Oblivion: Character System

By Shamus
on Jul 3, 2006
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I’ve mentioned before that I think it is a bad idea to bring the D&D d20 system to a computer game.

The one in Oblivion is really just a more polished version of the same system that was used in the previous Elder Scrolls game, Morrowwind. It’s a good system in a lot of ways. I’m going to nitpick it here, but I need to start by saying that despite all my little problems with it, the system is really one of my favorites.

How it works is this: There are a bunch of skills in the game. There are skills like using bladed weapons, bartering for goods, pursuading others via speech, repairing weapons and armor, using destructive magic, using lockpicks, etc etc. There are maybe twenty or so such skills, each with a rating between 1 (totally inept) and 100 (master). The more you do something, the better you get at it. So, the more I stab people with my sword, the better I get at it and the better I am able to use a sword.

Oblivion Skills
Filling up the red bar for a skill will cause you to gain a level of that particular skill.

This works really well. Since there are so many, you get rewards quite often. It’s rare that ten minutes will go by without getting another level in at least one of these skills. So these modest rewards come at a steady pace. If you’re in the wild you’re getting levels related to whatever sort of combat you might be doing. In town you are developing merchant and speechcraft. And you are always getting levels in things like athletics, which advances by simply running around. The metaphor makes sense. I mean, that’s how life really works: You get better at things by doing them.

You choose seven of these skills at the start of the game to be your “major” skills. These seven are linked to your character class. They are your defining skills. Once you get ten levels in any of your major skills, you will go up a level. So, if I’m a fighter then five levels of using a sword and five levels of heavy armor will cause me to go up in character level, which gives me more hit points and improves other aspects of my character. That’s a little confusing at first, but it still works well.

So much for the good news. Now for the bad.

The monsters in this game are spawned according to your character level. If you’re level 1, then all you’ll meet are rats and little goblins. If you’re level 20 then the world is full of Dremora lords and other massive, formidable beasts. This is the very opposite of a self-balancing system, and it is a very ugly solution to the problem of challenging the player.

The problem is that the difficulty of the game is now controlled by how well you comprehend this leveling system and how well you apply it. If you hang around town plying your speechcraft skills until you gain ten levels of speechcraft, you will gain a character level. Aside from a smattering of hitpoints, you aren’t any tougher than before, but every monster in the world is. If you decide you don’t like combat so much and focus on trade / speechcraft / alchemy / etc, then you will make a character who is great at doing “in town” stuff but who is helpless in combat. The monsters will level right past you and the game will be unbeatable. Since the stuff shopkeepers have for sale is also controlled by your level, then you can’t make up for your weakness by buying better equipment. You’re just screwed.

In fact, the game more or less punishes you for leveling. The monsters always get tougher as the game goes on, even for a well-developed character. Those rats at the start of the game go down in one hit. By level twenty, you are going to be trading blows for a while to bring down a Demora Lord, even if you have an optimized character with great equipment.

So my strategy for a while was to avoid leveling up. I just chose seven major skills that I would never use. So, as long as I never use blunt weapons, heavy armor, a shield, and a few other things, then I could stay level two forever. This worked, but it turned out to be a very dull way to play the game. Also, as the main campaign progressed, I ran into certain parts that simply required me to be a certain level to proceed. Bah.

My assasin is cooler than yours!As it stands, very few new players will want to play the game on the default difficulty. The game can be brutal and unforgiving to people who don’t plan ahead when making their character at the start of the game. The difficulty bar isn’t a “easy, medium, hard” choice, but a free-moving slider. At the default position (in the middle) I died quite a bit, and I was being careful about how I developed my character. I’m sure a newbie who just let their character evolve naturally (that is, not optimally) would have a much tougher time, and may have a hard time beating the game at all. I have no idea what the upper end of the difficulty slider is for. Who in the world would turn it up?

This is a rotten problem to solve. The problem is twofold: First, the game is freeform. In most RPG’s, you move from one area to the next, with the difficulty climbing as you proceed. But how do you handle this when the game is non-linear? The character can wander freely around the map, so where do you put the tough monsters so that they don’t stumble upon them by accident, before they are ready?

