It’s hard to see how Oblivion could have ever gotten a fair shake. Halfway between two paradigms, the end product of an earthshaking hypetoberfest, it’s a huge credit to the game that anyone still plays or likes it in retrospect. And really–the game’s heart goes a long way. Whether or not it makes any sense or includes any interesting gameplay from moment to moment, it’s startling how much charm Bethesda could coax from four or five overworked voice actors and a few simple scripting tricks. They set themselves up with outlandish story hooks, bright colors, a camera that zooms right up on rubber-faced NPCs and lets them mug their way through scenes, and a huge pool of assets repurposed every possible way (in this game, painting easels alone provide: quest items, quest rewards, an easter egg, a doorway, a worldbuilding prop, background clutter). All this to ensure that the game’s energy, preserved at the expense of more thoughtful mechanics from predecessors, is spent going forward–never in circles. There’s always something worth finding the next room over.
I hope you’re beginning to see how every Elder Scrolls game since Arena can be viewed as the first “recognizable, modern” entry. Daggerfall crystallized the canon and brought staples like guilds and skill-based leveling to the franchise. Morrowind introduced custom-tooled storytelling environments and wonderfully responsive 3D, without which the exploratory and dungeon-crawling aspects of the game would have remained too abstract and repetitive to hook the player into the world. Oblivion fashioned from whole cloth the infrastructure of scripting, NPC invulnerability, quest arrows, and voice acting that has defined the moment-to-moment gameplay ever since. It’s hard to point at one of these titles and say that’s where the revolution happened–and it’s perverse, then, that this is exactly what I’m planning to do for Oblivion.
If it seems like my coverage of the level scaling and quest systems in Oblivion has been a little mild, it’s because, well, Oblivion is a little mild; it’s just that it happens to be mild in a very significant sort of way. It’s not until Skyrim emerges as a point of comparison that it becomes clear just how important Oblivion‘s subtler changes really are. More to the point: it’s not until Skyrim that Oblivion is outed as a successful experiment in creating a new genre of open world game.
I’m going to turn over to Q&A now. Ask any questions about Oblivion–or one of the other games, if you missed your chance back when–and I’ll write up my answers as soon as I can and link to them from the next post. Expect the first round answered by Monday morning.
Best. Plot Twist. Ever.
Few people remember BioWare's Jade Empire, but it had a unique setting and a really well-executed plot twist.
The Gradient of Plot Holes
Most stories have plot holes. The failure isn't that they exist, it's when you notice them while immersed in the story.
What did web browsers look like 20 years ago, and what kind of crazy features did they have?
Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.