Finding bliss in Oblivion
The latest in Elder Scrolls series may never be topped. No surprise, given its predecessor.
By Dennis McCauley
For The Inquirer
Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii garnered most of the attention at the just-concluded E3 expo in Los Angeles. That's to be expected since new-console announcements are invariably accompanied by enormous buzz. But since the PS3 and Wii do not launch until November, for now I am getting my next-gen console gaming fix from the Xbox 360. Only about six months old, the system is really starting to show its potential. Here is what I have been playing lately:
The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion
Bethesda Softworks. Xbox 360-$59.99 PC-$49.99.
Rating: M (17 and older) www.elderscrolls.com
Although the Xbox 360 era is still in its infancy, the system may never again see a role-playing game (RPG) that is the equal of the Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion. Perhaps we should not be surprised by Oblivion's quality. The previous edition of the Elder Scrolls series, 2002's Morrowind, was the game-of-the-year choice of several hobby publications.
In Oblivion, the player's character can be selected from one of 10 races and 21 predefined classes. Customization options are ample, however, allowing players to tweak characters to suit their preferences. Once a character ventures into the fantasy world of Oblivion, players may choose their course of conduct: good, evil or somewhere in between. There are ample opportunities to steal, for example, but doing so might get you apprehended by guards.
The player begins the game in jail, but escapes when the emperor (voiced by actor Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame) is forced to flee through a secret door in the player's cell. The emperor, recognizing the player's character from a mysterious dream, assigns the player to find his illegitimate heir, voice-acted by Sean Bean (Boromir in Lord of the Rings). Thus begins the game's main story line, although there are numerous side quests and opportunities for exploration.
Oblivion's computer-controlled characters - NPCs in game-speak, for nonplayer characters - display a remarkable degree of artificial intelligence. Unlike most games in which NPCs stand perpetually in one spot, waiting for the player to approach, Oblivion's NPCs move about and interact with one another based on their own rhythms. A shopkeeper, for example, might only be minding the store during business hours. At night, he will be home in bed.
Graphically, Oblivion is a treat on either the PC or 360.