As a human being I have faults, one of which is the way I have to have an opinion on EVERYTHING. I know EVERYTHING, and coupled with the immense satisfaction I get from irritating and annoying people for no reason whatsoever, I am simply a nightmare. Being a gamer makes it that little bit worse; I constantly find myself slagging off games I’ve never played or actually REALLY enjoy just because I know it’ll provoke a reaction and, believe me, there’s nothing more hilarious than an irate gamer. Which is why I constantly find myself slagging off the bigger, and more popular games, because the bigger the game, the stronger the reaction. Pro Evo, Fable, Half-Life, they’ve all fallen foul of my own personal ignorance. But whilst there are some games I’ve never really given a chance, there are also some that I simply just don’t get, no matter how much hype and praise they get.
Enter Oblivion, the fourth instalment in The Elder Scrolls series, just one of quite a few games that I can’t seem to see what the fuss is about, no matter how many game of the year awards it has picked up.
Before you ask, and start casting your aspersions, I must state that I have not only played the 360 version of Oblivion, but also the PC iteration of the game too, racking up about 8 hours of game time between the two (4 hours on each) so it’s safe to say I’ve given the game a real chance to impress me. So much so that I REALLY wanted to like this game, and kept trying to convince myself that I did during my time playing the game, but it seems I am immune to Oblivion’s “magic”, pardon the pun.
I’m not just talking about going back and playing Oblivion now, although it’s safe to say it’s not aged well at all, I’m talking about during its initial release, Oblivion did nothing but disappoint.
There’s such a multitude of issues with Oblivion, I simply don’t know where to start.
Credit where credit is due, there’s no denying that Oblivion was a landmark title in terms of design within the gaming environment. The universe in Oblivion is HUGE, perhaps even on a size and scale that we’d not seen before, at least certainly not in such detail. Other titles such as Red Dead Redemption (another game I don’t ‘get’) prove that the world within the game is not the be all, end all, it is merely part of the attraction. Interesting, memorable characters and an emotionally engaging story have to complete the package.
But sadly, Oblivion is like an empty picture frame, the world its set in is breathtaking in scale, there’s just not a lot of exciting things going on inside of it to actually compel you. Its a story the stuff of clichés, nothing you haven’t already seen in one of the slew of macho medieval “epics” that hit cinema screens every year, except it lacks any actual emotional or breathtaking moments. No set pieces, no tugging on your heart strings, the fact that the 10 minute tutorial, in which you create your character and tweak his\her stats is the most exciting part of the game says it all.
It’s almost impossible to make a bad looking game on the P.C platform, especially with the power of current and advancing graphics cards and mod tools, so needless to say Oblivion on P.C looks beautiful. Stunning in fact. You can’t quite say the same for the console versions of Oblivion though because they simply don’t benefit from mod tools and advances in graphics cards.
Initially out in 2006 on Xbox 360 and PC, Oblivion was released alongside the likes of Prey, Gears of War and Resistance: Fall of Man, three games which still stand up in terms of their graphics to this day, which is why it’s especially puzzling that Oblivion looks the way it does on a console. Obviously different game engines have got to be taken into account, and developers Bethesda are hardly known for their graphical ingenuity, but even for its time, Oblivion looked terrible on Xbox 360 and PS3. It looked/looks old, and I don’t mean in an intentional, medieval old looking way either.
Oblivion on a console sports the kind of graphics that can only be found residing in my own, graphical hell. Its textures and detail are so in your face that it makes everything look and feel as if it’s 2D. From stone work to the facial features of characters, you seem to be constantly surrounded by cardboard cut outs, unintentionally eerie. And don’t even get me started on the various graphical glitches and frame rate issues, I’ll save you the tedium.
Unfortunately, not only do the game’s horrifyingly aged graphics (at least on 360 and PS3) detract from the overall experience, but the voice acting in both versions of the game go some way to exacerbate the problem. Oblivion”s voice acting felt, and still feels to does this day, incredibly wooden. Maybe that’s down to the incredibly clichéd dialogue the voice actors had to act out, but something just doesn’t seem to sit quite right, a problem which the brilliant, BAFTA nominated score can’t even remedy.
But a game’s poor aesthetics and overall presentation can be forgiven so long as its overall gameplay impresses, after all, presentation is superficial, gameplay is essential. Yet, not even that can be Oblivion’s saving grace, as it features some poor gameplay design choices.
Unlike some, the game’s fast travel system isn’t actually my major gripe with the game. Although it was convenient, having to discover places before you could fast travel to them was a nightmare even if it did allow you to explore the beautiful world Oblivion. Put simply, walking around for hours and hours searching for a location in a game is about as fun as it is in real life (not very).
Nor is my biggest problem with the game’s extremely laborious and repetitive quests. Or even the game’s guild related quests which are puzzling (to say the least) due to the fact that you can become a member of every guild in the one game save, despite conflicts of interest and guild rivalries. Where’s the logic in that? A minor, and some would say, picky point to make, but a point none the less.
My main issue with Oblivion (except for the aforementioned story), is the way the game controls. Oblivion ranks up there with some of the most awkward controlling games, EVER. Whether you’re playing it in 1st person or 3rd person, attacking and defending feels incredibly flimsy, the exact opposite of fluidity and precision. What should feel like an epic battle for the ages, quickly turns into a frustrating mess as you constantly spam your attacks and blocks in the vague hope you might land a blow, or at least avoid taking one. Being at the core of all of the game’s gameplay, combat within Oblivion SHOULD be far more refined and polished than it actually is, but yet it provides more proof, if proof be needed, that melee combat within first person perspective games doesn’t really work (minus a few exceptions).
The mystique and the allure is clearly there for some, and I honestly hope those who are looking forward to the newly announced sequel (there’s rather a lot of them), Skyrim, get the game they’ve been wanting since they’d finally put Oblivion to bed. Just stop yapping on about how amazing Oblivion is and was ok?
- Kieran Roycroft