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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Bethesda
Release Date: March 20, 2006 (US), March 24, 2006 (EU)

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X360/PC Preview - 'The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion'

by Alicia on Oct. 20, 2005 @ 12:55 a.m. PDT

Oblivion is the latest chapter in the epic and highly successful Elder Scrolls saga and utilizes the latest PC and next-generation video game hardware to fully immerse you in the experience. You can unravel the main quest at your own pace or explore the vast world and find your own challenges.

Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Q4 2005

RPG fans can not only look forward to having something to do with their shiny new Xbox 360 after they pick it up, they can look forward to playing the next installment in the tremendous Elder Scrolls series of games. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion follows the story of the end of an age, when the emperor Uriel Septim has been plagued by dark dreams and apocalyptic visions. His dreams come true when assassins kill his sons and then come for him, forcing him to retreat from the castle via secret dungeon passages. The entrance to the passages just so happens to be in the prison cell where you are trapped, accused of crimes unknown. Septim stops on the way out and proclaims that he's seen you in a vision, and that you might be the one to see the world through the coming darkness. You have a chance to ask Septim questions about his visions, before he then hurries into the tunnels. You follow him, and so begin an epic journey.

Oblivion is an RPG in the truly classic sense of the word; your character is essentially your own avatar, which you are invited to customize as you see fit. The customization process at the beginning of the game is amazingly detailed, letting you easily spend over half an hour designing just the right character. First you can pick your race, from a group ranging from different sorts of humans to orcs, elves, and exotic feline creatures. Once you've selected a race and name, then you can begin customizing basically every aspect of your character's face and appearance using various sliders. You can alter every aspect of your character's facial structure, skin color, eye color, and age. As you make decisions, you can choose to rotate your character's face to see how their appearance has changed.

If you lack the patience for this kind of meticulous character design, you can easily just hit the "Random" button, and build up from whatever you're presented with there. When you're satisfied with your creation, then you can save and begin the game.

Like Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, you experience Oblivion from a third-person perspective, although you can switch to first-person view if the situation warrants. The third-person perspective helps give a feeling of immersion, letting you examine your surroundings as if really there, but also requires a little bit of getting used to. While playing, you move with the left analog stick and control which way you're looking with the right analog stick.

A targeting reticule in the center of the screen becomes your primary way of interacting with the world. In combat, it indicates the targets of your spells and melee attacks; in other situations, it will change into an appropriate interaction icon depending on context. For instance, if you point it at the bodies of some guards you encounter early in the game, the reticule becomes a hand that lets you search the bodies for weapons and torches.

You can assign different items to the D-Pad for quick use, letting you rapidly change from a sword to a torch if the situation demands it. You can also assign spells in this way, and almost inexplicably, begin the game with a decent selection of spells at your disposal. Most of them appear to be elemental variants on the fireball, suitable for attacking enemies at a distance. Attacking is a simple matter of tapping the right trigger button, letting you swipe the sword (which you looted from a falling body) at your enemy. The motion is a little unrealistic at this point, but it gets the job done.

As with so many other Xbox 360 titles, the graphics boast an impressive amount of detail. This is demonstrated from very early in the game, when you begin moving about the dungeon area. Despite the darkness of the environment, the details of the stone walls and the body language of the other characters come through with impressive clarity. With the game's first-person perspective, you can choose to walk up close to a wall to inspect the stones or floor down to the finest details. Examining other characters is a bit more difficult but rewarding, if you can manage it. Fabric details are noticeable in the game, as are very fine levels of detail on the armor worn by the guards. The rats you fight early on in the dungeon, as well as the main character's "hands," were less impressive but still looked acceptably realistic.

Oblivion's use of sound and voice acting deserves special mention. While the game's score is good, it's not what makes Oblivion an amazing use of in-game audio. Uriel Septim is played by Patrick Stewart, and he lends more grace and dignity to his role than I have ever before seen in video game voice acting. Lines from the opening cut scene that would've been laughably trite as text or in the hands of lesser actors become compelling with Stewart's grave, awe-struck delivery.

As the story begins, all of the interactions and the brief opening narration that informs you that you're in a prison are fully voiced. The narration is customized to your character, quickly establishing a feel for the world and the dire consequences you're in. Even the interactions between the NPCs are voiced, which makes Uriel's desperate escape through the dungeon tunnel all the more cinematic and convincing. You don't have to imagine the guards grimly pledging their lives to his defense; it's happening right in front of you, with all the reality you could desire.

Oblivion will be doing RPG duties for the Xbox 360's first few months, but there's more than enough depth in this game to keep players occupied for that long. We played the game for well over an hour and didn't manage to get through the first dungeon. There was too much to look at, experiment with, and explore to make us want to rush forward to get to the "good stuff"; the good stuff was already there. It'll be a long wait until Oblivion hits later this year.


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