The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion review

I was a big fan of Morrowind on Xbox and of course I purchased the original game when it was released during the dry spell of releases early on in the console’s life. I also went on to purchase the Game of the year edition. I can proudly say that on both occasions where I must have invested well over 100 hours on each version, that I didn’t complete the main story line. Its probably one of the few titles that I actually haven’t finished and to be honest, I probably never will!

A lot has been said about how Bethesda could improve on the original console game and let’s face it, both versions were full of bugs and exploits. Well for the last three or four years Bethesda have been slaving away at the next game in the series Elderscrolls IV Oblivion, and with early screenshots and videos looking amazing, fans of the original and newcomers alike have been eagerly awaiting this title. Well the wait is over and gamers can now re-immerse themselves into the huge world that the team at Bethesda have created.

Morrowind on Xbox sold very well but for the masses at least was perhaps a little too daunting and possibly, dare I say it “Nerdy”. With its wealth of options, menus and strange fighting mechanics a lot of casual gamers didn’t really “Get” what Morrowind was truly about. In fact the game started very slowly with your character moving with the speed of a snail and pockets as empty as a cloudless sky. Well Bethesda have had time to address some issues raised from the previous console outing and make a far more accessible game for all types of player but ultimately does it work, or again is the game simply too overwhelming for the majority of gamers?

Gameplay:

To surmise, Oblivion offers gamers the chance to create a male or female character from a selection of human and non human races. Using various sliders and options, players can create the look of their character and spend literally hours or minutes perfecting the desired look; although to be brutal, the player isn’t going to be spending much time looking at the face of their character during play because the game is best played using a first person viewpoint, although a third person view is supported. Once the player is happy with the look of their creation they can then choose which class of character they want to be using set templates offered or by creating their own custom class. Character classes are based on various stats which in turn are affected by how often they are used. So, for example, a magic user might have high magic stats as opposed to the raw strength of a warrior. This is a rather simple way of looking at things because there are plenty of stats to consider but I’m sure most players, especially newcomers will simply choose a pre-set class from the healthy roster available and get on with the adventuring. Again, creating a class can take some time if you want to or be as simple as a few button presses.

Once you have gotten the character creation side of things sorted then it’s onto the game proper where you will be faced by a huge open world which your character is free to go anywhere and undertake anything that comes your way in the form of general goofing around to undertaking quests or just plain exploring caves, dungeons buildings for items. I think the major noticeable change from the offset is the way in which quests and story based objectives are handled. In Oblivion players are able to set quest and storyline specific markers on the map and compass which means players should never get lost or not know what to do next. This is a major upgrade compared to Morrowind and allows newcomers and vets to easily keep tabs on what quests they are doing or where they need to go. It’s a big open populated world out there and by simply speaking to people or overhearing conversations new opportunities are never far away. In fact there were plenty of times during my play of the game where quests would be initiated adding to an already large roster of current quests I needed to fulfil. Sometimes it’s just too hard to refuse a fellow character your aid and with the new system for keeping track of your activities and marking them on your map makes the whole process far less daunting.

Oblivion is all about exploration and whilst there are many paths to travel I think Bethesda have opted to leave how players travel in their own hands by offering several means to do so. There is a new teleport system (similar to Fable’s) where you can travel to any point on the map that you’ve visited already which is rather handy on occasion. Again this is another feature that will appeal more to newcomers and vets as it takes away some of the headache of long distant travelling; although some purists would argue that using or abusing the teleport system means you miss out on many unique experiences you might have encountered if you had travelled on foot. In fact another addition to the series are ride-able horses which can be purchased or stolen and offer a slightly quicker way of getting from A to B compared to travelling on foot. Let me give a simple example of how the fast travel could mean missing events.

I was undertaking a quest for a man to find an impostor who was using his name; however upon meeting the impostor it turned out that he was actually the long lost brother of the first guy I spoke to. He was pleased that I had found his brother and so he set off to go and find him way across the huge map in another town. At this point I could have simply fast travelled to the town he was heading for or gone on my way and completed the quest at a later time. Well on this occasion I decided to follow him and to my surprise the guy actually walked/ran from one town to the other with me simply following him. What was pretty cool was the fact that his journey wasn’t without peril as along the way we encountered several non scripted bandits and wolves which we fought together. My point is had I simply fast travelled to where he was heading, he would have simply appeared at his destination at the same time as I did. The fact that I followed him turned what could have been over in minutes into an incredible journey across the land.