The other problem is that the character development system is so flexible and so varied that my level ten character is going to be very, very different in power from someone else’s. The difference between the expert who plans his character’s development from the start and the casual player who just lets it all happen is pretty big. This is good, because of the freedom it gives the player, but bad, because the game has no idea what sorts of monsters you can really handle.

So the game gets out of balance and the player is expected to go in and nudge the difficulty slider up and down as they go.

I might have another post that attempts to solve this without taking away the freedom of the game. I’m still thinking about it.

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201434 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. I have no idea whether it would make a game fun to play, but it occurs to me that the system could keep track of how hard a time the player is having, and index the difficulty up and down accordingly. If, for instance, the system has some sort of “recover from dying” mechanism (many do) then every time a player dies, the game could notch the difficulty down. Or every time the player came through a fight having lost at least 3/4’s hitpoints from beginning to end, the game could notch the difficulty down. Every time the player won a battle losing less than 1/10th hit points, the difficulty would incrementally rise.

    That would help if the stairsteps were small ones. If they were dramatic, it would be obnoxious. And yes, it means the game is rewarding failure and punishing success, if you want to look at it that way, but you could also look at it as the system trying to tune itself to the player.

    The “difficulty” slider, in turn, would tune the set point that the negative feedback loop was trying to maintain. At the “easy” level, it might require a victory with only 1/20th hit points for difficulty to rise, and a loss of 1/2 in a given battle for the difficulty to fall. At “hard” maybe difficulty rises if you lose less than 1/4th and it falls only if you lose 9/10th.

    And obviously this wouldn’t apply to every single monster you found; some would be thematic or preprogrammed as a function of a particular scenario or location.

  2. foobario says:

    Steven’s idea is actually how they do the GRE exams on computers now: the questions get harder and harder until you start getting them wrong, then drop. By the end of the exam they figure they have more accurately homed in on your true level than if they had just taken a count of right vs wrong answers.

    I like to play around with the game mechanics on most games: I’ll play them through trying to never level, or hash through a bunch of levels in the beginning before advancing the plot. In KOTOR this was very rewarding… there is a max on your combined level + Jedi level, so keeping my level low until I became a Jedi maximized the Jedi experience. Playing Oblivion his way was useless until I tweaked the game with mods. I pay a lot more attention running through the woods when I know there are things out there that can one-shot kill me, as opposed to the out-of-the-box “how convenient, everything is my level” experience.

    I enjoy trying to figure out tactics to take down opponents beyond my level – plant some mines, hit them with my longest-range weapon, run like hell and lure them through the mines, rinse and repeat – the challenge is great, the rewards are great. But Oblivion’s unmodded gameplay doesn’t really allow this since almost every mob (and their loot) is tuned to your level. There’s no real motivation to do anything daring, or to game the system… you are maximally rewarded by just plodding along.

    As for the d20 thing, I liked KOTOR, and only occasionally felt that sticking to the d20 scheme hindered the game. Basically if it got too obvious I didn’t like it. Temple of Elemental Evil felt like a never-ending math equation to me, because the d20 mechanics were right on the surface… the only way they could have made it be more work was if they had you roll actual dice onto your scanner to play your turn.

  3. HC says:

    Alternatively… they could just not scale the monsters at all. Some areas would be scary, scary places where only the most fearsome characters would dare to tread. Others would be blissfull idylls in which one might skip through the woods and pick flowers free from fear.

    I’d agree with foobario – taking out an opponent beyond your league is a worthy challenge. So is the reverse: if you can find a way to bring a gun to a knife fight, you should get to enjoy the easy victory.

    All of which is to say that my instincts in this case are more simulationist than gamist.

  4. Old Man Matt says:

    There are already a few mods that try to fix that leveled mess.

    Fatal Oblivion gets rid of level-scaling.
    http://www.elderscrolls.com/forums/index.php?act=ST&f=25&t=480190&st=0#entry6891561

    Francisco’s Leveled Creatures and Items Mod keeps some scaling but modifies it heavily.
    http://www.elderscrolls.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=496596

    There are others that do something similar, some that slow down skill gains, and some that completely change how leveling works. There’s a lot of other good stuff on the elderscrolls oblivion mod forum too.

