STOCKPILE: OBLIVION - 10 YEARS LATER

Friday March 24th 2006. The week leading up to this fateful day was probably the most hyped I have ever been, and ever will be, for a single game. I got home from school to find my copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, lying on my doormat. Fortunately this was well before the days of hour-long installs and updates, so I was into the game immediately. First impressions weren't that great, you started off in a grimy prison as you do in most Elder Scrolls games, but fortunately I had Patrick Stewart's Shakespearean tones to reassure me things were on the right track. After a short romp through the rat-infested sewers I was greeted with one of the most inspiring moments of the last console-generation as all my fears were laid to rest - I emerged out of the drain at the sewer's end to a beautiful vista, strikingly bright sunlight, a rippling lake below and some ruins looming in the distance.  

This was the start of a ten year journey I am only now reaching the end of. In truth, it began even earlier, as I previewed The Elder Scrolls' fourth instalment for TGSN.co.uk, which our current editor JT also presided over, controversially giving it a 'pre-score' of 9.6-10. What was I thinking?! The concept of predicting review scores so far in advance seems ludicrous now and various forums lambasted us at the time for doing so. What was I thinking? Well the game ended up with a metacritic of 94/100, so I was pretty damn close (suck on that, Internet). For me, Oblivion was the highlight of that entire console generation and when we were researching that preview it seemed impossible to me that it would not reach the heights that it did. It just had an aura about it. It was polished to a level that such huge RPGs never were - and it was the first of its kind to find release on console (an action-orientated role player). We had Morrowind on the original Xbox but it wasn't anywhere near as approachable for newcomers to pick up and play.


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BY MIKE HAZLETON - 01/06/16

[I feel like Oblivion has aged exceptionally well. It doesn’t have distracting  Perfect Dark sheen that plagued early lifecycle games from last gen. It has superb glow. All the glow. - Ed].

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So why are we back talking about this after ten years, when countless developers have come and gone, the Xbox 360 has finished its final production run, and in which time my girlfriend has completed Skyrim three time and amassed over 350 hours of play? As well as merely celebrating ten years since Oblivion launched, I have a confession to make. I still haven't finished it. This incredible game that I destroyed my credibility over for the sake of a hype-laden preview, that I have already wasted your time waxing lyrical over - I have never finished it. Every year I have put in around 8-10 hours exploring Cyrodil, completing quests, finding new adventures, getting stuck, and then forgetting about it. I have played well over 100 hours. Incredibly, for such a huge, complex game, I have had no problem dropping in to catch up with old friends (NPCs that say the same thing every time you talk to them), continuing unfinished quests that I last touched 6 months ago, but most of all feeling completely, unashamedly at home in the game's world like I have in no other.

When you compare Oblivion and Skyrim it beggars belief how far the graphical fidelity of games progressed in the years between their release. I have played a few hours of Skyrim and many would argue it is a finer game than Oblivion - I cannot argue with the fact that it is a stunning improvement in the visual department. Oblivion has repetitive textures over large distances, but still it has its charm. And I always came back to Cyrodil, while Skyrim has (so far) failed to lure me in. I am now tantalisingly close to finishing Oblivion's main quest, and have maxed out all the guilds - but have that old reluctance with not wanting a good thing to come to an end. There is some hefty DLC on offer for me to experience, and no doubt I will (over the course of the following 5 years perhaps).




I have devoted less and less time to mainstream gaming over the past few years. But Oblivion has always held me in its clutches. I have forsaken huge, modern releases (including Skyrim) to return to Oblivion. I think I prefer the game world. Oblivion has some terrifying events going on, but until you near an Oblivion gate and the world turns fiery and hellish, it is a beautiful, idyllic countryside almost lifted from a British holiday brochure (but with a few extra minotaurs and trolls). There are some genuinely charming characters, even with their stilted dialogue and the hilarious charm wheel mini-game that rendered everyone a stationary bystander while you silently told jokes and complimented them. It must be five years (at least) since my character became Grand Champion of the Imperial City Arena - and yet, I feel like I still want to tell everyone about it. Even random people who have never even played it, when they are talking to me about how high you can jump or fly or whatever you can do now in Call of Duty. Perhaps it's because for the past five years (at least), I have had carbon-copy Adoring Fans following me on my adventures through the game (and being killed in the process), reminding me at every turn that I am the greatest fighter the kingdom has ever seen.

I set myself a target a few months ago when I realised Oblivion's ten year anniversary was coming up - to complete the game by March 24th. I failed. And in many ways I'm glad I did. My love affair with Cyrodil should never end. Perhaps one day I will move on to Skyrim. Maybe in another ten years I will be writing a piece on how I have yet to finish that too. But deep down, I hope I find the time to continue to visit Cyrodil, to keep my character's houses up to scratch, to pick some more Nirnroot for his alchemist contact, and to make sure his adoring fan has someone to adore. It should be a world I dip into and look forward to visiting - but not on multiple playthroughs with different characters. My original character is the hero, no others!  As another Patrick Stewart character once said: 'Time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again'. Unlike life, we can play games over and over until one playthrough is no different to any other, which makes it something that is taken for granted, not cherished. So I will not start Oblivion again. I will keep going with my character, making it more meaningful to me than most games tend to be. Oblivion has shaped the last ten years of my life with the experiences, stories, challenges and adventures I have been on. It is something I have cherished and will continue to do so as my character slowly gets around to saving the world.

[Well that looks inviting. You’d think the cave owners would have the decency to mop up their skulls!  I tell you, standards and practices will be hearing from me post haste. - Ed]

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