The Altered Scrolls, Part 10: The Hype Era

By Rutskarn Posted Saturday Oct 10, 2015

Filed under: Elder Scrolls 106 comments

I intimated earlier in the series that there is no such thing, broadly speaking, as an unsuccessful Elder Scrolls game. The least you can expect of any main franchise entry is success on its own terms, at its own goals, in its own era. This doesn’t guarantee it’ll still be a success tomorrow or would have been one yesterday.

By the standards of the previous game, Oblivion is a ponderous misshapen clunker that takes every opportunity to shunt the player off the precipice of immersion. And by the standards of the next game, Oblivion is a ponderous misshapen clunker that takes every opportunity to shunt the player off the precipice of immersion. It was a transitional fossil that managed to stand proudly on its own, but it’s somehow more difficult to return to than Daggerfall was.

Part of this is because “the day” was one of the most interesting periods in the franchise's history–not to mention the history of games marketing and development.

I like Oblivion quite a bit, and I'm about to say some unkind things about it, so let's balance that with positive captions. This screenshot was obtained on short notice and basically at random by loading a save. It's gorgeous.
I like Oblivion quite a bit, and I'm about to say some unkind things about it, so let's balance that with positive captions. This screenshot was obtained on short notice and basically at random by loading a save. It's gorgeous.

It's difficult to explain today the culture of expectations that surrounded Oblivion for a year before release. Morrowind‘s preorder crowd back in the early oughts had been meager and cultish, and while its promises drew positive attention from the gaming press, it had to wait until after release to generate most of its excitement. Not so with Oblivion. For the first time, the studio had fans ready to hang on every blog post and leaked screenshot, and they made magnificent use of that resource.

Every announcement to do with Oblivion was breathtaking. Every new feature leaked or demoed represented a new frontier, an unprecedented degree of perfect simulation. Objects obey realistic physics. Arrows have arcs and lodge in soft materials. NPCs have lives, personalities, habits, schedules. Spells have different physics depending on materials and can produce different effects on subjects depending on what element is being used. Games before took place in static unyielding matte paintings, set dressings made to give a cheap impression of a fantastic world; Oblivion, by every breathless report, was nothing less than virtual reality.

Morrowind dabbled in environmental storytelling for dungeons and wilderness environments. Oblivion is when Bethesda really got good at it. Case in point: dead treasure hunter surrounded by traps. Neat!
Morrowind dabbled in environmental storytelling for dungeons and wilderness environments. Oblivion is when Bethesda really got good at it. Case in point: dead treasure hunter surrounded by traps. Neat!

Which hardly makes sense to a modern observer. These days it’s very easy to see features announced for a game and realize that what we see demoed at conventions really is all there is to it–if not more than there is to it. It would be easy today to see Oblivion‘s promised features list and be impressed at the new engine tricks without presuming these skillful and discrete artifices to be, in fact, incidental offshoots of the same ambitious never-before-seen comprehensive world simulation extravaganza. But back then, with so much having changed behind closed doors, it was easy to believe our dream game was somehow being made real. Santa existed and he worked at Bethesda.

I was on the tip of the hype spear back then. Impressionable people like me didn't look at the previews and see a pretty immersive videogame; we saw a world that had a pretty cool videogame inside of it.

I remember how the official forums felt. People began to play the imagined perfect game in their heads long before boxes of the real one hit shelves. Everyone had their characters all planned out, everyone had their backstory written up–people were hatching assassination plots and writing fanfiction about them. I remember the tone of thread titles: “What's the first thing you're going to do when you're out of the dungeon?” “What's your character's motivation?” “What's your build going to be like?” People made a lot of detailed plans. Basically all of them would turn out to be impossible.

This was a time when the internet was really hitting its stride as a flashpoint of hype and speculation and hadn't fully realized its role as a megaphone for bitter cynicism. It helped that that the PR was perfectly handled, sharing just enough details about the game to enkindle feverish fantasies and never enough to ruin them. Previews were less exposition and more narrative. Depictions of gampeplay were vanishingly thin on the ground and usually cloaked in abstract possibilities suggested by the mechanics.

Think about the possibilities. Think about how great this will be. This game will blow your mind. You won't be able to believe it.

It’s not fair to judge Oblivion against the impossible game we all dreamed up. But I do think it’s fair to say that this hype actually enhanced early appreciation of the game as much as it harmed it. I remember how for months of gameplay I was gobsmacked by the idea that we finally had a game where NPCs got hungry, got sleepy, went to work, had friends, had principles and desires, had a routine–how I thought to myself, this is a revolution. This is the future of games. And I remember the moment I realized that The Sims had come out six fucking years ago. Was it harder to implement that kind of Mundane AI in an RPG? Probably. But in retrospect, I felt a bit silly for having been so blown away by it when we’d seen the same shit in a franchise that had already generated its own belated sequel.

Pretty much every major population center in this game has its own style. This is Cloud Ruler Temple. It's like a refuge for Ancient Roman anime nerds.
Pretty much every major population center in this game has its own style. This is Cloud Ruler Temple. It's like a refuge for Ancient Roman anime nerds.

Every game in the Elder Scrolls series has something it's built around, something it does better than the rest of the franchise. These strengths aren't just the result of the right team, or the right iterative design, or just plain dumb luck: they're the logical conclusion of everything the game is and is trying to be. Arena was a romp across a vast and ambiguous world of sorcery and monsters, a grand and classical adventure. Daggerfall was a game of dead-drops, conspiracy, and fully-realized political dynasties with a palpable texture of interactive intrigue. Morrowind provided unforgiving objective challenges set against an alien landscape, and transported the player body and soul to a breathtaking world realized to the limit of its technology and not a step further.

Oblivion's goals were more direct. Oblivion isn't about texture or narrative or universe in any sort of discrete sense. It's about energy. Oblivion never wants you to stop running.

The docks are my favorite part of the cities. Oblivion kept the moon-gravity Agility system and added it to attractive environments full of objects to spring from, which made getting around town appealing.
The docks are my favorite part of the cities. Oblivion kept the moon-gravity Agility system and added it to attractive environments full of objects to spring from, which made getting around town appealing.

You can start by taking that as literally as possible on the most fundamental tactile level. Your stamina stat used to deplete if you ran. In Oblivion, running just makes your energy regenerate more slowly. When you ran low on magicka previous games had you rest in a bed or in the wilderness; Oblivion recharges it in realtime. And that’s just your stats–the world is built even more around efficiency and convenience.

There’s no more wandering the wilderness looking for the right identical mudshack, no more interminable cross-country hikes looking for the right hill and tomb door in an endless sea of brown hills and tomb doors. In fact, you'll never get lost again. No matter how far up a dungeon's drainpipe you get stuck or how far from the road you've roamed, the handy-dandy compass provides a quest arrow to point towards the objective or most convenient exit leading there. Even if the entire rest of your screen was blacked out you could probably beat an Oblivion quest just by following the red and green markers–so long as you didn’t care about looking at environments or trying to follow what’s going on in the story.

Done with the quest now? Getting home's never been easier. If you want to go anywhere you've been before, you just fast travel. No cost or downside involved. If it's one of the game's many major towns you can fast travel there even if you've never been before. This was possible for a price in every game priorâ€"in Arena this was because there was no intervening territory to travel manually through, in Daggerfall this was because the world was stupidly massive and cumbersome to traverse, and in Morrowind, this was only possible at certain fast-travel vendors. Oblivion offers free and practically unrestricted usage. It wants you to be questing–not wandering towards a quest, not wandering back from a quest, but questing. The only places you can’t fast travel to at a moment’s notice are dungeons you haven’t visited yet.

