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Xbox 360 Review: The Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion

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You may want to inform your friends and family before purchasing this game. The reason for this is clearly obvious; you will not be reachable for weeks, if not months, once you start your adventure in this fourth game of the series.

It is unprecedented that a single-player game has as much game play as Oblivion does. The Province of Cyrodil is roughly twice the size of Morrowind, with over 16 square miles to traverse in your journey.

Talking about Morrowind, it is hard to describe the scope and scale of Oblivion without bringing up the last game in the series, which received 2003 Game of the Year honors. This is because single-player open-ended RPGs don’t exist on this scale. This is especially true for the PC release of Oblivion.

As if it needed the extra attention, Oblivion is the first RPG to hit the Xbox 360. This is the largest (no pun intended) release yet for the 360, and is the reason many people bought the console. Countless Xbox 360 owners, myself included, justified a purchase all the way back in November of 2005 because of this game, and rightfully so.

For what has become the standard for the Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion has an insanely high amount of quests to complete in a number of varied disciplines. You can join factions, many the same as in Morrowind. These include the Fighters, Mages, and Thieves Guilds, plus the Dark Brotherhood – the Assassins Guild in the game.

It is not uncommon to have over 20 quests going at once, and the claim of over 200 hours of game play is not a marketing ploy. If you chose to ignore everything but the main questline, you will be playing Oblivion for about 30 to 40 hours. But that is a waste of your money when it comes down to it.

It seems all wishes were granted in the upgrades department since Morrowind. The map now includes a fast travel system. You can travel to any major city or any place you have already discovered right away. Not only does this do away with the need for Silt Striders from Morrowind, but also the need to walk everywhere (if you do not like to do that).

The journal was a major pain in the rear in Morrowind, even after the Xbox release of the GOTY edition. Now the journal is organized into Active, Current, and Completed quests. This makes keeping track of this epic adventure very easy.

One thing Bethesda wanted to do with Oblivion was make the game more accessible. I was very anxious about them “watering down” the game. Now with the game in hand, and well over 100 hours into my adventure, I generally like the changes. The menus are simplified and streamlined — although I do miss having the full breadth of stats at my fingertips as in Morrowind. An option to turn these on would have been nice.

One of the largest problems in Morrowind, combat, has been addressed. While it is not perfect, it is a welcome improvement. Fighting alongside friendly NPCs can be a chore, as you are not entirely sure where your weapon is striking. Since combat is such an improvement, including a button for blocking, it does not get in the way that often.

The game includes the ability to yield towards an NPC, and that is needed because you will be doling out your fare share of friendly fire. Making the story-specific NPCs impervious to death was also a very smart decision, especially for escort missions. This in itself cuts down on the frustration that it would have caused otherwise.

It almost goes without saying that Oblivion has the best graphics we have seen yet on the Xbox 360. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter would be the only threat in this department, but it does not have the scale that Oblivion showcases. Armor and weapon detail is eye-catching, as is everything else. I found very little low-resolution textures, most everything has a polish we have not seen before outside of PC gaming on a very high-end (and quite costly) rig.

The musical score also needs mention because it is so engrossing. The deep brass and intricate string orchestrated themes are pure ear candy. Few game soundtracks are worth a recommendation to listen to outside of the game, but this is one of them.

Non Player Characters also received a major upgrade. With “Radiant AI” they have random, instead of scripted, schedules. Seeing a storeowner close the shop and actually walk back to his house is neat. If you break into their house you would also see them eat and walk up stairs to go to bed.

Random conversations are mostly a good thing, although you will hear repetition creep in. There is really no way around this however. You will overhear two people talking and gain new conversation threads because of this. This leads to quests and other things to talk about.

Radiant AI is an amazing accomplishment, and has few faults. It allows for the level of immersion that is needed in a roleplaying game.

Even after a four-month delay, Oblivion still has its technical issues. But with the sheer size of the game, it was bound to happen. The Xbox will crash during loading screens. The game’s auto save feature is good but really shows its flaws when the game takes down the Xbox 360.

