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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a single player fantasy-themed action-oriented computer role-playing game developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks and the Take-Two Interactive subsidiary 2K Games. It is the fourth installment in The Elder Scrolls video game series. It was released on March 21, 2006 for Windows PCs and the Xbox 360. A PlayStation 3 release was shipped on March 20, 2007 in North America, and April 27, 2007 in Europe. One expansion pack, Shivering Isles, and a number of minor content releases followed.

Oblivion's story focuses on a former prisoner drawn into a Daedric Lord's plan to invade the mortal realm of Tamriel. Gates to the hellish realm of Oblivion are opened, through which many daedra flow. The game continues the open-ended tradition of previous Elder Scrolls games, allowing the player to travel anywhere in the game world at any time, including the option to ignore or postpone the main storyline indefinitely. Developers opted for a tighter pacing and greater focus than past titles, a design choice that was well-received in the gaming press. The game was well-received by critics, winning numerous awards and scoring an average of 94% in Metacritic's aggregate. Oblivion sold 17 million copies by April 10, 2006, and over 43 million copies by January 18, 2007. A package including both Shivering Isles and the official plug-in Knights of the Nine, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Game of the Year Edition, was released in Fall 2007 for Windows PCs, the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3.

Gameplay

Oblivion is a fantasy-based role-playing adventure game and an example of open-ended or sandbox gameplay. The main quest may be delayed or completely ignored as the player explores the expansive game worlds, following side quests, interacting with NPCs, and developing a character according to their taste. The player is free to go anywhere inside the land of Cyrodiil at any time while playing the game, and even after completing the main quest storyline the game never ends, allowing the player to build their character in whatever way they want, with no restrictions on skills or equipment. The Windows version of the game is open to almost unrestricted modification, and there are hundreds of modifications available on the internet, varying from small weapon changes to complete game overhauls. The game contains many enemies for the player to fight, including monsters and animals. Many enemies, quests, and treasures are "leveled", or become increasingly difficult, as the player gains levels. The player, however, has the option of adjusting the difficulty level.

The fast-travel system found in Arena and Daggerfall, but left out of Morrowind, returned in Oblivion. In Oblivion, if a player visits a location, it appears as an icon on their map. The icon may then be clicked to visit that location, with time elapsing in the interim. However, the player cannot fast travel from certain locations or when enemies are nearby. Oblivion also reintroduced Daggerfall's ridable horses which were not included in Morrowind, while removing Morrowind's transportation options, such as Mages' Guild teleporters, silt striders and teleporting spells. The game also removed all levitation spells and items, as the cities in Oblivion are separate cells from the rest of the world and thus must be entered into, and exited from, the town gate to avoid glitches. Select non-player characters may enter and exit areas at will, and will do so quite often, following the Radiant AI's commands.

One major focus during Oblivion's development was rebalancing Morrowind's stealth, combat and magic skill sets. The skills system is similar to Morrowind's, though the number of skills is decreased, with the medium armor, unarmored, spear, and enchant skills removed altogether, with the short and long blade skills condensed into a single blade skill, the blunt and axe skills made into the blunt skill, and the ability to "forget" spells was removed. The game also introduced "mastery levels," which give skill-specific bonuses when the player reaches a certain level in that skill. The combat system was also revamped, with the addition of "power attacks", generally given by mastery levels, and the removal of the separate styles of melee attacks present in Morrowind. Ranged attacks were also changed, so that the determination of a hit is based solely on whether the arrow struck the target in-game, rather than the character's skill level. Spears, throwing weapons, and crossbows were removed as well, while staves no longer counted as weapons, but are only used for casting spells. The choice came from a desire to focus all development efforts in ranged weapons on bows specifically, to "get the feel of those as close to perfect as possible" as the Havok physics engine allowed the team to do. Morrowind's passive Block skill became an active feature in Oblivion, activated by a button press. When, in the new system, an enemy is successfully blocked, they now recoil, offering an opening for attack. The rebalanced skills were received well: GameSpot commended the strengths of the game in each area, finding the game's melee combat "faster and smoother" than Morrowind's, the game's stealth combat "at least as satisfying" as its melee combat, and was generally impressed at the breadth and ease of use of the game's spell-casting.