Oblivion is all about giving the player choice to do as they please and with options to be an aggressive warrior or sneaky thief means that players can assume any role they desire and behave accordingly. Much has been said about the Radiant AI used in the game and so far from what I’ve seen has been very impressive indeed. On one occasion I simply sat my character in a chair and watched the non playable characters go about their routines. In some way the AI is scripted, however the actions of the AI are performed regardless of the players input. On many occasions I would see people getting into fights with each other, conversations or simply eating a meal at a table. I especially liked seeing ominous dead bodies along the pathways in the wilds with the body of a slain wolf beside them; knowing that these guys had obviously gotten into a fight with the now dead wolf. Most often you will see town guards automatically attacking and killing any creatures that venture too near the city or perhaps killing people who are fighting. All of these events are triggered by things that have nothing to do with the player and are excellent to witness.

There are literally thousands of items, weapons and armour contained in cupboards, chests, crates on people and even plants that grow in the wilds. Players are able to interact with these and either take or steal them. Another new addition to the series is a changeable cursor which highlights red when you are about to perform an illegal action such as stealing, lock-picking or trespassing. This is a big improvement from Morrowind as it clears up any doubt you may have had regarding the legality of your actions. There are plenty of weapons to find or purchase and it appear their strength is determined by the strength of your character. Players also have to bear in mind the wear and tear of weapons and armour and so any favourites can be repaired by the player or by one of the many people who do repairs for a small fee. Items and bodies can be manipulated in real time and although precision placing of random items is a little awkward it does allow you to mess around with the impressive physics engine used.

The combat has been fully reworked and is a massive improvement over Morrowind’s fighting by numbers approach. In oblivion player’s fight in real time with swords, axes, maces, magic, bare fists, bow and arrows or whatever you choose and can perform various attack moves depending on skill. For the first time players are able to block at will, which in turn makes the fighting far more engaging. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes and attack according to their abilities; thankfully I have yet to encounter a dreaded Cliff Racer which was the same repeated enemy that populated Morrowind’s wilds and was highly annoying.

Early on in my adventure I had one rather neat encounter with a bandit in a dark cave I had entered as part of a quest. Using my character’s sneaking ability I crept amongst the shadows keeping a firm eye on my surroundings. As I ventured deeper into the cave, I stumbled upon a sleeping bandit (yes bandits need sleep too you know) who was blissfully unaware of my situation. On this occasion I decided to pickpocket the sleeping bandit to see if she had any gold. Well it transpired that I was able to pickpocket her weapon although after stealing it she promptly woke up which sent me into a frenzied sword attack. At first she defended herself with fists but figured that she wasn’t going to get very far against my sword strikes. At this point she decided to run away which enabled me the chance to search the area for loot. However a few minutes later the bandit returned and this time was armed with a hammer type weapon which had been dropped from one of the other bandits I had killed prior to our meeting. I found this highly amusing and fairly intelligent AI but sadly she paid for her actions with her life!

Oblivion features several levels on how players can approach the game world. Whilst you can never be too far away from your next objective by simply navigating through your complex looking but simple menu system there are a lot of deeper elements to explore should you choose. As mentioned earlier there are various quests to find and with such a huge world available means that it is quite probable that players won’t find and complete them all. There are also deeper elements such as being able to create potions by mixing various ingredients or perhaps creating your own spells. Again it’s quite easy to simply ignore these deeper facets of the game and still have a rewarding experience. It is nice to know that these options exist should you choose to devote your playing time to these pursuits.

Graphics:

Oblivion offers an expansive world with real time day and night cycles to explore which are full of open areas, woodland, towns, settlements and of course dungeons and caves. The graphical finesse on display is second to none and looks pretty spectacular throughout; although the outdoor areas are impressive in providing a sense of scale they aren’t as impressive looking as the interior locations. In fact the outdoor areas highlight some of the problems with the graphics as you are able to notice distant objects being of a very low texture resolution or details popping into view not too far from your character. These are present and there is no denying this fact but the point is they do not hamper the playing experience in any way and to be frank can easily be ignored. The outdoor areas also provided some frame rate issues on occasion where the game stuttered but again wasn’t so bad as to detract from the overall immersion the game provides.

