Why We Love The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

by Matt Bertz on Jul 11, 2011 at 10:20 AM

In celebration of the five-year anniversary edition of Oblivion, we look back at our favorite moments playing Bethesda’s triumphant RPG.

Eighteen games launched alongside the Xbox 360 when the console shipped in November of 2005, but it wasn’t until the following March that many GI editors felt they played their first true next-gen title. With its stunning visuals, vast world, and deep collection of quests, several of us spent hundreds of hours immersed in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion experience, and these are our favorite parts.

The Expansiveness
Few games capture a sense of wonder and exploration like Oblivion. When you escape the labyrinthine prison tunnels and first emerge into the world of Cyrodiil, the view is breathtaking. The picturesque countryside in Oblivion is nearly as varied as the North American landscape, featuring rolling fields of green, dense forests filled with wildlife, snowy mountain passes, murky swamps, and gorgeous coastlines. These locations aren’t just eye candy – anywhere you see, you can go, and each of these regions is filled with quest dungeons.

The Dark Brotherhood
Like Morrowind’s Morag Tong, the Dark Brotherhood is a sinister group of assassins who shift the balance of power in Cyrodiil with their hidden blades. To even be considered for membership in this guild, you must murder an innocent civilian. Once you’re in, the real fun begins. A precursor to the medieval cloak-and-dagger routine in Assassin’s Creed, these entertaining and inventive assassination missions test your ability to get away with murder and are some of the best the game has to offer.

The Thieves Guild
While you’re sullying your reputation by slitting throats in the Dark Brotherhood, why not commiserate with pickpockets, burglars, and smugglers as well? Run by the mysterious Gray Fox, the Thieves Guild is a must for players like me who like to pilfer homes and stores indiscriminately (a habit formed while playing Ultima games). Since most merchants won’t buy your stolen goods, you need to join the Thieves Guild to fence your ill-gotten gains to the black market. Completing these quests also gives you access to two of my favorite items – the Boots of Springheel Jak, which increase your acrobatics skill by 50 points, and the Gray Cowl of Nocturnal, an enchanted hood that allows you to detect all life forms within 120 feet, fortifies your sneak ability by 25, allows you to carry 200 more pounds of gear, and ensures that all crimes committed while wearing it are attributed to an alternate persona. It’s the haute couture of looting fashion.

The Arena
Where better to test your mettle than the Imperial City’s biggest stage? Even though you can’t loot the corpses of your victims, these spectator-friendly fights to the death bring you considerable spoils and fame. Claim the title of Grand Champion and you’ll be approached by an annoying superfan who will follow you around. This whipping boy can take any amount of abuse you can dole out. Push him off a cliff, leave him to his own devices in a dangerous dungeon, slap him around with your bare hands – no matter what punishment you throw at him, the dopey Link lookalike takes it like champ and inevitably respawns to take his faithful position by your side.

Before insufferable emo teen dramas like Twilight and horrible B-movie quality television shows like True Blood ruined vampire lore, they used to be cool. While questing to close the gates of Oblivion I hardly expected to encounter these fanged creatures of night, but if you want to live out your days as an Anne Rice antihero, you can. Contracting the porphyric hemophilia disease gives you this dark gift, which permanently boosts your strength, willpower, and speed skills while imparting other impressive bonuses as well. The only catch? Sunlight kills you, and if you let the disease take hold you must complete a lengthy quest to reverse its effect. 

Overdriving Your Character
Oblivion’s deep character creation system let you create any type of hero you wanted. If you quest enough hours, set stat goals to maximize your leveling potential, and find the right equipment, you can eventually boost your character’s skills across the board to create an unstoppable force with the combined abilities of many specialists. By the time the final gates of Oblivion were closed, my spellsword dark elf was a master of hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, archery, stealth, magic, lockpicking, and speechcraft.

Though it began with controversial and useless horse armor, Oblivion’s downloadable content rollout is still the benchmark for successful add-ons in role-playing games. Starting with smaller quests like The Vile Lair and The Wizard’s Tower, Bethesda eventually expanded with deeper questlines like The Knights of the Nine and The Shivering Isles that gave us new reasons to clear our social calendar.

The Shivering Isles expansion pack features the best character in the game – the Daedric prince of madness Sheogorath. This schizophrenic prankster uses the Shivering Isles as his dastardly playground for driving mortals insane. When he’s not injecting entropy into his chaotic realm, he’s a stunning conversationalist who spouts some of the most memorable quotes of the game in his hilarious Scottish accent.

Radiant AI
Thanks to Bethesda’s Radiant AI technology, Oblivion is the first role-playing game that gave me the impression that it was a living, breathing world. Every character has a daily routine. If you follow a normal denizen all day, you’ll likely watch him wake up to breakfast, work the fields all day, grab a pint on his way home from work, and retire to his quarters. These life cycles also offer you intriguing new ways to assassinate people. Place a poisoned apple in a character’s pocket and he’ll likely take a bite of it when he gets hungry. Muahahahaha!

Daedric Quests
Completing these quests at the beckoning of the Daedric Princes rewards you with Daedric Artifacts, some of the best items in the game. The shrines where you receive the quests are hidden throughout the countryside of Cyrodiil, but finding them is worth the hunt. My favorites include the Skeleton Key, an unbreakable lockpick that increases your security skill by 40 points, and the Wabbajack, a staff that can turn any non-NPC enemy into a random creature for 10 seconds.

Unexpected Voyage
Some of the best quests in Oblivion are those you least expect. Taking rest at the Bloated Float Inn in the Imperial Waterfront District doesn’t get you the good night’s sleep you were hoping for. Brigands hijack the ship while you’re asleep and when you awake you find yourself at sea. These suckers picked the wrong night to make their move, because in order to return to port you’ll slaughter every last one of them. Now that’s a satisfying refund.

The Score
When you play a game for over 100 hours, chances are you eventually loathe the music. Not Oblivion. Composer Jeremy Soule delivered a delightful score that knows when to take a backseat to the action and knows when to come to the forefront.

If you didn’t play Oblivion on PC, you missed out. The hard-working community of modders set out to improve all the niggling problems with the game. They created less-hideous female faces, improved the menu interface, added saddle bags to horses so you could carry more loot, revamped the maps to give them more detail, added more creatures to the wilderness, and even changed the enemy leveling system so they don’t automatically rank up in difficulty as your character grows stronger.

Those are our favorite elements of Oblivion. What are yours?

Be sure to check out our other "Why We Love" features:
Final Fantasy VI
Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Thanks to the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages for the images of the Grey Fox, vampire, and Bloated Float Inn.