Another theoretically welcome change: die rolls for combat and spellcraft are deadfiled with all the other old-school tabletop-era abstractions. Now attacks always hit on mark and spells always cast successfully. Character skill speaks to damage, maneuvers, and spell knowledge instead of percent chance of doing fuck all. On paper the effect was probably comparable; I'll reserve a discussion of practice for an in-depth examination of the combat system later. Suffice to say, featuring combat as a key selling point of the game was a sea change for the franchise.

The NPCs in Oblivion are jackrabbits, plain and simple, and they are determined not to waste a second of your time. Everyone you talk to opens by telling you who they are and how they're different from the rest of the herd: I am Balthus and I am obsessed with dogs. I am Remayne and I'm grouchy and tired. I'm hardly exaggerating the blunt, unguarded frankness with which they make their introductions, and once those are cleared they're not interested in chatting much either. For the first time, dialogue menus are constrained only to relevant options. No more wiki-style nexus of universal topics; for every character you've now got a pool of rumors and maybe one or two other relevant subjects handpicked for that actor or actors of that narrow class. Oh, but don't worry: if they've got a quest, they'll tell you all about it. They’ll tell you all about it right away.

NPCs move about everywhere. Everyone's in motion. Everything's voice-acted. Everything's a quest hook, and every quest hook is doable right now. Everything is happening everywhere at once. Players never had to struggle to successfully inhabit the world of Cyrodiil–getting in and getting things done was effortless.

You can see how Morrowind begat Oblivion. You can see how new technology made gripping, immersive fights more desirable than awful frustrating dice games. You can see how the ability to smoothly integrate a compass to make sure players don't get lost greatly improves how many players stick with things and complete a quest or two. You want voice acting, and if you've got it, you better make everything to the point or you're going to be recording dialogue until 2043. You want to make the most immersive and immediate and god-damn futuristic sequel to Morrowind your better-every-sequel earnings can buy. So that's just what you do.

And the result is a game that couldn't feel more different from its parents if it was about a magical girl dentist.

The one new element that stands out the mostâ€"and the one I think is most overlooked in favor of more measurable mechanical changesâ€"was Oblivion’s confident and prolific use of scripted, animated events. Arena and Daggerfall didn't contain anything you could really call a “scene,” unless you're talking about the agonizing cutscenes of the former and FMV/prerendered videos of the latter. Morrowind mostly knew its limits. It could make people hit marks, say lines of dialogue while standing with their arms at their side, and turn hostileâ€"and it could only do those things while the player was otherwise occupied. Generally the dialogue happened during a frozen menu. If it was spoken, the player was rooted to the ground so they couldn't interfere. Its NPCs lacked the grace of finger puppets and problem solving of a stunned ox, so there weren't really grand ambitious scenes, and the story was mostly told through documents, static conversations, and journal entries after fights and acquisitions. Which worked perfectly fine–but probably frustrated a lot of the game’s writers.

Oblivion enacts mini stage plays whenever it’s appropriate and at least a few times it really isn’t. Walk into a room and an NPC calls out to you and impels you to converse. A gate to Oblivion opens, watch the captain gather the men and make a speech. You've stolen the artifact, watch two NPCs exposit to each other what it is before one of them dies unstoppably. While this newfound gift of scripting is a boon to storytelling in some cases, it does reflect poorly on the player's role in the narrative; there's a tangible sense of going from an independent agent to the lead actor of a prewritten drama. Literally the first thing a new player is required to do in Oblivion is hit a mark. Immediately after doing this the player's controls are frozen until they have interacted with four nonplayer characters, none of whom can die unless you count the predetermined and immutable death scenes reserved for three of them.

As I did my five-game TES playthrough I came across two really jarring transitions. The first one was when I went from the wearyingly janky and untouchable 2D engines of the first two games to the sweet, blessed, console-enabled modern engine of the third. The second hard transition was going from a game that had no dramatic events to a game defined by them.

So if Oblivion consistently sacrifices control and agency for storytelling, the question raised is: is it worth it?

Well–yes. And I’ll talk about why next week.


From The Archives:

106 thoughts on “The Altered Scrolls, Part 10: The Hype Era

  1. Rutskarn says:

    This is the last of the reposts, incidentally. From this week on the posts will be somewhat shorter, since those were are all two posts stuck together, but they’ll also be brand new.

    1. djw says:

      Ooh, nice. It will be great to see the series finished.

      Now we need to get Josh back to writing his Shogun 2 play through.

  2. Kestrellius says:

    I dunno. I feel like Oblivion’s thing was the cities, or more accurately, everything that happens in them — Morrowind’s were larger and more interesting in terms of straight-up architecture. But the non-combat quests, the characters, all that stuff. The stuff that just isn’t there at all in Skyrim.

    Which is why even though Skyrim is a lot more playable — Oblivion’s a very punishing game, right down to that jarring stagger animation — Oblivion is by orders of magnitude the superior game. Or, more precisely, the superior Elder Scrolls game. Honestly it comes down to the Speech skill. Oblivion has a disposition stat, and that changes *everything*. Suddenly the world is a networked place, with depth. Oh, and having characters that act like people rather than spewing canned lines when you walk past them doesn’t hurt.

    Also: this is ancient, but I’d been listening to some old Diecast episodes lately, and TES lore has come up a couple times. My honor was insulted by the assertion that the lore isn’t much to see, so in retaliation, here have a Kirkbride quote:

    “KINMUNE (Kinetically-Interlinked Nirnian Multi-User Exoform) started her existence as any other proxy-synthetic of the 9th Era aurbical mining guilds: a limited sentience deep-pressure capable “thot-box”””a dreamsleevishell used by remote mortal operators to run the rigs of Kynareth’s illicit breath trade. Able to stream several live-wire mortal proxies at once, Kinmune was a top-of-the-line Hazardous Conditions Warprunner Exoform of an ayleidoon hegemony nearing another unceremonious end.

    But then the Hist-Jilian wars spilled out of a Wheelian rip into the SubSys slice of ‘brane-space, and things changed for Kinmune. With the outer colonies separated from Nu-Mundelbright chronoculic sync-net anchors, maintenance of space-time beyond the F-Shores faltered. As the barely-there Hist blink-root-ship armada fired an artillery barrage of 16th-dimensional mathematics at their Jilian enemies, impossipoint detonations stippled across the Ix-Egg and its clutch-satellites like some garish TalOSian hologram, only without the irony. Kinmune’s synthetic body, caught in one of the blasts, suddenly found itself in the Ysgramorim, her mind an aggregate of the residual personalities of her last several users.”

    From the Imperial Library.


    1. The Rocketeer says:

      Oh Talos, where do I start?

      Oblivion, punishing? Aside from disastrously-implemented level scaling that needlessly invalidates non-combat-optimized characters, no way. Oblivion’s combat may be slow as the march of glaciers and perpetually unrewarding, but the only punishment in any part of Oblivion is the fact that you’re playing Oblivion, and not a good game.

