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Role Playing (Games)

Living In Oblivion 296

Posted by Zonk
from the nicer-than-you-might-otherwise-think dept.
The Elder Scrolls series is well known among PC gamers as the high water mark for an open-ended RPG experience. The series, set in the world of Tamriel, has a staggering breadth and depth thanks to the exacting standards of the team at Bethesda Softworks. The newest title in the line brings Tamriel to life in a manner that is renewing the faith of even the most jaded CRPG player. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion may not be the perfect game for everyone. For those willing to give it a shot, Oblivion treats gamers with a level of respect that is unique, uplifting, and (hopefully) inspirational for game developers in all genres. Read on for my impressions of a truly unique game.
  • Title: Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  • Developer: Bethesda Softworks
  • Publisher: 2K
  • System:PC (360)
The Computer Roleplaying Game (CRPG) genre consists of two poorly-wed sub-genres. These genres were forced together at gunpoint simply because of some passing similarities. On one hand, you have Japanese RPGs. These linear, turn-based titles are typified by the extremely popular Final Fantasy series. On the other hand you have Western RPGs, which can trace their roots to titles like Wizardry or the 'gold box' SSI games. More recent examples of this genre include the incredibly popular Bioware titles Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic.

This latter category of CRPG is, regrettably, on the wane. The type of gamer who enjoys this genre has been drawn away by the promise of multiplayer interaction, either in MUDS or MOOs or in their more graphically advanced MMORPG offspring. Since the days of Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment fewer and fewer of these non-linear titles, with an emphasis on creating an actual role to play, have been lining shelves. The grandaddy of this genre is the previous chapter in the Elder Scrolls saga. Morrowind let you loose on an island nation with little more than a race, astrological symbol, and some skills. Once you were in the game there wasn't a single constraint on your actions. An advanced world editor ensured that a player who tired of the hundreds of hours of potential gameplay in the shipped title could download content from his fellow gamers. From the smallest item all the way to entire additional continents, this content has kept dedicated players busy since the game's launch in 2002.

These players can move on, finally, as Oblivion steps ably into its older brother's very big shoes. The level of polish this game displays is such that it is hard not to wander into hyperbole when describing what they got right. In point of fact, it's hard to nail down something they got wrong when keeping the genre as a whole in mind. There are, however, some big obstacles to enjoying the game. The most daunting can be a simple question of technology. A lot of game impressions seem to be based on the Xbox 360 version of the title, and for good reason. The 'recommended specs' on the side of the PC box could make anyone pause. A three gig processor, at least a gig of memory, and (if you're using Nvidia as your yardstick) a 6800 or better graphics card are what they suggest. I'll be honest, I don't reach the recommended specs. I've got a 2 gig processor and a 6600 card. Anticipating the game, I did upgrade to 2 gigs of memory as a stopgap measure, and I really noticed that purchase in the lightning-fast load times. Graphically, though, I know I'm not seeing the full experience. Unless you have a high-end rig, you're probably going to want to go with the 360 version. I'm told it has noticeable load times and some occasional control frustrations, but if your computer can't handle the title at least you can play the game.

The second roadblock potential players might encounter is one of the game's biggest strengths: the open-ended gameplay. Once you've finished the tutorial dungeon you're let loose with absolutely no strings attached. Tamriel is your world to explore, and you can do it however you wish. There is about 100x more direction in Oblivion than there was in Morrowind, and various gameplay elements make it much easier to get where you're going and know what you're doing. Just the same, if you like having a clear goal the freedom of Oblivon may throw you. The entrants in the Final Fantasy series look like barely interactive movies in comparison.

