Everyone’s talking about Skyrim nowadays – and for good reason, since it seems to be getting ported to every system under the sun. But before the fifth instalment of the Elder Scrolls chronology wasted hours of everyone’s life, there was its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Morrowind was already popular, but its sequel was truly the game that rocketed TES into mainstream gaming popularity with a stunning 9.5 million copies worldwide (as of 2015). It was many gamers’ gateway into TES‘s rich universe, including my own, and is worth remembering today for its contributions to the sandbox RPG genre in general.
Whereas the relatively darker Skyrim gave us a Roman Empire-inspired Tamriel, Oblivion gave players a bright, colourful medieval fantasy world. The province of Cyrodill was a sight to behold, with reams of golden fields, a rich, sprawling Great Forest and a wide array of different castle towns filled with interesting characters and locales. As a matter of scale, Oblivion‘s world map is a little larger than that of its successor, albeit lacking in some of the finer details offered by said successor. But this doesn’t make it any less of a pleasure to stroll through, when Cyrodill’s golden sun shines upon you in the hills, with Jeremy Soule’s epic orchestral soundtrack sweeping you through the experience. That same sense of wonder is instilled in the player as they find new locations such as abandoned forts, bandit camps and caves within the wilderness. A favourite memory of mine is coming across the huge lake that rests before the Imperial City and watching the surreal White-Gold Tower standing proudly in the distance. It makes you feel so humble and small in this vast, detailed fantasy world.
Having crafted such a large, detailed world, it was up to developers Bethesda to make it feel alive. And make it feel alive, they certainly did, using the ‘Radiant AI’ system to give each NPC a routine through the day and night. Then there was the inclusion of multiple operating factions throughout Cyrodill. As with the game’s predecessor, Morrowind, players could join a number of factions in the game including the Fighters Guild, Mages Guild, Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood, each with their own benefits and exclusive quest-line. As with the other games in the series, it was so easy to get caught up in these quests and forget the main plotline altogether, but it also highlights one thing Oblivion did better than Skyrim – the quality of the quests. The quests were far more involving and fun than the game’s successor. Mention the Dark Brotherhood questline to a seasoned Elder Scrolls gamer and they will likely let out a nostalgic sigh. It was successful in that it made you feel like a badass assassin in a lawful world and set up many unique situations, including having to fake someone’s death. Similarly, the other questlines were generally well-written with a great deal of suspense and mystery, often pulling the player in hook, line and sinker.
As far as the gameplay went, it was similar to Skyrim. Of course, being ‘the game before’, it’s naturally a little less refined. The ability to select seven major skills at the beginning of the game has its fans and foes. On the one hand, it helps keep your character unique since constant use and upgrading of said skills is the only way to level up your character and, therefore, encourages players to keep to those skills. On the other hand, it can trap new players who are unused to the Elder Scrolls games and doesn’t offer much in the way of skill experimentation. This was later altered in Skyrim where players could level up with whatever skills they wished to use. Many players, however, missed Oblivion‘s levelling system which concentrated on unique character growth as opposed to Skyrim’s, which allows players to potentially upgrade and master every skill in the game if they wanted. Personally, I wouldn’t label Oblivion‘s levelling system as better or worse. It’s just a little different.
Overall, I would recommend Oblivion to any gamer who loves Western role-playing games or even RPGs in general. It offers an immersive, fantastically colourful fantasy world with great characters, voice acting and an epic soundtrack. Even if you’ve played Skyrim, but never played this, it’s well worth it for all the additional hours of great content at your disposal. Given that Skyrim is basically being re-released over and over for all of time, it would be a shame to forget Oblivion and sweep it under the rug. Let us remember it for what it was: a great adventure that laid the foundation for what was to come and a ‘how-to’ on creating a gripping, immersive fantasy game.