Ambivalence on Oblivion

By Shamus
on Mar 19, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Hal says in the comments of my recent post on Oblivion:

I’m sorry you had a bad experience with it, Shamus. It really is a good game.

I realized that a huge majority of my current readers weren’t around when I wrote my Oblivion Posts. Sometimes I forget this. I imagine my entire site as this unbroken record, but for most people the thing started about three months ago. So let’s back up a bit.

Hal is right. There was a lot to like in Oblivion. I beat it twice, did all the missions for Mages / Fighters / Dark Brotherhood / Thieves, and collected a few properties. I filled in the map, and even made a (very trivial) mod. That is a lot of hours to sink into a game, and I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t having a good time.

But the number of annoyances, quest flukes, bugs, and haywire scripts did grate. That, and I needed a user mod to get the game running on my Geforce 5500, which was well within the “minimum requirements”. A patch to at least meet those requirements would have been The Right Thing to Do, and such a patch wouldn’t be needed for the consoles.

Underneath the dents is a great game. I did have several posts of praise for the game. I didn’t have so much a bad experience as a profound anger that they claimed the game worked on systems where it clearly didn’t, and then never made things right. I strongly suspect that it isn’t the fault of the developers directly. If they are anything like me, they hate releasing buggy software and jump at the chance to correct mistakes. I’m sure the decision was made much higher on the food chain, possibly from the publisher. Honestly if I knew where to lay the blame I would bring my verbal chastening to bear on the guilty party swiftly and with grim efficiency. Sadly, I don’t know who made these decisions, so I have to shake my fist at Bethesda in general. I have little doubt that the decision to launch the game in its larval state was made by someone who probably never played the thing.

I have a better GFX card now and the game runs fine without any user-made mods, but I haven’t forgotten this fiasco. Lots of people picked up the game, played it, and were happy, but for those of us who had to turn to the community for help in getting some sort of playable experience from it, well… that sort of thing tends to leave an impression.

A major expansion is on the way. I will be watching the news very carefully after release, to see what sort of condition the thing is in when it comes out of the box. If it looks good then I just might pick it up. If I see another round of community-made patches arise, then I’m going to conclude the company itself is defective, and give them the same treatment I’ve given Obsidian in the past. They will become a verbal punching bag, my universal example of a game company gone wrong.

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20A natural twenty.

From the Archives:

  1. karrde says:

    So, those of us (like yours truly) who will peruse the archives to get a better sense of a new blog are…a little rare?

  2. karrde says:

    Anyway, interesting news about the game. Has there been a hint of “minimum requirements” information leaking out of the company yet?

    Even considering, as you said, that the last set of min. req.’s were so misleading.

  3. Vegedus says:

    A strong modding community support is truly great and add much to a game (I’m still playing War3). However, when you have to rely on modding to play a game enjoyably, something is just wrong. Mods should add, sometimes improve, but never have to correct content!

  4. Zerotime says:

    Unfortunately, they probably can release a broken game without any plans to fix it later, because they can be pretty sure that the community for it will just step up to the plate again and make their own patch. For free. On their own time.

  5. Pixy Misa says:

    Flower-picking simulator. :P

  6. Hal says:

    Hm . . . I guess I spoke too soon.

    Karrde is right, though, I don’t do too much “archive reading” if I can help it. (I read enough blogs as it is!) But my usual standard is if a blog captures my attention the first time I show up, I’ll keep coming back. Congratulations Shamus, you won the (booby) prize!

    I haven’t heard much about different min. requirements for Shivering Isles. I can tell you I’ll be picking it up as soon as it shows up, though it might mean uninstalling half a dozen mods. I have a decent system, though, so I’m not sure I could tell you anything useful after the fact beside, “Woo, it’s great/Agh, it sucks!”

  7. DaveJ says:

    I think I read your whole website on the weekend.

