This game is awful. It's a super-easy monotonous grind of identical quests and the most generic setting and characters you could imagine. The lack of imagination in this game is almost overwhelming. There is no freedom in this game. Oh, there's a vast uninteresting world to explore, you can do whatever quest you want in your own order. But we're not talking about freedom to do quests in whatever order you want, we're talking about real freedom to do whatever you want, which Oblivion severely lacks.
This game is not an RPG. Quests with only one possible outcome, stats having absolutely no use in combat, topical dialog, a derivative uninteresting plot, the most unimaginative setting and unlikeable characters pretty much sums it up.
You never get emotionally involved with anything in this game. I saved the world, I'm the Hero of Kvatch, I'm the Arena Champion, the leader of all factions, and yet people treat me like they've never seen me or like I'm the farmer next door. How rewarding. There is nothing special about this game. Can you play this game for 100 hours? Well, yes. But it depends on how much you value your sanity.
I actually spent a long time with this game leveling my character thinking the game would get better, but the game requires no skill and it even has level-scaling, which renders leveling completely useless. I guarantee you can complete the entire game along with all side quests as a fist-fighting, buttnaked sorcerer. Everything is unbalanced, nothing is in place. In addition the quest rewards are always coins or an item you have absolutely no use of because of the major fail (aka level scaling). There's no variety in armor or weapons and 98% of all potions and items are pointless and you never use them.
The game starts with you in prison, and then suddenly the emperor comes along with his guards entering a secret passage which happened to be in your cell. You move through the caves and introduce you to the different gameplay aspects and whatnot, and the game evaluates you and recommends your character's class depending on how you played.
All of these classes are completely useless. You can chose to start as your class of choice, and then start anew as an entirely different one and won't notice any difference, you'll still be doing the same thing. You can even become the leader of all factions, Mage's Guild, Thieves Guild, Fighter's Guild and the Dark Brotherhood guild without actually sneaking or doing any magic, because the majority of them is just "go there and kill that guy".
The game is big. A big turd. But no, really, the landscape is huge. One complaint however: every god damned thing looks the same. The game is boring to look at, boring to play, boring to listen to, and I'm embarrassed to own a legitimate copy of this piece of garbage. Does anyone think it's enjoyable walking around admiring the landscapes when there is nothing worth looking at? No, you all use fast travel.
If you want to get some information out of someone but has not yet acquired the appropriate amount of trust from the NPC, he will most likely flatout say he doesn't like you enough. Here you can start with a confusing minigame trying to tell jokes and charm you're way to gain his trust. And honestly, I have no freaking clue how this works. All the times I just gave him some gold and then 5 seconds later after hating me he says "Yeah, okay, I like you, I'll give you the top secret information". You'll be stinking rich anyway so I don't see how anyone could have the patience.
The story (if you can call it that) is weak and predictable. Demons from another dimension wants human kind dead. The Emperor is assassinated and apparently you're the chosen one. That's all there is to it.
In the beginning of the game you'll quickly enter one of many daedra portals leading to this other dimension which is appropriately evil and red. Go through a maze-like tower, deactivate it by acquiring an orb, and you're done. These can take to up to 30 minutes each since the layout of the rooms are extremely confusing. And there are one quest which I remember telling you to deactivate like 10 of these. There are dozens randomly scattered across the game world as well. They are so repetitive and there's no benefit for destroying them, so why you'd want to go around closing them is beyond me. Well, "no benefit", you get an orb you can attach to your already overpowered sword, which makes the game even easier.
All the quests consist of the usual MMO-type affair, kill 10 pigs, skin 10 bears, save people, talk to people, kill people, deliver letters, explore stuff. Not alot of distinct quests but there are a few. Like the one where you enter some other guys dream and have to take 3-4 trials to free him. And the one where you save the guy trapped in his own painting. I like that, but there are so few of them, and they NEVER have more than one outcome, and I hate that.
The combat system doesn't make the game any better either, it's actually pretty horrible. It consists of swing, block and swing harder. The hit detection is absolutely abysmal and if you have a friendly NPC with you there's no telling if you hit them or not. The sword just swaps past the screen and you can barely indicate any damage inflicted on your enemy. The stealth mechanics are awful too.
The AI is absolutely laughable, Bethesda spent alot of time hyping this supposedly revolutionary Radiant AI. The end result is some kind of cruel joke. NPC's walk around, but they do absolutely nothing noteworthy. It's like they have no lives at all. All there is to it is unnatural, robotic conversations between two NPC's spouting random incoherent lines at eachother about mudcrabs. Then I saw some people stare into a wall for 5 hours. I sat in a tavern watching the AI, I followed one specific NPC just to see what he would do. He sat at a table, turn his head towards me and greeted me, got up, talked to someone else about mudcrabs, both NPC's turned their heads towards me and greeted me at the same time, he went back to his table and sat down... He greets me yet again even though he did like half a minute ago. He gets up, and talks to someone else about something completely irrelevant, they both greet me, he gets back to his table, sits down, stares, and then greets me again.
You lift anything, and the shopkeeper goes insane and starts yelling for help, and then a magical guard he rubbed out of his magic lamp warps to your location and will fine you or throw you in jail. FOR LIFTING SOMETHING.