    But what this game really needs is to change the npcs so that they’re not all butt ugly. They’re not as horribly ugly as the ones in Morrowind, but they still look repulsive.

  5. Cineris says:

    One of the many faults I had with Final Fantasy 8 was that you were fighting the same (level-scaled) monsters through the entire world. Not only is it a pain in higher levels that every randomly generated encounter is fairly difficult, but it’s damn boring seeing the same monster you were fighting 50 levels ago.

    I don’t really know a heck of a lot about how most MMORPGs handle this — Guild Wars has preset monster difficulties — But I know from experience playing MUDs that the general strategy there is to have pseudo-tests to bypass roadblocks. If there’s a really difficult monster area, usually it’ll be surrounded by a cliff or a river or some other obstacle (or maybe even have a warning sign saying, “Danger! Here be dragons!”) — Generally speaking if you’ve got enough Climbing/Swimming/Whatever to bypass the obstacle you’ll be able to handle the monsters, although this isn’t always the case if your character is lopsided. Either way, it usually only takes once or twice before you realize you can’t handle an area and you steer clear of it.

    I guess the danger to static difficulties is the ladder effect where are forced to farm particular monsters until you can move up to the next tier on the ladder and do the same thing over and over again. Not that I think this is any more problematic than scaling the actual monsters to your difficulty — At least it preserves some sense of world consistency.

    Since an actual physical world is a “tad” more interconnected than a MUD, it’s harder to handle this strategy because there are more routes around roadblocks.

  6. AngryJames says:

    Scaling monsters is sacrilege. As HC said above you should leave the levels fixed or even allow them to increase over time as they perhaps would naturally. But to level them with your level just ruins the game. I’m actually considering not playing the damn thing at all. Although I will check out the mods first.

    The pleasure of discovering a hard part that you need a plan to approach, including coming back when you are ready for it, and the pleasure of killing easier creatures when you have gone up a few levels is what RPGs are all about.

  7. Seamus says:

    RPG’s are not all about coming back at low levels and stomping on things that beat you up earlier in the game.

    Oblivion gets a lot of crap, but it’s mostly from people who just started playing the series with Morrowind or Oblivion. Arena and Daggerfall both had scaling monsters to keep the game challenging…Morrowind didn’t. Which is really “strange” since Morrowind was the one elder scrolls game I stopped playing after I beat it once or twice. It was boring…after level 30 or so, you were so powerful, you could one hit kill pretty much everything in the game save the end fight. Wow…thats fun? Sorry, but give me Oblivion’s level scaling any day. I’ve already suspended disbelief to put aside menu’s and slide bars and not being able to sit without a chair/stool…I can also put aside the disappearance of rats and whatnot in order for the game to never be boring. I personally don’t need to kill stuff way below my level to feel like i’ve progressed, and there are a lot of people out there that feel that same way. It’s the reason both Arena and Daggerfall were great games, and now Oblivion. It doesn’t matter how many hours you put into the game, you’ll always be able to find something that will give you a challenge. For $50…thats what I want…not the entire game to be a walk through the park after 30 hours played.

  8. Overmind says:

    The simulation aspect suffers with levelled creatures. There should indeed be dungeons wherein if you wander experimentally, you’ll be killed early on.
    Early quest lines from factions/main story should introduce easy characters.

    Furthermore, the NPC’s level up with you. I find it hard to digest that
    town guards remain a level or two above me, yet I’m the one saving the day.

    If you must have levelling, 1. Keep the NPC’s out of it. 2. Extract the
    levelled creature value from an average of the player hitpoints and
    the highest player “offensive” skill. (HP+[Blunt OR Blade OR Destruction]/2.

  9. Chris S says:

    I know I’m a “bit late” with my reply here, but I just read this post and I thought I’d pipe up.

    I share your irritation at the “leveled encounters” mechanic. In fact, if anything turned me off of Oblivion it was that. That and the fact that by the time I was around 25th level or so, all the bandits were walking around in full ebony and glass armor, while guarding a chest with 9 gold and a potato. Nothing destroys realism for me like that.