Finally, an aspect of the title that's throwing even dedicated players may prove to be the final straw for folks new to the series. There's no other way to say it: Oblivion is harsh. With freedom comes consequences, and for a certain kind of player Elder Scrolls IV may be a very frustrating experience. The best example of this philosophy is in character creation. It's entirely possible to create a useless character if you make the wrong choices. They give you an array of pre-generated character roles to choose from, and it's hard to go completely wrong if you pick one of those. If you so choose, however, you can roll your own class. If you really want to, you can set off into Tamriel with little or no experience in wielding a weapon. Oblivion is far more than your usual hack-and-slash, but there is still a lot of combat in the game, and such a character will probably have a very hard time of it. That combat, too, can be brutally unforgiving. Enemies throughout the land scale as you gain in strength, so the hope is that you won't ever come up against an opponent that's completely out of your league. Within your 'league', though, you can come up against enemies that are almost impossible to defeat. That can depend on the character just as much as the enemies involved, and either way the game isn't going to sit there and hold your hand.

With those caveats out of the way, I'll engage in just a little bit of hyperbole. Oblivion is the most engaging RPG I have ever played. It captures the essence of what makes tabletop roleplaying so enjoyable, and allows you as the player access to a sprawling and beautifully realized world of possibilities.

From the first moment you enter the world, the occupant of a dank jail cell, you'll be struck by the depth of the experience. A fellow prisoner makes rude comments to you from across the hallway, and the guards which appear at your door make no bones about their willingness to kill you. They're there guarding the emperor, who is fleeing an assassination attempt. Your tutorial for the game has you following the emperor (voiced by Patrick Stewart), and exploring a small cave system beneath the Imperial prison. Game elements are well explained, with numerous opportunities to practice combat tactics, stealth, and spellcasting. By the time you leave the cavern, you'll have chosen your race and class and borne witness to the death of the empire's leader. Blinking in the sudden light, on a grass-covered hill outside the Prison walls, you have a quest in your journal and a million options open before you.

This sense of freedom is Oblivion's most engaging quality. While the emperor asked with his dying breath that you travel to a Priory in the north and find his illegitimate son, you are under no obligation to do so. Ever. There is enough to do in the world of Tamriel that if you so choose you can spend the rest of your play experience happily ignoring the looming threat implied by the main quest. The main quest is well-written, and if you follow through with the line's goals you'll be rewarded through fame and fortune. Unlike other titles with the implication of 'freedom', Oblivion really does offer far more than just the central script. Just walking down a street in one of the many cities of the empire will allow you to overhear the possibility of adventure. The Non-Player Characters (NPCs) of Oblivion are wonderfully written, and all have their own very specific needs. Their AI puts them through a normal routine every in-game day, and causes the characters to interact in very realistic ways. While a peasant's normal day might involve working in a farm outside the city, stopping at a tavern for a meal, and then heading home for bed, it's possible that could be disrupted by the actions of another character. If it is, you can bet that there's a quest waiting for you.

This level of depth is supported by the game's many conveniences. The number of quests the citizens of Tamriel will throw your way would make it impossible to handle if you didn't have a good level of support. The game offers a featureful quest journal, which not only shows what quests you're on, but quests that you've completed and prior steps to ongoing quests. Quest goals are clearly marked on your world map, ensuring that even if you are unsure of what exactly to do you can always know where you're supposed to go. The game features a 'fast travel' system that can take some of the tedium of overland riding out of the game. If you do choose to travel overland, you'll encounter new adventure locales and opportunities for questing, but the option of moving quickly from place to place is really nice.

What you actually do on quest is extremely varied. While there are some quests that fit into the usual 'kill the x for me' or 'deliver this to so-and-so', a surprising number of them substantially differ from the norm. There are diplomatic missions, like the request from the invisible people of Aleswell. An entire village turned translucent by a thoughtless wizard wants you to go talk him into turning them back. The Thieves Guild quests primarily revolve around entering private areas and coming away clean with an item or items. One involved quest line I explored had me following around a merchant, who turned out to be purchasing his wares from a graverobber. While the quest line did end in a confrontation with the scoundrel, there was far more to the quest than simply 'go here and kill the bad guy'. Quests in Oblivion are deeply satisfying in a way that many RPGs (especially MMOGs) can't even approach.