      Oblivion has a disposition system. Yes. Have you seen Oblivion’s disposition system? The most broadly, thoroughly panned feature of the entire game, that in no way simulates personal interaction and, in a very real sense, undercuts it entirely with an almost mockingly-terrible simulacrum?

      I think there’s an important distinction to be made between “lore” and “fanfiction.” I think there’s another distinction to be made between “ideas that interest you” and “ideas that have ever been or will ever be in an Elder Scrolls game.” I think there’s a third distinction to be made between “good lore, which facilitates telling interesting stories” and “tedious lore, which complicates cliched stories and exists for its own sake.” Finally, I think there’s a wide gulf between “interesting, creative, if ultimately extraneous non-canon thought experiment” and “dire, droning, purposelessly obtuse alt-verse fanon-wank that serves no end but conveying how clever the author thinks they are.”

      1. Raven_Sloth says:

        I feel I need to argue that, though the disposition system wasn’t the best, at least they tried. I know that you can get instances like the thieves guild quest that you have to return the icestaff to a former mages guild member, and if you are high enough in the mages guild he will try to kill you on sight. I know that it isn’t like how people act and get to know each other, but it was just a failed attempt of something that you could probably have made much better if they ever tried again. Which they didn’t, and I actually feels like it detracts from Skyrim. I never felt like I was flirting with a shopkeeper so that I could sell them this jewel for a greater value. I never felt like I was manipulating someone into thinking “He/She couldn’t be the killer, they’re just so nice,”, and I never felt like I was there. Also I agree that the combat in oblivion is lacking, but I never had a situation that I felt like it was punishing me for not specializing in combat. I just did other quests, ones that didn’t involve fighting, and run like hell whenever I got attacked by a bear. Which reminds me that I need to do that run of a pacifist character that completes the main story. Most of the other ones just wondered around until they were rich, and owned all the houses in the game that weren’t faction specific.
        Also sorry if I have been rambly, but I think I got my point across.

      2. Chauzuvoy says:

        This is the thing that really frustrates me about TES. The lore is really dense and heavily emphasized in the games. You can’t walk through two rooms without finding a half-dozen books on the history, mythology, and folklore of this world, and they clearly put a lot of effort in making it seem “real” with conflicting accounts, personal bias, and lost (or suppressed) perspectives. But for the most part, it’s completely divorced from the rest of the game. This massive sprawling history with all the interesting connections to be made doesn’t really impact the events of the present story, which is usually focused on what’s happening right now and what’s happened in the last 100 years or so (with enough intervening time that they don’t really need to worry about continuity with previous TES games). And it doesn’t have any kind of thematic connection to the rest of the game either.

        Mass Effect is a series that had a richly-developed lore that directly impacts the events of the story. Those historical events directly touch the characters and decisions we make in the game. Conversely, the lore in Dark Souls doesn’t really affect the story of the game. You can get as good an idea of what’s going on without really learning it at all as you can by obsessing. But there the backstory mirrors the tone and themes of the game – the struggle for understanding or significance in the face of inevitable death and decay. The Elder Scrolls series does neither. It informs a few minor quests or a couple characters or why some city or dungeon is the way it is. But it doesn’t inform the wider events at play, or make them mean anything more, it’s just a cool side-story in this world that Bethesda’s writers came up with.

        1. Syal says:

          I’ve got to say, I actually like how the lore tends to de-emphasize the events of the game. Yes, you’re saving the world from an evil god, but this is not the first time this kind of thing has happened, and as long as you succeed, it won’t be the last either. World-shaking conflict is the world’s natural state.

      3. MadHiro says:

        Never change, Rocketeer. Not even a little bit.

    2. Raygereio says:

      My honor was insulted by the assertion that the lore isn't much to see, so in retaliation, here have a Kirkbride quote

      Yeah…. that quote doesn’t do much actual retaliating. More reinforcing.
      Kirkbride is great as an idea-guy. But the dude needs a filter. And don’t get me started on his prose. He always struck me as one of those types who mistakes “makes no sense” with “deep”. And I’ll never forgive him for that “Pelinal is a time-travelling robot” nonsense.
      Kirkbride’s concept art is pretty consistently awesome though.

      That said, TES lore can be fun to dig around in. I mean, here’s what’s basically the plot of Skyrim and the Dragonborn DLC:
      Akatosh sends his soul into a human – Miraak, to stop Alduin (who is Akatosh) from destroying the world. Miraak however is a lazy fuck and doesn’t do it, instead joining up with Hermaeus Mora (who might be left-overs of Akatosh). So centuries later, Akatosh chooses another person to share his soul – the Last Dragonborn, to stop Akatosh from enslaving/devouring mankind because Akatosh is currently serving Akatosh’s left-overs instead of Akatosh, and secretly Akatosh is planning to become Akatosh.
      Luckily for everyone, Akatosh stops Akatosh from achieving his goals.

      1. Raygereio says:

        The site seems to have hiccuped and I lost editing privileges. So here’s the slightly improved version of the above silliness:

        Akatosh sends his soul into a human – Miraak, to stop Alduin (who is Akatosh) from destroying the world. Miraak however is a lazy fuck and doesn’t do it, instead joining up with Hermaeus Mora (who might be left-overs of Akatosh) and starting a plan to turn the All-Maker’s Stones into Towers, which would allow him to mantle the All-Maker (who is theorized to another interpretation of Akatosh).
        So centuries later, Akatosh chooses another person to share his soul – the Last Dragonborn, to stop Akatosh from enslaving/devouring mankind because Akatosh is currently serving Akatosh’s left-overs instead of Akatosh, and secretly Akatosh is planning to become Akatosh.
        Luckily for everyone, Akatosh stops Akatosh from achieving his goals.

        1. Grey Cap says:

          I don’t see a problem with this. The gods in TES are very, very powerful actors but not in fact the omnipotent forces we would tend to assume the Christian god is/would be.

          So, Akatosh has goals. But he uses champions (the dragonborn), and surprise! Those pesky mortals have their own ideas about how to use terrible power. The good champion has to face and defeat the evil champion. To me this is a perfectly satisfying story.

          As to Alduin being an aspect (lesser aspect?) of Akatosh, I’m also prepared to enjoy a set of gods with conflicting aspects. Akatosh is Time, after all. I’m not hugely read up on the details of the lore, but time is creator and destroyer, and if you told me that your pantheon had a creator figure who was the embodiment of time, and he had to fight his destroyer aspect in order to keep creation going, I’d think that was pretty cool!

          Edit: I thought you were criticizing. And then I read your comment again and… maybe you were critical? Or maybe I’m defending the game against you praising it? Sorry, I’m tired and confused.

          1. Raygereio says:

            I thought you were criticizing. And then I read your comment again and… maybe you were critical? Or maybe I'm defending the game against you praising it? Sorry, I'm tired and confused.

            I was criticizing kirkbride.
            And then to say that TES Lore can be still be fun I pointed out something silly (and what I thought was neat) about Skyrim’s plot.

            As to Alduin being an aspect (lesser aspect?) of Akatosh

            Both are aspects/shards of the “Oversoul” (referred to as Aka or Aka-Tusk). TES is setting where belief shapes reality. Basically different groups of people worshipped the same entity under different names and atributed differnt characteristics to it, and said entity sort of started to develop a serious case of dissociative identity disorder.
            That’s one theory at least.
            The other is the the Oversoul Aka has different faces for different roles. Auri-El being the beginning of time, Alduin the end of time and Alkosh maintanace of time. And then Akatosh being a dick rewrote time so he always existed and started screwing the other faces over.
            And there are various more theories.

