Oblivion is truly a shining beacon for RPGs.
Let's be straight: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has received a lot of praise over the past few years, and is widely heralded today to be one of the greatest games of all-time. Whilst some of this may have been hyperbole or exaggeration, the game certainly deserves considerable recognition for its achievements. Oblivion is definitely a truly groundbreaking game; both in terms of style, gameplay and technical presentation. It gives you an interesting, detailed and fantastical world to play around in, while also living out your wildest fantasies of being a heroic and gallant questing knight, slaying legendary monsters, cavorting with citizens and collecting priceless enchanted artefacts. Whilst almost all of this is executed through many of the tried and tested RPG formulas, the way it is all presented makes it feel fresh and incredibly inviting. There is so much to do, and there is such a large scope, it is almost too easy to become immersed. If you want something which is going to keep you excited and interested for an awfully long time, Oblivion may just be it.
To summarize briefly a little of The Elder Scrolls incredibly detailed back story. To do so at length would most likely take a novel the approximate length of "The Lord of the Rings". Oblivion is set on another, very Tolkien-esque world called Nirn, in the vast continent of Tamriel, which has also been the setting for the previous games in the series. For example, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall took place in the provinces of Hammerfell and High Rock, whilst Oblivion happens within the Imperial Province of Cyrodiil. This region is the centre of a vast Imperial Empire which stretches across the whole of Tamriel, which has governed and tried to hold together the various regions since the beginning of the Third Era (which was established by Tiber Septim, if that means anything to you). At the beginning of the game in 3E 433, you are an inmate locked in a cell in the Imperial Prison, with no idea of your crime or if you will ever be freed. However, during the Tutorial, you witness the assassination of the current Emperor, Uriel Septim VII, who just before he dies allows you to escape and entrusts you with The Amulet of Kings; a pendant which can only be worn by the true Emperor of Tamriel. With all of his known heirs also dead, you are left the task of find a new heir and discovering the truth behind the Emperor's mysterious death. At the same time, if that wasn't enough, numerous gates to the infernal realm of Oblivion are opening across the Cyrodilic countryside, with evil Daedra monsters pouring through and attacking civilians. You must also work to solve the Oblivion Crisis, and restore peace and order to the Empire.
From the end of the Tutorial, where the rest of the game goes from there onward is just about up to you. If you wish, you may ignore the main questline entirely for the time being, and venture forth into the landscape and seek your fortune. Cyrodiil is, at heart, a functioning world in its own right. Days of the week pass, the weather alters; storekeepers will open there shops by day and eat and sleep by night. There are many named NPC's who serve no practical purpose at all, but may have their own individual timetable worked out for there daily routine. Each of the towns and other minor settlements dotted across Cyrodiil have their own citizens, each offering different quests and services. Aside from the main plot, there are several branching storylines for the main guilds with interlinked; Mage, Fighter and Thief, alongside the mysterious Dark Brotherhood of assassins. You can also ascend through the ranks of the Arena faction by fighting in pitched gladiatorial matches in the Imperial City Arena. This Game of the Year Edition also adds the Knights of the Nine DLC questline, which provides an interesting Arthurian-style story, ala Knights of the Round Table, as well as a whole new land to explore in the form of the Shivering Isles, the home of the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. This realm features its own main storyline, alongside other minor quests, all of which are unique in their objectives. As you can see, there is already plenty to be getting along with. The game manages to quietly slip in all this adventuring almost innocuously, as though you just happened to be available to help out whatever citizen is in distress. The main plot itself is perfectly sufficient and dramatic, but if you play it solely without touching any of the game's many other facets, it will end relatively quickly. However, this is of little consequence because the game will continue indefinitely even after the main quest is over, allowing for you to constantly level your character if desired. Actually attacking enemies feels really great, whether you are slashing with a two-handed claymore or aiming at being a master archer.