You are also not going to experience Oblivion without frame rate and geometry pop-in issues. When not in enclosed areas such as houses or caverns, you will encounter severe drops in frame rate. When on horseback it is even worse. You will also see rocks, trees, mountains, etc. pop up right before your eyes when walking or riding in the wilderness. The geometry, texture, and lighting detail in the game are through the roof, and are what can be attributed to these slow downs.

These technical problems would almost assuredly hinder any other game but Oblivion. The game world is just so stunning, and the game play is so outstanding that these otherwise show stoppers are mere irritations in the grand scheme of things.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is everything fans of the series wanted, and more. The long wait, and delay, were well worth it in the end. Oblivion is a masterpiece for the eyes and the ears, and should easily receive Game of the Year honors. Continuing Bethesda’s tradition of delivering more than what is normally expected out of a game, Oblivion is an outstanding example of superior everything.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence. This game can also be found on: PC, Mobile Phone.

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About Ken Edwards

  • sal m

    to your point that the main quest can be complete in 30-40 hours, i can’t see why anyone would want to do that. in order to do that you’d have to ignore the majority of other goings on in the game.

    in about 30 hours i’ve yet to scratch the surface, and thanks to contracting the vampire disease, am way to engrossed by the side quests and the scenery to even touch the main quests.

    i’ve never been one to replay a game that i finished, but i’m already looking forward to changing characters and playing the game from a different perspective…which is an dark elf assassin.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Even I’ve been tempted to buy a 360 for this game. Notably, that would be a much cheaper way to play it than attempting to upgrade my computer. In fact, my existing computer probably can’t be upgraded enough to run Oblivion very well, if at all. That would mean spending a good chunk of change to build a new system from the ground up.

    The 360 is tremendously overpriced compared to other consoles on the market right now, but it’s a lot cheaper than a new computer, even if I build the whole system myself.

    So I’m trying to keep myself occupied with Morrowind and other things, until some prices go down somewhere.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    I agree. Like I said, it would be such a waste of money to do that. Sadly, there are people who will only work on the main quest. The point was that you still get a pretty standard RPG if you only do the main quest. If you do everything else though, well, that is over 200 hours.

    I am a vampire now too. I got it less than 10 hours into the game. I have even completed the quest to cure it, though I do not think I will be drinking the potion any time soon.

    Morrowind was the same way, I know I will play through it again. I am an Imperial Night at the moment, but will be trying either a pure Mage or Battle Mage next, and likely an Argonian.

  • sal m

    the vampire cure quest is giving me fits…i cannot find the soul gems that are supposed to be in certain dungeons…there are secret doors that are supposed to be in specific areas of these dungeons, but i cannot for the life of me find them…and i don’t want to just go and buy them all…that seems too easy.

    and victor, i disagree that the 360 is overpriced…if you use it as much as you should, the 360 is a bargain. it’s not how much you spend, but the return on your investment that matters…between this game, ghost recon and condemned you’ll get your money’s worth from this console.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Ken Edwards

    Yes indeed. I originally thought that $400 was overpriced. But not after seeing the killer app: Xbox Live Arcade. And no, I am not kidding. Condemned, GRAW, and Oblivion are all pretty good reasons too, of course.

    Sal – there are soul gems at the Arcane University first floor. Three of them for your picking. I did find some in dungeons but I ended up buying them. There is a money glitch (that will get patched) once you complete the quest. You get 1000 gp for completing the quests, which does not account for the cost of five soul gems.

    But you can sell the cure potion for a pretty penny ;)

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    XBox Live isn’t a killer app for people like me who still use dialup to access the Intertron from home. If I buy this hefty-priced box any time soon, it’ll be for Oblivion and not much else.

