So, as I may have mentioned, I got Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion recently, and I’ve been playing it on a regular basis. They really put a nice game together there, and it’s really a combination of three different genres.
First and foremost, it’s a swords and sorcery role-playing game (single-player). You crawl through dungeons, kill monsters and villains, collect loot, sell your swag to merchants, outfit yourself with weapons, armor, and spells, gain levels, and improve your skills and powers. I’ve only played one online RPG, City of Heroes, and while I thought it was a good game I just didn’t last very long with it. Having to adventure with other people can be fun, but also frustrating. It’s great if your friends are available, less-so if you have to adventure with strangers. Also, I’m not a fan of the third-person perspective combat in CoH, the sort of “click the button to attack and the computer decides if you hit or not” combat systems common to MMORPGs. Which is why Oblivion is so great:
The combat is of the first-person shooter ilk. You have to aim, block, and dodge in combat. If you want to hit someone with a fireball, you have to, you know, hit them with a fireball. You can block with your shield or a weapon, and your enemy can do the same. And since it’s first-person, it can be very harrowing and intense, the way combat should be. Waiting for your opponent to lower his guard or make a foolish move, falling back to heal yourself or cast a spell, engaging him at range with a bow or up close with a sword… it’s just good stuff.
Finally, Oblivion is also somewhat of a sandbox game, like Grand Theft Auto. There’s a main quest and storyline, but you don’t have to rush into it. In fact, I’ve done very little of it, because there’s so much else to do in Oblivion. There are a number of cities, towns, ruins, and caves to explore on the sprawling Oblivion map, and tons of NPCs to send you on side-quests (which you also don’t have to do). You can do whatever you want. Feel like being bad? Steal a horse, break into someone’s house and grab what you want, pick someone’s pocket, or join the Thieves Guild and get various assignments to loot and rob. If you kill someone, you might get an invitation to join the Assassin’s Guild and become a medieval hitman.
(Breaking the law by stealing or killing doesn’t sit well with the city guard, so you may be caught and arrested — though you can flee or fight them, too. If you get thrown in jail you can do your time, or try breaking out. Unfortunately, you can’t ride your horse into a spray shop to avoid capture.)
Become a gladiator by visiting the arena and earn gold by fighting a host of other brawlers. If you like spellcasting, you can join the Mage’s Guild, and if you prefer an axe or two-handed sword, then sign up with the Fighter’s Guild. You can even become a vampire and skulk around, feeding off innocents in the dead of night.
Or, don’t do any of that. Go exploring and clear out some ruins, spend a couple hours gathering ingredients, make potions from them, and sell them for cash. Heck, spend an evening hunting deer in the woods if that’s your thing. And don’t worry about getting distracted during one of your quests; you can always come back to it later.
You can find people who will train you to improve your various skills, but just doing things on your own will make you better at whatever you’re doing. Shoot at deer for a while with your bow, and you’ll improve your marksmanship. Sell stuff to a merchant, and your mercantile skills will go up. Last night, I noticed my fighter had no skill points in unarmed combat, so I ran into the woods and punched a bunch of wolves to death. Now I’m better at punching wolves to death. Just like in real life.
The game also progresses alongside you, apparently. If you’re low-level, you’ll generally find low-level baddies to fight wherever you go, and as you gain levels, the enemies will get harder across the board. This means, basically, that there are very few restrictions on where you can go or what you can do, even when you’re just starting out, and you don’t have to “unlock” sections of the map. Don’t get me wrong, there are still quests you shouldn’t attempt when you’re just a beginner (for example, don’t try to begin the main quest until you’ve beefed up a bit), but generally you can dive in just about anywhere, at any point, even when you’re still wet behind the ears.
Since I mainly play linear FPS games, it’s really refreshing to have so much freedom. Sometimes I don’t even know what I feel like doing on a given night, because there are so many choices, but just talking to a few NPCs usually dredges up a mission or two to get me rolling, and those missions will lead me to other diversions.
Speaking of NPCs, they’re a little weak in the game. Their AI isn’t great, and most of them are fairly boring unless you’re on a specific quest involving them. They have pretty stupid conversations with each other, and sometimes you’ll walk into an inn and there will be five NPCs walking around in circles, climbing over tables, and bumping into each other. Other negatives, for me, is that the game doesn’t run terribly smoothly and doesn’t look terribly beautiful, but that’s probably just my lame computer. It also doesn’t autosave enough for my liking, which means a lot of repeated gameplay when I die and forget to save my progress on my own.
Anyway, I’m definitely enjoying it, though I suspect I won’t finish the game, like I never finished the Grand Theft Auto games. I tend to reach a point where I’ve a lot of cool stuff but just don’t feel like completing all the missions. The nice thing, though, is that I can revisit it when I’m in the mood for some hack-and-slashery, or start over with a new character, a new race, and a new class, and have a completely different adventure.