    3. Ilseroth says:

      Oblivion is the one Elder Scrolls game I find massive difficulty in returning to, and playing. While others have their merits that make them stand out as I play them, I can’t help but feel, when I boot up Oblivion that I am just playing a worse version of Skyrim.

      I’d dive into this concept in depth, but I have a feeling I’ll have something to say on them as Ruts continues the series and prefer to keep it relevant to this topic in particular.

      I personally was fully on the Oblivion hype train. I was ready to trust again after getting bombed on by Fable; a game i enjoyed but was clearly and obviously nowhere close to what was suggested it was going to be. I didn’t do any kind of planning for my character beyond I was making a Khajiit, just like my character in Morrowind.

      I remember going through that first dungeon remembering a preview stated that when the first dungeon ended, it would judge you, the way the questions did in Morrowind. I was pretty excited, because in Morrowind they gave me a thief class that fit perfectly… At the end of the dungeon, despite using a dagger and sneaking the whole time it gave me some generic warrior class, which I disregarded and replaced with one that actually fit me.

      1. Ilseroth says:

        Odd, I made this in the normal post spot, but it got attached to this as a reply? Eh, it’s here anyways.

    4. Syal says:

      I finally have an excuse to post this.

    5. Hal says:

      I’m not sure how much depth Speech (“disposition”) really affected things; if your Fame and Speech skill were high enough, people would give you quests (otherwise, no.) Merchants were affected by Speech (and Mercantile), but all it did was give you better prices.

      Worse, it wasn’t difficult to break the Speech skill by crafting magic. It was trivial to create a Charm spell (increasing an NPC’s disposition to you) that would max out disposition; it didn’t have to last long at all, since time froze while you were in conversation, and casting it wouldn’t turn NPCs hostile. Since it would be short, it would be cheap to cast, meaning even the most dunder-headed warrior could safely use it.

      Now maybe that falls into the category of “things only veteran players do,” but I don’t think that fully negates the shortcomings of the system.

      1. Kestrellius says:

        Essentially the whole speech thing just gives the impression, if nothing else, that people are reacting to you. It makes them a bit more than quest dispensers. It’s kind of hard to pin down what was lost, I suppose.

        Plus, I sort of feel like I have to defend Oblivion, largely because I have a horrible, unshakable suspicion that the criticisms boil down to everyone inexplicably hating pretty, lush environments and preferring ugly washed-out beige gameworlds like Skyrim.

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          The allegation that other people misunderstand or misrepresent their own opinion will serve you poorly as a foundation for debate.

          1. Stu Friedberg says:

            Seems to be the entire basis for literary deconstructionism, so far as I can tell. (Not a fan…)

        2. No, it’s mostly poor mechanics involving experience, skills, the fact the world levels with you, the conversation wheel, etc. You know, all the usual reasons Oblivion stinks.

        3. Syal says:

          Definitely not around here it isn’t.

          Although it sounds like Oblivion and Chrono Cross have a lot in common, which I find amusing.

        4. Decius says:

          The environment was one of the only good things about Oblivion. Too bad that technical limitations kept the render distances too short, bad implementation made the various landmarks appear in low-poly versions at the wrong distances, and the scale made fast travel the only reasonable way to traverse it.

        5. Hal says:

          Skyrim had some lovely environments, just like Oblivion did. The first time you rescue Martin, I always took him up the Orange Road without fast travel, just because I enjoyed the view.

          I liked Oblivion, as it had much to say in its favor. It also had many shortcomings, unfortunately, many of which make it the neglected middle child between Morrowind and Skyrim.

        6. Sylvan says:

          I’ve played Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, and I have to say that while I find Morrowind incredibly fascinating and Skyrim probably the best environmental realization of a province of Tamriel, Oblivion is the most fun.

          Morrowind is the best to think about while not playing the actual game, or to mod so hard it’s not even itself. The world is wonderfully alien and doubles down on its premise at all times, which is really cool. More than any other game it does what all fantasy should do, it gives the player a chance to experience something different for a while. That said, the writing is a lot like late 90s-00s JRPGs in that it is only tolerable because you don’t have to hear it.

          Skyrim is the best to plop down and avoid quests. It has good RPG feels, whether camping out with hunters or mining or plunking an arrow at foes, however the quests are probably the furthest from a P&P RPG in terms of player agency, and that ruins replayability in many ways.

          Oblivion seemed to embrace the sandbox side of things more than other entries, at least for me. The disposition system, as well as the spellcrafting system and the loose radiant schedules made for fresh situations every time I came back to Cyrodiil, as well as the vaguest sense of a breathing ecosystem. Late game I liked to put on 100% chameleon and just watch, following Alessia Caro and her train of hanger’s on as they wander into roving Minotaurs, or arming the Elven Gardens district with daedric weapons and stat boosting hoods and setting them off in a massive battle royale. I loved seeing random events break out without warning, the mages and battlemages at the university fighting to the death in one playthrough, a bunch of low character beggars gettings wiped out by the guards after trying to steal, a skooma addict making the long trip to get his fix. Morrowind tells me that people are who they are. Oblivion, for better or worse, shows me. If I help someone, they might just come to my aid in battle, and if I stocked them well, they might be badass. With the right spells, you can get a whole town to follow you into a nearby cave to clear it out. It’s fun. Broken, but whatever.

          Add to that some really great quests that had a few paths to resolution and I find myself coming back. I avoid most dungeons (which are generic and brown, but due to the fuzzy edges of level scaling sometimes feature a bunch of monsters fighting each other in a really epic way) and the countryside is pretty but forgettable, but I like how much Oblivion simulates. I play a lot of RTS and grand strategy games that have embraced rpg elements for the better (CK2 is incredible), and I really wish Bethesda would see what was available in that direction more than their wandering eyes for MMORPGs. It would have been so cool to have a civil war that plays out without player intervention or a predetermined ending, if the player chooses another path.

    6. Kestrellius says:

      Never mind. Clearly, trying to participate in this discussion was a mistake.

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        Shockingly, it appears your opinion doesn’t match the opinion of everyone else on the internet. It might be the first time such a thing has ever happened!!! ;-)

        For what it is worth, I enjoyed reading your opinion.

        1. Kestrellius says:

          Yeah, I overreacted. Disregard.

  3. I slogged through Skyrim (sans DLC, because the GOTY version has never dropped to $5 or so, and I refuse to re-buy the whole game and the DLC for $20, if that’s the lowest their sale price drops to), and if nothing else, I found the exploration fun. I’ve had the GOTY version of Oblivion for years now, and I’ve never played past… I’m not sure what level, actually.

    My first run through, I did it without any guides or anything, and soon found myself playing a hopeless character that couldn’t survive any of the Oblivion gate fights. After reading that everything levels with you and that the skills are fudged up all to heck, I gave up on it for a while. Later, I realized I could mod the game into sensibility and… I got bored, I think. I got to the point where I found this special book for Martin and was working on finding him some armor, I believe, and then it just all seemed so repetitive. I know keeping on with the main quest is usually a mistake in Bethesda games, but I wanted to run through it at least once.

    Maybe there’s some cool stuff to be found in there somewhere, but it’s a slog.

    1. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

      Definitely go back and do the Dark Brotherhood quests, they are easily the best series of quests in an Elder Scrolls game.

