Personally, I really enjoyed myself with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I never got much into Daggerfall, its predecessor, due to the game not getting along with the computer I had at the time- I couldn’t get more than 10-15 minutes into the game before it would either kindly just crash, or more often freeze the entire computer and cause a loud screeching sound that wouldn’t stop until the power cord was pulled from the comp. I recall hearing many diehard Daggerfall fans claiming that Morrowind was “dumbed down”, had lost many of Daggerfall’s gameplay features, and just didn’t feel as fun or complete, to which at the time I couldn’t really relate. Enter Oblivion, and now I can.
 
-Graphics-
 
Well, the elephant in the room so to speak here is the graphics. They’re pretty damn impressive, with the gameworld looking as if it could almost be real. Almost every graphical aspect you could want is here, down to the trees casting shadows on the swaying grass, drab-looking outlying villages contrasted by the towering white walls of the Imperial City, wildlife running around in the outdoors (unfortunately 90% of it is homicidally aggressive and cannot wait to attack you), and plants growing all over the landscape which you can harvest and use (through your alchemy skill) to create potions, poisons, and such.

-Combat Engine-

The one other area in which Oblivion improved somewhat over Morrowind was in its combat engine, although I have mixed feelings about this. As opposed to just pressing the attack button like mad and banging away at your enemy while auto-blocking their attacks if your character was a skilled enough fighter (for those who didn’t play it this is basically all that combat consisted of in Morrowind), Oblivion takes the action up a notch allowing the player to control blocking, dodging, and what kind of attacks to launch. The plus side here is that it gives what used to be a lackluster combat engine a more visceral feel, which overall is really more “fun” than the combat in Morrowind was.

On the negative side of the new combat engine, I am not of the mindset that an RPG player SHOULD have direct control over his character in combat. Regardless of how fast the reflexes of the person playing him/her might be, something like an early level unarmored mage who can barely wield a dagger SHOULD NOT stand a chance in melee battle against much more than an ant. Even if the person playing as that character has voluntarily fried a good portion of their intellect by playing hours upon hours of Halo, said wimpy Mage still shouldn’t have one bit of an advantage in combat because they ARE BEING PLAYED AS A CHARACTER, and NOT AS A REPRESENTATION OF THE PLAYER HIM/HERSELF!!! This is the beginning of where Oblivion takes the “RPG” label, and throws it right out of the window.

-Gameplay-

Speaking of combat, we come to the next big problem in the game- Level Scaling. What this means is that when you’re playing a level 1 weakling (who thanks to the combat engine could already have the reflexes of Gilgamesh), EVERYTHING that you encounter in the game will be “levelled” to the same strength as your level 1 character. Whether you’re facing an angry rat, a goblin scout, or a huge, lumbering Troll in the forest, none of them will provide a real threat/challenge, as they will all be virtually the same strength level as each other and of your character. Remember sneaking into a dungeon in Morrowind, narrowly avoiding several beasts that would annhilate your character on sight, and coming back out with a nice, shiny, high value piece of armor/weapon that you could then show off, sell, or use as you pleased? Those days are gone now. Traded instead for the boredom of fighting through a dungeon of enemies which provide no real challenge, to emerge instead with items ALSO LEVELLED TO YOUR CHARACTER. Nothing like the thrill of slaughtering hordes of bandits and being rewarded with a basic, crappy dagger and some arrows for your trouble, is there? This continues on forever, meaning that your level 30 fighter never has any sense of really being powerful, instead still meeting custom-tailored to your level adversaries, whacking them, and finding items once again common for a level 30 fighter. It’s just flat out boring, and there’s neither any challenge or sense of achievement to gain.
Still on the subject of combat, we come to the next problem- virtually every quest in the damn game requires you to “go here and kill this or that”. Even the Mage Guild quests, which you’d think being the Mage Guild would have something to do with Magic or Alchemy, are generally also of the “Go here and kill this!” nature. If you want to play as a peaceful, good looking, and smooth talking “agent” in order to complete the game, you’re simply out of luck here, as most of the side quests require combat to complete, and the game’s main quest is virtually NOTHING BUT combat after repetitive combat.
 -Storyline-
“Cliched, Dull, and Full of Holes”
In Oblivion, the plot of the game is that your Emperor has been assassinated by agents from the plane of Oblivion, who then begin attacking the province of Cyrodiil with the goal of killing everyone in it and conquering the whole thing. Exactly why they want to do this is never really revealed, I suppose it’s because “they’re just EVIL!”. “Oblivion Gates”, portals which allow the demonic forces to cross over into Cyrodiil (the game’s setting) and rape, pillage, and burn their way to happiness, are popping up all over the land, and the game presses you urgently the hurry and close them before it’s too late! However, feel free to slowly take on all of the side quests you want at your own leisure. The demons of Oblivion will kindly wait inside their gates for you to get around to shutting them down, while the hapless guards scattered all over Cyrodil in the many cities are content to just make their rounds, stand guard, and occasionally complain about how horrified they are of the impending invasion while happily expecting you, possibly a wimpy, first level pilgrim with no combat skills to speak of, to save the world on your own good time. The story is inconsistent and full of holes, and this didn’t fare well toward my enthusiam for completing the game.