    Part of the beauty of free-form roleplaying is that the danger of stumbling onto something much more powerful than you is real. You don’t have any idea whether the guy standing there with the sword is going to die quickly or skewer you where you crouch. You don’t know whether the tomb is going to be populated with rats and skeletons or a powerful lich lord. Right when things aren’t going so hot you get the “oh crap” moment and try to run away. That’s the fun of it!

    I think designers have to populate a world realistically. Just because the player is 1st level it doesn’t mean that dremora do not wander some ruins somewhere. Just as with D&D, my players know that dragons do not stop existing, even if they are low level PCs!

  10. Bruce says:

    After reading the latest DMOTR, I like to scan through the old posts on the site and come accross stuff i have thought on.

    I think you could combine both these idea’s. It would be more life-like to have area’s of differing difficulty that mean you will have to stay away from certain area’s until you are strong enough. (A martial arts white belt might want to stay away from the tough biker bar, however once a black belt is achieved it won’t be as much of a threat).

    This needn’t be a definite border but in degrees (as the deeper you go into the forest, the more dangerous it gets. You can skirt round the outside wasting time, or head straight through risking the greater dangers).

    However, a GTA-like “wanted meter” that goes up with your killing spree could lead to a certain amount of local leveling up. (the town guards call in Swat to handle the tough guy, smaller monsters avoid the character, larger monsters are attracted by the carnage, etc..)

    For this to work I think you need 2 things:

    1. Clues to the difficulty of an area. (darker more twisted trees, the bones of large creatures or other adventurers, large claw marks on tree-trunks or even just rumours from NPC’s)

    2. The opportunity to run way.

  11. Stan says:

    I just started playing Oblivion. I instantly liked it for the wide-open world design and the many options. I used to play Ultima 6 back in the day and still think it was one of the best RPGs ever, and so far I think Oblivion is the game most like it I have played in a long time. Now, reading this article, I see that Oblivion is even more like Ultima 6 than I had thought. Ultima 6 never had self-leveling, but it did have a wide-open world with creatures that were, after a first few levels, easy to beat – you were always running into the same trolls. Was that a problem? No way! In fact, Ultima 6 didn’t even have an end battle. The compelling storyline and the feeling that it was possible to explore the entire world without encountering an impossible enemy more than made up for the lack of “scaled” monster experiences. To me being an Ultima fan, this game is just great.

  12. Icelander says:

    I found the game quite easy with the highest difficulty, well at least after I got a total off 136% damage reflection and 112% spell reflection (the monsters were damaging themselves without even touching me) :þ. So I toned my gear a bit down and the slider went the same way after being brutally maulested by several monsters up to a point where I ran away from a deer afraid that it would decide to maul me.

  13. Pada V4.5 says:

    “This is a rotten problem to solve. The problem is twofold: First, the game is freeform. In most RPG’s, you move from one area to the next, with the difficulty climbing as you proceed. But how do you handle this when the game is non-linear? The character can wander freely around the map, so where do you put the tough monsters so that they don’t stumble upon them by accident, before they are ready?” You should try gothic 2(havent played the first one), you can walk everywhere you want but you must be carefull because atleast at the begining most of the creatures will kill you in one hit, you yust have to be carefull and know when to run away or where not to go. And it feels very good when you killed a tough enemy with a little luck.

  14. Bob says:

    This scaling fiasco is a massive problem and deserves re-evaluating by Bethesda because clearly it has disappointed so many people and ultimately put people off playing the game altogether. What a shame and such a waste!! I find it sad that this spoils all Bethesda’s hard work, but they only have themselves to blame don’t they? I mean if there was a minority of people disappointed, so be it but we’re talking about the masses here! Personally I think they should just re-release the game having rectified the problem, as it would turn a ‘game that could’ve been’ to a worthy contender of ‘best game ever’.

  15. Chris G. says:

    The solution to Oblivion’s imbalanced character system is simpler than most people realize. But to address this issue, we must first clarify the problem.

    To recap the basics, each of the twenty-one skills is associated with one specific attribute. Seven of these skills are major skills and are part of what defined a character’s class. The other fourteen are designated minor skills. Upon gaining a collective sum of ten levels in major skills a character is eligible to level up (leveling requires sleep). Leveling provides both advantages and disadvantages. The only advantages are an increase in attributes and a menial health increase. The disadvantage is that everything in the world becomes more challenging to adjust to your level. This is all fine and dandy except for one thing: a character’s increase in attributes is not necessarily proportional to the world’s change in difficulty.

    When a character levels up, the player chooses three attributes to increase. The attribute increases are derives from the skills gained since the character last leveled. Since the attribute increases are derived from all skills but character level increases are derived only from major skills, a character’s attribute increases may vary, and therefore may not be proportionate to the static increase in world difficulty.

    The fact that attribute increases can vary and the player is limited to increasing only three attributes is the root of the problem. The simple solution is to eliminate the attribute choices while leveling. Instead, all attributes would automatically increase when the character levels.

  16. Reazen says:

    I think that a good way to fix this problem would be to have a combat skill level, and then a totally different magic skill level, ad then the same for buying and selling. The creatures would get scaled to your combat and magic levels, while prices would get scaled to bartering levels.

    THis isnt to say that we would get rid of the blade, blunt, destruction, etc. skills, we would just have all the combat skills funnel into to one major skill. Those major skills would then determine your characters actual level, which little to nothing would be determined by.

  17. Samuel Skinner says:

    Just a thought- how should NPCs be handled? If they start out high… well, why are you doing all the work?

    If none of them are super high than you can take on the law and conquer your own towns… not necesarily a bad thing.

    Maybe if they had hiigh level champions on retainer or off in the frontier, but ready to be called up… that would prevent too much abuse- while allowing players to set themselves up tin pot dictators.

    It would drive the people who do the dialogue nuts. How do you handle a player who decides that he should be King- and pulls it off!

  18. Sander says:

    I’d say that the problem isn’t with the fact that some players may find the game hard – I think the leveling system actually removes any incentive to improve your character by never giving the player an indicator that their character has gotten any better.

    For instance, in the Gothic games and most other computer RPGs, there are lots of areas with tough creatures that you just can’t beat at a low level. This is really very natural in these types of worlds. It helps the designers to focus the areas and guide the player a bit more. This doesn’t mean the player doesn’t have a ton of freedom, he’ll just get killed most likely at some points. But besides that, it also provides the player with a measurement of how well he is doing. If a player encounters an area filled with an evil horde of orcs that’d chop him up to bits, he’ll run away early on. But after going through some adventures and improving his character, the player returns – and smites the orcs. He’s now got a measure of his progress and a sense of accomplishment.

    Instead in Oblivion, you either don’t find enemies you can’t beat, or you come back after you’ve levelled up to find that through some weird power struggle between animals the bears have overthrown the rats and still chomp you up.

  19. Corey says:

    I just put 25% chameleon on all my armor, then killed everything without being hit once… not really a solution though.

  20. Uberhiker says:

    Francesco’s Mod.

    Fixes the leveling issues. Wander into the wrong place at the wrong time and you will get it handed to you. Loot is more appropriate, bosses have better stuff and the lackeys have the scraps.

    The mod also adds tons of options like slower skill progression, you can change the leveling to 12 major advances instead of 10, makes you about 20% more tough guy than your enemies at around 10th level. It puts in an unbelievable amount of items, treasure and monsters. All are blended nicely into the game and not out of place in appearance or ability. Heck, there is even a small chance that an encounter will spawn more than normal or a much tougher than normal specimen. That Goblin could be a total bad arse.

    The list goes on and on. Unlike some other “overhaul” mods, this has been stable over three computers using current (at the time) drivers from Nvidia. Francesco’s makes the game play like it should play, end of story.

    Later

  21. Moppy says:

    Myself. I love Oblivion. I particularly like playing a khajit Vampire. but I have to agree that the levelling system is pretty nasty, it doesnt make me feel any better. Only breaking into better houses, or sneaking up on people in full Madness armour really makes me feel like I;ve done something worthwhile.

    However I have one solution to people wanting a challeneg and a half.

    ASAP go to Vindasel, and face Umbra. I did it with the slide bar at neutral… 0…. and she nearly kicked the stuffign outta me… I havd to use a glitch to beat her, simply cos I wanted Umbra Sword and Ebony really really early :P

  22. Elbee says:

    Old post, I know, but I feel driven to comment on it whenever I see complaints about the scaling enemies in Oblivion.

    First, a disclaimer: I don’t like it. I don’t like that all of Kvatch has been overrun by mere Scamps (you guards can’t handle Scamps, really? That’s kind of pathetic. I don’t even have your nice silver swords and I’m going to town on them). I don’t like that I can never lord it over lesser creaturs. I don’t like that enemies all start wearing ebony and daedric armour, which is ostensibly rare and valuable, not commonplace.

    However, as a veteran of the Elder Scrolls forums, I can say that it exists (along with other much-maligned features such as the compass) because fans demanded they be added. Constant complaints about how easy Morrowind was after level X, about how hard it was to find quests and NPCs in the vast world, led directly to these new features. Now you can’t complain about the enemies all being too weak after level X, you can’t say it’s impossible to find Quest Location Y. Look how kind Bethesda is, they fixed all your complaints for you.

    Naturally, the same people that complained incessantly about the problems these things solved began complaining about these things instead, and they were joined by others who simply didn’t like the new features. All because of Bethesda’s attempt to listen to and act upon feedback from their fans horrible forum trolls.

  23. […] also know that Oblivion has a fucked up leveling system. I haven’t been playing the game too long to notice it yet but I’m sure I will need a […]

  24. Kel'Thuzad says:

    There are many mods that undermine the level system. I use one that makes it so that all creatures have a chance to appear at any level. Cue being torn to pieces by a mountain lion once I leave a city.

  25. Noggy says:

    It’s amazing to me how different people’s expectations of games are. The leveling system was one of the big selling points to me and I still love it, because I can control how difficult the game is. I do wish there were more games like this, but to each there own I guess.

  26. phineas says:

    Rather than altering the fundamental game mechanics, I wonder if you could alter the game world to fit people with diverse skillsets. That is give combat alternatives or combat analogs to individuals without combat heavy skillsets. Characters with high speechcraft or bartering could hire affordable bodyguards to take out the opposition before them, or rogue type characters with lockpicking could gain access to elite weaponry or items to keep them competitive.

  27. Snuggles says:

    I enjoy playing the game at first but as soon as i knew that to beat the game requires steady use of unwanted skills outside my character’s class. I realized how fucked up this game is. i think Ill try gothic 3 as others say its better.

  28. ZeroSamurai says:

    I actually did turn up the difficulty. I’m a regular console gamer, so dual stick is actually more comfortable to me. However, when i came to Oblivion, i was kinda bored at Normal. It was too easy – something i’ve come to feel for most games. First playthrough is on Normal at least – sometimes, like with shooters, i might even opt for hard if there is a Hard and an Insane.

    But as i built my character, i actually aimed for things i might need. Building an archer on “Hard” (3/4 difficult) was an insane challenge. Instead, i ended up making a SpellSword – which in a game like Obliv, meant i could actually do that without changing my character any. I went from a sneaky light-weight archer to a clever SpellSword light-weight and didn’t even have to restart.

    People fault the game a lot, and then change what they don’t like. Maybe that’s a PC thing. I don’t know. All i know is that i just play a game, and enjoy what’s good. I play a lot of games, and not all of them are good (I loved the game Graffiti Kingdom. But, i can honestly say it sucked. Look it up – it’s a PS2 game.) but if i don’t like a game i don’t play it. Short and simple. So, i learned to accept a game for its faults (a lot like people, i’ve noticed) and then really enjoy the good parts.

    Obliv sucked in some parts. The dialog wasn’t the greatest. The combat could be horrible, and the AI wasn’t the greatest. But for all it’s faults, it’s still a good game. I could honestly be worried for my character when i’m low on health, being chased by a bunch of ghosts, and have no mana. My pretty enchanted Sword of Death is nearly broke and drained. And if i get hit, i’m dead (i play fast and loose with saves. A single death can set me back hours.)

    Obliv can be intense, and exciting. If you let it.

    • Andrew says:

      Old post I know, but I thought I’d chip in.

      Like most (though not all, I note) people posting here, I don’t like Olbivion’s system at all. But I don’t necessarily think all level scaling is bad- a certain amount can indeed be a good idea, certainly in single player RPGs.

      Oblivion’s system has two huge flaws.

      One, it takes the scaling to extremes, to the point that a random peasant is a challenge to a high level character, or the supposedly terrifying world of Oblivion is actually quite easy to a starting character, arguably easier than to a higher level one.

      Two, and worse, it fails to evaluate a player’s combat competence sensibly, taking it to be equivalent to their character level, which is, in Oblivion, a very poor approximation, since skills have very little to do with character level.

      It manages to fail both on the game-front and the immersion-front. The latter is self-explanatory, but to elaborate on the former: the “correct”, i.e. strategic way to play Oblivion is to put useless skills in your major skills slots and make sure you never level up at all. That way, you’ll have awesome levels in the skills you actually use at level 1 and defeat any challenge with ease.

      The problem is that levelling gives you attribute boosts (which are useful, but skills and equipment are what really drive your power) and levels up all the enemies. The latter is much more of a drawback than the former is an advantage, so levelling is actually pretty much strictly *bad*, which is absurd.

      And, as Shamus explains, it means to do well playing the “normal” way (i.e. not trying to avoid levelling), you have to max your attribute bonuses carefully. This breaks immersion badly. You’re also heavily punished for playing a non-combat character.

  29. rdemetri says:

    The Morrowind implimentation of the world was better. Specific areas where harder than others. In general, quests suggested you go to certain places first then lead you on to harder places, but you were free to go anywhere.

    Think of it as a perfectly designed D&D world that has different monsters/evil characters living all over the world…. and the players can stuble on them at their whim… because we all know that players don’t always go where you want them to or do the quest you thought was going to happen tonight.

    I hope they return to this style of play/game for Skyrim…. hints are that they will.

  30. Scott says:

    I recently went back to playing Oblivion after a break of a few years. I was wondering why the game has gotten ridiculously harder the longer I played. Now I know and maybe I’ll find the right plugin to fix the game a bit.

    I’ve played every TES game since Arena back in 1994, but I’m not all that much of a “hardcore gamer.” I had roommates that analyzed every detail to figure out how they could get every possible advantage and exploit the system, but I hate this approach towards playing a game. I thought the point of an RPG was to get immersed in the world and have some fun instead of thinking about how to take advantage of every possible flaw in the game system. I want to pretend it’s a world, not a game to exploit.

    My roommates would do stupid stuff like face their character into a wall and then put weights on the keyboard to press down keys so their character ran or jumped all night long on their computer while they slept. When they’d come back the next morning they’d have tons of skill increases for an attribute because their character ran for 43-days straight in the virtual world. How this is different than cheating, I haven’t figure out–though if cheating makes the game more fun then go for it.

    That reasons outlined in your original post are why I began to get really frustrated and bored with Oblivion by the time I reached level 13 or so. All the monsters were getting excessively hard to kill since I had been developing all my major skills which were both combat and non-combat skills. In the meanwhile, all the people and monsters you encounter seem to be leveling up by developing every single one of their skills (or at least all of their combat skills). It soon became a game in which the trick was to save every minute and redo every minor battle 20 different times and 20 different ways until I might win if I was really, really lucky. That kind of game is frustrating and boring to me.

    Besides that, I was at the part of the main quest where I was repetitively closing Oblivion Gates. I’d already done a bunch, but had to do a bunch more. Ho hum, boring. Closing gates wasn’t all that fun after the first few times, but if I had to spend 4 hours closing a gate and getting killed repeatedly in the process of doing it, that’s a recipe for boredom and frustration (which isn’t really a good combination).

    My solution was to download some plugins and use the 1.21 gigawatts spell to kill anything and everything that got in my way. Maybe not the best solution, but it got me through the boring parts of the main quest much faster. Wee! Don’t worry, though, all the people have faces that look like tortillas wrapped around a brick, so it’s hard to take anyone seriously. Sayonara burrito-brick face, you’ve been hit with 1.21 gigawatts. (You can’t tell me you haven’t felt that way about some of the idiots in the game.)

