonthreatening and pathetic. The best you can do is keep pressing ‘randomize’ until you get something vaguely okay, and then find a good helmet to cover his face later on. You will rarely see your characters face though, so it’s not much of an issue, but still sort of annoying.
My second point is a bit of a subjective one. For me I find the overall controls a little stiff, everything you do feels robotic and not very fluid. I know it’s difficult to make everything seem natural, and Skyrim has the same issues, but I feel it’s extremely noticeable on Oblivion. Combat is effected by this also, as most fights boil down to running back and forth hitting your enemy and hoping you land a hit. This is a niche point however as combat works. You know when you’ve hit the enemy an using swords, shields or magic and get decent feedback from the battles you go into, it just feels a bit off at times. But now we get to the one everyone remembers – character animations and dialogue, and they are something to behold. Animations such as basic walking and simple tasks like eating are stiff and soulless, and the dialogue is so poor it’s like a primary school play. They walk from place to place as if they’re being controlled, or there’s an alien inside trying to mimic human interactions. When characters do talk to you they have this void-less stare in their eyes with very little emotion or body movement. The most known one is the sound bank of voice lines where a beggar can ask for money in a shriveled croaky voice, but when asked about something else they’ll switches voices to a well-endowed country house woman, as they just seemed to have thrown all the generic voice lines into one file. The voice acting isn’t actually that bad, it’s not good, but it’s not as bad as people make out to be; it’s the delivery of the lines in the situation that makes it that bad, as Zero Punctuation put it “The tiny number of voice actors just makes it laughable, with characters frequently found conversing with themselves about how much they enjoy buying from the shop owned by themselves”. It was impressive for the time as Oblivion used a life-like NPC dialogue engine where NPC’s could engage in realistic-style conversation in the streets. I can’t think of a single game that did this before, as characters were just usually placed near each other and feigned the idea of dialogue, such as Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which while an amazing game, all dialogue is setup to happen at particular times, unlike Oblivion which can happen between any two NPC’s at any time. It just didn’t really work though, much like the animations it came across as lifeless, dull and pretty laughable for how bad it was.
A little clunky, but combat worked.
For me the biggest flaw in Oblivion isn’t any of these issues however, as they are actually pretty minor when compared to what I think is its biggest problem: the map sucks. When I first exited the sewer on my first ever playthrough I was amazed at how big and expansive the world was, but as time went on I just got bored of the same old scenery. Most of the map is random paths, trees and lots of green. There isn’t really much in terms of variety as you go out to explore the world, and if it’s not different enough to make me explore, then I don’t want to explore. The towns themselves are varied enough and I think a lot of effort went into making each town unique, but in between those towns? A whole lot of nothing. It can change ever so slightly in certain areas, but overall you’re going to walking on some dirt road and I wouldn’t have any idea where you are.
A whole lotta green…
Here’s the thing about all these issues though. None of them stop Oblivion from being a good game – for the most part. Oblivion, although over 10 years old at this point is still an extremely fun game that everybody needs to play. The character creation’s problem isn’t really an issue as you never see your character and doesn’t change the game at all. The controls being a bit stuff? You get used to it, and it’s not really a problem on PC anyway. The dialogue and animations are terrible, but they don’t get in your way, and you forgive them when you consider when this game came out. The game map, well I’ll get back to that later. Oblivion still holds up extremely well, even over games that came out in following years, and here’s some reasons why. Oblivion is a massively charming game; I know it sounds like a cheap way to say “The horribly aged bits make it endearing” but I feel that’s unfair. The game world itself isn’t gloomy with an overarching feel of dread that more recent releases have had. It’s colorful and happy with characters (while a bit awkward) that seem generally content with how things are going in their lives, offering positive advice for your character. Compare that to Skyrim where all I can recall everyone is complaining about the Civil War, Dragons, or being poor and dying with no one seeming happy. The game world itself (while repetitive) is bright and colorful – fairy-tale almost, and I felt a much more positive atmosphere running place to place in Cyrodiil that in nearly any other game.
There was a point I was quite high up and I looked to my right and saw the Imperial City in the distance, being reflected onto the lake surrounding it and it looked amazing. Graphically the game is obviously dated, but for being over ten years old it’s impressive how good certain parts of the game look. The soundtrack is much like the general atmosphere of the game, relaxing and peaceful. The score resonates with many people for nostalgia reasons and while it isn’t as complex as Skyrim’s soundtrack, I remember this soundtrack so much more just because of how well it’s put together with harmonies and chimes that make it one of the most memorable soundtracks of any game I’ve played. Sadly I haven’t delved too much into the other quests but upon speaking to several friends we all recalled several quests that were huge amounts of fun. The quest ‘Whodunit’ is a Dark Brotherhood quest where you have to kill all the parties members in a house without being caught and is great fun, picking off members one by one, making you feel like a proper little assassin. Another quest ‘A Brush with Death’ has you travel inside a world within a painting to rescue the artist who got trapped inside. It’s quests like these that I don’t recall in Skyrim, much like the soundtrack we remember them because they were well put together. Thought was put into making quests unique and different whereas I can’t really remember any specific quest in Skyrim that was a big difference from other quests.
Oblivion really did have its moments.
Oblivion is a great game, and I can say that now without using nostalgia as a fallback. It holds up on its own and has many great qualities that Bethesda need to look back on when making future games. Oblivion often gets left in the shadow of Skyrim, which is unfair, but mostly down to the constant re-releases and mainstream popularity it has compared to Oblivion, it’s understandable that Bethesda would push Skyrim over Oblivion, but I still feel they need to give Oblivion some due credit. So when they announced a remastered Skyrim at E3 2016, I was disappointed, and I know I’m not the only one. As previously stated my major problem with Oblivion is it’s simple map design with little reason to explore. I feel a remastered version with new terrain textures and less of the copy paste game map would fix the only major gripe I have. I don’t want them to take away the clunky dialogue, the robotic animations and they better not dare touch that pretty landscape because it’s not Oblivion without it. Sadly though, it probably won’t happen as I can’t see Oblivion being a top priority for Bethesda anymore. With all that said though, I’m glad I got to go back and play Oblivion and truly appreciate it for what it was. It has issues sure, but none of them are game-breaking and I implore anyone who hasn’t played it to go and give it a try, especially for the people who’ve only played Skyrim. Oblivion is a testament to what games could achieve and a landmark milestone in gaming history for everything it did; it’s aged in many areas, but it’s still an amazing game nonetheless.