      1. swenson says:

        I liked the Thieves Guild quests. I was so disappointed in Skyrim when I discovered how much they suck… I spent the entire time hoping they’d get better and they just never did. :(

        It’s like, in Oblivion, there’s this whole elaborate thing with the Grey Fox, and you go through all this preparation, and you steal an effin’ ELDER SCROLL and break a curse placed by a Daedric Lord herself, and you really feel like this super awesome thief.

        And then in Skyrim it’s like “lol we’re nasty thugs now and while you might think this questline is about restoring the honor, such as it is, of the Thieves Guild, it’s actually a bunch of plot holes strung together by following other people into dark caves and not actually much stealing, all things considered. Also you can kill people which completely negates what’s fun about stealing in the first place.”

  4. Jordan says:

    That screenshot really makes me think of the last time I recall seeing a screenshot of Oblivion on your blog: It didn’t quite look as good.

    1. Thomas says:

      Is this from when Shamus was talking about Oldblivion Mod?

      1. Michael says:

        It might just be with all the options cranked down.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But back then, with so much having changed behind closed doors, it was easy to believe our dream game was somehow being made real. Santa existed and he worked at Bethesda.

    Unless you were also a fan of another series and got your bubble burst long before oblivion was announced.

    1. djw says:

      What’s a paladin?

      1. Neko says:

        Your knowledge of the land shall be great!

    2. djw says:

      I actually liked Ultima 8 (which some people hated) but I thought UIX was a real kick in the testicles.

      1. When I played 9, I hadn’t played the others yet and I thought 9 was a kick in the testicles. I got into Ultima through UO, then went back and played the others. 9 was a terrible game.

    3. Andy_Panthro says:

      I’d love to see Ruts blog through the Ultima games like he has for the Elder Scrolls. My favourite RPG series of all time.

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        Me too, Ultima was an awesome series to grow up alongside.

        1. djw says:

          Ultima IV kick started my lifelong video game addiction in high school.

          Although to be fair, Adventure on the Atari gave me the first push in that direction.

  6. Alrenous says:

    Ultima 7, 1992. Or maybe Serpent Isle?
    Every named NPC had a routine. Indeed you can alter their routine using the included cheats, meaning you can see exactly how it works.

    I took an alchemist and re-directed them to brew in my secret base so I could steal his potions. Also because alchemists make their cauldron glow decorative colours while brewing. You don’t need potions, mind – it’s just that, obviously, secret bases need an alchemist, and if you don’t steal the potions they despawn.

    That said, when barmaids deliver whole wheels of cheese, they do so with a walk or combat animation. The patrons eat the cheese with either the same animation or no animation at all, and either way it simply vanishes the way it simply appears.

    1. Neko says:

      I love U7. Both parts had NPC schedules that made the environment feel real. My sister and myself used to build houses, stealing precious building materials which would stay put using the hackmover, abducting NPCs and rewriting their schedules.

    2. Dev Null says:

      Seven? Ultima 5 had NPCs with daily schedules in 1988.

      And I remember the moment I realized that The Sims had come out six fucking years ago.

      Yeah… I remember seeing the hype for Oblivion and thinking: “Wait; didn’t they do that 20 years ago in Ultima?” I mean, I _loved_ Oblivion when I played it, but it’s interesting to see an article from the point-of-view of someone who was wrapped up in the hype, because I remember being distinctly unimpressed by the pre-release claims.

  7. Matt Downie says:

    “I’m about to say some unkind things” Not many:

    It was disappointing compared to an impossible game that some people imagined.
    The conversations are short.
    There are cut-scenes.

    I was expecting more.

    1. Squirly says:

      Me too!

      Level-scaling. ’nuff said.
      Terrible main quest that counsels urgency in a game that doesn’t.
      Extremely linear and boring guild quests.
      No politics between factions beyond some odd scripted quests that wouldn’t affect your standing with either side.
      Quest compass – this seems minor but is actually huge because the whole quest system is designed around it, making it boring and unimaginative.
      Neutered spells and skills – no, not streamlined, neutered.
      Less open world than Morrowind – cities were separate entities from the world.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You know,going from morrowind to oblivion is kind of backwards.Back in the old days of tabletop gaming,we had systems that focused purely on mechanical.Combat,dungeons,loot and npcs that served only to direct you to the next dungeon to loot.Then later these systems would add flavor,interesting people,and stuff that is not just combat and loot.Here,we have a reverse trend.Its weird.

  9. Hector says:

    I could play a game about a magical girl who fights plaque with the power of Love and Dentistry. Given the number of games on Steam now there’s probably one with this very concept coming out each month.

    1. Mephane says:

      Haha, yeah, that makes me think, there should be a rule 34 equivalent for games on Steam – if it exists, there is a game about it on Steam. No exceptions.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Rule 34PG

        1. Kalil says:

          I’m pretty sure ‘Rule 34’ is the opposite of ‘PG’.

  10. Hal says:

    I don’t know if it will warrant an entry in the series, but I feel that Horse Armor deserves mention somewhere. For those who never got into this:

    Elder Scrolls games, starting at least with Morrowind, were incredibly popular for the modding community. People made countless add-ons for the game on their own; even now, people say the only “real” way to play an Elder Scrolls game is on the PC, so you can mod the game. The developers also made additional material (i.e. DLC) for the game, and this was during the era when bonus content was free.

    The very first DLC for Oblivion was a tiny little package that would let you buy armor for the horses you could ride in the game. This was a rather minor convenience; horses were an interesting new addition to the franchise, but many people chose to avoid them for a variety of reasons.

    The Horse Armor DLC cost ~$3 to purchase. I don’t know if this was the first instance of microtransactions or paid DLC in the industry, but it was the first exposure to it many of us had at the time. It certainly seemed like a transitional moment in the relationship between developers and players at the time.

    The fans were really upset about it. What had been free in previous eras was now offered at a cost. Even though the Horse Armor was hardly worth adding to the game. Even though the cost was innocuous.

    Bethesda’s only concession was to package much of the small DLC (such as Horse Armor and Magic Tomes) together when the notable expansions were later released.

    1. Retsam says:

      Oh, how times have changed. At the time, this was such an outrage, and now aesthetics-only DLC is pretty much the gold standard for DLC.

      I like Bethesda’s sense of humor over the whole thing… like the time they put all of the Oblivion DLC on sale, but doubled the price of the horse armor DLC.

      1. Ilseroth says:

        To be fair, the reason why cosmetic DLC has become kinda normal is due to free to play games mostly. Locking a lot of content behind paywalls is a good way to stagnate your game quickly. but give people some moderately price cosmetic choices and make them enjoy the game enough to be invested and you actually have a good chance of making a bit of money.

        Though now it is being used in games that just straight cost money which just feels a little… awkward.

    2. Corsair says:

      I never understood the outrage over Horse Armor.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Bear in mind it was a different time, like Retsam said above aesthetic DLCs are now the golden standard but at the time a lot of gamers thought it insane that someone could charge for a purely visual addition to a single player game. There were also some other issues:

        Firstly, even if this was a silly tidbit with little to no influence on the game some people felt that without it they weren’t getting “complete game”… for those people it was basically charging several bucks extra on top of what they already paid, in addition there was a feeling that the backlash needs to be expressed very strongly or the devs could keep charging people more and more for a long time. While we can argue if the compulsion to get a game complete in this particular manner is reasonable take a look at, say, Saints Row 3 aesthetic DLC and compare it to the price of the base game right now…

        Secondly, some people were annoyed that Bethesda was working on this rather than focusing on bigger projects in the style of the Morrowind expansions. The marketing campaign surrounding the damn thing and presenting it as the best thing since sliced bread didn’t help.