Also, if you're a thief-like character and start lockpicking a door, go inside and steal some stuff to sell to your fence, go outside, sometimes a guard will arrest you, even when he wasn't anywhere near the area of where you broke in. Not to mention the stuff you steal can't be sold to anyone because they must have some sort of telepathic abilities because other shopkeepers on the other side of the world just happens to know those particular items you have on you are stolen.
If you hit someone, he will hit back, but if you say sorry he'll just accept it. You can even knock some guys unconscious 500 times and just say you're sorry and he'll leave you alone. You can even try to kill the freaking Emperor and just say you're sorry and he'll let you go. It makes no sense. After the emperor and his guards came along through the secret path in my cell I began punching one of the guards, and he said "You're lucky I like you". We just met and he likes me already.
Are people in Cyrodill mentally retarded? What the hell happened here? And if that wasn't bad enough, I was sneaking in a cave full of bandits, saw two of them sitting by a fire, ambushed one of them, and the other one doesn't notice, he just sits there like nothing ever happened looking at his dead buddy in his own pool of blood. No, that wouldn't concern me either.
All the characters in the game world are completely unlikable and not one of them has any distinct charm. They all sound the same because there are only like 5 different voice actors in the entire game, covering 1,500 NPC's. They can also magically change their voice when asking them different things. And sometimes the voiceovers even have outtakes the game developers obviously missed. The voice acting is not bad, it's just repetitive and feels flat. Because the only notable voices are Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean who both deliver dull and boring performances. The lip sync is mostly accurate but on some occasions it goes completely off board. The weird head bob they do when they talk also gets annoying after a while.
The graphics are actually kind of ugly in some spots. The characters look like apes in clothes, animals and creatures look like plastic and the character creation sucks so bad. You can spend 2 hours on that thing and your character won't even look decent. The facial hair looks like some sort of skin-disease. The animations are stiff and robotic, sometimes the eyes on dead bodies still blink, and the lighting is way off. I'm in a pitch dark cave but my sword is still reflecting light. How?
And the game just doesn't feel very realistic whether you're playing in first or third person. You just feel like a camera sorta floating around. Other than that the game's graphics are in general pretty good.
The soundtrack is pretty damn boring, you never get a kick out of anything, not even the battle music. The other music is derivative and uninspired that's just boring to listen to. Jeremy Soule is not a musical genious, get your ears checked.
And how rewarding is it to go through a huge cave with monsters scaled down to your level, throwing any remote challenge out the window, getting to the last chest after half an hour to be rewarded with a pair of leather boots, a couple of coins, a fork and a carrot?!
So now to the real issue hear. Roleplaying. This is where Oblivion fails the hardest. If Oblivion was so damn good, it wouldn't need 80 user made mods to make it an at least decent RPG, one which is called "Choices and Consequences". And it wouldn't need a guide telling you how to pretend you're playing a roleplaying game. Yes, it exists. Bethesda has a good track record of dumbing down each sequel in their own ways and alienating their current fanbase. Fans of Daggerfall were alienated by Morrowind, and fans of Morrowind were alienated by Oblivion. And now, *sigh*, Fallout fans are alienated by Fallout 3. Oh yes, God forbid if they actually stayed true to the formula and didn't rape the story and setting. What have we seen so far of Fallout 3? Let's recap shall we?
Supermutants, Enclave and Jet somehow teleporting to the East Coast. Supermutants were weakened and scattered and most of them ultimately non-hostile when The Master was killed at the end of Fallout 1. The Enclave oil rig base was destroyed by a nuke at the end of Fallout 2. The secrets of Jet died with Myron. But why stop there? Let's put some portable nuke launchers, exploding cars, drinking out of hundreds of years old toilets and some killer teddybears in there. And let's make ghouls mindless leaping at immense speed, zapping lazorz and getting healed by radiation zombies, completely forgetting they are still human and that it was radiation that made them that way in the first place. So now they are healed by radiation. Perfectly feasible. But we're not done yet. Let's make it into a shooter. Oh yes, Oblivion was so successful they had to put their "innuvatuv immershun hands" on the game and make it a FPS. And for s***s and giggles a bullet-time mode called VATS and an immortal dog named Dogmeat as a pathetic attempt to please fans. Let's get rid of the atmospheric ambient music by Mark Morgan (there is no real reason given as to why they didn't hire him) and make it an epic orchestra. Because everyone knows it fits so well in a postapocalyptic Oblivion. So ultimately it boils down to this: Bethesda bought the Fallout license to market it to consolites and casual gamers, and make Oblivion 2.
So long before E3 and when barely any info had been released, Bethesda PROMISED us, than in fact, Fallout 3 was not Oblivion with Guns. What did we get? Exactly what we feared. Oblivion with Guns with bullet-time, level scaling, ugly plastic character models and ugly low-res textures with too much HDR.
What the hell were they thinking? It's like they didn't even attempt.
With having said all that, you should've gathered at some point in this knowingly hateful review that I absolutely hate Oblivion. I don't hate FPS games, I hate Bethesda. The gaming media has become more of a business than ever. Buying good reviews, PR lies (or clever marketing) and overhyped, mediocre titles topping the sale charts (GTA4, Halo 3, Assassin's Creed). To quote Yahtzee "These days a game's considered original if the gritty well armored soldier protagonist has a mustache".
In short for tl;dr-ers.
Badly designed quests
Tedious and slow menus
Easy to recommend to 10-year olds.