Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion thoughts

After spending a few weeks with Oblivion I still find myself a little torn. This is defiantly one of the best PC RPGs for the past 5 years but it also has a few issues that I feel can detract greatly from the gameplay. On the positive side the game manages to accomplish what so many MMORPGs currently fail to do in giving you a world you are free to explore and quest through and importantly will actually enjoy yourself doing so. When playing the Auto Assault open beta I was often struck by just how repetitive and mindless the game play is. I was simple killing the same people over and over again, it wasn’t so much having fun as simply passing time. Oblivion counters that with a deep and varied world and vitally interesting quests and tasks. Quests are rarely simple, often don’t require any combat and are generally complex, requiring a series takes to be completed often in different locations or only available at specific times. This gives virtually limitless possibilities and helps keep things constantly fresh and engaging.

The game world and particularly those who inhabit it keep up this vibe. As has been heavily covered the AI is very free willed with people going about normal daily lives rather than just standing in one place night and day week after week. This helps bring the world to life but can also cause some frustration when that character you have to find heads off to see a friend in city on the other side of the game world. Enemy AI is based on a similar system and enemies will continue to chase you through different areas if they have the upper hand and often try to run when being defeated.

On the downside the levelling system is terribly unbalanced and unintuitive. The root of the problem is that enemies and items gained by beating them and finishing quests level up along with the player. This is fine in theory but as with any RPG your power is very reliant on how you level up (in this case what skills you focus on) and what items you use. If you fall don’t happen to level well for a few levels or don’t buy the more powerful equipment and spells you can quickly fall behind the power curve expected by the game and at point things fall apart. To get the money or equipment required to become more powerful you need to kill things or finish quests which in turn levels you up and leaves you even weaker in comparison to the monsters.

In general playing the game focusing on only one of the 3 main classes (thief, fighter or mage) will result in a frustratingly difficult experience. Oblivion seems to rely on the player creating a character that uses skills from all three classes and then putting the time into levelling all of these in a balanced manner.

The levelling system will be very noticeable to those who power level their character and then expect to romp through the rest of the game, which is how I tend to play games. In the end my in game time suggests this wasn’t enough to put me off this superb game.

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