        Thirdly, though I think this didn’t shift to the forefront of the discussion, there was some concern in parts of the modding community. Ranging from this DLC turning into a possible gate for mods due to dependencies to some people being actually worried Bethesda could clamp down on purely aesthetic mods because they’d be worried those could interfere with their paid content (say, if you wanted to release new hairstyles but Bethesda had a similar idea).

        1. Matt K says:

          Add to that that Morrowind has a few bits of downloadable content that was given for free. Also for a good deal of people this was their first exposure to DLC outside of things like expansion packs.

        2. Merlin says:

          Building off of that, it’s also the simple fact that the industry (mostly MS, as I remember it) was pushing DLC as the next big thing, a revolution in how games were made and played. And then, as a triumphant debut… Horse armor.

        3. The Defenestrator says:

          It was an aesthetic DLC? I remember that happening, and all this time I thought that the horse armor pack let you actually, y’know, increase the durability of your horse. If it was just for looks, then that’s much less of a problem than I thought.

          1. Hal says:

            Eh, sort of. There were two types of armor added, Elven and Steel, which corresponded to light and heavy armor in the game. There wasn’t a difference between them, however, and they only served to increase the health of the horse as well, rather than reducing damage.

            It ended up being mostly aesthetic, though, because horses were kind of a pain to use in the game. Mounting/Dismounting was clumsy, especially if you found yourself entering combat. In fact, steering horses was also really clumsy. Horses would try to enter combat as well, and the armor did not bolster their durability enough to make that any less deadly for them.

            The only real advantage they carried was being faster than you at early levels; by the late game, most players should have significant speed advantages over horses. Of course, the speed advantage becomes moot when you have to stop every 30 seconds to fight wilderness creatures.

            1. swenson says:

              You could fight them… or you could kite them back to town and watch while everyone ELSE fights them.

      2. Corpital says:

        Another part was the lack of fixes for pretty much anything. I don’t actually know about the english version, but the german translation of Oblivion was atrocious. They shortened longer names into unrecognizable gibberish, a lot of text was mistranslated or even swapped with something completely different. On several occations the undertitles didn’t match the spoken dialogue.

        And the bugs! Believe it or not, but Oblivion was the only TES game I ever had a lot of problems with bugs and none of them ever got fixed. Because, apparently, they prefered making horse armor and little DLCs for the mages’ observatory and whatnot. Yeah, we were outraged.

    3. WaytoomanyUIDs says:

      IIRC the Horse Armour was bugged and reduced Shadowmere’s health or something similar.

  11. Sorry for being off-topic “Ruts”, but GOG plopped an email in my inbox and they are having a -75% sale right now on: Deus Ex, Deus Ex Invisible War, Thief Gold, Thief II Metal Age, Tom Raider 1 & 2 & 3, Hitman Contracts, Omikron Nomad Soul.
    They also have -75% sale on Europa Universalis III with all DLCs.

    The sale ends on October 13th.

    Lots of classic games here. If you don’t have Deux Ex yet then this is the time to get it; I’d suggest even getting Deus Ex Invisible War, while many did not like the sequel I did. It’s not as good as the first one but it does add to the whole of the Deus Ex universe (the “band” music in the game is also awesome).

    Shamus has gushed about Thief and Thief II in the past, and I believe Rutskarn spoke favourably about Hitman Contracts.

    Some of these games are very dated in graphics etc. But they are also game history and might be worth it just for that ore maybe if you are studying gaming/design/entertainment/programming/media/whatever.

    So head over to if you haven’t already.

    @Shamus You should contact GOG and get a affiliate ID or something. There’s room to promote a few old classic (rotate between them maybe?) on the right side under the patreon box.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Wait,omikron the nomad soul?I was hyped for that one back when it was first released,but then I missed it,and later I couldnt find it anywhere.I guess now is the right time to finally get my hands on that.

      1. It’s weird, it’s got David Bowie in it (as a NPC, and he wrote songs for the game and he’s got a ingame band).
        The game lets you posses bodies/swap bodies (I won’t reveal how/why as that is a part of the plot) and you get a chance to step into the life of somebody else.

        Also the game itself is really weird, the controls are a bit clunky (it’s like super old by modern standards).

        If any game needed a remake this would be it (modern graphics, modern controls).
        This is a Quantic Dream game (the developers behind Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit) and Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls etc) and in my opinion David Cage’s best game.

        The game is from 1999 (and it shows) and is held back by the technological progress.

        Maybe one can dream of a Omikron: Nomad Soul II some day.
        I can’t recall but I think that the original release won’t even run on modern systems.
        So GOG is not just letting people play old games, but also helping to preserve them.

        But I warn you, the game is really weird (probably why it has a cult following as well).

    2. Addendum: Hitman Codename 47 and Silent Assassin are also 75%, as is Urban Chaos, Anachronox, Legacy of Kain and all other Square Enix games right now (just this weekend though it seems).

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Urban chaos?Oh god,that game!Never finished that one because it only saves in the beginning of a level,and later there is one level that I spent over an hour on,hunting some secrets or somesuch,only to die and ragequit.

        Its a good game,but the lack of saves mid level killed it for me.Just like the original hitman.

  12. SoranMBane says:

    I suppose it’s fortunate that, by the time I played Oblivion, all the hype had already been and gone. I wasn’t much of a gamer when it was released (I was 13 and didn’t even own any of the relevant gaming systems at the time), so I’d missed out on the controversies. It also probably helps that Oblivion was my first Elder Scrolls game (or at least, my first real one; I suppose on a spiritual level Fallout 3 could also be considered my “first Elder Scrolls game”), so I didn’t really have any experience with the series to compare it to, which allowed me to experience the game in a vacuum, on its own terms.

    It was actually in the months just before Skyrim would be released; Fallout 3 had left me with an itch for games of a similar ilk, and those Skyrim previews were piquing my interest more and more every day, so I figured I’d go back and play the game that came before it.

    And, honestly? While I would definitely describe Oblivion as the overall weakest of the last three Elder Scrolls games (that is, the three I’ve actually played), I did enjoy it.

    I do agree with the idea that each Elder Scrolls game has its own things that it does better than the others. Morrowind has the best setting, story, and themes. Skyrim has the best visuals and game feel.

    And Oblivion has the best quests. Unique, interesting, delightful quests. A quest where I get to jump into a painting to fight pastel-coloured trolls. A quest that ends with the sky raining burning dogs. A quest where I use a spell to strip a whole roomful of rich prudes down to their underwear. A quest I could only start by getting ridiculously drunk to get my personality stat down low enough. The Dark Brotherhood party quest.

    Despite being the Elder Scrolls game I’ve played the least of, I somehow found many of Oblivion’s individual moments to be a lot more memorable.

    1. nerdpride says:

      That actually makes me want to play Oblivion. Good review!

      1. Michael says:

        There’s a weird thing with Oblivion. It sounds better on paper than the game actually is.

