Computer games reviews and ramblings on games and gaming, from a gamer, roleplayer and LARPer.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Game Reviews From Beyond The Dawn Of Time: The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion has to rank as one of my favourite CRPGs of all time. But not in its original form.

It's a first or third person action RPG which had seom dreadful weaknesses at release, most of which were solved very quickly by the (still) extensive and talented modding community that surrounds it. The community's work was facilitated by the publisher's decision to release a powerful set of modding tools along with the game, and design the software to accept modifications essentially from day one.

This meant that it didn;t matter that the excitement of exploration was limited by the fact that all enemies were statted to provide exactly the same level of challenge wherever you went, because a download and a tickybox later, they weren't. The slightly clunky, uninspiring combat didn't matter, because several new ways of handling fights are freely available.

Even the bizzare urgency dissonance of the onrushing crisis vs. sidequests can be fixed by starting your story in a different place, and an earlier time.

With all that out of the way, I can talk about the game.

When it was released, it was one of the best looking games that had ever come out, certainly with the level of freedom and variety of gameplay available. It's a little dated now - though again, that has been and is being being worked on -  but the times when I found myself just stopping on a hillside and taking in the view were many. The cities, though small, are fairly lively and colourfully populated, NPCs natter (albeit inanely) with each other and go about their daily business, popping into the pub for a beer after work and generally giving a sketchy impression of a living world.

The forces of evil (or, at least, destruction. The theological ambiguities of the setting never cease to entertain) seek to burst through from their domain, one of the realms of the titular Oblivion, and put a stop to all the above loveable nonsense, and only one man can stop them.

Not you.

This is the big thing I adore about this game, you are not the main character, you're pretty much The Lancer to The One, Chosen By Fate, Born To Rule, Played By Sean Bean. Everything you do in the main plot centers around helping him acheive his destiny. Sure, the action focusses on you, you with the immense freedom granted to you by the game are essentially the narrator, but the tropes that make the classic fantasy hero are embodied in this quiet, slightly melancholy royal by-blow. This is his story, you just make it happen.

I'm not sure I've encountered this approach to storytelling in a CRPG before. Of course, I've been controlling the actions of characters whose choices I've had not hand in, but that's not an RPG. What I mean is that normally the player's ego is pandered to; of course you're the chosen one, you have it in you to be the messiah, you were born to rule, to win, to save the world - well not this time, it's time to see the adventure from the standpoint of the stalwart companion (or with the appropriate mods, the betrayer...)


  1. You are not wrong.

    You are very right. That plot/story element is one of the things I love most about Oblivion (and there is much to love!) I wish we'd get more interesting positions for your playable characters. There is so much more to explore than the 'Centre of Plot Hero' etc.

  2. I really enjoyed this review, and I'm particularly interested by what you have to say about "not being the hero". Robin Hobb does something very similar in the Assassin trilogy (though I know you hate her writing!)