  8. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    It really is frustrating to think that a game with as much potential as Oblivion had fell short. I have to conquer the thought that the game was “launched” by some numbskull who hasn’t played a video game since the release of pinball. (which I classify as an old timey shiny video game)
    I have a friend who once said. “I wish someone would make a game and not worry about cost or any of those sorts of things. And just make the best game you could possibly make” I think that has happened many times over now. The problem was that there was some fool who didn’t let them finish.
    *sigh*
    I’m gonna go read a book now

  9. phlux says:

    I don’t think Bethesda’s publisher has ever let them finish a game before releasing it. Oblivion needed at least another month in QA before it was released. Anyone but me ever play Echelon? It’s a sci-fi planetary flight sim. It had good controls, good graphics, cool damage modeling on ships that actually affected their flight characteristics, but the game basically just…ends. They tacked on a cliffhanger ending, I think so they could release the rest of the game as a sequel or expansion pack, but it came completely out of left field and made no sense.

    They didn’t even have voice-overs…a standard feature of the flight sim genre since the x-wing series, or even earlier. Instead it used a text-to-voice simulator that kinda sorta made it sound like staticy radio voices.

    I’m not exactly sure why, in the future, with plasma weaponry and hovercraft, we still have crappy-sounding radios for our pilots.

  10. Allan says:

    Why the hating on Obsidian? They’ve only made two games so far, KotOR II, which was rushed I think a a whole year ahead of schedule because of Lucas Arts, and Obsidian still managed to make a fun and enjoyable title. And their other game was NeverWinter Nights II, which you said yourself and I quote;

    “I have several posts of fawning praise and gushy cheerleading about how wonderful the characters are and how interesting the story is. I have comments on the generous length of the game, the fun character generation process, the great visuals, some nitpicks on the overly heavy system specs, and lots and lots of approval for the dialog.”

    and

    “The first two-thirds of the game were some of the best gaming I’ve had in years.”

    So it ended badly and the engine wasn’t optimised properly. Fine, I’d definately agree with you there, but your main points seemed to be that OVERALL you enjoyed the game.

    So what did Obsidian do wrong?

  11. Allan says:

    Nevermind, I’m a silly person, I confused myself and didn’t realise it was the post release support you were talking about and not the quality of their games, sorry.

    Obsidian definately did go a bit wrong their, especially with NWN2’s patching system.

  12. Julia says:

    That comment about the publisher made sense.

    I had some friends who started a game company, and got a lot of grief from the way the publisher insisted on doing things.

    So, find out who the publisher is and see if that has anything to do with it…. If so, chew out the PUBLISHER.

  13. Andre says:

    I didn’t mind the technical side of Oblivion. What annoyed me to no end was the leveling system. In my opinion the way it was out of the box made the game unplayable past level 10 or so. I think having EVERYTHING in the game level relative to you is a colossally dumb idea. That was the only sticking point I had about Oblivion, but it was a HUGE one. Luckily, I found a mod called Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul that changes all of that: the dude we through every level list for every NPC, monster, chest, and dungeon in the game and tweaked it. There’s still a little bit of scaled enemy leveling in the game, but by and large the NPC levels are static… some are high-level, some are low-level. You don’t know what you’re going to get until you come up against someone. For instance, I was clearing out a cave south of the Imperial City, easily one-hit-killing all of the weakling goblins living there, and then I came up against Lady Umbra, who was able to one-hit-kill me. It makes you a little more wary about rushing headlong into a mysterious cave. You know, as it should be.

    The mod also changes a lot of other things too, mostly all for the better. No more bandits wearing glass armor, no more super-powered wolves, no more stealing rare loot from a pauper’s hovel shack. In a way, it’s harder… but then again, it isn’t. Sometimes it’s cake, sometimes it’s tough as nails. I love it.

    With that mod, I can now honestly say Oblivion is a great game. Before… not so much.

  14. Acksiom says:

    Well, maybe it’s just because I’m more willing to be explicit because of being bombed on the rum&cola tonight, but, you know, if I could just get SOME kind of pubic clarification from you as to whether I’m still commentarily *persona non grata* or not, well, I would really appreciate it.