All that said, if you're not in the mood for considered action there's always monster hunting to lighten the mood. Ruins are scattered liberally across the empire, and exploring them will lead you into numerous combat situations. Combat in Oblivion shares the same first-person melee setup that Morrowind used. You hack and slash at your foes from behind your character's eyes, resulting in an immediacy to combat that raises the blood pressure quite effectively. There are several ways to fight, each with its own distinct 'feel'. Melee combat has a great kinesthetic feel, with your character swaying and moving in time to the action. Slashing your weapon across your field of view is enormously satisfying, and creatures bleed profusely when poked. Melee skills have been simplified a great deal, with 'Blade', 'Blunt', and 'Hand-to-Hand' constituting the three main options you have in this field. If ranged combat is your preference, 'Marksman' is the skill you'll want. Drawing an arrow on a bow conveys a real sense of power, and the whistling sound that accompanies a flying projectile imparts your shots with a deadly beauty. Ranged combat is most useful, I've found, to use when stealthing. Entering 'stealth' mode allows you to move quietly and unseen through the halls of the dungeon. If you can get off a shot with your bow or blade while remaining undetected, your initial blow will do far more damage. You'll be doing a lot of combat throughout your adventuring career, so the fact that they just nailed the feel of chaotic encounters makes it hard to get bored while exploring the depths.

Every system, in fact, has the mark of quality stamped upon it. Magic is just as engaging as the combat elements, with different schools covering a wide variety of spell effects. Spells are broken out into separate schools, which don't directly tie together. You can choose, for example, to improve your ability to cast healing spells and ignore other spellcasting elements. If you want to broaden your scope, the different schools can be used in synergy to create excellent effects. Magic schools, sneaking, bladework, and shield blocking are all covered by skills which improve as you use them. 'Leveling up' occurs when you've crossed a certain threshold of skills points acquired. Your increase in power (both via level and skill increase) is visible and enjoyable, with benefits to your prowess in battle immediately apparent during gameplay. There are also non-combat skills, which are just as well thought out as the more violent sort. Lockpicking and Speechcraft are mini-games, and both allow access to secrets you might not otherwise ever see. You can repair your armor or brew potions, as you'd like. You can leap from rooftop to rooftop to improve your Acrobatics, and haggle with merchants to improve Mercantile. The tapestry of skills works so well because not only do they hang well separately, they mesh together into a cohesive whole. Your character, as your window into Tamriel, manages to be just as interesting as the NPCs around you. You can actually find that you surprise yourself with what you can do, a truly rare treat for any game.

All of these well-crafted systems would be fun even if the game only looked 'okay.' What makes Oblivion so easy to lose yourself in, though, is the visual quality and audio presence the designers have lovingly applied to the entire experience. NPCs look at you with expressive eyes and delicate features. Enemy creatures attack with movement appropriate to their style of combat, and light winds stir the grasses around you while you sit and stare up at the beautiful sky. Tamriel is a gorgeous world, and the visual experience completes the powerful force pulling you into the gameworld. There are a lot of 'wow' moments, but what I enjoyed most about the graphical presentation is that after a time you just stop noticing it. Everything looks just right, and makes it easy to slip into your alternate persona.

There's just so much right about this game, it makes me actually a little sad. The strong statements made by the developers are entirely admirable: a harsh and open world where the player is empowered. Those same statements will put off a lot of gamers because we are just not taught to expect much of ourselves when we game. The power, beauty, and depth of this gameworld should be experienced by as many people as possible, and because of the bad lessons taught by other games there are a lot of people that are going to say 'that's not for me'. Oblivion is a game that forces you to make decisions with real consequences, a game that plays out those consequences on the world, and teaches you as the player to think fast and play for keeps. It's real life, packaged into a fantasy format and with a handy quest journal that I constantly find myself missing as I do chores around the house. It does what other games are afraid to do: it respects you. The finest compliment for a game that allows you to fill a role is to find yourself actually believing the role, and Bethesda has given you every tool you need to go off and be your very own hero. In an escapist niche of an escapist hobby, there's not much more you can ask for than that.
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Living In Oblivion