-More on Role Playing-

Remember what I said before about Oblivion throwing the “RPG” label out of the window? Well, that’s because there aren’t any more in depth “Role Playing” opportunities in Oblivion than there were in Doom II. You cannot “play” a character here any more than you could in Doom, or Wolfenstein 3-D, or The Legend of Zelda. Every quest has the same requirements to complete (including the main one which requires you to shut down many demon-filled Oblivion gates single-handedly), and all of your dialogue options are canned and unchanged whether you’re playing as the typical dumb as a brick fighter, or a highly intelligent mage. You can join every faction in the game from the get-go (a fighter can march right into the Mage Guild and join right up- no magic skills required!) and nothing you do affects the gameworld in any way other than the linear path through quests. NPCs (Non Player Characters- everyone besides you) aren’t any more exciting either. “Quest Characters”, those who are needed to progress the storyline, are the only ones who ever say anything slightly original or interesting, while the others say all of the same canned responses to the 2-3 questions you can ask them, and all in some of the worst voice acting heard in a game to date. One liners such as “I saw a mud crab the other day… Horrible creatures.” become too much to take after a point, and my favorite was something along the lines of “Did you hear? The Emperor has been killed!” being spoken weeks into the game and well into my way of repelling the Oblivion attack all by myself, while the brave city guards stood around idly.

 -More Dumbing Down-
A quick question for the developers at Bethesda: What the hell happened to the spears!? You could use a spear as a weapon in Morrowind, so why not in Oblivion? If you’re going to make a generic Medieval fantasy world, the very least that could be done is to include the weapon that was the mainstay of any Medieval army! You’ll notice as well that “Axes” are now categorized as “Blunt” weapons along with clubs and hammers. Why?? Since when is an Axe a “blunt” weapon? These skill paths (Axes and Spears), along with several spells and the “Medium Armor” skill, have been either lumped into smaller skill sets (now you have only Light or Heavy armor, previous Medium armor became “Heavy”, go figure), or done away with completely.
 -Specially Tailored for the XBox-
One last complaint here, is that the first thing anyone who played Morrowind will notice is the game’s “New Steamlined!” interface. It was made for an Xbox and a controller, and is nothing but a big pain in the ass to navigate for those of us used to a decently made PC interface.

 -Some Good News, Finally-

As usual, the modders out there have fixed or improved a great deal of Oblivion. Contrary to my writing above, I actually DO enjoy this game after a literal 4+ gigs worth of mods, most of which either work to completely change the gameplay mechanics (no more level scaling), add challenge (no more compass markers, more realistic fatigue and weapon damage, etc), and a few graphics mods which can really speed the frames per second up. I highly recommend “Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul” (OOO) mod, which gets rid of the level scaling crap and adds some actual, honest to God challenge back into the game. OOO plus a few extra quest mods, most of which are written better than the main quest, can turn Oblivion into more of a 3D Diablo-style hack and slasher that still contains no role-playing to speak of but does make for an entertaining power-levelling action game with stats.

OOO can be found here: http://jorgeoscuro.googlepages.com/

 -Overall-

Basically what we get here is an action game with stats, an open ended and pretty but shallow and boring gameworld, and no “role playing” to speak of, but nearly non-stop combat. It feels like Morrowind dumbed down for the Halo kids, and IMO that’s exactly what it was intended as. The really disturbing trend, and the reason I lash out at it as hard as I do is that Oblivion is constantly referred to as a “Hardcore RPG!”, and nearly every review by any mainstream (go figure) game publication of it just didn’t bother mentioning any of the game’s flaws, instead going on and on about “graphics” and “immersion” (which IMO the lack of any substance to it killed) and then giving it either an extremely high rating, or the title of “Best Game EVAR!”. If this is the new standard for “RPGs”, then consider me happy to continue replaying Fallout (1 and 2), Planescape Torment, and the Baldur’s Gate games until the end of time- Oblivion just leaves me feeling empty.