  13. nerdpride says:

    I’ve never played Oblivion or Skyrim. Loved Morrowind though. Maybe there’ll be a sale around Christmas and I’ll get it. I guess if my PC had better specs I’d have tried Skyrim by now.

    Sounds like if I’m going to, I should play Oblivion first. I bet I’ll find leveled stuff to be annoying. Other people say just to lower the difficulty slider though. I did like planning out my levels in Morrowind for efficiency so maybe it’ll be OK for me.

    Any suggestions? That last post makes me think I’d like it.

    1. djw says:

      Install OOO (Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul). It removes level scaling completely, and adds a bunch of other things.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Do beware, though, that OOO can be BRUTAL, especially if you’re worried that level-scaling will make the game too hard.

        1. I tried OOO and it kicked my ass. I keep wanting to go back to Oblivion because I loved just wandering around, but the leveling system (groan). Pity there isn’t a mod to stick Skyrim’s leveling into Oblivion, that’d be awesome.

          At least I always have tcai and tgm. Turn off combat AI, wander around safely, practice trick shots in ruins while skeletons stare at you.

          1. Darren says:

            Try Francesco’s leveled creatures mod. It is a flexible package that basically just applies the Fallout 3/Skyrim enemy scaling to Oblivion rather than rewriting the whole system. It has a lot of options so you can tweak it as you like, but at a basic level it makes the game much more interesting and challenging while still being manageable.

          2. Abnaxis says:

            I know I keep harping on it here, but nGCD (with the no class option) is basically Skyrim’s levelling system in Oblivion, only better because it still has some depth to it.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      My favorite mod is nGCD. It overhauls the class/skill system so that it makes sense, and also helps out with the auto-leveled content.

      See, Morrowind and Oblivion both had this issue, where you did NOT want to pick class skills you actually planned on using. No, class skills are reserved for easy-to-control skills–like Illusion or Acrobatics–that you can increase on demand whenever you’ve earned enough non-class skill ranks to give you a decent attribute multiplier when you level up. Otherwise, your character winds up sub-optimal, because your attributes are based on what skills you gained between levels, and if you only gained increases in max skills that means you’re only getting 20-30% of the stats you could be, and can wind up outclassed by auto-leveled enemies even if you focus on combat-specific skills.

      nGCD tosses all that crap, and just straight-up calculates your stats and your level based on your skills. It will work with or without the auto-leveling and it will make roleplaying your character much easier and much more fun.

      1. djw says:

        Yeah, I forgot about that. I never used that mod in Oblivion, but I played a similar one in Morrowind and found that it was an enormous improvement.

      2. Noumenon72 says:

        Just wanted to say that I tried to play the game the way you’re saying, and it leads to the skills you actually use staying at pathetically low levels and never unlocking the perks. I went back to leveling the way the game intended.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Yeah, the first thing I always had to do to play this way was “break in” my character–jog over to Imperial City and buy a novice Conjure Skeleton spell, then proceed to spend the next few minutes beating on/magicking on skeletons until my skills were high enough to level on their own.

          At least that’s how combat skills worked–anything else had some other equally- or worse-contrived way of quick training, like custom “1 fire damage on self” spells or “Night eye for 1 sec on self” spells or “MAKE ALL THE CHEESE INTO FORTIFY STAMINA” potions, auto-sneaking in the corner of the local inn, repeatedly jumping off roofs that were just high enough to do slight fall damage for acrobatics…

          It was a terrible system, all considered, but I just couldn’t let those stat points go to waste.

          1. djw says:

            I raised the speed stat by getting my character trapped up against a wall with auto-run turned on and just spammed the jump key. This took a while, and gave me time to reflect on the life choices that led me to the moment where I thought that smacking a button over and over for two hours was a worthwhile activity.

            1. nerdpride says:

              I guess cheating with the console is similarly pathetic. At least it takes less time?

              I had figured, if I do play Oblivion, to start using a non-major skill weapon and level up with heavy armor, block, and/or armorer for maximum strength and endurance level ups. Maybe I’d do this until maximum endurance in 8-12 levels. Having all 3 of those as major skills would be annoying for the future though.

              1. djw says:

                I think that Abnaxis’ recommendation of nGCD is the way to go. Pick the skills you like and just play the game. Your stats will follow your gameplay. That’s what I will do if I ever get the urge to play Oblivion again.

                1. nerdpride says:

                  That sounds basically like Skyrim though. I guess the takeaway from this is to play Skyrim instead.

                  If I get Oblivion though I’ll try it.

                  1. djw says:

                    Not exactly the same as Skyrim though. You still pick major and minor skills, and level those up faster. You also still get perks for skill levels. The difference is that instead of picking stats to raise when you level up your stats just automatically go up with your skills.

                    This is distinct from Skyrim because you do still have stats, and they do still affect your game. You just don’t have to engage in some OCD shenanigans to make sure that you get 5 stat points every level. If you use heavy armor your endurance will go up and if you cast spells your intelligence and/or willpower will increase, and so on.

                  2. Abnaxis says:

                    As djw said, the differences are subtle, but IMO they are the difference between a boring dumbed-down rpg and an interesting system.

                    The big differences between nGCD and Skyrim are: first what race you choose actually matters, as opposed to every race playing basically the same. A sneaky Khajiit performs much differently than a sneaky Breton in nGCD, because stats are still there and they make a big difference–not only do Khajit have different base stats, but the racial skills they start with also adjust their attributes.

                    The second big difference, is that under nGCD you can cross-train to improve your character, i.e. you can indirectly better your character’s Blades performance by training in Blunt, because both skills affect your Strength. That gives you a reason to pick skills even outside the ones you want to use when you are deciding on class skills–specialists and generalists both have their strengths and weaknesses.

                    Finally, IIRC nGCD weights non-combat skills like Mercantile and Speechcraft lower when it calculates your “effective level,” so you aren’t necessarily going to gimp yourself if you play a non-combatant.

                    1. Sartharina says:

                      I actually found a mod I liked that replicated Daggerfall‘s leveling system. When you leveled up, you got a set number of points to spend per level, that could be configured. I set it to 10. Sure, it’s more than Daggerfall’s 6, but the stats are lower, and it’s not quite +5/+5/+5 (Which ends up overpowered anyway), but it’s enough. Twice as many attributes as Diablo, twice as many attribute points. Seems legit.

                      It left me free to level my skills as I saw fit, while still having control in shaping my character

                      The reason to play Oblivion with a Skyrim-style leveling system is because of the world and quests in Cyrodiil. You can’t become the Mad God in Skyrim.

    3. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

      Just don’t bother leveling up at all. It works and you can easily beat the game because of the auto-leveling. The only bad thing about that is that you won’t get much loot and you won’t look very pretty but it does make the combat trivial, as you can still rank up your skills to the max level if you use those skills the most.

      1. nerdpride says:

        Interesting. I’ve read that weapon skill is the most important influence in your damage in Oblivion. This is much different from Morrowind, where weapon skills were just your chance to hit and strength was the bigger factor in damage along with the weapon.

        But I really like loot and looking pretty…

        I guess I would try all kinds of things. But thanks!

  14. Mersadeon says:

    Your description of the hype – and how you were caught up in it – very much reminded me of myself, prior to the release of Spore. I was part of the hype-machine. Moderator in a Spore fan-forum. A fan-forum even before the game existed! The very notion seems silly and stupid to my cynical eyes now.

