I’ve hurried though Oblivion and reached the ending. The main campaign was actually quite short. I did it in bit and pieces between other quests, real life, and work, so I don’t have a solid picture of just how long it took. My guess is that it took around five hours to go through the core story. For a game with ~200 hours of gameplay, that’s a pretty small slice. The main campaign is a bit mundane, so I’m glad they didn’t stretch it out with a bunch of filler quests. (Morrowwind had this problem. The part where you got named Hortator of all of the great houses was a huge recursive mess of pointless sub-sub-sub quests.)
The story was nothing special, and the big bad guy wasn’t very interesting, although he could have been. For the curious, I came up with a rough summary. You don’t need to read this unless you’re curious. Just skip the boxed text to see my comments on the ending.
There are these sixteen gods, (called Daedra) each with their own plane of existance / reality. Each one has his own plane of “Oblivion”. One of them – a Daedra named Mehrune Dagon – fell victim to a sort of mutany. His servants rebelled and booted him out of his own world. These nine rebels were lesser gods, but with Dagon gone, they were the most powerful beings left. Somehow the world changed and ended up nice and green, and filled with Elves, Dwarves, Humans, etc. These nine rebels set themselves up as the nine divines, the main dieties of this world, which was renamed Tamriel. This is like finding out that the Earth is just another plane of hell that’s been given a drastic facelift.
So all of the mortal inhabitants of Tamriel are, in fact, just squatters. The world is really just another plane of Oblivion, and the Nine Divines aren’t really as powerful as they make themselves out to be. In reality they are the Nine Usurpers, and the reason that they don’t interact with the world very often isn’t because they are mysterious, stand-offish gods, but because they don’t really have that much power. Of course nobody knows this. People accept the world and the Divines and just assume this is the way things should be.
The plot of the game is that one guy – Mankar Cameron – figures this out and starts taking steps to try to let Mehrune Dagon back in. He works to undo the safeguards that have been put in place that keep Dagon out. The Emperor and his bloodline are part of this spell or forcefield or whatever, so Mankar has to kill the Emperor (voiced by Patrick Stewart) and all his sons. He pulls it off, and the throne is empty – there is no rightful heir. The magic begins to unravel, and Oblivion gates open up here and there. Monsters start coming out and attacking the people. One of the major cities is sacked.
It turns out the Emperor had an Illegitimate son, Martin, years ago. He’s now grown and his true lineage was kept secret from nearly everyone, including Martin himself, who believes he is the son of a farmer. Most of the plot involves rescuing Martin (voiced by Sean Bean) and reestablishing the magic that has been keeping Dagon out of this world.
(Emperor Martin. Ha! That’s like Emperor Fred.)
Fine. Whatever. The Elder Scolls pantheon and mythos never really captured my attention. It’s big, complex, and hard to follow. It’s like reading the cliff notes from the Sillmarillion without Lord of the Rings to back it up. I’ve never learned more than I needed in order to make out the plot of whatever game I’m playing.
I finally reach Mankar Cameron so I can put a stop to his plans. I was really looking forward to talking to this guy. In Morrowwind, you get to have a nice long chat with the main bad guy at the end, and it ranks as one of the most satifying conversations I’ve ever had in a video game. Not so with Oblivion. Mankar Cameron monlogues for a while and explains most of the stuff I outlined above, but you never get that chance to sit down and chat with him. He never really tries to pursuade you or explain his cause to you. You just wait for him to shut up and then make with the fighting.
This could have been the highlight of the game. Once you meet Cameron you find him to be sadistic, a little crazy, and overconfident. It would have been far better if he’d given his reasons for what he was doing, and explained what he thought was going to happen if his plans worked out. It would have been great if – like the villian in Morrowwind – he had turned around and asked the player a few questions about what was motivating them to oppose him. He could have been deep and interesting, and instead he was just another cardboard bastard you have to put down on your way to the end of the game. More than all the technology flaws and bugs and gamebalance issues, this is my biggest lament about the game, because this is where the game could have really stood out as something interesting.
I’ve seen a mod for Oblivion that removes the main quest: No martin, no amulet, no Oblivion gates. You just appear in one of the coastal towns as a traveler and are free to enjoy the rest of the game. This actually sounds pretty fun, although the fact that someone saw a need for it at all illustrates how weak the campaign is compared to the rest of the game.
Ah well. At least it’s short.
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