Plot

Although it is set after the previous Elder Scrolls games chronologically, the game is not a direct sequel to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind or any other game. Oblivion begins with the arrival of Emperor Uriel Septim VII (voiced by Patrick Stewart), accompanied by a troupe of Blades bodyguards, at the Imperial City prison, seeking to flee from a group of assassins—later revealed to be members of the Mythic Dawn—through a secret underground exit in the city sewers. By chance, the exit is located in the cell occupied by the protagonist. The Emperor frees the player as he believes that he saw the character in his dreams, and sets off into the catacombs as the protagonist follows. At the end of the catacombs, the group is ambushed, and quickly overwhelmed by assassins, which results in the protagonist taking on the task of guarding the Emperor while the surviving bodyguards engage the enemy. While awaiting the result, Uriel entrusts the protagonist with the Amulet of Kings, a special amulet that can only be worn by those of the Septim bloodline. He orders the player to take it to a man known as Jauffre. Immediately afterwards, an assassin ambushes and kills the emperor before he is, in turn, defeated. The sole surviving guard, Baurus, questions the protagonist, and explains that Jauffre is the Grandmaster of the Blades, and can be found at Weynon Priory. The character then has to face sewers and some minor opponents before proceeding to the open world of Cyrodiil.

As the game progresses, it is revealed that the prolonged lack of an Emperor has broken an old covenant, allowing multiple gates to Oblivion to open, and a Daedric invasion is to begin as a result. The only way to close down the gates permanently is to find someone of the Septim bloodline to retake the throne and re-light the Dragonfires in the Imperial City. Fortunately, it is also revealed that there is indeed still an heir to the Septim throne: an illegitimate son named Martin Septim (voiced by Sean Bean), who resides in Kvatch. However, the Daedra have Kvatch under siege. The leader of the surviving town guardsmen, Savilain Matius, says he saw Martin escape into the chapel, but he can't get into the city, as the Oblivion Gate is it front of the main city gate. The protagonist has to venture into the Planes of Oblivion and close down the gate. After having closed the gate and assisting Savilain Matius in a counter-attack, the protagonist arrives at the Kvatch chapel and persuades Martin to join him/her to travel back to Weynon Priory.

Upon arriving, the player finds that Weynon Priory is being raided by the Mythic Dawn and the Amulet of Kings has been stolen. Recovering from the attack, Jauffre orders the protagonist to escort himself and Martin to Cloud Ruler Temple, the stronghold of the Blades in the Jerall Mountains. At Cloud Ruler Temple, Martin is recognized as the Emperor and is given command of the Blades, and the protagonist is sent off in search of the Amulet. After gathering information with Baurus (the same Blade that was part of the Emperor's bodyguard), the protagonist is tasked with infiltrating the Mythic Dawn's headquarters at the Shrine of Mehrunes Dagon, an underground Daedric cult lair run by the Mythic Dawn, believing the Amulet to be held there. The Mythic Dawn's leader Mankar Camoran (voiced by Terence Stamp) escapes to his Paradise through a portal using a mystical book called the Mysterium Xarxes. The protagonist recovers this book and returns it to Martin, who deduces that the only way to recover the Amulet is to follow Camoran, and create a portal to the paradise as well. A "collect-the-pieces" plot begins, as the player must recover three key items that are necessary to recreate the portal. Martin states that the three things are "The blood of a divine" (Tiber Septim's armor, found at the fort "Sancre Tor", guarded by necromancer's magic and Four undead Blades warriors), the blood of a Daedra Lord (any daedric artifact acquired from the Daedra Shrines throughout the world), and a Great Welkynd Stone (found at the Ayleid ruin "Miscarcand" on the road between the city of Skingrad and Kvatch, and guarded by a Lich). Having acquired all three items, Martin reveals a final item that needs to be used in order to create the portal, a Great Sigil Stone used in a Great Gate to the Planes of Oblivion, similar to the one that devastated Kvatch. Martin and Jauffre hatch a plan that involves allowing Bruma to be attacked by the Daedra so that a Great Gate can be opened. The protagonist then must venture into the gate and obtain the Great Sigil Stone. Arriving on the battlefield of Bruma, Martin gives a moving speech before charging into battle against the Daedra. Many men are lost, but a Great Gate is finally opened. The protagonist enters and recovers the stone.

Upon returning to Cloud Ruler Temple, a portal is created and the protagonist ventures through, arriving at Camoran's paradise. After fighting through Camoran's men, the protagonist confronts him in his throne room, and, along with his son and daughter slays him in battle. Upon his death, the protagonist takes the Amulet from Camoran's neck, and sees Paradise evaporate around him. The protagonist returns the Amulet to Martin, and the Blades travel to the Imperial City intending to re-light the Dragonfires and end the Daedric invasion. However, the Daedra begin a desperate assault of their own and overrun the Imperial City. The protagonist and Martin fight their way to the Temple of the One, in the Imperial City Temple District, to find that a 200-foot tall beast is wreaking havoc in the city, revealed to be the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon himself. Martin fights his way into the Temple, and shatters the Amulet of Kings to merge himself with the spirit of Akatosh, the Dragon-God of Time, becoming his Avatar. He defeats Dagon in one final confrontation, then the Avatar turns to stone. The Amulet of Kings is destroyed, Martin disappears, the gates of Oblivion are shut forever, and the throne of the Empire again lies empty. A final monologue by Martin, describes this in an optimistic light, claiming that the future of Tamriel is now in the protagonist's hand. After the battle, Lord Chancellor Ocato of the Elder Council proclaims the protagonist Champion of Cyrodiil.

