This is hardly a new game, but I did not get it until fairly recently, so I thought I would go ahead and share my thoughts on it still.Many people, including myself, tend to have a somewhat preconceived notion of what an RPG (role-playing game) is, especially video game ones. They tend to think of experience toward levels so you can be stronger than the enemies in the game as you go further into it, specific classes with sets of skills, a set storyline and often turn-based combat.
So what do you get when you take all of these notions and turn them on their ear? The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, that's what. This is not a new game, in fact it was one of the first releases for the Xbox 360, but it still holds up quite well more than a year later. There is no top-down view of your character as you wind through forests and over mountains - instead what you see is a first-person view that is both beautiful and very immersive.
Instead of being typecast into the role of a strong but magically inept warrior, or a wizard who can't take a hit, you are quite literally what you make of yourself. Certainly you can put your character into a very narrow role if that is your intent, but my character for example is a very good spellcaster who also happens to use a sword and shield. The leveling system is not typical by any means either. You level when you want to (if you've earned enough experience, you only level when you choose to sleep in a bed), but racing up in levels is not always a good idea, because the longer you stay at a level doing things, the more the gains made in that next level will benefit your character. Cast lots of spells and you can gain considerable intelligence. Fight lots, and your physical combat prowess can be improved. You are what you make of yourself in this game.
The story is very non-linear. In fact I spent more time doing the side quests than the main adventure. As much as I enjoyed the main story, I also enjoyed getting my pseudo-warrior into a mage's guild, becoming the grand champion of the arena and trying to figure out how to best improve my alchemy ability. With that said, sometimes the game almost can feel too open-ended, and that is sure to be a turn-off for some traditionalists.
Graphics: Often stunning, and they do a good job of immersing you in the game, since it is all handled in first-person perspective, and technically speaking, isn't immersion the point of role-playing games? Also, stumbling upon Oblivion gates is a treat. The landscape begins to warp and the skies turn to a stormy blood-red as lightning rips through the sky. Awesome stuff, though facial expressions and some textures (especially in caverns or tombs) can be a bit bland.
Music and sound: The voice acting is mixed bag. Some of it is quite good, but most of it is utterly forgettable. Still, the fact that all of the conversations in the game have voice acting is quite impressive and a nice change of pace from having to read the entire game. Also the sound effects for magic and of arrows soaring past your head and imps running about nearby are all quite good. Also, the thunder and storming sounds that come with certain weather changes - and especially when finding an Oblivion Gate, are just awesome.
Game play: This is perhaps where the game becomes a bit weaker. I love the option to move around via map instead of having to manually walk from here to there all of the time. Considering just how large the world is, this is a time-saver that cuts out what could have become very tedious, even with a horse to ride (personally I hate tedious walking or flying as you see in World of Warcraft, for example). However, combat is sometimes a bit uneven, as you can get hit and have absolutely no idea where it is coming from. Also the collision detection on melee attacks can be a bit spotty at times. Sometimes it is almost impossible to hit someone with your weapon, or worse yet if you have allies, I often find myself hitting them instead of the monster, even though the monster is between us. Also, archery is kind of cool in theory, but almost useless in actual practice. Some landscapes seem like they should be traversable or climbable and they aren't and sometimes you can pass by or through something that seems like it should have stopped you.Intangibles: I love the amount of customization you can do in setting up your characters, in how you progress and also how you can craft your own potions and spells, even naming them if you'd like. The arena was a lot of fun as well, as you can even pick your own moniker to be known by. Still, some of the quests seem borderline ridiculous (really? I joined the fighter's guild - so what's my first assignment? *pauses* You want me to kill rats in a basement?...), but for the most part the epic scope and feel of the game is exactly what you are looking for in an RPG. This is a game that has been known to take people hundreds of hours, and the company has released several downloadable content packages as well, that have really extended the life of game as well.
Overall rating: 8.5 - the game is immersive, flexible, original - what's not to like, right? Well, it is a very good, even great game on many fronts, but in a few places it also feels somewhat lacking. I didn't mind the combat schemes, but I do like my turn-based ones as well, and you don't have to worry about things like collision detection. Also, and this is a big one for me, but I like the storylines and emotional attachments to characters you get in games such as the Final Fantasy series, and you really do not have that here. Oblivion is a great experience in that it gives you complete flexibility to craft your character how you choose, creating your own story as it were, but there is a sort of emotional detachment that lessens the experience for me personally as well. Plenty of violence and some adult themes (such as assassination) but there is no gore or overly graphic violence that would upset most children either.