Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion


It's been 200 years since the events in the previous game of the series, so we can forget everything about the past and start fresh. The player's character starts as a prisoner in a prison of the Imperial City, capital city of the Cyrodiil province and capital city of the whole damn empire... but sadly this city is not quite big enough to honor its title. As guards lead the emperor through secret passages to escape assassins, one of these passages goes through your cell and you follow along. As the assassins get to the emperor and he is dying, he tells you that he's seen you in his dream and bla bla bla... prophecy... the fate of the world rests on your shoulders. Have a good day!

OK... The scenario's bunk, but the introduction offers a tutorial that leads you through some corridors, teaching you how to sneak, fight, use magic, equip armor, etc.


The first thing you notice when you're out of the secret passages is that Oblivion is a beautiful game with vibrant colors. It also has a dense vegetation which makes the scenery alluring. The water's surface looks pretty good too. When it was published, in early 2006, no doubt that it rocked the video game world for its magnificent graphics.

But as you'll see, Oblivion is a game of contrast. For every great thing, there's a caveat. Whenever you dive, your view is restricted to about 1 meter away. Is it supposed to be realistic? I don't think so. But what I'm sure of is that it is a pain in the neck. There's probably tens of treasures hidden underwater but unless you have the cheats telling where to find those treasures (which defeats the purpose of playing the game), you won't find 2. There's even a thieves' guild quest where you'll get stuck unless you grab the cheats and search, search again, search more for an underwater hidden passage. So... everything going on underwater is trash.

Another critique but this could be related to my environment, the lighting of caves, tunnels, and the likes is not standardized. After adjusting my settings, some caves will be ok to find my way in, but some will be very dark to the point of missing most of the content. Pity!

Guilds, affiliations, quests

As in previous games, you can and should enlist in guilds. They give you tasks to perform and if you behave, you'll be rewarded. Since daggerfall (and Diablo), I've had a thing for magic so the Mages' Guild was my first choice. And no doubt: spells offer you invaluable perks. But the MG is quite demanding and getting your 1st promotion will take a long time and a ton of efforts to get. Looks pretty much like hazing to me.

Also, and I might discuss this further down this article, when you start the game you're dirt poor. You absolutely struggle to earn 50 gold coins, and that's hardly enough to buy you a useless spell. Any nice spell will cost you 400 golds minimum and you'll need to buy an upgrade when your level increases. And you probably need 10-15 of these spells to go by.

Other guilds may be a bit more welcoming, even though it'll take you some efforts to find the thieves guild.

On the bright side, there are some very diverse and interesting quests. You want a master of alteration magic to teach you some high level stuff? you'll have to find him underwater in the middle of a lake and spend 3 hours underwater with him, using your alteration magic to let you breathe underwater. Nice! Buying a house and discovering it's haunted, then finding the seller to discover his ancestor was a nasty sorcerer whose undead body lies in the basement? Pretty good! Frankly, there are people with good ideas working at Bethesda!

Bugs, translation disaster, character development and other fun-killers

The first disaster when you play the French version of the game is the shameful quality of the translation. Even Google would make a better translation. You know "scales", right? The instrument to measure weight... This got translated to "├ęcailles", which is like fish scales or lizard scales. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Sentences are out of whack all through the game. There's even a quest where you're supposed to get hints from the 1st letter of each paragraph in a book: well guess what! The book's (poorly) translated and the 1st letters correspond to nothing! it's like "hey! sorry French players! there's only a million of you guys out there so I'll have my 10 year old son use BabelFish and translate the whole game for you rather than hire a real translator". And as you get nearer to the end of the game, you start having mixes of English and French, then some pure non-translated English, and somewhere I even spotted a variable name that looked like "%CharacterName". WTF Bethesda?

Bugs do happen in the game. There's probably 2 or 3 possible bugs per quest, but they only happen given certain conditions, so you won't face too many of these and if you do... well, it won't kill the game. There's also a few graphical glitches but they're no big deal.

Character development was an important novelty in Oblivion. Of course, as usual, the number of skills available went down but it's still ok. No, the real deal is that monsters level up when you do. And also, depending on which skill increases (and by how many points) granted you a level up, you'll get between 7 and 15 points to increase your characters attribute. Wait a minute! Between 7 and 15? There's a factor 2, here! So if you play casually and you use a diverse set of skills, your character will soon be a weakling unable to complete any tasks given to him as you'll be beaten to a pulp by wolves and whatnot that you used to slay in 1 or 2 strikes. This is absolute rubbish. So if you want your character to be of decent strength, you'll have to keep a constant monitor on your skills' level and painstakingly raise this or that skill depending on this or that attribute just so you'll stay above the fray. That's a giant fun-killer. It's like being a surfer and having to interrupt your wave riding after 30 seconds to come to the beach, do 30 minutes of accounting or knitting or whatever, and then being allowed to get back in the sea for 30 seconds.

Managing your inventory is also not fun. When you have gathered 50 weightless keys obtained legally, what's the point of listing them in your inventory except forcing the player to scroll down, down, down and further down in his inventory to find relevant items?


As mentioned above, Oblivion is a game of contrast. There's some excellent stuff in there (graphics, quests) but also some real rubbish (character development, translation). While it can be recommended to people who want the full Elder Scrolls experience, I would personally not recommend it, mainly because the character development wastes everything.

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