Environment

While designing Oblivion's landscape and architecture, developers worked from personal travel photographs, nature books, texture images, and reference photographs. Procedural content generation tools used in production allowed for the creation of realistic environments at much faster rates than was the case with Morrowind. Erosion algorithms incorporated in the landscape generation tools allowed for the creation of craggy terrain quickly and easily, replacing Morrowind's artificially smoothed-over terrain. Following the shift in the dominant focus of the Bethesda graphics team from water to flora, a number of technologies were enlisted to aid in the production of large and diverse forests. One such was IDV’s SpeedTree package, which allowed a single programmer to generate a complete and detailed tree model "in a manner of minutes" through the adjustment of set values.

Oblivion does not offer deformable terrain, although, like Morrowind, it does offer dynamic weather and time, shifting between snow, rain, fog, sunny skies, overcast skies, etc. Oblivion also makes more use of multi-level environments than did previous games, varying the topology to a greater extent than did Morrowind. The game's view distance was greatly increased over that of its predecessor, extending player sightlines to the horizon, offering views of distant towns and mountain ranges. According to a Microsoft press release, Oblivion's game world is approximately in size. Wilderness quests, ruins and random dungeons were added to fill the additional space. Content in the dungeons was packed to a high density compared to the available space, increasing the frequency of creature encounters, quest NPCs, and puzzles. The populations represented in Oblivion, however, do not match the numbers attested in previous in-game literature—populations of ‘thousands upon thousands'. The development team decided to set the NPC populations at a level that would play well, rather than one that would match game lore.

Oblivion, unlike previous series games, offers few loading screens or breaks in the action as the player travels through the game world. Only when moving from interior to exterior environments, or when fast-traveling, does the game pause to load. The gameworld of Oblivion is cordoned off at its edges by an invisible and impassable wall. In most places, the development team built this limit around a physical barrier, like a mountain, but as this was not always possible, whenever the player reaches the wall the screen displays a message stating that "You cannot go that way, turn back", and prevents the player further access. The player may still look into these regions, however, as the team still built in landscape several miles deep.

Development

The development of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion began in 2002, immediately after Morrowind's publication. Rumors of a sequel to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind began circulating June 2004; the sequel's title was identified on September 10, 2004, the date of Oblivion's official announcement. Oblivion was developed by Bethesda Softworks, and the initial Xbox 360 and personal computer (PC) releases were co-published by Bethesda and Take-Two Interactive subsidiary 2K Games. According to interviews with Bethesda staff, the publisher-developer relationship—one of the few independent relations in the industry—worked well, and Bethesda was not subject to excessive corporate guidance. Originally scheduled for a November 22, 2005 release, in tandem with the Xbox 360's launch, Oblivion was delayed to a March 21, 2006 release for Windows PCs and the Xbox 360. A PlayStation 3 version of Oblivion was released on March 20, 2007 in North America, and April 27, 2007 in Europe, following delays similar to those for the Xbox 360 release. The PlayStation 3 release was touted for its improvement over the graphics of the PC and Xbox 360 versions, although some of the improved shader routines optimized for the PlayStation 3 release were set to be ported over to the other releases through patches.

Developers working on Oblivion focused on providing a tighter storyline, with fewer filler quests and more developed characters. The developers sought to make information in the game world more accessible to players, making the game easier to pick up and play. Oblivion features improved AI (courtesy of Bethesda's proprietary Radiant AI), improved physics (courtesy of the Havok physics engine), and impressive graphics, taking advantage of advanced lighting and shader routines like high dynamic range rendering (HDR) and specular mapping. Bethesda developed and implemented procedural content creation tools in the creation of Oblivion's terrain, leading to landscapes that are more complex and realistic than those of past titles, with less of a drain on Bethesda's staff.

