TweetSo it seems all is great in the Elder Scrolls world. Well, not quite. There are a couple of things that could have been better. Firstly and rather disappointingly is the highly vaunted Radiant AI. This is supposed to provide a way for NPCs to have tasks and roles so they go about doing their business on a day to day basis. So someone might decide to go to the market to purchase something, and then head for the Inn for a beverage. All of this is to make the world (and in particular the towns and cities) more believable and give people more purpose rather than just standing around waiting for you to go up to them, or wandering around in a continuous circle not really doing a lot. In some ways this works well, Cities certainly have more life about them, and you dont often see someone standing aimlessly. However, it all falls down when it comes to the conversations. The talk between NPCs is far from free flowing with sentences often more like statements and often not even following on from one another in an intelligible way. While NPCs will pick up on events that have happened around Cyrodiil you will often hear the same statements being repeated again and again about each event. This does cut slightly through the whole veil of believability created so beautifully in other areas of the game, however, you can forgive all this for when you speak to an NPC the voice acting is excellent, and a lot of time and care has gone into this and the lip syncing. Player interaction with NPCs is on the whole very good.
Other irritations in the game include the frustrating and rather nonsensical mini game for speech craft whereby you can change a characters disposition towards you. This seems rather clunky in its implementation, and Im sure that while the idea is good it could be better implemented. Lock picking can also be another frustrating exercise. You can go through your whole inventory of lock picks before being successful. There is an auto resolve, which is determined towards your lock picking skills, but I tried this once and used 23 lock picks without success, and then reloaded and went and did it myself on the same door using just 3! In the end I often found myself saving just before picking a lock, and reloading if I failed in the endeavour, particularly if I only had one or 2 picks in my inventory.
These though are minor niggles that you will completely forget about once you are fully immersed in the world of Cyrodiil except in very occasional situations. The game as a whole is so absorbing with an abundance of variety and dynamic game play.
Sound, Graphics and Performance
As it's the first thing you will come across, let me start with the Music. The music as you enter the game is absolutely fantastic. A heart swelling original composition especially for Oblivion, it really gives a cinematic feel to the game. Over all the whole musical score is great, with it changing according to the mood of the game. One small criticism is that some of the themes are repeated a little too often, although they are extremely good in themselves. As for sound, well, in the thick woods with a 5.1 surround system the world comes alive, as trees rustle in the wind, and birds flutter and sing around you. Arrows suitably whistle through the air and swords jarringly clang against the steel of your opponents shield. It really does add to the immersion of the game brought to you by the visuals.
While we are on the subject, the graphics in Oblivion are jaw dropping and probably the best we have seen in a game yet. There are various different types of environments that have their own characteristics. The forests are full of life, with trees swaying in the wind, and grass that is truly deep and 'real'. Butterflies flutter around you, as Deer leap out of your way, and Wolves prey for the scent of their next meal. It truly is life like and rendered in amazing beauty. The insides of caves and mines show off the excellent texturing and lighting effects. While inside cottages you get a feeling of real warmth. Watching the sun go down over Cyrodiil is truly a sight to see, as the water ripples and light bounces off its surface. The physics engine is also rather capable. Everything moves and reacts as you would expect. Fire an arrow at a wooden sign and it will rock violently, you can knock objects over, although strangely you can't break or shatter them which is a minor disappointment. Brought together this is one of the most powerful graphical experiences available to date.
To generate such stunning visuals all the latest tech is used, including HDR rendering which looks fabulous not only offering bloom type effect, but a lot more subtle lighting effects, such as against NPCs faces, or the way that light reflects with different types of surfaces. Compare a stone wall with and without HDR for example, and it will look rather flat without it.
There are some issues with the engine though. Firstly is the horrendous LOD issue with distance landscaping causing textures on rolling hills in the background to look extremely poor indeed. Also there is a fair amount of pop-up as new areas load around you. You will often be seeing trees, stones even buildings on occasion pop up in the mid ground. Its a shame about this as its otherwise a stunning visual feast of an engine.
However, as is the case with previous chapters in the Elder scrolls series the game as been opened up to modders and you can find you own fix to these issues. For example I would highly recommend you use Shajas LOD Texture Replacement mod, available HERE which does an excellent job of clearing up the LOD issues I mentioned above, and makes the game look remarkably better as a result. The other mod to lookup is Loreths LOD Normal Map replacement, which has a massive impact on distance shadowing on Hill Sides for example and you can grab HERE. Both of these combined remove one of the major issues with the game engine credit to these two for providing a solution, and shame on Bethesda on not having it as part of the original game. This is especially bad as it seems to have little impact on performance.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Cyrodiil is a dangerous place, enter it with caution as it is in a dimension all of its own, where 5 hours seems like 10 minutes and an unexpected adventure lies around every corner. Each of these adventures is so compelling as to deprive you of the comfort of your own bed, offering some new interest. Whats more, the freedom of this game is staggering. Go buy and sell, do a few quests, some treasure hunting in one of the many caves or mines, explore the wonders of the land. The list goes on, and thats before you even touch on the main quest.
A hint at just how expansive this game is appears at the beginning with the fantastic character creation tools. I must have spent over half an hour or more playing around with every conceivable detail of my characters appearance and Im sure many others could spend far longer. It is also here that the story begins. With you, as seems to be traditional in Elderscrolls games, starting your journey in a prison cell. As luck would have it, the Emperor happens to be passing through for reasons I wont divulge here, and releases you from your captive state.