Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Preview
Bethesda Software are responsible for the previous games in the genre defining Elder Scrolls series. These games are loved for their seamless ability to use stats, action and methodically crafted first-person gameplay as well as boasting some of the finest graphics at their respective time of release. Now we have the Xbox 360, a new wave of graphics cards for personal computers and another chance for Bethesda to show the gaming world how role-playing games should be made.
The stories in the Elder Scrolls series have always been strong, Oblivion takes place in Tamriel's capital region, Cyrodiil. Hell, in Tamriel is known as Oblivion, and when the Emperor dies, with no obvious blood-heir to replace him, the gates of Oblivion are opened. Your task is to find a hidden heir, and travel around Tamriel and even occasionally into Oblivion to shut the gates of Hell and restore peace to the world.
When we say world, that is really what Bethesda have installed in the game. For those of you who played either the PC or Xbox version of Morrowind will know how large the game world was, with travel having to be completed by a fantastical walking device to cut corners in the huge arena. Oblivion’s game world is larger than Morrowind’s to be a total of 16 square miles of open space, outside of the game’s cities such as Cyrodiil and other regions. Oblivion, and the other locations involved are huge, on top of the previously mentioned mileage. Some are generated randomly, meaning there is almost an infinite amount of game space for you to travel through.
A lot has been taken from Morrowind, but many features have been dropped, for example, the story in no way follows on from the previous game, as is the tradition with Elder Scrolls titles, but you will notice some familiar faces, locales and plot points to give the fans something to revitalise their fond memories of the other games
in the series. Also missing is the bizarre mode of transport that was used in Morrowind. The silt strider, which could walk you across the vast plains of the world, and was the only mode of transport apart from boat, magic or foot travel, was effective, but we all know what we’d prefer to have. A horse – in Oblivion there are around 5 different types of horse, these give you a speed boost, and can be used to flee or enter combat at will. Travelling through the huge world will become a joy, rather than a chore, especially with the lush graphics and immersing locations to explore along the way (rather than sparse plains as in previous RPGs).
NPCs, which are the AI characters in the game, have been vastly improved – they now have their own daily lives to fulfil. Fable, on the Xbox and soon to be on the PC, was well known because its NPCs performed their daily routines in cycles, and were always busy, moving and active. The difference in Oblivion is that they do different things every day, depending on your actions, other NPCs, the gossip of the village or even the weather. That’s right, in a heavy shower, the NPCs will down tools and run inside for cover. You’ll see people going to church on certain days, farmers gathering different harvests depending on the season, and indeed, having no crops at all after a certain time.
Bethesda have clearly tried to make the AI as human as possible, more examples include the actions of others when a fight breaks out. If you pick a fight with another local citizen, a crowd will form, people will step back, and chattering and cheering will fill the background noise. When you have (hopefully) defeated your opponent, the crowd will fall back, and you will doubtlessly be approached by the law-enforcing people of the area, who will try to apprehend you. Now though, they can chase you through houses, shops and bars, so an easy escape may not be a viable option.
The scale for amazing gameplay is huge. People have pets, you will see deer and sheep in the wild (as well as more evil creatures), hunting could be an option, as you will need to get food to trade with or eat – similarly, some civilians may be going hungry and will do anything for your trade of food.
As with Morrowind, you can choose a guild to be in. These will include magic, stealth, straight combat, and bloody murder – now however, you will have the police playing a much stronger role in the game, with any of your actions taking a real toll on your quest, rather than a mere 20 coin fine. You can also surrender, or accept surrender when fighting, so when you are in a battle with a police member, it may be better to give in (they can choose to accept or deny, depending on your crime) and pay a fine or take the punishment. The same applies for any fight, and people can surrender to you, again, you can accept their forfeit, or quash them where they stand. Don’t try surrendering to a monster though because they probably won’t accept...
Bow and Arrows now play a major role in the combat element, as there are no other ranged weapons. However, the archery has been vastly improved, with arrows sticking in corpses, rebounding off stone, and becoming lodged in wood and grass – you can also pick them back up after battle. Perhaps you will be able to use them to hunt and set them alight as an extra bonus in combat; again, there are so many possibilities. You can also cast spells while fighting, without having to change styles; making for some flowing and immersing battles.
You can block now, which can make your opponent recoil, and when you attack, they will also stumble, allowing for another, perhaps fatal, blow. If you block with your hands, it will damage you, but then your opponent may falter, letting you in for an attack.
Vampires make a horrific return to the series, and obviously, you can be converted by a vampire as before, no new details on this feature have yet been released, but it should be a very special element of the gameplay.
The spoken dialogue is another overhauled feature, with around 3 minutes of speech per NPC available, and a huge 50 hours of spoken language input into Oblivion. You will travel down into hell, and the famed Dungeons return with skeleton soldiers, gruesome monsters and terrifying vampires to scare you back into the relative safety of a village or town.
Finally, the most jaw-dropping factor of the next Elder Scrolls game is simply the graphics. You can see from the screenshots just how great the graphics are, and the full power of the Xbox 360 will be used to make this one of the best looking games ever. If Hell is that well designed, then we'd better start sinning (more than usual). The weather, seasons, and day and night cycles are going to immerse the player right into Tamreil, with the open spaces containing canyons, waterfalls, streams and caves to make perhaps the most realistic and open ended RPG of all time.
The fact that you can do nearly anything, and that it will have a result which affects your character and those around you is breathtaking to imagine. With hundreds of hours of gameplay, an unthinkably open-ended style and currently un-paralleled graphics, this should be a thoroughly involving game, and the best RPG we’ve seen from Bethesda, which should tell you just how great we’re expecting this to be.
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