  • http://engadget.com Lenard

    Big problem with Oblivion is that the xbox360’s hard drive can get scrambled and pretty much doom the box we have all come to love so much… sad sad day—

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Is Cyrodill really only 16 square miles? I seem to recall reading the game world in Daggerfall was the size of Great Britain. Granted, much of that game world was computer-generated, while everything for Morrowind and Oblivion had to be built by hand. Still, it seems they’d want to make the game world bigger than 16 square miles, and judging by my experiences there so far, Morrowind has a lot more than 8 square miles to explore.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    I thought I said more than 16 square miles? That figure does not include all the Oblivion Gates, caves, ruins, etc. That is just the overworld. So yes, it is bigger than 16 square miles. And it is the biggest TES game yet.

    Also everything in Oblivion was not built by hand. The forests are all randomly generated. The land mass is always the same size of course, but not the forests.

    Lenard – I have yet to hear of any serious hard drive failure because of this game. There is a way to delete the cache (hold A while starting the system) but beyond that there have been no problems reported that are any different from playing any other 360 game.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Well, “over 16 square miles” would indicate somewhere between 16 and 17 square miles, by my reading, and usually closer to 16. If it were more than 16-1/2, the usual boast would be “almost 17 square miles!”

    But perhaps I’ve been reading too much marketing copy.

  • anon

    just wanted to make a quick comment concerning the “randomly generated” forests, since this was something that I was especially interested in. Actually, the forests were not randomly generated. Bethesda worked with a team of environmental scientists to develop algorithms for forest growth, and sort of “grew” the forests based on some parameters and the topology of the land. Although not done by hand, it certainly wasn’t random. Some might say it’s even better than by hand.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Sounds extremely cool, Anon. Can you provide any links to more information about their algorithms for generating forest environments?

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Well, by ‘random’ I meant ‘not modeled by hand.’ and by definition, I still call that random. Because if you play the game again (start a new game) then the forests will be generated, or grown, differently. I call that random, but that is just me.

    There is no way the forests could have been hand planted. They are just too big. I know they licensed the software, but do not know from who either.

    Victor – heh, marketing… anyways. I would say the amount of Oblivion Gates, caves, ruins, and all other stuff that is not part of the overworld has got to constitute another square mile or more. As for the exact number, I have no idea. I don’t even think Bethesda has even taken the time to calculate it. I don’t think anyone really cares that much.

    When I first started playing the game, I did not think it was bigger than Morrowind, but now that I am into the game pretty far, it sure is a lot bigger, with a lot more to explore outside of just walking around the overworld.

    I believe High Rock and Hammerfell in Daggerfall look to be the size of Morrowind, but didn’t come close. But then it has been a long time since I played that game.

    Also, I was referring to the Xbox Live Arcade as being the killer app, not Live itself. Although Live is done very well, it is nothing without the games. Of course you still need broadband to download the XBLA games ;)

    You should also consider games like Condemned, GRAW, Dead or Alive 4, even Kameo as reasons other than just Oblivion for the purchase of a 360. But I don’t blame ya. I bought it for Oblivion, it just happened to have a bunch of other games on it that I wanted too.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    According to the Elder Scrolls web site, the game world in Daggerfall is about the size of Great Britain. That’s over 50,000 (yes, fifty thousand) square miles. Presumably, the playable area in Arena is even larger, because it “encompassed the entire world of Tamriel.” In both of those cases, most of it is computer generated, of course.

    Obviously, Morrowind and Oblivion are nowhere near that size. But I definitely got the impression they’d both be much bigger than a mere 16 or so square miles, so I wondered where that figure came from, and why it’s showing up in so many online reviews. A little more poking around on the Elder Scrolls site reveals another interesting little factoid: “Morrowind is about 0.0001% the landmass of Daggerfall.”

    By my calculations, that makes the Morrowind game world a little over 5 square miles. So apparently the figure you’ve all been quoting is accurate, and the fact Morrowind feels so much bigger to me as I’m exploring its world is simply a testament to how richly it was designed.

  • Me!

    How much do the grand soul gems cost? Ive spent to much time looking, I wanna go out and buy them.

  • Al

    Ken – I don’t know that Lenard is totally right. I hope not, but Oblivion most definitely scrambles the order of my saved games. It’s driving me crazy. The people at Bethesda don’t have a solution, either.