Oblivion has some excellent character models and when you initiate a conversation you get a real time close up view of the person you are talking to and are able to watch some excellent facial expressions and lip synching. Although by default subtitles are available I found it more immersive to switch them off. Characters faces all appear to be different from one another and show details such as wrinkles in the skin and blemishes. Oblivion also features some very impressive real time lighting effects which are more apparent when inside. Light and shadows are cast and when looking at shadows you can see them dance around due to a flickering light source such as a torch or fire. Oblivion is simply full of detail and whether you are in or outdoors its often nice to simply sit back and admire the view which changes as you watch. The art direction is simply superb and so kudos must be given to the designers who created such impressively detailed environments.

Audio:

The sound is another area which is highly polished and whilst there are plenty of ambient sound effects to accompany you where ever you are one has to give kudos to the voice actors who do a wonderful job of bringing the various characters to life. It’s not rare to meet characters who share the same voice but again due to the high numbers of characters in the game it would be hard to employ and record so many people. Every character is voiced and therefore makes the whole aural experience an enlightening and believable one. It’s really great to feel captivated by a characters plea for help or simply hearing a tale. There are some issues when it comes to hearing conversations as the sound level doesn’t adjust too well based on your proximity from the people talking and so you can end up in a room with several booming voices talking over each other.

The music is also very orchestral and fitting of a game of this type and remains dynamic to whatever actions you are performing. However after a while I was left with no option to turn the volume almost off, as the battle music often gave away the enemy before I had even spotted him, her or it and thus taking away the element of surprise. Combat sounds are all pretty meaty and you can really feel the impact of clashing swords and shields as well as the grunts and groans as your character swings his or her weapon.

Longevity:

Well if there was ever a game that could be described as having the ultimate longevity then this would perhaps be it, although I must say a little self control is possibly required. With all the classes available means that you could be playing various character roles until the end of time, that’s if you stick to their relevant behaviour. It’s no use being a mage character who simply acts like a warrior, a mage should use spells as a means of combat as opposed to swords and as I said, some self control is needed.

Oblivion has such a wide and expansive playing area which lays host to such a wide number of quests and activities means that there is never, not something to do in the game. Quests seem to be available all over the place and although they offer rather simple objectives such as finding people or acquiring items remain engaging and intriguing all the same. Whilst the general level of things to do might sound daunting it still seems to be manageable for players to not get lost in it all. I have invested over 30 hours into the game and have no doubt barely scratched the surface of the game’s underlying story line. Oblivion will last die-hards as long as they want it to and casual players can expect a long haul as well especially if they deviate from the story and complete some side quests along the way.

Overall:

I’m still playing Oblivion and I can honestly say it will remain one of my favourite games in which I will continue to live out my characters roles for quite some time. It’s all very impressive and well suited to the “Next Gen” tag that seems to be the current buzz word flying around and despite the odd graphical glitches here and there. I guess one has to look at the game from a role playing game fan point of view but also on how more casual players will approach the game. I think from being an RPG fan it’s clear that Oblivion remains challenging and highly engaging throughout and certainly delivers what fans of the genre expect. For casual players I still feel that despite the obvious changes Bethesda have made to make the game more accessible there still is a huge amount of time investment needed to fully experience what the game has to offer. For a casual player this might pose a little bit of a problem especially if time is limited although saying that you could get away with the odd hour here and there. Oblivion tends to suck you in and more often than not, time in the real world seems to pass unnoticed. If you’re a casual gamer then yes Oblivion might be a little overwhelming at first and perhaps you might not wish to get into the deeper aspects of the game. However I think any gamer worth his or her salt will truly appreciate the love and effort that has been put into the game. RPG fans looking for a true next generation experience can rejoice as Oblivion certainly fills the void that has been present since the launch of the Xbox 360. I think the safest thing to say is for casual players to rent the game first and spend several hours getting to grips with how things play out and if you like then buy. For RPG fans then this is definitely a must buy as games of this scale and quality don’t come around too often.

9.5/10

The old art form of boxing is brought to home consoles once again with Electronic Arts Fight Night Round 3 which opts to take a more realistic approach to the sport rather than providing an all out arcade experience. As the name suggests this is the 3rd iteration of the series and on the Xbox 360 at least the best looking of the three. However looks aside for one moment, does Fight Night Round 3 offer a playing experience that can match the game’s high quality visuals?

