Driving to work, I spied one of those “I’d rather be…” bumper-stickers, and in this particular driver’s case the activity was “golfing.” I immediately said to myself—out loud, no less—“Yeah, well I’d rather be playing Oblivion!”
It was a beautiful day (the first rainless day in what felt like months), and if I could have, I would have chosen to spend it all inside, seated at my computer with the shades tightly drawn, the sound cranked up, and the phone turned off. Oblivion is one of those rare titles that you think about when you’re not playing it.
I would like to say that Oblivion is a better game than Half-Life 2, but that would be comparing apples to oranges. What I can safely say, however, is that Oblivion is a much, much—much—bigger game. This game is so big that the main quest’s storyline almost feels like an afterthought, which admittedly is a bit of a problem for an RPG, and is one of Oblivion’s few faults.
The main quest, which has you filling the shoes of the unknown hero who’s tasked with saving the world of Tamriel from a “terrible evil,” takes a mere 15-20 hours to complete. And the road to its end is strewn with repetitive quests that basically have you closing all these gates to Oblivion (Tamriel’s version of Hell), which pop up all over the place.
The upshot is that, while few people who bought Morrowind finished it, just about everyone should complete Oblivion. The game makes it next to impossible to get stuck, with handy compass pointers and map icons that lead the way to quest locations. The new leveling system, which ensures that every monster you fight is balanced to your current level, means you can make a beeline for the finish without needing to spend tedious hours grinding through lower-level monsters and hitting up sub-quests to buff up your character before you complete big fights. This completely removes the element of fear or dread that was present in MW every time you entered a dungeon—you never knew if you would find a level-30 badass or a just a bunch of level-1 rats.
Thanks to Oblivion’s big picture, however, which includes a game world that looks and feels “alive” and that allows you to pretty much go anywhere, do anything, and be just about any type of character you wish (warrior, thief, mage, or any blend thereof), this point is rendered a mere niggle. There is simply so much to do in Cyrodill—you can even buy houses and horses and invest in stores. At times it feels like every one of the hundreds of NPCs you encounter needs your help with something—and many of these quests are quite clever, too. (In this way, Oblivion has much of the depth of a modern MMO.)
It’s quite possible to spend 30 hours in the game without touching the main quest, if you take the time to smell all the roses. (Though you’ll never smell ‘em all, thanks to Bethesda’s release of the TES Construction Set, which lets players develop mods—including new quests—for the game.)
Be forewarned, we’ve yet to see a game that thrashes even a high-end system as hard as this one. While this gives the Maximum PC staff a somewhat perverse pleasure, you might not take joy in getting 10-15fps with your new 7800 GT videocard. And the game did crash a few times, too—most often when we attempted to quit playing and get back to work.
It seems that even our PCs would “rather be playing Oblivion” than doing anything else.
Month Reviewed: July 2006
+ GLORIOUS: Beautiful, lush game world to explore; rich character-development options!
- OBLVIOUS: Leveling system makes the game too easy; brings even high-end machines to their knees!