Mike’s Prattle



Posted by Mike on November 10, 2008

I’ve been assuaging my more geekish tendencies of late by immersing myself in the world of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It’s a strange thing to do as I still have one more expansion module left to do in ES III: Morrowind, but I finally broke down, bought a new graphics card and the Game of the Year edition of Oblivion. And quite frankly, I was lucky to clean up or even answer the phone (or sleep) since I installed it. It’s so fun it’s absolutely ridiculous, as close to guiding your own movie as anything that’s come before it. It gets super geek chic just from having Patrick Stewart narrate the voice of the Emperor in the beginning of the story, which starts when you’re broken out of prison by the Emperor and guards trying to protect a rare amulet. This whole opening sequence seems to exist to get your character tutored and up to speed on how the game works.

Visually, these games just get closer and closer to reality. Once you’re out of the prison and into the landscape, it’s almost impossible not to take ten minutes just looking around you. The city is on an island in the middle of a lake and the mountains and hills rise around you and it’s hard not to think of those New Zealand locations in the Lord of the Rings movies. The trees in particular not only move with the wind but it seems every specific tree moves on its own by way of the physics of the game. It’s utterly breathtaking, like on a clear night when the moons come out and the constellations are almost exactly what you’d see camping outside of a city (well except there’s 2 or 3 moons iirc).

There seem to be three sorts of quests. There’s the overall story quest, the individual guild and side quests you pick up in towns, as well as what seem like hundreds or thousands of small ruins to explore. (Going to start getting spoilery here, if you plan on playing this you may not want to read on).Knowing Morrowind I am trying to spend more time on the latter quests rather than rushing through the story line (of which there’s no rush, I literally left two guys on horses in a stable for two weeks), usually trying to work one town’s quests at a time and concentrating on advancing in the guilds. I’m just thoroughly charmed and impressed by the inventiveness of some of the quests. The non player characters in this game all actually have lives, that is if you show up in an inn at 4 AM, you have to wake the guy up to get a room. They have conversations and discuss rumors in voices even if you haven’t tried talking to them. One side quest in a town was one of the first Fighters Guild contracts. I’m sent to talk to a woman who has rats in her basement only to find they’re her pets and are being terrorized by a mountain lion. So I go after the town hunter who literally leads me out of town to knock off the lions only to find out after we do that it hasn’t solved the problem, which happens to be her neighbor who’s leaving food outside the hole. It’s this sort of complexity that makes it interesting with the quests taking unique spins.

One really funny side quest is based on HP Lovecraft’s Shadows Over Innsmouth. I’m not sure if I’d been able to solve it had I not known the story. So when I showed up in this little village in the middle of the woods, I stayed at the inn and was attacked. Then I waited until night to go to the “Deep Ones” chapel, found a contact and managed to rescue the person I needed to in the caverns.

My favorite side quest so far (and what I mean by so far could be 5% of the game max) was locating an artifact for a countess in the northernmost town. The town itself is gorgeous, alpine with the houses all sitting on ridges, surrounded by hills. During sunrise or sunset the whole place gets that suffused glow that brings out the colors in bunches, lots of oranges and purples. Every town is like this, totally different with unique architecture and placing. Anyway, I’m given a diary to help me find a secret passage through the hills into a Lost Valley. It leads me from mark to mark into deep tunnels which take me out into a snowy, blustery valley, with the music and atmosphere somehow making it FEEL like I just discovered something huge. Plowing through ogre after ogre I get to these ruins, which are as astonishing on the inside as they are on the outside, with all sorts of levers and gates leading to loud and impressive bridge drops, while fighting vicious skeletal Daedra. It’s never a matter of pressing and clicking your attack in this game, to succeed it helps a great deal to learn your shield as well, making the choice between a slash and block always the issue. It took me a couple saves to realize that all I needed to do was talk to the last “big bad” who as an apparition is still waiting his orders in a longgone war. Even the thing’s voice was eery and impressive.