Gameplay:

Fight Night Round 3 provides the player with several modes of play which include the regular single fight where players simply pick a fighter from any weight class and an opponent who does not necessarily need to be of the same weight class. This can make for some interesting bouts if you pit a heavyweight against a lightweight for example, then duke it out in the ring. Fight Night Round 3 also features a classic ESPN endorsed mode which lets players relive some classic fights from boxing history such as Ali verses Frazier. Fight Night Round 3 features Xbox Live play and of course a career mode which is probably the main portion of the game’s offline single player.

Career mode begins with the player choosing a boxer from a healthy roster of fighters although sadly there are a few omissions here such as Mike Tyson, Lennox, Lewis George Foreman. Luckily there is an extensive create a boxer mode which allows gamers the chance to faithfully recreate themselves or boxers that aren’t on the official line up. There are a wealth of options to tweak including skull size, eye positioning and colour, lips, eyebrows the list goes on. Players can also tweak their created boxers fighting style as well which is handy for players who perhaps favour speed over power and vice versa. Once a boxer has been tweaked to satisfaction then it is time to head out into the flamboyant world of boxing; although to begin with, players are thrust into an amateur league which sees your boxer fight complete with headgear.

The basic premise for the career mode is to pick a contract of which more often than not there are several to choose from at any given time. Then players must train in one of three areas which are, weight lifting, heavy bag, and training dummy. Each area of training will increase your stats in one area and decrease your stats in another area. Players are able to actually participate in the training mini games or if you are impatient and perhaps confident you can opt to let the computer do it for you in an instant whilst suffering a small penalty. Either way the mini games make a welcome break from the actual boxing and as your stats increase become more difficult to get maximum benefit from.

So, you have signed a contract to fight a specific opponent and you have trained hard all that is left to do is get in the ring and prove you have what it takes to be a contender. There are two ways to fight in Fight Night Round 3 and this is down to how you have configured the controller. Fight Night Round 3 features total punch control which basically means that with the right thumb-stick players can jab, hook, uppercut and haymaker with careful movements. The other method of control and perhaps a little easier for those who simply can’t get to grips with the total punch control is to use the regular buttons to perform punches.

Control issues aside, the fighting in Fight Night Round 3 is fairly realistic in that players cant simply throw punch after punch without getting tired or refuse to use the guard button and expect to win rounds. Fights do tend to become very technical especially as you progress further into the career mode where things like the computer performing near perfect counters on a lot of aggressive moves become apparent. Players are able to bob and weave as well as perform counters of there own which is something players should try to master as soon as possible. There are quite a few differences between the boxers you face who seem to all be American but are from various regions of the world (their gloves sport their home country’s colours). Throughout career mode boxers will come at you with all styles with some fighters being more aggressive or defensive than others. Between rounds players get advice from their trainer on how they can improve their game as well as another mini game where players have to heal the face of their boxer from the cuts and swelling they receive each round (fights can be stopped by the ref if a fighter has taken too much of a beating). What is also neat is being able to view your opponent’s corner to see a close up of the damage you have caused and being able to listen to your opponent’s trainer’s advice to the fighter.

Fight Night Round 3 features a few special moves thrown in for good measure which include a specific signature move for each fighter, haymakers (powerful punches), stun punches and flash KO punches. These are accomplished by performing charge up moves using the right control stick. Some are a little tricky to pull of during the heat of combat let alone connect appropriately; however if one of these punches does connect then it can sway a fight in your favour. The boxers are pretty tough in Fight Night Round 3 and if you have the settings switched so that the heads up display (HUD) is off then you will have to gauge how well your fighter is doing by monitoring his movements, although after a few fights you do get a feel for how much you can push your boxer. In a lot of cases boxers will go down more than 3 times spread out over several rounds (there is an option to have the 3 knockdown rule) although to begin with, skilled players should be able to win fights in 3 rounds or less. Knocking out opponents in Fight Night Round 3 is a very satisfying moment because not only does the commentating reach a crescendo but also prior to a knockdown when you or your opponent is on their last legs, the game enters some kind of focus mode where if one last hook or uppercut lands results in a guaranteed knockdown. For the fighter on the receiving end they can try and move away, block or clinch to get some small health recovery. These moments are tense for both parties and if the attacker gets too confident, can be countered and knocked out themselves.