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  • if only (Score:2, Insightful)

    by voudras (105736) <voudras@swiftsla ... org minus author> on Friday March 31, 2006 @02:55PM (#15036382)
    If only Bethesda would do Fallout3
  • Fatally flawed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nastilon (525562) on Friday March 31, 2006 @02:59PM (#15036424)
    This game is fatally flawed. It is a good game, however, there is one aspect which this series of games had, up until now, managed to capture - The sense of increasing your power. As almost all enemies scale along with you, get the same armor you do, etc, there is absolutely NO sense of becoming more powerful. Additionally, what was in previous elder scrolls games extremely RARE items and equipment, such as daedra and ebony, is now the norm for ALL npc combatants. That is, you are fighting enemies who now have the same equipment as you, and there are no *rare* armor sets, just magic armor that has been dumbed down from previous versions. It gets a bit ridiculous when you walk into a tavern and four farmers there are wearing glass (top light) and one is wearing daedra (top heavy).. So Bethesda leaves it to the fan base to balance this. Um kk thx. This game is made for consoles, it is not a RPG, it is a first person shooter.
  • 360 vs PC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrueBuckeye (675537) on Friday March 31, 2006 @03:02PM (#15036454) Journal
    "Unless you have a high-end rig, you're probably going to want to go with the 360 version."

    I disagree...you overlooked one of the greatest parts of the Oblivion experience...the mods. These are user created changes to the game that enhance, alter, add to, or "fix" the game as it came out of the box.

    Already there are over 100 mods available that do things from altering the leveling of the npcs, adding battles to the arena, and changing the UI to be less "console'ish"

    That is one of the great reasons for going for the PC. The 360 will only have official patches or updates and will miss out on this entire wonderful area of the game.
  • Re:Truly Great (Score:2, Insightful)

    by copenja (840759) on Friday March 31, 2006 @03:07PM (#15036488)
    If you want tons of gold you can just set it in the console.

    No need to exploit some goofy bug.

    Go to www.gamefaqs.com they have a list of commands.

    It will be something simple like: set gold 10000.

    Also, you can pretty much create whatever you want using
    the contruction set.

    But really cheating ruins the game, I don't recommend it.
    As soon as you start cheating there is no going back and
    imo it really ruins the fun level of the game.
  • Re:Worst part: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 31, 2006 @03:32PM (#15036741)
    >> The creatures I've been fighting have been getting pretty strong

    This is the problem. "Have been getting".
    A good RPG (don't get me wrong, Oblivion is a very good rpg except for this reason) should not getting pretty strong. Enemies should already be there, assorted in various levels of strength, around the virtual world. So that you can die meeting an ancient vampire at level 1, and so that you can massacre a small goblin at level 20 just with a sight. What you achieve with this is a sense of inferiority and humility at level 1 and big sense of accomplishment at level 20 when you finally beat that vampire who already killed you 3 times before, or when you finally be able to kill goblin as flies.
  • by sysrpl (740738) on Friday March 31, 2006 @03:46PM (#15036861)
    Level scaling (and loot scaling) as implemented in Oblivion detracts from an otherwise outstanding game.

    For those of you that haven't played oblivion yet, level scaling is a balancing mechanism where the game world adapts to your character's level. The enemies are replaced by more powerful ones as you level up. Bears instead of wolves for instance, or mob characters that level up and get better equipment when you do.

    This has many players asking, "So what's the point in advancing my character?".

    The idea of level scaling the monsters is generally a good idea for a game of Oblivion's size, but in this case the balancing is way off. The problem is that the level scaling can get coupled with some odd bugs, which can easily make your life miserable.