Positive:

– Beautiful Graphics

– Engaging Soundtrack

– Combat more involving than previous Elder Scrolls Series games

– Impressive Mods available online that change most of the gameplay mechanics and finally make it enjoyable

 
Negative:
– Boring main quest
– Game world is large but sorely lacking in depth
– Level Scaling, which succeeds at taking all of the challenge out of the game
– Inability to turn off the “Quest Markers”, another challenge-sapper, without mods
– “Radiant AI” is anything but
– Combat is the only solution to nearly everything in the game, no matter what character class or attributes you choose.- Canned dialogue choices which remain the same no matter your character’s attributes.
– Xbox-centric Interface
 
 
*I don’t know why I can get spaces between the “positives” above, and the text editor here refuses to let me do the same with “negatives”- I’m about to rip my hair out over this now, so just leaving it as is*   
* #2    Same thing now with the damn “storyline” section!  I keep editing it, spacing it properly and saving, and it just changes back to the awful crushed together way it looks now!  This sort of thing drives me nuts, but I’m going to leave it alone for now as I have to get going.  Just making it clear that this wasn’t a deliberate sloppy mistake* 

 

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For those of you who haven’t tried it, I recommend giving Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat beer a shot. I’ve gotten myself hooked on this stuff and am even drinking one down in between sentences as I type.

I’m generally not a big fan of fruit-flavored beers- the idea doesn’t sound appealing to me in the first place, and the few I’ve tried (with names I don’t remember) were either “not so good” or “god-awful” on the taste scale. This stuff is different, and I would never have even tried it if not for my good friend Brian. It all started one night having beers with friends, Brian brought the Cherry Wheat beer and told me to try it out, and get ready to go back to the best of the “Fat Kid Days”- let’s rewind a bit here…

The Fat Kid Days, for me, were roughly from the age of 9 or 10 until 15. Normally, I comment on how scrawny I used to be as a teen, and believe me, I was- however, there was a time before then when I was a little butterball. I wasn’t one of those REALLY fat guys that everyone refers to as the “fat kid”, but I was pretty chubby, didn’t exercise unless walking to the fridge counts, and spent most of my time playing video games or reading- great activities for fun and learning, but not so so much toward being in good physical shape. If there was one thing I loved as a fat kid (well, besides my Red Baron computer game and internet porn), it was Cherry Coke. I drank them constantly, at school and at home, and couldn’t get enough of the stuff until I finally dropped sodas altogether when I got into working out. I remember it like yesterday- my parents would be on a golf tournament trip (my dad both played and coached), I’d be out of school for spring break, would wake up around 10am, stretch, grab a Cherry Coke, and start my day of net porn surfing and playing Red Baron until the sun went down. Obviously I have a few fond memories of those otherwise hated days.

Back to the Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, this stuff is like the Cherry Coke of beer. It tastes like it- really, it does, and can be a little off-putting at first, but once I’d had a couple, I started really craving this stuff. It’s brewed with mashed cherries and honey, supposedly in a “traditional American recipe” which might be true and which I highly doubt coming from any large company, but the stuff really is damn good. My favorite part is, if you pour it correctly, it gets a nice little creamy foam head that stays there and keeps the beer smooth while you drink it. This is one of those “clear the whole mug in 3 swigs” types of beer for me, along with my beloved Guinness and Boddington’s Pub Ale, because it feels so good going down. Give me a good, creamy beer to relax with, and I’m happy.

My only complaint about this one is that the cherry taste kind of overpowers everything else, and so it doesn’t have much of beer taste to it at all. I love the Sam Adam’s original brew as well, and would like a stronger beer kick to go along with the cherry. Every sip of this beer brings back nostalgic memories of days filled with the immortal Red Baron and Chasey Lain pics that took 5 minutes to load on my crappy 14.4k modem of the time, and to top it all off, I still have my original Red Baron Mac game, AND my old printed off Chasey pic collection. Some things are just never meant to die.