Fight Night Round 3 isn’t always smelling of roses because I was left feeling that a number of features were absent from a game that opts to be realistic. For starters players cannot edit their entrance or the music that accompanies them which is a shame although quite a minor issue. The rivalries in career mode aren’t as in depth as they could be because it would have been nice to be able to choose our own rivals as well. I would have liked to have seen more pre fight, smack talking where players where given a choice of actions which ultimately would have had an effect on the fight. Instead we are given a pre determined scene at weigh in where your opponent lashes out and you have to defend. Not being able to attack or hold on during clinches seems like an oversight as well.

Graphics:

A lot has been spoken about the graphics in Fight Night Round 3 and it has to be said that it does indeed feature some highly detailed character models which by default are viewed from the waist up and from the side. The way the lighting reflects off sweaty skin is captured very well as are the textures used for skin which shows things like freckles on light skinned boxers. There is a damage model employed which shows cuts and swelling to a fighters face although I am unclear when this actually is used because throughout my career I did not see any evidence of swelling at all although online I did notice swelling.

Fight Night certainly looks impressive in motion although there are a few things that don’t look as smooth as the fighter models. One thing that is immediately noticeable is the movement of the fighters when bobbing and weaving. The boxers do take on a rather robotic feel as opposed to being smooth. Then there are things like punch impact which at times doesn’t feel quite as powerful as it should do in terms of visible head or body movement. Depending on the location there are a number of spectators watching the fight and whilst they are quite a vocal bunch there are a lot of clones and the detail is rather lacking; although a blur effect is used to mask this. The actual arenas aren’t that spectacular either and I guess you will focus more on the boxers during play, it does dampen the overall polish of the game. Some of the rag doll knockdown animations are rather awkward looking and in many cases quite comical. I guess it must be a tough call to either make set animations that would become boring after a while or to use rag doll physics so that every knockdown is slightly different. Sometimes the rag doll physics works and at others times it is laughable at best.

Audio:

Fight Night Round 3 features a limited number of tracks which are all from the Hip- Hop camp. Some of you may argue that there are some good tunes on offer but due to the limited number featured means they get rather repetitive quite quickly, especially the set tune for your fighter in career mode. The commentator does a very good job of filling you in on how well you are doing and is rather handy if you are playing with the HUD switched off. The ambient crowd noises are spot on and it’s really great to hear them get excited when you land a flurry of well connected punches or perform a knockdown. The actual punch sound effects are reasonable as are the moans and grunts from the boxers themselves. The focus mode prior to a knock out is very dramatic sounding although the slow motion knockout punch sound effects are a little over the top as you hear what sounds like a jaw bone snapping in several places.

Longevity:

Fight Night Round 3 has an extensive career mode that lets you have a full career with a player created boxer or one of the presets. There are several weight classes on offer which means to win all of the belts you will have to make several fighters. This will take quite some time and offers some replay value. Getting the regular achievements for the game is quite easy and are basically acquired by winning specific career mode fights. Players are able to duke it out with their friends at home or online with players from across the globe in ranked and un-ranked matches. The online portion of the game is every bit as gripping as the offline play although finding decent opponents who do not continually abuse power punch moves might prove a challenge.

Overall:

Fight Night Round 3 is a decent foray into the boxing world albeit missing a few features and polish in certain areas. EA could have put in so much more to provide an ultimate boxing experience yet what they have offered is a bare bones fighter that simply looks good and plays well but after extensive play becomes rather underwhelming. That’s not to say the game lacks depth because there are some things that will surprise you such as the commentator keeping a record of your stats in career mode and making remarks about them on occasion.

It would be easy to say that Fight Night Round 3 is a rental at best especially for gamers looking to boost their gamer score; yet there is a lot of fun to be had here especially if you have friends over or get online; so in this respect Fight Night Round 3 is worth a purchase. If you have neither of these then the experience will possibly become muted after a while and with not much to do other than mini-game, fight, mini game etc you might feel this is a game to be traded in not long after purchase. I have enjoyed playing Fight Night Round 3 and I can even say that if you pit two non boxing fans against each other, even they will have a blast as well. Is it a keeper? Yes, if you are a boxing fan, have Live or plenty of friends.

Written by: Robert Cram

Robert Cram has hundreds of video game reviews and thousands of articles under his belt. He aims to remain objective and fair in his analysis. With years of experience, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement is entirely optional.