Wednesday, April 19


Oblivion, Part Three, Chapter Two

Okay, let me unpack that a little.

Some role-playing games are criticised for being too linear, too focused on the main story. The best example I've ever seen is the final chapter of Hordes of the Underdark. Not only do you travel in a dead-straight line from your starting point to the goal, but you pass through a series of one-way gates so you cannot retrace your steps (or return to town for supplies) and there are arrows painted on the ground telling you which way to go.

Oblivion doesn't do things quite like that. There is a main quest: Go here, do this, go there, die. Well, the die part is optional, but it's not avoidable. If you follow the main quest without going and doing other things first - finding better equipment, new spells, and generally levelling up like mad - you will die.

On the other hand, if you wander around near where you start out, you will get bitten by a vampire, and contract vampiritis.

Assuming you don't want to have pale-skin and glowing red eyes and catch fire when exposed to sunlight, you'll need to find a cure. The local temple might be a good place to start - but the only thing they have to offer is to kill you on the spot. When you decline their kind offer, they suggest you try the Wizards Guild. The Wizards suggest you speak to someone at Unseen University. The bloke at Unseen University tells you that he has no idea how to cure vampirrhea, but tells you that the Duke of Dartmoor does. The Duke of Dartmoor (once you get in to see him) tells you to seek out Wendy the Wicked, Witch of the Western Wastes. Once you find her (getting killed only twice along the way) and break into her house, she tells you that she can tell you what the cure is, but first you have to bring her seven Greater Spotted Hufflepuffs. Since you've never seen one Greater Spotted Pufflehuff, much less seven of them, you decide to kill her instead. Or get killed by the monster she summons which attacks you from behind; either way works.

When you've only been playing the game for ten hours, being told you have to go on what sounds like a thirty-hour quest merely to rid yourself of a chance affliction is most unwelcome. Far easier to go back through your saved games to before your encounter with the bipedal mosquitos. But if you're just going to throw away half the time you've spent playing the game every time something like that happens, what's the point in playing it in the first place?

The thing is, it's not fun. There's no sense of accomplishment or adventure. The graphics are extremely detailed, but also thoroughly uninteresting. I think it was Might & Magic 7 that first presented us with a world that was - in the name of realism - the colour of mud from one end to the other. Oblivion is HD mud.

But it's a huge world! It's a huge, boring world.
But there's so many things to see! They all look the same. This town is built on a hill, and that town is... Okay, also built on a hill. Actually, all the towns I've visited so far are built on hills.
But there's so much to do! Perhaps. But do I want to do any of it?
But once you get past (some point involving two weeks of dedicated effort) it's much more fun! Don't. Care.


Graphics: Mud
Sound: Mud
Gameplay: Mud
Overall: Pfft

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:09 AM | Comments (9) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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1 Thanks for saving me the effort of discovering this myself. :)

Posted by: Andrew at Wednesday, April 19 2006 08:08 AM (0585Z)

2 So, to sum up: mud.   Why do you think it was called Oblivion?

Posted by: Wonderduck at Wednesday, April 19 2006 09:08 AM (zBXYv)

3 Sucks to be a vampire.  OTOH had you read the manual you would have learned that during the four days it takes to actually turn into a vampire you can pray at any town's cathedral altar and be cured.  For free.  So if it hasn't been four days yet you can give this a try; failing that you can go back to a save file that is within the 4-day window so you don't lose all your history.

The annoying quest is only if you actually become a vampire.

Or just go play Call Of Duty 2 or Geometry Wars, they're good games too.

Posted by: michael parker at Wednesday, April 19 2006 09:22 AM (S7bWZ)

4 Manual?  Read?

Uh, yeah.  Thanks for that tip.

I wasn't that enthralled before I became a vampire anyway.  If I'd found the game fun to play, I would have gone on the quest.  Or something.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, April 19 2006 09:51 AM (eAghb)

5 I think the game is probably enjoyable for people willing to devote huge amounts of time to it.  But I don't have huge amounts of time; I want a game that I can jump into for an hour or two a couple of times a week, and Oblivion isn't it.

I've spent more than ten hours on it, waiting for something interesting to happen.  It's pretty, but it's also pretty dull.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, April 19 2006 10:00 AM (eAghb)

6 Bethesda's RPGs are uniformly impressive...

As concept pieces.  The premise - being a independent agent in an immense, connected, and malleable world - is attractive.  In practice, you'd better enjoy making up stories about what you're doing in that sandbox, because they won't be telling you one.  The only game of theirs in which they made any effort at a more traditional kind of RPG storytelling - that is, actually providing stories rather than an elaborate framework for free-form roleplay - was Redguard, and that was an imperfect success at mixing styles.

Bioware can do good work - though I wouldn't have counted their NWN campaign work on any list of it - and so can Square, Nippon Ichi, and the various other residents of Japan.  Obsidian studios has some promise as well - Black Isle is gone, but they surely knew how to make RPGs in their time, and Obsidian inherited much of their talent.  KOTOR II, although palpably unfinished, still showed considerable promise.

Have you tried Bioware's Jade Empire?

Or, for something further out of left field, A-Sharp's King of Dragon Pass?

Posted by: HC at Wednesday, April 19 2006 12:25 PM (vhWf1)

7 I haven't tried Jade Empire, and probably should.  But playing an Xbox game when I just went and bought a 360?!

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, April 19 2006 10:26 PM (LUBRF)

8 Jade Empire is a quite good RPG, and looks beautiful on the old xbox.  The 4x antialiasing it gains from running in emulation on the 360 may make it look even better.

There's very little opportunity to do your own thing (there's only one area where you get random encounters) which does keep the plot clicking along and eliminates the need for level grinding, since everybody has fought the exact same battles at any given point in the game, and most of your stat improvements come from your amulet anyway.

Downside is it's very short (~20 hrs) with only modest replay value.  Upside is it's a quite dense experience as RPG's go, and you don't have to worry about losing months of your life.

Posted by: michael parker at Thursday, April 20 2006 09:26 AM (S7bWZ)

9  You know, I completely forgot that some Xbox games will run on the 360.  And Jade Empire turns out to be one of them.  (Of the Xbox games I already have, the only one that works on the 360 is DOA 3.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Thursday, April 20 2006 11:58 AM (eAghb)

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