Equally impressive or even more so is the main quest, one so rich in detail and scope that one hesitates to rush through it, which is quite easy as the quest itself gives it a sense of urgency not reflected in the game (fortunately). You bring the amulet to a priest in a nearby town who asks you to go find the Emperor’s heir in a southern city. By the time you do, the city, Kvatch, has been virtually destroyed and under siege because the “big bad” has managed to open a gate to the Plane of Oblivion (hell, basically) letting swarms of nasties into the city and blockading the heir and several others in the chapel. Your mission is to go into Oblivion and close the gate. This particular plane of Oblivion (there’s apparently 16 in all) is surrounded by a lake of fire and full of unusual plants. The detail and objects in this game is incredibly vast with 100s of different foods and plant ingredients, the latter of which you tend to harvest to make potions if you’re more magically inclined. Harvesting plants here means you get bit and sapped of strength. There aren’t treasure chests, but fleshy pods. It’s like something out of Planescape, and there’s a sense of dread around every corner, especially when you finally get to the hellish citadel and go inside. This goes up and up with spines leading to other towers where you find a prisoner who tells you to kill the warden to get the key which will let you ascent to the top of the main tower. This is basically like inner rings of balconies around  this huge fire that keeps the gate open and the stairs change into bones, and it just gets freakier as you go up. Finally you remove the Sigil stone (a knowing Planescape reference no doubt) and the whole thing blows up majestically leaving you back at Kvatch.

And then you end up leading a rescue, which entails going into a passage so one can open the gate and let the rest of the soldiers in. The realism is so impressive, it’s not even like you go in with unnamed soldiers, it’s almost depressing when each one falls, with even the grunts given slight personalities to fill them in.

Anyway I’ve described a small part of my experiences so far. Unlike Morrowind where your character gets almost unstoppable very fast, Oblivion graduates things a bit slower and seems to match your encounters with your level. But that doesn’t mean you don’t run across challenges you must use your brain for. In one bandit cave I explored, I was met by a virtually unstoppable trio of bandits who kept taking care of me handily. I solved it by instead of tripping a trap, jumping over the tripwire and once I’d gotten the attention of the baddies, ran back, jumping again, to let the trap take out the worst of the bandits.

There was a ship on the bay of the most southwestern cities that was infested by spirits which prevented a woman from getting an object back. Without a weapon to even lay a hit on these things, I had to do things differently. Fortunately by this point I’d found out that escaping a mine isn’t akin to escaping what you’re being chased by. So I lured out each spirit into the waterfront area to let all the wizards and guards take them out one by one, gaining access into the back of the hold. Got a nice magical cutlass as a reward. Unfortunately with the enchantment issues in this game, it takes only a few fights to need a recharge and as an Archer, my magic is really lagging behind.

And I LOVE the way you get into the Thieves’ Guild. For a while you have no idea where it is, until a chance encounter with a beggar, once your persuasion skills are high enough, tells you to meet at a certain place at midnight. You’re joined by three other applicants, only to find noone shows up … until you start talking to the applicants, upon which one of them reveals himself as the contact. Then you’re sent on a mission to steal a book, which appears to be a race against time among the three applicants. I’m not sure either of the two would actually have gotten the book, but it certainly gave you the illusion you needed to move fast. But now I have a steady supply of lock picks and can sell stolen items. Fortunately my class seems to be split between fighter and sneaking skills. Magic however is problematic as my levels are all too low to do much of use and I could badly use a reasonable healing spell at this point as after nearly every fight I have to tediously recharge and potions appear to be at a premium.

RPGs can vary from hack and slash to character related arcs, but this one seems to get everything really balanced. If a game sets it up so that you end up patting yourself on the back for doing something differently that helped you solve a particular problem, it feels very rewarding. Oblivion has so many objects you can pick up it must number in the thousands if not more. So it’s not as if you just have choices to get useful weapons, but there’s eating implements, decorative items, detritus, bones, dust, I mean it just goes on and on, and while this can make searching through containers a bit tedious at times, it’s more than balanced by the size of the world. Your character may start out barely being able to afford an inn, but then you end up being able to sleep at guilds and eventually buying a house. That was actually one of the most enjoyable parts of Morrowind, getting a house and then decorating it with all your loot, so I’m looking forward to getting to that point (I think I’m Level 7 at this point with approx. 40 hours of play and I’ve only accomplished 4 or 5 steps of the main quest).

So if you’re missing an e-mail response for me or wonder why I rant in Daedric on the phone, it’s because I’m saving the world. It’s all good timing as I’ve got lots of vacation and time off coming up in the holidays, when sleep becomes optional. 🙂 It also gives me a chance to bring out my coil and long stick incenses, I was really digging the Baieido Premium Junenko coil as I played. It reminded me that when I played Morrowind, my favorite incenses were the Shrinivas “fruit” champas like Banana and Apple, all of which I hope to use to trigger my memory when I return.

Oblivion = A+ just like Morrowind, but it’s even prettier, like switching to HD. It boggles my mind to think of how much human effort must have gone into this thing, to create this sort of detail. I remember looking at one of the cavern walls and seeing strata in the rock and texture, shadow and the like and thinking it could have taken days just to lay that down. Utterly brilliant!


One Response to “Oblivion”

  1. daino8 said

    I aggree with you totally A++ Spent at least 600 hours on this game.

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