Audio

Oblivion features the voices of Patrick Stewart, Lynda Carter, Sean Bean, Terence Stamp, Ralph Cosham and Wes Johnson. The voice acting received mixed reviews in the game press. While many publications characterize its voice acting as excellent, others found fault with its repetitiveness, even while commending its general quality. The issue has been blamed on both the small number of voice actors and the blandness of the written dialogue itself. Lead Designer Ken Rolston found the plan to fully voice the game "less flexible, less apt for user projection of his own tone, more constrained for branching, and more trouble for production and disk real estate" than Morrowind's partially recorded dialogue. Rolston tempered his criticism with the suggestion that voice acting "can be a powerful expressive tool", and can contribute significantly to the charm and ambience of the game. Ultimately, his opinions were superseded. "I prefer Morrowind's partially recorded dialogue, for many reasons. But I'm told that fully-voiced dialogue is what the kids want.

Oblivion's soundtrack was created by Jeremy Soule, a video game composer whose past scores had earned him a BAFTA award in the "Game Music Category" and two nominations for an AIAS award for "Original Music Composition". Soule had worked with Bethesda and Howard back during the creation of Morrowind, and, in a press release announcing his return to composing for the series, Soule repeated the words he had said during Morrowind's press release: "The stunning, epic quality of The Elder Scrolls series is particularly compatible with the grand, orchestral style of music I enjoy composing the most. As in his compositions for Morrowind, Soule chose to create a soft and minimalist score so as not to wear out users' ears. Soule has stated that, while composing the music, he did not imagine any specific characters or events; rather, he wanted it "to comment on the human condition and the beauty of life." In a 2006 interview, he related that this desire came as a result of an unfortunate car accident that had occurred during his composition of the score. "I ended up rolling in my car several times on an interstate while flying headlong into oncoming traffic," he relates. "...I felt no fear.... I simply just acknowledged to myself that I've had a good life and I would soon have to say goodbye to all of it in a matter of seconds." Soule managed to leave the accident with only minor injuries, but the feeling he felt in those moments before the crash ended—"that life is indeed precious"—remained with him throughout the rest of the composition.

Reception

Reviews
Publication Score
Famitsu
38/40 (Platinum)
Game Informer
9.5/10 (Xbox 360), 9.5/10 (PS3)
GameSpot
9.3/10 (PC), 9.6/10 (Xbox 360), 9.5/10 (PS3)
GameSpy
4/5
IGN
9.3/10
PC Gamer US
95/100
Compilations of Multiple Reviews
Compiler Score
Game Rankings
94/100 (based on 102 reviews)
9.2 (average vote)
Metacritic
94/100 (based on 53 reviews)
Awards
Award Publications
Overall
Game of the Year
G4, Spike TV,
Golden Joystick awards, Shacknews
PC/Xbox 360
Game of the Year
GameSpy Gamer's Choice awards, IGN Reader's Choice,
Gamespot Reader's Choice, Interactive Achievement Awards,
360 Gamer Magazine
RPG of the Year
IGN, IGN Reader's Choice, G4
GameSpy, GameSpy Gamer's Choice awards,
GameSpot, Gamespot Readers Choice
Game Revolution, Interactive Achievement Awards
Editor's Choice
IGN, GameSpot,
PC Gamer US, PC Gamer UK

The reaction of reviewers to the English version of Oblivion was almost entirely positive. At Game Rankings, Oblivion holds an average review score of 94% for the Xbox 360, 93% for the PC, and 93% for the PlayStation 3 version, and holds the average vote of 9.2. In general, most reviewers praised the game for its immersiveness and scope, winning the game awards from various outlets. The television program X-Play, citing similar reasons, awarded the game a 5/5, with Eurogamer stating that the game "successfully unites some of the best elements of RPG, adventure and action games and fuses them into a relentlessly immersive and intoxicating whole". In Japan, game magazine Famitsu awarding it a 38/40, giving it their "Platinum award". GameSpot called the game "simply one of the best role-playing games ever".

PC Gamer UK did, however, criticize the repetitive and occasionally absurd nature of conversations between in-game NPCs, saying that it broke suspension of disbelief. OXM also said that the Xbox 360 version of the game suffered from occasional frame rate drops, though they were not as frequent as the Windows version, as well as longer loading times on a Core system which lacks a hard drive. Although the Xbox 360 version is slightly more favored by critics, many noted that when tested on a high-end system, graphics and performance on the PC were better than those of that console's version. Reviewers have also criticized the leveling system of Oblivion. The criticisms aimed towards this aspect include its clumsiness and the non-sensical major and minor skill leveling. Some reviewers also criticized the scaled leveling of the game. Critics also were unsatisfied because player's opponents were always as strong as the player is, giving the player a feeling that they do not get stronger.

However, despite these flaws, IGN stated that "none of those minor criticisms hold back Oblivion from being a thoroughly enjoyable, user-friendly, gorgeous experience with enough content to keep you returning time and time again", awarding it a score of 9.3.

