Tuesday, January 09, 2007

At the Gates of Oblivion

Well, actually (and fortunately), no -- but I have finally gotten around to playing Oblivion, after having received it as a Christmas gift from my wife. For those of you who don't play computer games, Oblivion is a popular fantasy-themed role playing game that was developed last year by Bethesda Softworks. It is the fourth installment in Bethesda's continuing Elder Scrolls series of games, and its predecessors include Daggerfall and Morrowind.

Before I detail my observations of Oblivion, I should point out that of the previous Elder Scrolls games, I've only played Morrowind, which I loaded up shortly after it was released in May 2002. I remember being initially thrilled and very impressed with Morrowind for many days and weeks, perhaps too many of both as it turned out. I was struck by the spectacular visuals and the then state of the art character facial animations, draw distance, and water rendering.

I also liked the game's first person view that was reminiscent of good shooters like Half-Life and the immersive free-form mode of play that let you embark on the main quest or deviate from the scripted quests and explore the expansive game world as you chose. After a fair bit of exploring, I ended up performing the game's main quest and that led to a long sequence of addictive game play in which I completed minor and major quests until I was -- done, and quite exhausted by the end, as if I had just run a marathon while carrying my computer. As soon as I completed the main quest in Morrowind, I lost all compulsion for the game and felt no further desire to explore or continue playing, despite the two official add-ons and countless modifications released by the fan community. To this day, I have never replayed Morrowind and still feel some fatigue when thinking about the latter stages of the game quest.

So it was with both excitement and some trepidation that I installed and began to play Oblivion. I was able to get into the game right away, as it builds well on Morrowind, with the same kind of wide world sandbox and main quest that you may or may not undertake as you choose. The updated engine boasts very nice character and environment graphics, and, from what I've heard, it degrades well on lower end machines. For the record, I'm playing Oblivion on a PC, with an AMD 3500+ 2.21 GHz processor with 2.0 GB of RAM and an Nvidia 7800 GT PCI Express graphics card.

The game play itself is fun and it's made me remember why I play fantasy role playing games. The quests are interesting and varied, the combat provides a good rush without becoming gratuitous, and the large, detailed game world is as good as it gets for a fantasy role playing game.

I've also been able to enjoy the game without becoming addicted to it or playing it for excessive lengths of time. So in this regard, so far, so good. Perhaps having a wife now helps, as opposed to when I was single and playing Morrowind and could stay up playing all night.

I do have some problems with the game's inventory and quest UI tabs, which look great but only show information in an impractical, list view, which you must constantly scroll up or down to view additional information. A larger grid view for at least inventory would have been much more usable than the default display setup.

The game also doesn't share resources well. A spyware scan, a firewall alert, or an automated update check will cause the game to minimize and crash. I've discovered that I have to lock my firewall to get the game to play without issues.

Overall, though, Oblivion is very much a success and a lot of fun to play.

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