Your first taste of the expansive virtual world of Oblivion is the creaking of a metal grate, the blue of Lake Rumare and the green of the rolling hills of Cyrodiil. In 2007, when I first picked up this game – I didn’t know what to do with myself when I came upon this sight.
It’s predecessor, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was monolithic both in size and impact. As lauded as the other great computer role-playing games of its era such as Baldur’s Gate and its sequel. But unlike Baldur’s Gate, which is set within the quintessential role-playing universe – the famed and often-parodied world of Dungeons and Dragons – the Elder Scrolls are set in the developer’s (namely Bethesda Softworks) own role-playing universe. Once upon a time, these places – the lands of Tamriel – and the triumphs and horrors that happened there were relegated to the constrictions of the much antiquated system: the table-top. This world was released onto your personal computer finally in 1994 with the advent of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, an open-world fantasy RPG.
Let’s go back to 2007. I’ve just left the Imperial Prison, and Holy Howard Phillips Race-Mixing Lovecraft, you can go anywhere? You can go anywhere. That mountain over there? You can get there. Walk on its summit and kill the troll that lives there. He’s probably connected to a quest too. Or maybe he has a special weapon that has a lightning enchantment. My 13-year-old mind was going rampant with possibilities, rippling with the purple lightning of a chaos storm. Only in my wildest dreams was something like this possible, and now I had it before me in my tiny baby hands.
After realizing what I had with Oblivion, I remade my character a total of 5 more times before I was ready – then I set off for adventure. Cutting a path of doom and carnage through Cyrodiil was a pleasure through Oblivion’s fun, addicting combat. Simple at first glance, but deep when you have garnered enough experience to unlock some of the more “fancy” moves. Becoming a badass in blunt weapons means that at a certain level, you’ll be able to do a move that disarms your opponent, and you have no idea of this the first time you pick up an iron mace. The sword-and-board play is fun, and challenging. The archery is rewarding and skills like acrobatics and athletics which level up as you jump your way up a steep cliff and run through dungeons actually give you important advantages in combat. For example, at a certain level of acrobatics, you can attack while you’re jumping. Let me tell you right now – you won’t notice it before you unlock this, but this shit is essential. Now your bloodcurdling murder spree has verticality and now your enemies shall look upon your acrobatic works and despair.
The magic system is lame at first, but its massive. When you start unlocking the weirder spells on each magic tree (there are 6) your gameplay opens up immensely. There are so many ways to play this giant game, this alone makes it a timeless classic. Plus the expansion packs added to it and the mod support – you can play this game for a lifetime.
Oblivion boasts a robust main storyline that sees you go across the land to stop cultists from bringing Satan back into the world after the last ancestors of Viking Jesus Christ have been killed – only there is one left, the Emperor’s bastard son. The man with the most mundane name in the entire game. Martin. Who is voiced by the eminent Sean “The Horseman of Death” Bean, and is probably the second of only two well-voiced characters in the game. The other being the Emperor himself voiced by Patrick Steward. Yes, the voice-acting is poor. Very poor, and all of the characters are voiced by a limited cast of poor actors. The many voices repeat themselves, and just when you thought you escaped Rasheda the Blacksmith’s drab and monotone line-delivery, guess what? A guard in Kvatch’s garrison has the exact same one. In 2007, I was so bewildered by this world – I honestly didn’t notice, but now I have been spoiled by good voice acting and when its particularly bad, it takes you out of the game.
But the meat of the game is when you’re outside of a city, travelling by yourself – exploring elven ruins, slaughtering mudcrabs in dark caverns and letting rivers of wolf blood reign over the forests, and the music that accompanies your pain mongering is completely beautiful. Perfectly soft and light melodies performed by orchestras. Each song is as wonderful as the next. Each are very different and very memorable in their own right. I’m pretty sure I can hum the combat theme that picks up whenever an enemy comes near you. I’m humming it right now.
Oblivion remains one of the best games I’ve ever played, and that I will continue to play. It’s better than Skyrim, and apparently worse than Morrowind, but that’s because Bethesda slowly becomes worse at making games as they release them. In fact, every time you say that Fallout 4 was bad, the portrait of Todd Howard in his basement becomes a little more grotesque.
The Elder Scrolls IV is a triumph of the medium. My 13-year-old self knew it then, as I know it now.