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On Oblivion

September 22, 2006 ・ Blog

Do I actually enjoy playing Oblivion? Judging by how much I was grumbling at the screen playing it last night, not very much.

That might not sound the most incredible revelation to pass on about some videogame or other. But you have to understand that I’ve put 45 hours of my scarce free time playing this rambling RPG over the last few months. And I daresay I’ll be putting a few more tens into it in the future.

Perhaps I’m trying, like an addled heroin addict, to recapture the incredible high I experienced playing it for the first time. The game opens with a tramp through dank city sewers followed by an emergence into spectacularly verdant countryside, complete with Vaughan Williams-esque orchestral music. It was one of the most extraordinary gaming moments I’ve had.

It has since inspired a compulsive period of intense playing, me metronomically completing quest after quest and covering as much of its expansive countryside as possible. But with every repetition in its meagre cast of voice actors, identikit dungeon filled with harder enemies and level increase with imperceptible effects, my involvement has steadily been dropping.

Oblivion’s promise of an open game world that I can explore and engage with almost without barriers has actually proven to be really annoying. The power of my adversaries is tied to the level of my character’s abilities (a thief – such an all-rounder that I’m crap at everything), so I now suspect that I’ll never reach a dizzying state of omnipotence because they’ll always be a step ahead of me. So I wonder what the point of levelling up is.

And despite the promise of being able to tackle challenges in whatever way I like, most of the quests involve me running past enemies to avoid boring and irritating fights with them – fights that I keep losing. I appreciate the offer of some choice to tackle tasks in the manner of my choosing, but this just feels unsatisfying.

I think a large problem is Oblivion’s sheer size. In my 45 hours, I’ve maybe tackled 30 per cent of the available content. That might sound like a nice bonus, but actually, much that I’ve experienced is very similar – while not all has involved traipsing though too-dark dungeons, way too much involves dreary hacking and slashing. Going through the quests feels like a chore.

Ultimately, I’m wondering whether I’ve become something of a graphics whore. Because I’m increasingly suspecting that if Oblivion didn’t look as glorious as it does, I’d have given up on it weeks ago.