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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Add to ...

  • Reviewed on: PlayStation3 (viewed on an HP PL4200N 42-inch plasma at 720p)
  • Also available for: Xbox360, PC
  • The Good: It's the most realistic simulation of an expansive, offline fantasy world ever constructed-and a blast to play, too
  • The Bad: It has revealed in me a secret desire to be naughty
  • The Verdict: Offers little in the way of new content compared to previous versions, but it's still the yardstick for all open-ended, single player role-playing games

I'm a do-gooder when it comes to role-playing games. Faced with a character altering decision, like whether or not to accept a reward from an impoverished village that I just saved or plunge my sword through the heart of a defeated villain, I unfailingly keep to the moral high ground.

Oddly, that wasn't the case when I played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the Xbox 360 last year. I found myself repeatedly lured to acts of unspeakable evil. The worst of my misdeeds were ordered by my superiors in the assassins' guild, who paid handsomely for me to deep six dozens of men and women while often refusing to explain just what they might have done to deserve the business end of my dagger. Talk about cold blooded.

To be honest, the ease with which I fell to the dark side (and the pleasure I took in my diabolical acts) has bothered me ever since. That's why I welcomed the opportunity to put my fantasy videogame ethics to the test a second time with the newly released PlayStation3 version of Bethesda Softworks' acclaimed RPG.

However, it's taken less than 20 hours-about a fifth of the game's length-for me to return to my wicked ways. I've already fallen again to the temptation of the assassin's guild. Worse, I've wholeheartedly embraced the power that has come with my accidental contraction of vampirism. Sucking the blood of the occasional innocent seems a small price to pay for enhanced speed, agility, strength, and night vision.

I swear, this game is a psychology experiment just waiting to happen.

Doing bad feels good

Of course it's entirely possible to play the game without performing a single act of evil. In fact it would make things a lot easier in some ways.

The consequences of engaging in criminal activities in Oblivion's startlingly realistic society are far-reaching and often severe. People aware of your transgressions might refuse to talk to you or do business with you, your rank within honorable guilds maybe stripped, and there's a good chance you'll eventually wind up withering away in the town dungeon.

But, as they say, that's only if you get caught. And that's what makes doing bad things in Oblivion so exciting. It's the thrill of waiting for no one to be looking and then taking advantage of these rare moments to break into a home, steal a treasure, or kill a mark. I can feel my heart racing now just at the thought of it.

So, while I'm slightly disappointed in myself for pursuing Oblivion's more sinful pleasures, I have to admit that, for better or worse, I've had a great time doing so.

My valorous façade

I should probably clarify that, despite my many transgressions, I have acted in knightly fashion for the majority of the game, and I will continue to do so. A key part of my playing style involves keeping the deeds I'm not particularly proud of hidden from the rest of Oblivion's virtual population.

Why bother to keep up this façade? Because there is plenty of noble crusading to be done in this massive fantasy world (and, as I've already mentioned, infamy can make carrying out some of these honest missions more difficult).

The campaign portion of the game, which alone takes a good 50 hours to see through to its conclusion, sees our hero slowly closing gates to the underworld that are popping up all over the land while simultaneously working to ensure that the country's rightful heir takes the throne.

There are also dozens of hours to be spent engaging in scores of righteous side quests, most from upright organizations like the fighters and mages guilds. Many of these missions involve little more than finding a certain dungeon and fighting your way through it, but some are highly original. One particularly imaginative mission involves diving into a painting to find a missing man and exploring a beautiful watercolour world filled with monsters.

The point is, I want to stretch out the game as long as possible. I've already spent well over 100 hours with various versions of Oblivion, and, amazingly, it continues to entertain me. Regardless of whether I choose to specialize in bows or swords, magic or stealth, the game is so fluid and engaging that I have a hard time putting down the controller. Simply put, it's one of the most playable action/RPGs ever made.

PlayStation3 edition holds no surprises

The PlayStation3 version of Oblivion is nearly identical to the Xbox 360 and PC iterations, so if you're wondering whether it's worth picking up a second time, the answer is no. The load times between levels are slightly shorter than those of the Xbox 360 version and it's probably the smoothest and most stable edition yet, but, save an extra quest bundled in that's available as an add-on to previous editions, there is essentially no difference in content.

Of course that's not to say the game isn't worth revisiting. I'm developing a completely different type of character than when I played it for Xbox 360, and I'm running across a wide variety of side quests and dungeons that I missed the first time out. But I could just as easily have created a new character and found all of these dungeons and quests in the Xbox 360 or PC editions as well.

The long and the short of it is that Oblivion is an unparalleled open-ended fantasy role-playing game. If you've yet to try it, the PlayStation3 version is just as good a way to experience it as the two existing versions.

Just don't be surprised if, before long, you start to feel cracks in your code of videogame ethics.

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