Out of interest I started playing Oblivion last week. Marie bought it last year but never got into it, and I was far too busy at the time, so now, since I don’t have much else I feel like playing on the PC of late I thought I’d give it a crack. I was always a fan of a good single-player RPG in years gone by - and that’s a lot of years ago, what today’s gamers might refer to reverently (we can hope - probably derisively in fact) as ‘The BeforeTime’. An age of Legend where cloth maps and manual note taking were the accepted rules of engagement. I had a lot of fun with the likes of Ultima Underworld, Might and Magic III, Eye of the Beholder, and yes, the seminal Dungeon Master when they each had their time as the dogs ‘family jewels’, but I haven’t really dabbled in the genre much of late. The fashionable MMORPGs don’t interest me - I don’t have that much spare time and even if I did, I wouldn’t want to sink it all into a single game - and the glory days of inventive single-player RPGs like Planescape Torment and Fallout seem a distant memory - Neverwinter Nights 2 just left me rather bored with what I perceived to be a dull and by-the-numbers fantasy plotline. Bioshock looks interesting, but it’s not out yet and it’s more a FPS-with-brains, not that that’s a bad thing, but not so much an RPG.
So, Oblivion. I’ve played it for all of about 5 hours so far, so don’t expect an in-depth analysis, but my immediate impressions have been good. The world is very detailed, in all senses of the word - the graphics are great (inside anyway, outdoor is kind of nice but in more exposed areas the foliage & detail level popping is really quite obvious on my 6800 and shatters the illusion somewhat), the audio is spot-on, and the characerisation is pretty convincing. I’m only a little way into the main plotline so far but it’s pretty engaging. Having toed the line for the first 3-4 locations I’m only just starting to branch out and explore on my own - which quickly gets rather daunting as every place you go has a shedload of side-quests for you to do. I remember hearing that Bethseda expected most people to only experience about a third of the game on a single play through, and I can see why. It’s a bit daunting actually - whilst I like having some freedom, having a world this large with so many things to do is something of an overload. But at least it’s pretty easy to return to the main plot when you need to (thank goodness for auto-travel on the map).
It’s damn hard though. I’m playing a SpellSword so I have a combination of fighting and magic traits, but through the first Oblivion gate I found myself having to be really careful, and healing myself like crazy all the time. One creature I could take, but two could give me some serious problems. I’m not sure if this is an indication of the difficulty throughout or just initial level pains. Perhaps I’m supposed to ‘grind’ some more levels in the wider world before tackling more of the plot, I don’t know. I do know that the combat difficulty level put Marie off the game, since she played a fairly non-fighter character and found it very hard to get by, despite the theoretical benefits such a class can give you in the form of alternate strategies. I personally found that sneaking and ranged attacks didn’t really get you very far on the plane of Oblivion so I was glad I had more armour and decent weapons to back it up. I’m not sure if this is a genuine combat bias of the game or just my ineptitude.
I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with it, it might be a bit too big to hold my interest these days, but I’m happy to potter around for a bit anyway.