    Ok, enough of a rant, but most of the annoyance and frustration I felt toward the game was based on the really broken leveling/difficulty system. I guess I could have played the game as an anti-hero who avoided leveling and by only improving my minor skills. But why would I want to play that way? And why would someone design a game so it’s an advantage to play in such an idiotic way.

    I understand that it’s good to have creatures that are sometimes a challenge to kill, but the challenge shouldn’t become impossible every time there is a minor battle because the difficulty system is so broken. Bethsoft really needs to match monster combat skills to the player’s combat skills so the player has fun.

    I also think that it’s a happy experience to be able to do some major butt-kicking on a kind of monster that kicked your butt earlier in the game. Sometimes a challenge is good, but sometimes it’s nice to just kick some butt and know you’ve made progress.

    If I were designing the game I’d throw in some hard (but not impossible) monsters to keep things interesting, but also put in a little fodder for easy killing and some revenge satisfaction. Variety is the spice of life so it can be fun to have some tasks that have become easier as well as challenges.

    I loved so many things about Oblivion (landscapes, world, some quests), but the unbalanced difficultly really started ruining the game for me at a certain point.

    I hope they’ve got this fixed in Skyrim when it comes out since the leveling system really began ruining the game for me once I got to a moderately high level.

    PS. I’d also assume that most people who are talking about completing the entire game (or main quest) multiple different times with multiple different characters and play styles are probably hard core gamers. There are many people (like me) who just aren’t all that interested in putting this kind of time in or playing that way.

    • Disinterested says:

      I just want to second this. Seems like you’re doing the same thing as me and revisiting Oblivion because of all the Skyrim news. I’ve done this a few times over the years, and I share your exact frustrations. Just like you said, why would anyone want to play like your roommates did?

      I have mostly refrained from using Mods to fix the leveling problem because a) I didn’t really understand what the problem was, exactly, just that the game was getting harder at an exponential, rather than linear, rate, and b) I wanted to respect the creators: they had designed this leveling system for some good reason, so I figured I’d be better off playing within the confines of that.

      Now that I’ve found these posts, I’ve identified the problem exactly: the system is completely flawed. Because of the major/minor skills dichotomy, you can’t play organically and expect your character to succeed in the game world. This document lays it out cleary: http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Oblivion:Leveling. The predefined classes, which a casual player like myself and the vast majority of the market for this game is bound to pick, are impossible to level “correctly”. Your major skills are going to increase too quickly, and unless you know exactly what the means, you’re going to end up just like you did. Level 13 and crossing your fingers before every battle.

      I want to add one more thing. Bethesda’s stated goal for the leveling system is that they wanted to give the player freedom to explore the world at their own pace and not be confined to any particular areas. This sounds great in theory, and even in practice; if you are aware of the quirks of the leveling system it kinda worked. However, this broke down completely in the case of escort/protection quests. If you did not do these quests at the correct level for the NPC you were guarding, the quest was impossible. They don’t level up with the enemies, and so would be killed instantly. One quest in particular, where you had to guard a farm for a guy with his two sons, was the last quest I did before I quit the game for the first time.

      At this point in the game, I had done a lot of exploring and fighting, because that’s how I wanted to play, so I was around level 10. The goblins I would run into around the world were tough, but manageable, and also level 10. The problem was that NPCs I was supposed to guard were about level 4, meaning they were whomped by the goblins and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

      Now, of course, the sons dying didn’t mean anything in the greater context of the game; I just didn’t get the quest reward. But obviously this is a terrible way to design a leveling system if it fails to do the main thing you promised it would do.

      Now that I know exactly what the problem is, I may reinstall the old thing and try out Francesco’s mod. All this Skyrim news is getting my really excited, despite my obvious distate for Oblivion out of the box.

  31. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    The best thing to do with Oblivion’s leveling system is to level up skills and not sleep at all to level up. This means that you will be able to choose a +5 skill to your strength, willpower etc. every time you do bother to sleep to level up and the monsters will still be low leveled.

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  1. […] also know that Oblivion has a fucked up leveling system. I haven’t been playing the game too long to notice it yet but I’m sure I will need a […]

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