Oblivion was one of the X360's biggest titles last year, with its massive open-ended world and outstanding presentation. A lot of early PS3 adopters were expecting this juggernaut of a game to hit store shelves when the console launched, but, unfortunately, that didn't happen. Bethesda took a little bit of extra time to tweak the performance and slightly enhance the visuals, so the game was charged with a moderate delay. After almost six months, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has finally arrived on the PS3, and for anyone who hasn't already played it on PC or Xbox 360, it was without a doubt well worth the wait.
Elder Scrolls 4 still plays exactly like its 360 counterpart, but the PS3 version comes loaded with the Knights of the Nine content, and the visuals look a bit more polished than they did on the 360 last year. This doesn't mean in any way or form that you should run out and pick it up again on the PS3 if you already have it on the 360, since both of these enhancements can be downloaded via Xbox Live, but these additions are a definite plus for PS3 owners who had to wait longer to get their hands on the game.
To those not already in the know, Oblivion begins with your created character locked in the dungeon, as the King, voiced by Patrick Stewart, takes a secret passage route through your cell to escape the wrath of assassins. Without spoiling too much, the King doesn't survive the trek through the underground passages, and he tasks you with locating and protecting his one and only true heir to the throne. This portion plays more like an in-game tutorial session, as it guides you through all of the core gameplay mechanics and also serves the purpose of helping you choose and designate which character class you'll play for the remainder of the game.
Much like the other titles in the franchise, you're given the option to play in either first- or third-person, which you can change on the fly with a click of the right thumbstick. Each view has its positives and negatives; combat is easier to manage in first-person, but it's not as handy when you're trying to walk along a narrow ledge and you don't want to fall and decorate the ground below. The rest of the controls are very similar to an FPS game: the left analog controls your movement, the right analog controls where your character looks, and the right trigger swings your weapon or shoots arrows from your bow.
While Oblivion is mainly an adventure game at heart, it's actually more of an RPG. A lot of focus falls upon your character's stats, as they will dictate obvious parameters, such as the amount of damage you deal, your health, or your magicka level. Every action you take builds toward your character's stats, however, even if you're just tapping the jump button. Whenever you jump, it helps build your character's athleticism; when you manage to successfully block an enemy attack with your shield, it builds toward your blocking ability; and just taking damage even progresses your stats, as your armor ranking will raise as you absorb attacks. This system has its ups and downs, as it makes every single thing you do count in one way or the other, but on the other hand, this concept can also easily be abused. You can jump incessantly and ramp up your athleticism, or keep casting a certain spell over and over just to build up your level in that magic category.
How you gain levels in Oblivion is also very unique. Depending on which class you choose, you'll be given certain primary skills that affect your character's leveling possibilities. Any time you raise any of your primary skills a collective five levels, you can take a rest at an inn, level up, and allocate your new stat points. Fortunately, most of your primary skills can't be so easily manipulated, so the game is balanced well enough to where you'll only be able to level by actively playing, fighting enemies and tackling quests.
You'll find yourself quest gathering an awful lot in Oblivion, and that's because there's so much to do to keep yourself occupied, that at times, the game can actually feel rather intimidating. You split your time traveling across Tamriel, and within the demon realm, known as Oblivion, by way of Oblivion gates that are scattered across the map. It's possible to complete all of the main story quests within 20 hours, if you choose to focus only on them and forego any side-quests or exploration, but then you'd be missing out on what Oblivion really has to offer. There are so many caves, abandoned forts, sunken boats, and towns to explore, all loaded with a horde of NPCs waiting for some brave adventurer to come along and aid them in their troubles.
One of the only true negatives about the size of the map comes with how long it takes to travel from one place to another. After you've visited a town, you can go to your map screen and do an instant travel to the location, but any other destinations must be reached on foot or horseback. However, even on horseback, some of your travel times can reach up to 20 minutes or more, so sooner rather than later, it's more than likely that you'll find yourself wishing you could speed things up a bit in that department.
I've already mentioned the game's stunning visuals and expansive environments, but, honestly, it's hard for words to describe all the amazing sights and wonders you'll see traveling across the imaginary world of Tamriel. The attention to detail, the beautifully rendered scenery and the overall artistry that covers every field and town is absolutely breathtaking. Yeah, there are games that achieve less in scope that show up Oblivion's visuals, such as Gears of War, but there's nothing out there that delivers Oblivion's experience, with the graphics to match. The only minor complaint anyone could have would be the lack of wildlife in the environments and the fact that most NPCs look very similar in the face. This problem is also apparent when you're creating your character. It seems like no matter how hard you try, the end result is never much different from where it starts.
While the game does have Patrick Stewart lending his vocals, he plays a very minimal part since he's killed off right near the beginning. The rest of the cast does a decent job, but there's no one that really stands out. The music, on the other hand, is completely orchestrated and stunningly beautiful. If they put the game's score on a CD, I'd be the first in line to pick up a copy.
For all intents and purposes, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is the best RPG experience currently available on the PS3, but that doesn't mean it's completely flawless. The combat is by far the game's weakest aspect, as you're basically limited to simply blocking and swinging your weapon. Sure, magicka spells change things up a bit, but the combat system isn't what's going to keep you enthralled from start to finish. You're going to become so involved in building your character, solving every quest you come across and exploring every nook and cranny Tamriel has to offer. There's so much gaming potential, it's almost sick. You can join different factions and work your way to the top, such as in the Knights of the Nine addition to the PS3 version, where you can choose to walk down the path of justice or cruelty. Hell, you can even become "diseased" and turn into a vampire! Every time you think you've seen everything this game has to offer, you'll come across something new. If there's anything PS3 owners desperately need right now, it's a game with a lot of longevity to help make it through a slow spring and summer. PS3 owners, welcome to Tamriel!
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