  • Chad

    The vampire cure quest has screwed up the whole game for me now. I got all the ingredients, returned the blood-staind dagger and the Henthral vampire ashes that the old witch, BUT what she doesn’t mention in the list of topics when I speak with her is the 2 blades of bloodgrass. This is a defect/glitch..everytime I talk to her now the only options are ‘Cure for the Vampire Disease’ and ‘Rumors’. There’s nothing I can do, I keep my saves down to live 3 at a minumum and I cannot go back and try to start the cure quest thing over again. This makes me wanna stop playing now cos it sucks being a vampire.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    I disagree. I have played the entire game a vamp.

  • Adam

    The same has happened to me Chad and I must say it is a very annoying glitch as I dont want to be a vampire. Apart from that the game has been great so far. If anyone knows of any other way to cure myself please share but I doubt there will be.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    A bit of a correction is needed to one of my earlier statements. For some reason I misremembered the land area of Great Britain. In reality it’s over 80,000 square miles. This means my calculation for the area of the game world in Morrowind should have come out to just over 8 square miles, making Cyrodiil roughly twice its size, just as Ken stated in the main article.

  • PeterM

    I had a similarly frustrating experience with the vampire cure. If you don’t have a previous save then you either play as a vampire or restart. If you restart, make sure, when you get the disease again (and you will), that you give the witch all her ingredients in the order she requested them. I beat the vampire and informed her of my accomplishment before giving her the bloodgrass, garlic, nightshade, etc. and when it was time to collect my potion she never came out of the cellar. And, evidently, unlike the PC game, you can’t get down into the cellar on the Xbox. Thank the Nine I had a bunch of previous saves.

    If you want more detailed information on everything Oblivion, go to GameFaqs.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Ken Edwards

    I am not of the mind that being a vampire sucks. But since it is well known now how easy it is to contract, just have a cure disease potion on you at all times.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    And so now they have pull yet another Take 2 game because of yet another (after market) mod. How stupid.

  • sal m

    i got down into her basement in the 360 version of the game…also, if you restart the game make sure you do whatever you can to get cure disease potions before going into dungeons…you can keep yourself from getting vampirism if you take a cure disease potion as soon as you get bitten.

    i didn’t have a problem there, but when i went back to the castle i had to follow the dude around until he was going back up the stairs before he would ask me about the cure.

    also this is where the gold glitch occurs….

  • Eddy

    I have been very frustrated with the quest. I have all ingridients an stuff, but I can’t seem to find an argonian at night. Can anyone help? I can’t wait because I will die, and the sun will kill me!!!

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    You can find an argonian at the deadrick shrines, and in mages halls. Just stab them, and then yield right away. Thats it!

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Back on the topic of game mods, there’s one coming out that I’d really like to get. In fact it’s helping me resist the temptation to buy a 360, and instead wait until I can afford a computer beefy enough to play the PC version of Oblivion.

    Of course the nature of this particular mod will only go to show just how nerdy I am: it does nothing more than update the covers on all the books in the game.

    Now that’s what I call cool.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Oh wow, that is totally worth buying a PC for!

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Heh heh. Do I detect a tiny hint of sarcasm? Well, at least I still have a month or two to save up for the liquid-cooled super-computer required to run such mods, which probably transform Oblivion into an even bigger hog of RAM and processing power than it already is straight out of the box.

  • Joe

    This game is absolutely fantastic. Addressing the vampire issuse, I have the same problem. Fortunately, I don’t mind being a vampire. I gave the woman the ashes and the dagger, but she won’t take any of the other ingredients and I don’t even know which ones I’m supposed to give her. Oh well, still a great game and being a vampire certainly has its perks. If you don’t want to die in the sun, just keep feeding! You don’t have to reset the game, just feed on sleeping people and the sun won’t harm you.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Ken Edwards

    You could also buy the Vile Lair, which has more perks than getting rid of vampirism. As a matter of fact, it is divine if you are a vamp. It is also the cheapest of the episodic content, at 150 MP.