    For instance, at the beginning of the game, if you follow the main plotline, you will get to Kvatch which has been overrun by demons. If you postpone this quest and return when you're level, say, 10 or 15, you will have the unpleasant surprise of seeing that all your NPC allies get owned in the first 30 seconds of the battle, leaving you with 6, 7 or more enemies to handle. Enemies which are of course as powerful as you are, because of the level scaling.

    The immediate result of this will be a swift death on your part, or a prolonged one, depending on how many health potions you have. If, by some Godly miracle, you manage to retreat and run for it, the stated policy would be to try and bait one enemy at a time, fight him for some obscene amounts of time, heal and spend a fortune on repairing your equipment (if you want to save a lot of money, the Armorer skill is your friend) and then do it all over again.

    In my experieince with the game, the balancing issues with the level scaling system created some embarrassing moments. I couldn't actually believe that they were happening. Situations in which I, Dragonheart, Champion of the Imperial Arena, the greatest fighter in history, having defeated the previous Grand Champion and all gladiators in-between, with a Light Raiment of Valor as armor, is almost killed by a wolf in the forest.

    This happened when I was level 6. You wonder how I got to be Champion of the Arena at level 6? Well, let's just say that the Arena is not all that it's cranked up to be because of the balancing.

    Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the monster level scaling isn't an issue. That it makes the game challenging long after you're done with the main quest, which is true. But the same principle applies to the loot and equipment that you find or steal, which is scaled according to your level. You've defeated a mighty Minotaur? Very good, you can sell his weapon and armor without remorse, because it won't be any better than yours.

    You managed to lockpick a "5 tumbler" lock, which rates "Very Hard" on the difficulty scale while being level 2? Congratulations, you've found 20 septims and a carrot.

    Basically, even if you do manage to pull of an incredible feat in the game, like breaking a "5 tumbler" lockpick, you'll never get something spectacular as a reward, or at least something that would justify the effort.

    So this leads back to the grueling question: So what's the point in advancing your character?. Why keep improving your character? Why explore the world, all the dungeons, catacombs and forts? For what? So that when you buy a new weapon or a set of armor, everyone else would automatically get something that's equally good? To level up and see that all the enemies are suddenly just as good you?

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Friday March 31, 2006 @04:15PM (#15037151)
    > I understand the reasons why people don't take to MMORPG's (d00dz, kiddies, time, etc.), but it's many of those very reasons that are compelling to me. To me, grown up and a programmer, single-player CRPG's fail in that important "suspension of disbelief" aspect that I need to feel immersed in a game.

    Odd. Those are exactly the same reasons why I take to CRPGs over MMORPGs.

    Morrowind and Oblivion are like MMORPGS, except that the other "players" are smarter, have a better grasp of English, and are all-around more fun to be with than most MMORPG players.

    Actual MMORPG example from my gaming history:

    Me: "Yo, just on my way to do Quest X"
    Player: "Yeah, just on my way back."
    Me: "Cool, it's not bugged!"
    Player: "Yeah, when the guy asks you for AAA, you say BBB, then CCC, and the answer to his puzzle question is XYZ. Thats the only part that requires thinking, now you don't have to worry about it."

    I know he was just trying to be helpful, but it's the only hour of content added to the game in weeks, and he ruined the only part of it that wasn't FedEx.

  • by Jerf (17166) on Friday March 31, 2006 @04:18PM (#15037181) Journal
    and you mentioning Torment, a game heavily inspired by Final Fantasy...

    First, you misspelled "Dungeons and Dragons", and you misspelled "based on". I can't imagine what influence you think comes from Final Fantasy moreso than D&D.

    Second, you want to see difference? Load up FFX. Now, kill Yuna. I mean, actually kill her so she's gone, and no longer shows up in the cut scenes, not just "at 0 hitpoints and apparently just fine to get married, but too ill to fight".