    Of course, the game could not keep up with expectations. I will always remember the cool people on the forum, and how I almost got to meet Will Wright. But Spore was the biggest, bitterest disappointment of my young, naive heart.

  15. Abnaxis says:

    Oblivion has the distinction of being the one TES game I could mod into what I actually wanted to play. Morrowind had the stupid dice-rolls and Skyrim sucked all the depth out of character creation.

    The way stat optimizing worked in Oblivion was crazy-pants non-intuitive, but with the right mods (nGCD for me, as described above) it could be a fun system. Unfortunately, with the inexorable progress of every TES game toward simplicity (sometimes a good thing, but Skyrim went too far), I don’t think I’ll ever see that sweet spot again.

  16. Slothfulcobra says:

    Oblivion seemed good enough when I saw someone playing it, and I was pretty intrigued by the lore of “turns out this world is a failed/rebelled hell-dimension” (I think? It’s been a while) so I went to rent it.

    But then I didn’t have the system Oblivion was on, so I rented Morrowind, and that was way too obtuse for me to figure out, so I never bothered with the Elder Scrolls series since.

  17. Andy_Panthro says:

    Raidant AI was the biggest hype:

    But it didn’t end up being any better than the likes of Ultima and Gothic had done years before. Apparently it just caused chaos when it was turned on, because the world hadn’t really been set-up properly for it.

    As for the combat, I was happy with the change at first but it got dull quickly. Most encounters played out in the exact same way, with the enemies charging at you while you spam attacks.

  18. Aulayan says:

    I was part of an Oblivion IRC Chat channel back before it released, and the hype was real. One of the Devs would come by occasionally and talk and hold impromptu Q&As. And I think it’s this that disappointed me most. Because I offhand mentioned “Man, it would be cool if in the Oblivion realms, it’s pretty much just mostly people living day to day lives.” And the Dev unexpectedly responded “You don’t know how close you are.”

    Now, it turns out that the Shivering Isles *was* this but this was mentioned before Oblivion was even released. But the attempts I made to get into Oblivion itself, I don’t recall that ever happening and it was disappointing to my young mid-20s self.

  19. Decius says:

    “Character skill speaks to damage, maneuvers, and spell knowledge instead of percent chance of doing fuck all. On paper the effect was probably comparable; I'll reserve a discussion of practice for an in-depth examination of the combat system later.”

    There’s such a huge difference between those two different systems that calling them “comparable” is a stretch. They both have derived quantities called things like “Average damage per attack”, but comparing average damage from a high-variance system with average damage from a low-variance system is rarely meaningful. Given the choice in actual situations, one typically looks at the variance more than the average.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      It’s the effect which is described as comparable, rather than the systems themselves.

  20. Timelady says:

    So back in the day I decided that I was going to 100% the Oblivion Gates. I blame schoolwork-induced madness–it was 2008 and I was three-quarters through an English degree. So for some reason…that was what I decided to do for fun, in between writing essays. Because apparently that wasn’t enough pain.

    So in explanation: once you hit a certain point in the main questline, Oblivion Gates will start randomly popping up around the countryside as you make your way through. These lead to little Silent Hillish pocket islands where you have to battle your way through a gore-soaked Daedra tower to grab the Sigil Stone, which will then drop you back where you started and close the gate. There are a total of 60 of these that can appear. You only have to close 1 to continue the main questline. I managed 59.

    In order to find all of these, of course, there was no point in using fast travel. It…honestly felt kind of immersion breaking to use it anyway, so I think I only used it once or twice. I barely remember any of the quests. I only remembered the conversation wheel when somebody brought it up in the comments here. I remember….running up a snow-covered mountain in the middle of the night, nothing and nobody around, a soft breeze blowing the snow, and the sky completely clear and covered with stars. I remember jumping off a high cliff into a forest river and healing myself for half my health. I remember battling a freaking dinosaur that wandered out of a gate. I remember getting so damn sick of Oblivion Gates that I started not bothering to fight anything inside them, preferring to run past them, all the way up the tower, grab the sigil stone, and launch myself down the center of the tower, everything dissolving into white as the world vanished around me and left me back on Cyrodiil ground (as you can imagine, my athletic and acrobatic skills were amazing after a while). I remember so many Ayleid ruins and the strange and wonderful architecture and traps within. I remember how the foliage changed for the various directions you could go–some bushes and trees are more prevalent in the south, etc. I remember how the architecture in each city was different.

    I remember…endless discussions about mudcrabs. Oh my god, the mudcrabs.

    1. Hal says:

      You’re definitely crazy. There’s only a handful of Oblivion layouts, so you must have seen the same zone/dungeon a dozen times over.

      Actually, that’s one of the weaknesses that the Elder Scrolls games face over all. Even for the “normal” dungeons, they all end up being rather repetitive after a while. Shivering Isles was when I noticed more effort on Bethesda’s part to give personality and distinction to each individual dungeon, but even still . . . eventually, one cave looks like another, one fort seems like every other, one Ayleid ruin seems just like the last one.

      Which wouldn’t be so bad, except that there are so many of them. Questing and dungeon delving are the primary adventuring activities in these games, so that repetition can really get tiresome.

  21. Bubble181 says:

    I was a huge fan of both Daggerfall and Morrowind, so I looked forward to Oblivion. I never really bought into the hype – there was plenty of cynicism to be found in the net back then, too, I guess it depends on age and what circles you run/ran in – but I still had high hopes that they’d deliver a similar game to Morrowind, but perhaps more Daggerfally. Or the other way around. Or something different, but like them.
    Boy, was I disappointed. Oblivion was pretty much the end point of the ES series – I’ve never finished it, and have never really gotten very far in Skyrim, either. Neither holds my interest as much as either Daggerfall or Morrowind did. The shift from “numbers determine everything” to “player skill determines most, and numbers just make things easier” was something I never liked; it made TES far too similar to oh-so-many other series out there.

  22. Geebs says:

    I played the hell out of both Oblivion and the Shivering Isles. To be honest, he only thing I really objected to was the auto-levelling, which was terrible. Otherwise, the world and quests (other than the pretty lame main quest) were a hell of a lot more exciting than the terribly drab ones in Skyrim. It’s no Morrowind, but modded with OoO, it’s far from terrible.

  23. watermark0n says:

    I think the connection between voice acting and reduced script length is overblown. Fate/Stay Night is fully voice acted despite having one of the longest scripts in video game history, much longer than Morrowind and roughly the size of Baldur’s Gate II.

  24. Hold up for a moment… Oblivion doesn’t stand by today’s Standards? If anything, it does more so than Skyrim. It even has enough gameplay to do so. Oblivion’s hype was honest as it could get. You became the adventurer of your own story and, guided by the choices of a loose narrative, you were cast on your own as someone free to define his legacy. Granted, the main story is strict and ends strictly.

  25. stylesrj says:

    I don’t like Oblivion. Whenever two or more melee enemies came into contact with me, the framerate would drop dramatically… it might have been a computer hardware issue if only that Fallout 3, which came out later (and I played that first) worked fine even when being attacked by melee wildlife or NPCs in large numbers.

    However I will admit that I’ve probably played more Oblivion than I have of Skyrim and I’ve only actually finished Skyrim once (and I think I used mods) whereas Oblivion was done with several different characters and builds… without mods. And I think most of them were done without exploiting 100% Chameleon.

    So yeah, I don’t like Oblivion but at least I can finish a playthrough.

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