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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Bethesda Softworks for Playstation 3

The long-awaited arrival of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on Playstation 3 offers massive explorable worlds, real time melee battles, brilliant graphics plus an intuitive interface that makes things easy to understand. Oblivion picks up where Morrowind left off and creates an even larger world to adventure through with literally hundreds of NPC characters to interact with, countless quests and massive areas to explore ranging from elaborate cities to country sides and dark dungeons. This edition also includes extra expansion content not found in the Xbox 360 version, improved graphics and faster load times. Join us as we explore this massive world and discover the many wonders waiting inside.

Set in the darkest hours of a fading mythical empire, Bethesda Software's epic role-playing title The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the PS3 casts players as a lone adventurer exploring a massive world that's under siege from dark forces. As the game begins, the Emperor and his children are assassinated by these evil beings and it's up to you to fight these forces before they completely over take the world. You begin by selection which character and class you want to be, and there are many races and types to choose from, ranging from humans to elves and other creatures. Each race and class in Oblivion has their own strengths and weaknesses, some are more powerful fighters while others excel in magic and spells. These aren't strictly defined, but you can generally have an idea where you want your character to go. Early on, you can also choose which sign you'll be born under, which gives you additional abilities such as improved resistance to fire attacks or the ability to heal quickly. You begin the game with a quick dungeon crawl which introduces you to some of the basic play mechanics as you fight basic enemies such as large rats. As you fight and defeat enemies, your experience and abilities will increase you'll be able to earn additional items and inventory which you can equip or save to trade later. Obviously, weapons are your most important item early on, and you'll find many types of them to use ranging from swords to staffs and knives that you can use to pummel your opponents. You'll also find a number of other items such as gold, food, clothing and spells that will help you along in your quest. You'll also find a number of chests and locked doors during the game, but you can use any picks you find to open them. Each lock has a varying level of difficulty which adds to the challenge.

Once you emerge from your initial journey under the sewers at the beginning, you'll suddenly walk outside. Here, you'll find a much larger and more massive world awaits you. Here, you can run in virtually any direction through the massive world of Oblivion. As you explore the world of Oblivion, you'll run into many other NPC characters, which you can interact with. The game's talking system is quite elaborate and gives you many options. You can choose to talk to them nicely, which usually results in information given while others will take some persuasion. When you want to convince someone to be on your side, you can use a wheel which gives you various options such as joking, boasting or complimenting them. They won't always respond favorably to your conversations, and some will be hostile, but you can usually get some information on what to do next or background on the empire itself. Some characters will also ask for your help in completing tasks for them, which can result in some impressive rewards. However, the game's non-linear approach and open-ended design gives you plenty of freedom where you go and in what order you'll do it. This allows you to decide which quests to perform and if you even decide to perform them at all.

Oblivion's structure is open-ended, but there are definitely defined tasks and missions that you'll need to complete in order to progress through the game. These can be divided into the main quests, which move the storyline forward and side-quests which are basically used to increase your character's abilities. There's a diverse set of goals you need to accomplish, and the fist thing you'll generally need to do is make your character stronger. You can do this by gaining experience in battle or by purchasing stronger weapons, armor and spells in the many shops you'll find in the game. While you can build up money quickly in the game by battling foes, you character's strength can be increased most quickly by fighting the beasts you'll find outside in the wilderness, attacking groups of orcs or trolls and even making quick work of any unfortunate thieves who come across your path. Oblivion diverges from most turn-based role-playing games and implements a first-person melee attack system where you attack enemies in real time. Pressing the action button allows you to take a quick swipe at them with your weapons, you can also call on spells by pressing the shift button as well. You can switch weapons and attacks before each battle, but can't change your weapons while attacking. Most of the foes you encounter won't put up much of a fight initially but later enemies require a strong character with plenty of experience. The battles can be intense and most players will probably take a lot of damage and suffer defeat frequently.

During the game's early stages, there are many enemies that are probably best avoided, such as the omnipresent guards that patrol the empire and other stronger characters. It pays not to anger them, since they'll make quick work of you with little chance of victory. Messing with the guards also has the effect of sentencing you to jail and making you lose valuable items as they are confiscated from your character. As you defeat foes, you can loot their bodies and take any items they might have on them, which is another way to build up your character. As you go deeper into the game, you can also recruit other characters to join in your party as well, though they are all computer generated. Many of the quests and missions you have to complete can be long and elaborate and you'll need to make sure you have properly equipped your character before you head out on your adventure. One of the best things about Oblivion's design is that the game offers many auto-save points and you can archive your progress at any time using pop-up menus. This helps to reduce frustration and allows you to pick up right up where you left off without backtracking. Oblivion's sheer scope and scale makes this an important feature that lets you undertake the game in small segments or extended sessions.