    Or decide that honestly, Seymour can just have that whiny little bitch.

    Or that Yunalesca's speech makes a hell of a lot more sense than plunging the land into chaos, so let's just side with the establishment.

    Now, pop open Planescape: Torment or a Fallout and try the equivalent. Quite a different outcome. Heck, in Fallout 2 you can sell your party members into slavery for money.

    If you're complaining about "eastern vs. western" qua "eastern vs. western", you might have a point. Personally, I'd prefer "open" vs. "closed", or "interactive story" vs. "pre-determined story" or something. But "eastern vs. western" is pretty close to the truth; I'm aware of some "eastern" (closed) RPGs made by the west, but I'm not aware of any "western-style" (open) RPGs made by the east.
  • by vorwerk (543034) on Friday March 31, 2006 @04:27PM (#15037261)
    I've seen a number of people asking how a single-player RPG can be as compelling or as fun as an MMO, and wanted to take a second to address that. I played WoW -- my first MMO -- for over 9 months, levelling my priest to 60 and various alts to mid-40s. I played every instance in the game (at the time), and had some epics. All told, I had a relatively enjoyable experience. But there were a number of factors that pushed me away from WoW, and whose absences I consider to be very compelling advantages for single player RPGs.

    1) The time commitment became unreasonable. I got married, and found myself unable (and unwilling) to devote 3+ contiguous hours per night on raids. (I felt that it was more important for me to spend time with my wife.) Single player RPGs, on the other hand, provide instant-action, and allow you to save the game, turn the computer off, and come back to it at a more convenient time.

    2) MMOs become quite reptitious. After 6+ months at level 60, in WoW, having run {Scholo,Strat,ZG,MC,etc.} for the umpteenth time, the game becomes a little long in the tooth. Moddable RPGs, on the other hand, can be enhanced with new scenarios that keep things fresh and entertaining. And, if the single player game becomes boring, it tends to be a lot easier to "walk away" from; after all, you're only "out" the cost of the boxed game -- you don't have a "built up" investment in months' worth of online play that keeps sucking you back into playing.

    3) Guild drama, in an MMO, can become annoying. Having to deal with people whining about small things (loot, class roles [feral druids, shadow priests *gasp*], and so forth) can be amusing in small doses, but it can also eat away at you. The only drama in single player games is created by you. (Or, conversely, your spouse, if she sees you playing when you should be cleaning the dishes. :) )

    4) MMOs tend to offer worse (possibly less immersive) story lines than single player RPGs. Some single player RPGs, including Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate 2, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, have fantastic stories which will leave you feeling happy and satisfied by the end.

    5) There are a slew of other issues in MMOs that don't usually affect single player RPGs, such as prolonged server downtimes, long queue times, class imbalances, "griefers", and so on. These issues can build up over time and ultimately serve to turn people off.
  • Re:Worst part: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VoiceOfRaisin (554019) on Friday March 31, 2006 @05:11PM (#15037649)
    how could a game like this work, where you can go anywhere and theres THOUSANDS of places to visit. what you want wouldnt work at all. thered be a single place to go where they are weakest that youd need to fight first, then youd need to go somewhere else second as they are second weakest, all the way up to strongest. what you are suggesting would make the game EXTREMELY linear and pre planned. you wouldnt be able to start anywhere or do things in the order you wish. id rather have it the way it is! just imagine, 99% of the world is unplayable because you arent a high enough level so you need to go though it all in order.
  • by superultra (670002) on Friday March 31, 2006 @05:30PM (#15037792) Homepage
    This looks great, but like most open-ended RPGs, Oblivion still puts the main mission on hold while the player moseys around. What I want to see is a game where everything starts to fall apart, precisely because the player is cutting trees instead of saving the princess. Sure, it would be a very slow decay, so as to give the player the same feeling of open-endedness. But the more time you spent fishing, the less villages you'll have to trade with as they become overrun with evil.
  • by Mark McGann (570684) on Friday March 31, 2006 @07:20PM (#15038507)
    The point of the scaling system it to make it just as hard to fight any monster no matter what your level. This makes levels completely pointless since, PLAYER_LEVEL - MONSTER_LEVEL = [constant].