In addition to the awards won by the game itself, Patrick Stewart's voice work as Uriel Septim won a Spike TV award, and the musical score by composer Jeremy Soule won the inaugural MTV Video Music Award for "Best Original Score" through an international popular vote. The game was nominated for five BAFTAs.

Rating change

While most rating companies around the world have kept the rating the same for Oblivion, on May 3, 2006, the Entertainment Software Rating Board changed Oblivion's rating from T (Teen 13+) to M (Mature 17+), citing game content not considered in the ESRB review, including "more detailed depictions of blood and gore" than had been previously considered and in the M rated version more blood and gore was added. Also, "the presence in the PC version of the game of a locked-out art file that, if accessed by using an apparently unauthorized third party tool, allows the user to play the game with topless versions of female characters. In response to the new content, the ESRB conducted a new review of Oblivion, showing to its reviewers the content originally submitted by Bethesda along with the newly disclosed content. The new review resulted in an M rating. The ESRB reported that Bethesda Softworks, the game's developer and publisher, would promptly notify all retailers of the change, issue stickers for retailers and distributors to affix on the product, display the new rating in all following product shipments and marketing, and create a downloadable patch rendering the topless skin inaccessible. Bethesda complied with the request, but disagreed with the ESRB's rationale. Although certain retailers began to check for ID before selling Oblivion as a result, and one California Assemblyman used the event to criticize the ESRB for failing once again, the events passed by with little notice from either the public at large or gaming journalists in particular. Although the mod was only used in the computer version, the rating was changed for all systems.

Additional content

From April 2006 onwards, Bethesda began releasing small packages of additional content for download from their website and over the Xbox Live Marketplace for prices equivalent to between US$1 and US$3. The first package, a set of horse armor for Oblivion's steeds, was released on April 3, 2006, costing 200 Microsoft Points, equivalent to US$2.50 or GBP1.50; the corresponding PC release cost was US$1.99. Although gamers generally displayed some enthusiasm for the concept of micropayments for downloadable in-game content, Oblivion's horse armor release caused significant discord on Internet forums, as gamers disputed whether the item was worth its cost. Hines assured the press that Bethesda wasn't going to respond rashly to customer criticism. New releases continued into late 2006, at lower price points and more substantial content, and received better reception in the gaming press. Oblivion's final content pack was released October 15, 2007.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine is a plugin for Oblivion. Announced on October 17, 2006 for release on November 21, 2006, the plugin was developed, published, and released in North America by Bethesda Softworks; in Europe, the game was co-published with Ubisoft. The Windows version is available either as a download from the company website, or as part of the Oblivion Downloadable Content Collection, a traditional retail release including all official content releases for Oblivion. The Xbox 360 version is available via Xbox Live Marketplace. The PlayStation 3 version of Oblivion includes Knights of the Nine in its packaged release. Knights of the Nine's plot focuses on a faction of the same name, devoted to locating and preserving a set of "Crusaders' Relics". The player joins this faction, finds the relics, and uses them to defeat the sorcerer-king Umaril. Knights of the Nine was generally well-received. Although it made little change to the basic mechanics of Oblivion, it was praised by most reviewers as a polished, albeit brief, addition to Oblivion's main plot.

In addition to commercial plug-ins from Bethesda, there are many free third-party modifications, also known as mods, available for the Windows version. These mods change many aspects of the game, such as adjusting the visuals, gameplay, user interface, and adding original content such as new races, explorable game areas, armor, and weapons. These modifications are made with the The Elder Scrolls Construction Set.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, the first and only expansion pack for Oblivion, was released on March 27, 2007 for Windows and Xbox 360. The expansion offers 30-plus hours of new adventuring, features new quests, all new voice acting, monsters, spells, armour, and expanded freeform gameplay plus a new land "that you can watch change according to your vital life-or-death decisions. A PlayStation 3 version was confirmed and released in 2007. Shivering Isles takes place in the realm of madness ruled over by the daedric prince Sheogorath. The player is tasked by Sheogorath with saving the realm from an approaching cataclysm known as the Greymarch.

At E3 2007, it was announced that a Game of the Year Edition for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion would be released in September 2007. The Game of the Year Edition includes the original game as well as the Shivering Isles and Knights of The Nine content packs. The game was released in North American markets on September 10, 2007 for the Xbox 360 and PC, and October 16, 2007 for the PS3. The game was released in European markets for the Xbox 360 and PC on September 21, 2007, and in Australian markets for the Xbox 360 and PC on September 28, 2007. A PlayStation 3 version was released in Europe on October 8, 2007.

Notes

References

External links

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