One of the key elements that makes this non-linear approach possible is the sheer depth, nuance and complexity that the developers have put into the game. There's an incredibly rich backstory to explore that makes the game an immersive and engrossing experience. Many of the characters you encounter during your adventure will offer you small snippets of the larger storyline from their perspective, allowing a much richer narrative to emerge as you go through the game. You'll also be able to purchase numerous scrolls, books and newspapers, which further elaborate on the storyline. Reading these might seem like a secondary task, but you should take the time to look through them since many of them might contain valuable information you can use in other areas. As you go through the many sub-worlds in the game, you'll find different personality types emerge and this makes the experience feel even more realistic. Characters you encounter in the cities are generally more suspicious of your motivations than those you find in the outlying areas. Their response to you usually depends on what kind of approach you use in talking to them. For example, when you enter a store or trading post, you can try and use your character's powers of persuasion to lower their guard and their prices, but you have to be careful not to cross the line unless you want them to refuse your offers. This is all fairly straightforward in implementation and design, but its still quite entertaining to interact with these characters.

You can also choose to take a darker path and try and steal items from the merchants and other areas, but you should avoid getting caught, since you may have to pay fines or even face jail time. Resisting arrest by the guards, on the other hand, usually puts you at the losing end of a battle with multiple guards. It's this subtlety that makes the experience so rewarding and engrossing, making Oblivion feel more like an actual world you enter and explore than a mere game where you're just passing through. The game's open-ended approach also helps to keep things interesting as you can choose whether to concentrate on specific aspects of your character, build up alliances and skills by joining guilds and groups or try and complete your journey on your own with minimal interaction. It's completely your decision. The world is so elaborately designed and implemented with such an attention to detail that it really doesn't matter what path you take, the experience remains richly rewarding and impressive from any perspective. It will probably take many hours before you decide what exactly you want to do, but you should have plenty of fun in the meantime. The game allows you to explore at your own pace, and you can choose to enjoy the many diversions, such as betting on, or even competing in arena battles, hunting, fishing and a variety of tasks without worrying about the main quest. This variety is what makes the game so rewarding and entertaining.

Adding to Oblivion's sense of immersion is its thoroughly impressive graphics engine and design which creates an impressive sense of scale and place that suspends disbelief effectively throughout. Every element of the game, from its robust natural settings, awe inspiring cities and beautiful lighting effects comes together to create a cohesive, believable world. While its individual elements are highly polished, the seamless nature in which they've been designed makes the experience seamless. Oblivion's graphics engine features stunningly detailed environments that transport you into its world. You can see individual blades of grass in outdoor settings, cracks in the massive stone walls of elaborate castles, blazing fires from a distance plus realistic environmental effects such as water, rain, fire, snow, wind and day or night settings, all rendered in high-resolution to effectively take advantage of high definition monitors. Things move along at a consistent and smooth frame rate throughout.

The level of detail evident in every element of the game is astonishing and extends even to the other characters, who show emotions with elaborate, nearly photo-realistic facial expressions that make them seem very much alive. The sheer number and scope of environments and worlds you'll explore during your stay in Oblivion is impressive, with each area showing an astonishing level of detail and nuance. The Playstation 3 edition of Oblivion looks a little bit sharper and more defined than it did on Xbox 360, and this version also showcases slightly faster loading times. Unfortunately, there are still too many of these breaks, which occur every time you enter a new area. It does hurt the pacing and flow of what is otherwise one of the more impressive role-playing titles to date. Oblivion's musical score does an excellent job of setting an appropriately epic mood, and its extensive use of voice acting helps to bring the characters to life even more vividly. The game's production values are superlative throughout and make this one of the most immersive role-playing titles to appear on next-gen consoles to date. In the end, the level of detail evident throughout the game is impressive, and the brilliant developers at Bethesda Softworks deserve plenty of credit for creating such an impressive graphics engine.

While it would be easy to criticize Oblivion's smaller faults, stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture shows a game that easily transcends any of its minor mistakes. Its non-linear structure makes it easy to play for either small or long sessions and provides players with an incredible sense of freedom and possibility that keeps you immersed in the action. Its diverse array of tasks, quests and missions keeps your interest levels high throughout. You'll immediately see a level of richness and detail in its design, back story and execution that makes the experience feel all the more immersive and engaging. Oblivion effectively transports players into a parallel fantasy world that feels as rich and believable as a novel. The scope and scale of the game is impressive and brings with it an incredible sense of being in the center of a great adventure. The gameplay and storyline are quite enjoyable, with a control system and interface that's easy to use while also giving you plenty of flexibility. There are a few minor issues, such as load times, that keep the game from perfection, but Oblivion still delivers one of the most engaging and exciting next generation role playing titles to date. This is a solidly entertaining and engrossing title and those who haven't experienced this fantastic title yet owe it to themselves to play this on the Playstation 3, which offers the smoothest playing version of the game yet.

- Michael Palisano


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