Exploring Freedom In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

by Ben Reeves on Jul 04, 2014 at 07:00 AM

As we continue our journey exploring freedom in games, I want to look back at a game that had a significant impact on my free time: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The Elder Scrolls is a series that comes to a lot of gamers' minds when they think about games where they've truly felt free to explore a world. But while some gamers will extol the virtues of titles like Morrowind or Skyrim, the entry that remains the most memorable for me was Oblivion.

Playing Oblivion was like falling into another world. The game builds on you slowly, but after making it through the opening act (which has players exploring a few of the game's mechanics in an underground dungeon after a quick prison break), you emerge into a vast open world and are free to explore hundreds of side quests and engage in a seemingly endless list of activities. It was easy to look up at the clock, after playing for a period, and discover that it was several hours past your normal bed time. I once sat down to play the game and was startled to see the sun coming up many hours later.

Even with all the content packed onto Oblivion's disc, I still tried to stick pretty close to the main story – at least for awhile. But after taking the illegitimate son of dead emperor to a safe haven, I wondered into the nearby town of Bruma and started talking to a beggar. He pointed me towards a new side quest that sounded interesting and pretty soon I was investigating a mysterious murder. That was the quest that originally got me off track from the main story, but hundreds of others kept me from returning to the main plot for over a hundred hours. It didn't matter that the game was littered with bugs and odd A.I. behavior – Oblivion's world became my world. It was more interesting to explore.

In many games, a player's actions are ignored for the benefit of the story. If you kill a wondering minstrel or steal the jewels from the castle, these sins are quickly forgiven, or even ignored altogether. In the Elder Scrolls series, however, players' actions are tracked for the benefit of immersion. People get angry with you if you steal things from their house, and guards chase you out of town for killing someone. At one point in the game, I remember stealing a horse because I needed to get across the countryside and I was tired of walking. I'd stolen hundreds of horses in games before this point, and never really thought much of it, but the day after I stole a horse in Oblivion, a man in a mask, calling himself the Grey Fox, approached me in the middle of the night and said he'd been watching me. He wanted to test my skills to see if I was good enough for the thieves guild – a guild I didn't even know was in the game.

After my run in with the thieves guild, I became obsessed with joining every guild in the game. I didn't care about magic, but I joined the mage guild swearing an oath to become the best mage on the planet. The amazing thing was that each one of the guilds seemed packed with enough mission content to fill an entire game of their own, but in Oblivion they were just side quests. I began to wonder if I'd ever even finish the game. Could you finish this game? Or did it just go on forever?

I never 100 percented Oblivion, but I came close, logging in over 160 hours on the game. The amazing thing was that I never grew tired of my experience; the game always seemed to have another task that was worth running after – another feather I wanted to stick on my hat. To this day, Oblivion contains some of my most memorable gaming moments. I remember waking up one day and realizing the sun hurt my skin because I'd become a vampire (I didn't know that was possible, but I enjoyed finding the cure). I'll never forget traveling into a painting to help save an artist from his own creation; I got chills while battling the spirits in a haunted house. Oblivion has an almost limitless variety of quests to undertake, and I was actually sad when I finally laid it up on the shelf for the last time. Maybe it's time to revisit this game and fall back into it's enormous world.

...you may never see me again.