  • Mel

    the games good but im also a vamp and i cant find soul gems

  • http://blogcritics.org/archives/2006/04/10/025304.php Maj

    This is my second oblivion character, and unlike the first, I decided to finish the main quests. I beat the game, completed the fighters guild, assasins guild, mages guild, and im waaaaaay far in the thieves guild.But yeah im really bummed on the whole vampire quest issue myself. I’m having the same problems with the two bundles of bloodgrass. I read a post from a guy that said that the bloodgrass has to be picked by you and not bought from a store, I tried that but it doesnt work. I really dont want to be a vamp anymore and it sucks cause im far in the game and i guess im going to have to restart.

  • Blankey

    Maj just buy Enter the Vile Lair download rather than restarting.

  • ujg

    Enter the Vile Lair? but i guess thats just for the PC version, right?

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Ken Edwards

    Nope. Vile Lair is 150 Microsoft Points on XBLM. Please refer to Comment #31.

  • Rex

    This has to do with the VAMPIRE CURE on the 360. I’ve done everything I need got the two cures cured myself. The problem is I can’t get the other cure to the count. He’s in a secret room and the lizard woman leaves me hanging. This has put my main quest on hold as well. It’s the last city I need troops from. I know I’m not the only one that has this problem. Thanks

  • Kirin18

    Why would anybody want to cure it…? VAMPIRES ARE THE COOLEST!!!!!

  • jay hood

    Om Having The Problem With The Witch Not Taking My Bloodgrass For The Vamp Cure. . You Mean I Have To Start The Hole Game Over And Give Her The Ingredients In Order?

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Everyone seems to be having problems giving the witch the ingredients. I did it the first time, and it worked fine for me.

    You could always buy the cheap Marketplace download that will cure you. That or just play the entire game as a Vamp, as it gives you many great attributes.

  • Tyree

    ok not trying to get off topic but does any1 kno how many oblivion gates there are in total???

  • Tyree

    oo and if you get the vampires disease you can simply cure by praying at the alter at any city, Chorrals’ chapple is meant to cure stuff like this, unless you get the vamp disease from the dark brother hood quest. then you need to do the quest. oo and if you do get the disease and you DO want to be a vamp wait 3 days then sleep.

  • kyle

    people, the witch dont accept bloodgrass if you have completed the main quest line because it is tainted or somet… just thought i’d held you all!!!

  • Tim

    my game keeps freezing so i bought a new bc i figured it was scratched, but now its still freezing, whats wrong???? i downloaded knights of the nine and it started freezing a little after that??what do i do

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Tim: call Xbox support.

  • Tim

    where is that number?? and do u have any ideas what to do?

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    1-800-4MY-XBOX.

    Have you killed the cache in Oblivion? I assume you have.

    Call them and they will walk you through steps to try and solve the problem.

  • St.Dave

    I want oblivion sooo badly

  • ANDREW!

    SCREW NOT BE A VAMPIRE
    TRAVEL AT NIGHT BABY THATS THE ONLY WAY TO GO! WOO!!!
    FORGET THE CURE
    sry im a bit hyper

  • Matt

    Im annoyed cuz i did the main quest at level 2, and im a vamp and it’s getting annoying (plus i want to do the gold glitch), and the witch wont accept my bloodgrass so i might make a new character and just have vamp as a main 1 ¬_¬

  • SIRHC

    Matt – You feeding on people before you go talk to a NPC? They dont like it when you are a level 4 Vampire, if you feed on a sleeping person, they dont even notice you are a walker of the night.

    I Keep trying that (A) Button thing, and it doesnt seem to be working for me. Its not running very slow, its just when i go to save that slows down, so i want to clear it before it gets worse, i know thats only the tip of the iceberg.

  • Coy

    ya about the vampire bloodgrass thing i read somewhere that you can just connect to xbox live and download something that bethesda added that fixes it

  • Coy

    but im having the same problem and i havent bought xbox live yet so i need to buy it quick

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Ken Edwards

    Game patches do not require a Gold account. Do you have broadband? Just get a Silver account. You get a free one month trial of Gold on a new account anyways.