    I mean, you know, you did seem to praiseworthily appreciate my observations when it came to counter-estimating negatvive characterizations of Ai-chan’personality way back when.

    Of course, due to my fervent defense of the primacy of the right to self-dtermination, I’ve been thrown out of more forum than I can remember at this point, but, y’know, c’mon; in terms of the most basic baseline — do you really all that really want to continue inhibiting the evocative contributions of somebody as entertaining and insightful as myself?

    Let’s at least for the love of my lapsed Catholicism talk about it.

  15. Shamus says:

    Good to see you again. As the kids say, “We’re cool.” (If I’m using that right, it means there is no animosity between us. Did I use it right? Dang kids.)

    Sorry if I was rude last time we traded barbs.

  16. Relayer says:

    I think Oblivion had most of the same issues as Morrowind. And just like Morrowind, most of those issues were resolved with Mods.

    But it is kinda pathetic that player mods made simple things like character faces look much better with LESS polygons (for better performance) in Morrowind.

    Same thing with the popular interface mod for Oblivion, BT I believe it’s called: it’s such a simple addition that makes all the sense in the world. Why couldn’t Bethesda think of it?

    But what bugs me most about Oblivion is how the game was “dumbed down”, or to be fair, made more “casual” friendly (levelling system, compass, quest pop ups, dialogue choices, etc.). It made sense from a business standpoint, especially with a game being made for both consoles and PC but I think they lost a lot of hardcore RPGers because of their decisions.

    I’m hoping they take a serious look at the negative criticsm that is sprinkled in some of the reviews. The thing is with all the praise the game received, the next one may be more of the same (or *gasp* an action game).

  17. So, those of us (like yours truly) who will peruse the archives to get a better sense of a new blog are…a little rare?

    I do peruse them, but I don’t read all of them front-to-back unless we’re talking about a webcomic archive. :)

    @Aksiom: Question for you. Do you make more sense when you are less bombed? I ask because your post reads about as well as James Fenimore Cooper… *shudder*

  18. Rick the Wonder algae says:

    Bethesda’s problem (in my limited experience) has been that they pursue quantity far in excess of quality. Granted, I only have experience with Morrowind and Oblivion, so maybe I’m making unfair blanket statements, but the sheer number of bugs that were left undetected and unfixed, tweaks that went unmade, lack of thought towards what makes a game fun as opposed to what is conceptually cool (like the world that levels with you. Great theoretical concept. Makes for crap gameplay), failure to think about how to make the gaming experience less of a hassle for the player (why did they feel the need to reinvent the wheel for control system when every freaking game in the genre uses a single standard? Why did they saddle it with a cumbersome interface?) and graphics that look like crap (Oblivion in particular is an incredibly graphically demanding game. Why does everone in it look as though they’ve been beaten about the face with a lead pipe until they’ve had a few bones broken? At least Morrowind just looked like it had been rolled in mud.)? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they’ve got a reputation for releaseing GOBS of content with insane levels of replayability, so that’s what they produce. Never mind that if they spend 25% less effort on making stuff and instead spent it on QCing, improving, and comparing their work to their competetors’ they’d end up with a slightly smaller but better by an order of several magnitudes game.

    This is why I cry myself to sleep at night sometimes. Because Bethesda owns Fallout which is an incredible sucess BECAUSE of it’s incredible quality and the effort that’s apparent in every aspect of it. I highly doubt that Fallout will survive the quantity over quality push Bethesda will force on it.

  19. Felblood says:

    Ja. Blasted suits muck everything up in every industry.

    So, a guy like me, who read through DM of the Rings and then went looking for more to devour isn’t the usual sort of customer?

  20. Brendan says:

    I have a geforce 5500 as well, so i too was relying on Oldblivion to run the game, but unfortunately Oldblivion is non compatible with Shivering Isles. i found this out only after my best character has a saved game in the Shivering Isles and would probably be corrupted if i uninstalled SI. the game for me is unplayable on vanilla Oblivion, because i have a crappy computer

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