The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was an absolute game-changer when it came out. It was an amazing sequel to Morrowind, but has arguably been overshadowed by the follow-up game, Skyrim, and of course, the Elder Scrolls Online MMORPG.
That leaves us with a simple question: 13 years and multiple sequels later, is Oblivion still worth playing? Or should you go get an arrow in your knee with a different game in this franchise?
This game is set in the Cryodill province of Tamriel. You play a prisoner who is pardoned by the Emperor. After he and his sons are assassinated, you must find an heir to the throne.
Along the way, you fight plenty of conventional bad guys as well as otherworldly Daedra. And it soon becomes clear that you must find a way to shut down the gates that these fiends are coming through or there will be no kingdom left to serve!
Whenever booting up a really old game, there is likely a blunt question in your mind: “Does it still look any good?”
After all, nostalgia is a hell of a drug. And some of the games that wowed you in years past might be downright ugly now.
Fortunately, Oblivion is not one of those games. It still looks very epic: crisp sprites, interesting designs, and engaging architecture. And while some of the NPCs admittedly look weird, that is more a symptom of odd design choices rather than old school graphics looking weird on a new PC.
At its heart, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion wants to be an epic sword-and-sorcery game. The voice acting and sprawling open world help to evoke the feelings of genre classics such as The Lord of the Rings films.
And while the voice acting, world design, and story all help to do this, one thing really sabotages that epic feel: this kingdom is really damn lonely.
It’s very notable how few characters are on screen at any one time. And once you notice that, it’s tough not to notice the same dozen or so people who do almost all of the dialogue in the game.
This doesn’t diminish the overall experience, but it does making traveling that open world a little bit lonelier.
Truly Open World
One thing that really impressed gamers back in 2006 was the open world design of Oblivion. You could travel by foot or by horse to every corner of the world, picking up new quests as you go.
This game is a bit more directive than Morrowind because you are given the main quest chain almost immediately. However, you can ditch that quest and go wander the world whenever you want.
And it really does feel like anything could happen at any time. Your simple exploration of a mountain may lead to you being bitten by a vampire. At that point, you can decide whether to frantically seek a cure or settle into your new life as a stalking creature of the night.
Oblivion also introduced a feature we now take for granted: fast travel. Whenever you are done exploring to your heart’s content, you can quickly travel back to the places you previously discovered.
One of the weirder things that this game is missing is a morality system. For example, it does not keep track of your good and bad choices like a Bioware game would. Your morality has little effect on the main story.
This is doubly frustrating because you have many chances to “break bad” in this game. You can steal, you can kill, you can become an assassin. And as previously mentioned, you can willingly remain a monstrous vampire.
At the end of the day, none of those choices really impact your overall quest. And it’s tough not to see that as a really missed opportunity.
Talk Is Cheap
Oblivion has the kind of selective dialogue you’ve come to expect from modern RPGs. However, when you need to convince an NPC to do something, it gets pretty weird.
In most RPGs, your charisma is a stat that you can build up. And when you try to convince someone of something, the game rolls a virtual die, adds your charisma, and sees if you succeeded or not.
In this game, the appropriate skill is Speechcraft, which it helps to influence your success or failure in a special persuasion mini-game. During this mini-game, you can make four choices while interacting with an NPC: Admire, Boast, Coerce, and Joke.
You do all of this with a timer going while managing rotating wedges representing these different areas. While Speechcraft sounds neat in theory, it turns attempts at persuasion into a stressful and annoying slog.
Combat: A Mixed Bag
I’m just going to say it: combat in this game is highly disappointing.
Most classes are balancing melee weapons and spells. But each form of combat manages to disappoint.
In melee, you are basically just whacking an enemy who just stands there hitting you back. There is no dynamic knocking him backwards… just a dull back-and-forth to see whose health runs out first.
And despite all of the spells available, most magic combat boils down to throwing some kind of fireball, running around a room until the magic recharges, and then throwing it again.
Basically, if you played Skyrim before playing Oblivion, you will almost certainly be disappointed by combat.
So, is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion still worth playing? The answer is “yes,” as long as you go into it with eyes wide open.
If you’re here for the ample voice acting (including Patrick Stewart), open world exploration, and fantasy sandbox fun, this is a perfect game.
If you’re here for engaging combat, tons of dialogue options, and a dynamic morality system, you’ll want to find another game.