    It's just as easy to go slay the dragon when your level 1 as it is when your level 25, similarly the rodent of unusual size you fought in the training dungeon is just as likely to kill you in the tutorial as it is when you've maxed out your level.

    This has to be on of the most brain dead design decisions I've every heard of.

    -Mark
  • Re:Worst part: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CptPicard (680154) on Friday March 31, 2006 @07:59PM (#15038944)

    I don't own the game yet, but I've been reading the elderscrolls.com forum threads on the level scaling issue and I think I've got a pretty good grasp of why people find it nasty... I am getting worried myself too, as this is exactly the kind of stuff that will break my immersion in a game.

    Also, if you're looking for a challenge - turn the difficulty meter up.

    This is the standard suggestion from the pro-scaling crowd that seem to believe that the issue is only a matter of powergamers wanting to become überstrong in the game à la Morrowind. However, the issue of level scaling has absolutely nothing to do with the difficulty of fights in general.

    The issue is more about the consistency, logic and existence of the gameworld on its own, irrespective of the player. I find it extremely disturbing if the world magically alters itself depending on who I am, and more importantly, seems to be always distributed along a gaussian around me, no matter how much I've "advanced" in the game. There is no consistent measuring stick, and working on your character is penalized.

    This enforced, narrowed-down distribution also removes variability from the game. I am definitely not a powergamer and actually like spending time in the low levels when mages that I tend to play are supposed to be fodder and very challenging to play. I enjoy the thought that there are humongous monsters that will bash my skull in if I should be stupid enough to wander into their vicinity. It also makes it all the more satisfying to eventually be able to take them on.

    This leads to an issue with the risks and rewards of exploring: much has been made about how Oblivion makes all content immediately available despite a player's level. Well... yeah, you can, from what I have heard, go all the way into Oblivion at level 1. You won't get totally annihilated if you stick your nose into the wrong place too early. You also won't get something REALLY cool if you do dare to, and by some stroke of luck or by your own cunning and capability manage to obtain the loot "before your time". You'll just get an "appropriate" reward whatever you do, where-ever you go! This global averageness gives you a very strong impression that the world doesn't exist regardless of the player!

    Apologists state that this helps make the game more friendly to free-form roleplaying. Well... there are limits to how much freedom is good in a game. Sometimes, in a game just like in the real world, there are places and things you quite simply won't get to do if you're a lame n00b. It does not neccessarily enforce a linear content progression either, if stuff is placed variably enough.

    Then there are the obvious ridiculous outcomes which sound quite outrageous... at high levels, bandits everywhere wearing full sets of ebony and daedric and blackmailing you for 50gp. The explanation that they also went off and leveled and got stuff won't cut it... it is not credible that everyone gets rich and better just as the player does, in particular because the player is supposed to be the hero and actually see himself advancing beyond the usual trash roadside bandit!

    I have a really bad feeling about this aspect of Oblivion, which makes it all the more sad because I really have been waiting for it since playing Morrowind obsessively and actually loving to just get to explore after becoming an über-god-character as the fights no longer were an issue -- I am not really into this for the fights. It was a nice reward to be able to dispatch anything quickly and to get the fighting over with, after having done it enough. Despite the loud proclamations of the pro-scalers on the elderscrolls.com forums that they are the torch-bearers of "true roleplaying" and that anti-scalers just want to feel powerful and need to turn down the difficulty to get that fix, I feel that they are the ones in it for the fighting, as it they are willing to accept glaring inconsistencies in the gameworld in order to get a "balanced and challenging" fight every time they enter one...

Nobody's gonna believe that computers are intelligent until they start coming in late and lying about it.

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