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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Preview By: Jared Black
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / 2K
Genre: RPG
ESRB: Mature
# Of Players: 1
Online Play: No
Accessories: HDTV 480p, 720p
Estimated Release: 03/20/2007

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It’s quite possible, and I’d go so far as to even say likely, that the best game for the PlayStation 3 at launch will be a port of a game released eight months ago. While it probably won’t sell a lot of PS3 consoles, especially since its “exclusive” content will be released for Xbox 360 and PC as well, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion will almost assuredly the best RPG in the history of console launches.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, on Mars, screaming “LALALALALA” and closing your eyes to block out all forms of communication for the past several years, you probably don’t need an introduction to this game. For you Martian xenophobes that are just now getting up the courage to visit Earthling websites, here’s a brief summary. Basically, the Elder Scrolls series nailed that whole “sandbox gaming” thing long before Grand Theft Auto 3 gang-banged its way into millions of PS2 owners’ homes, only it does it in a fantastical RPG setting. Although there is a central storyline in each game, the real fun lies in exploring each game’s world, completing quests, meeting up with dozens of NPCs, joining various factions, and eventually forging your own destiny. In fact, the storyline doesn’t even have to be followed at all if you don’t want to do it, as the opening of my review attests (as an aside I’m now at 147 hours and counting…and I haven’t bought an optional download yet!).

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Many complained that the second game in the series, Daggerfall, actually had a world that was too large and generic at roughly 160,000 square miles (twice the size of Great Britain). Beginning with Morrowind, the team began to shrink the world, allowing them to better focus on developing what was already there. The result was still a huge world, only packed full of interesting NPCs, quests, and still over 100 hours of gameplay. Oblivion continues that trend, and the result is the most interesting gameplay world in the series yet.

The basic storyline in the main plot of Oblivion, and indeed the game proper, begins with the death of the Emperor, Uriel Septim VII. At the beginning of the game the player is imprisoned for unknown reasons, but is soon released when the Emperor uses an escape tunnel located in the very same cell the player’s trapped in. As the group makes its way through the sewers under the Imperial City, creepy cultists eventually assassinate the Emperor. Before he dies however, he entrusts the player with the Amulet of Kings, which in the right hands can be used to stem the tide of the daedra (think nasty, demonic beasts) invading the land.  Eventually, this leads the player on a long journey to find the Emperor’s true heir, while fighting back those legions of daedra at the same time.

There’s a lot more to the story of course, but I won’t ruin it for those of you waiting for the PS3 version. I will say however that I found Oblivion’s storyline to be much more focused than Morrowind’s was, with a better sense of direction and pacing aside from a long and tedious quest towards the latter third of the main storyline. The game never leaves you virtually directionless like Morrowind tended to do, particularly since one of this game’s improvements is a comprehensive quest log and map that always points you in the right direction.

Even though the game will be largely unchanged from the previous Xbox 360 and PC versions, PS3 owners will get one bonus in the form of the included Knights of the Nine expansion. It will be included free of charge on the PS3 game’s Blu-ray disc, while Xbox 360 & PC owners will have to buy it online (or at retail in a box also including all add-ons previously released for download). Knights of the Nine brings an all-new faction to the game, including quests to be undertaken by “noble” characters. Players will be able to join the faction and found their own order of holy knights, all while discovering the answers to many of the questions surrounding the ancient Ayleid ruins scattered throughout the game world. Estimates have placed this new expansion’s length at 20-25 hours, as if the game needed any more, and it should prove a nice bonus for owners of the PS3 version of the game.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Really, the only question surrounding The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on PS3 at this point is how well the game will be ported. Graphically, we’ve heard rumblings that it looks a little better on PS3 than Xbox 360, but that’s always a subjective argument and various facets of the game may perform differently. The screenshots don’t appear to be all that different, aside from the new content in the Knights of the Nine expansion of course. Personally I’m hoping that the loading issues (particularly out in the open field) are at least partially resolved, as chunks of landscape loading before the player’s eyes marred what was otherwise a beautiful and inspired game world. Even if it’s a straight port however, it’s still guaranteed to be one of the best looking games at launch. Also as far as the port is concerned, the game will not make use of the Sixaxis’ motion technology, but that’s probably for the best since it doesn’t seem well suited to it anyway.

If everything comes together as it should, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion will be a no-brainer purchase for any PS3 owner that hasn’t already purchased it on another platform, and sees value in 100+ hours of one of the best RPGs in years.

Posted: 2006-10-28 16:04:06 PST