Character creation, skills and attributes are relatively complicated when viewed by a beginner. You begin by choosing one of the ten races in Cyrodiil to play, and then can alter your persona's Birthsign, Class and appearance. Whilst appearance is merely cosmetic and has no effect on gameplay, choosing a class will determine what style of game is best suited for you (if you don't like any of the pre-set ones, you can create your own). For example, if you enjoy hacking and slashing at your enemies, it is probably sensible to choose a class with Major Skills in Blunt and Blade (which will provide bonuses to those skills). Whereas, if you enjoy sneaking around and attacking guys from afar, investing in Marksman and Sneak skills would be beneficial. All skill increases are active: you must actually use the skill in order to increase it. Whilst this appears sensible, in reality it means that you can be increasing some skills dramatically (for example, Athletics) whilst not touching others at all (such as Hand to Hand). When you gain enough points across your Major Skills, you will be told you can "rest to reflect on what you have learned", meaning you can level-up. Doing so increases the quality of goods available for sale or capture, but also increases the strength and difficulty of creatures and enemies. This ingenious system works well to always mean you are fighting something different as your character improves, and makes you feel like you are constantly making progress, but if you make poor levelling choices it can make the game quite a bit more difficult.
Travelling across Cyrodiil can be done in three ways: on foot, by horse and fast travelling. On foot is of course the slowest, but it allows you to explore the wondrously complex countryside the easiest and fight the various creatures and denizens which are roaming the wilderness. After purchasing a horse, you can use it to ride across the plains and through the forests in a shorter time. However, you must dismount in order to fight anything. Finally, fast travelling takes merely seconds in real time, but adjusts the game clock to give an estimate of the time it would have taken you to travel the distance. You will tend to rely on fast travel quite a bit, because many quests will ask for journeys across the province that could take hours in real time, allowing for the fighting and other distractions. However, you cannot fast travel to all locations from the get go: you must discover them first. What will astound you is just how huge and detailed Cyrodiil is. There are so many places, even minor unmarked ones, that it would probably take literally days of constant play to explore each individually. An excess of caves and ancient Ayleid ruins scatter the landscape, interspersed between crumbling forts and makeshift encampments, each with loot ripe for plundering, and enemies destined to be vanquished. Few other games have ever presented such a detailed and visceral world to plunge yourself into. The game is also staggeringly beautiful to look at, with realistic lighting, character motion and some mesmerizingly striking skies and landscape vistas which are just entrancing. A minor aspect which encourages immersion is the inclusion of readable books. Any of the many books lying in people's homes, arranged on bookshelves or on display in shops can be picked up and read, providing interesting snippets of back story which would otherwise be missed.
There are one or two relatively minor issues with the game. The excess of individual characters have a slight drawback in that although the characters are all fully voiced and each has several unique lines such as an introduction and some other remarks; in order to save on costs, almost all characters make use of the same small group of voice actors. The exceptions to this are main some quest characters who are voiced by Patrick Stewart, Sean Bean and Terence Stamp respectively, and who are all good in their own right. The practical upshot of this is that many characters sound identical, which can be slightly irritating. They also tend to have rather circular conversations when left to their own devices, such as constantly discussing how foul Mud Crabs are. Most of the other issues you will encounter will either be hiccups with game scripting, issues with geometry and landscape, or bugs with the AI (such as incredibly effective city guards, who can be aware of your crimes even if they were not witnessed). However, most of these can be solved at your own leisure by making use of the many unofficial patches and mods, which tweak the gameplay to cater for every whim. Whilst it would have been better if they had been solved by official patches, the community have delivered appropriately instead. The only other minor qualm I have is that the Game of the Year Edition did not include all of the DLC plug-ins, which must still be purchased separately. However, you will only lament this fact after thoroughly exhausting everything else the game has to offer, which will take quite a while.
To sum up, it has to be said that Oblivion has almost a ridiculous amount of content for you to enjoy. There are reams of treasure to acquire, properties to purchase and characters to meet, coupled in with a bevy of quests which will occupy you for many hours. To top it off, it all looks so beautiful, as well as playing smoothly and proficiently. There are few other game worlds which are so detailed and engrossing, yet The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion never feels heavy-handed. This is truly a massively single-player role-playing game, and I certainly love it for it.