No game encapsulates the wildly different ways gamers can look at a game quite like Oblivion; when it was released, there were plenty of those who saw it as a downgrade from Morrowind, while you had gamers such as myself who, having relatively little gaming experience at the time, ate it up like it was the greatest thing ever released. Having played legitimately good games since, going back to this game felt a bit like taking a power tool to the forehead. That being said, it’s still better than Skyrim.
But not by much. Everything that this game does is annoying, from the annoying fonts to the annoying facial animations that are far too exaggerated for their own good, and a million other little things that detract from the fun of the game. I’ll start from the beginning: The first thing you do is escape from prison. Kind of. Actually, it’s more like the emperor lets you out as an accident, or coincidence, or whatever, and you’re escaping with him. This whole section works for what it is, but it does feel unnecessarily long. Once you make your way outside, however, things get much better. For a moment, at least.
The first thing you see is a lake and a pier and lots of colors. That’s one thing about Oblivion: It’s really pretty. There are low-quality textures here and there, but this is something that even Skyrim is guilty of, and unlike Skyrim, there are many colorful areas to contrast the areas that aren’t. For each snowy white expanse you’re forced to go through, there’s an area full of colorful trees to be found.
The problem lies with virtually everything else. Quests are meaningless, the plot of both main quests and sidequests being nearly nonexistent, and after awhile you can’t help but sigh and quit playing over the futility of it all. What are you working toward? Nothing, really. There’s no epic plot development, just a main story that pretends to be epic while forcing you to go through a number of shallow quests. This seems to be Bethesda’s signature, really, and it’s not a fault of the way the game is designed; Fallout: New Vegas was an excellent game in this regard. There’s no excuse for such a poor plot. How developers can continually create games that lack reasons to go forward is beyond my understanding.
The only reason to do certain sidequests at all is to gain some strong items, but the game is so easy to begin with that it’s completely unnecessary. It’s hard to even recommended doing sidequests, because they usually turn into boring Fedex quests where you have to go to X spot and pick up Y item. I went through the “Dark Brotherhood” sidequests before I realized that joining an organization of shadowy assassins had, in actuality, led to a series of fetch quests that just happened to end in murder. I went through the Thieves’ Guild sidequests, as well, and again, it turned into a series of fetch quests. Not only that, but it inexplicably broke, making the entire thing impossible to complete. I still don’t know why. All of the quests in this game are like this, boring and occasionally buggy.
The art design may be a high point, the weapons and areas being much more creative than those in Skyrim, but there’s one area where the game is woefully inadequate: Character faces. Seriously, they’re awful, blotchy, ugly messes that seem to glitch out in any kind of lighting more often than not, even on consoles. Example:
Yeah. It’s bad. If you can look past faces, then this game is undeniably pretty, easily capable of standing up to the visual bland-fest that is Skyrim, but if not… this probably isn’t your game.
Music is good for the most part, though it really doesn’t stand out. It’s the kind of background orchestral music that seems to be designed not to stand out, though, so that may be by design. It doesn’t really add or detract from the game, either way.
It’s strange coming back to this game with more experience and seeing the complete difference in my opinion toward it. There are simply too many good games that raised the bar for me, but there was a time when I adored the “open” feeling of Oblivion. It only feels open until you play a game where your choices matter, however, at which point you realize that it’s really just comprised of a bunch of linear quests that offer the illusion of openness. You’re rarely allowed to make real decisions in the game, and the few times it happens, they fail to impact the world, quickly becoming trivialized and rendering all the work you did up to that point meaningless. The only thing you can really do is go forward, but there’s no impetus to do so since it’s obvious that nothing you do will ever have any impact. Oh well. At least it’s better than Skyrim.
Here’s what you should do: