Oblivion, the fourth title in Bethesda’s flagship Elder Scrolls series (and predecessor to the juggernaut that is Skyrim) turns 15 years old. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at this beloved classic and the foundation that it laid, not just for Bethesda games, but the roleplaying genre at large.
Released on March 20th 2006 to widespread critical acclaim, Oblivion quickly cemented itself as a heavy hitter among fantasy RPGs with an immense open world (around 41 square kilometres, compared to the 16 of its predecessor, Morrowind), improved AI, physics, and graphics, as well as a star-studded voice cast featuring the likes of Patrick Stewart, Lynda Carter, and Sean Bean. The game also boasted an atmospheric orchestral soundtrack.
Oblivion offered players myriad ways to approach its story, with a huge number of creative and engaging side quests and a whopping fifteen factions that the player could join (including those added in the two DLC expansions), my edgy teenage self particularly enjoying the assassin’s guild, The Dark Brotherhood.
Players could take up a variety of fighting styles too, brandishing a sword and running straight into battle, sneaking around and striking from the shadows, or keeping their distance and peppering foes with arrows or magic. All of this combined to make a hugely varied experience, keeping Oblivion fresh and exciting, with vast potential for repeat playthroughs.
With that said, how does it stack up after 15 years? The tried and true Elder Scrolls sword and sorcery gameplay that still survives in Skyrim is there in spades and is still engaging even now, however, other aspects of Oblivion have rather started to show their age.
Inevitably, on a technical level, it comes up a little short compared to games of today, but that’s rather to be expected. What can’t be avoided on revisiting Oblivion now, however, is the meme status that parts of the game have acquired, an online comedian rather hilariously using one particular NPC’s dialogue for a prank phone call being one that springs to mind. As high-profile as many of the voice cast were, that sadly doesn’t mean that every performer was bringing their A-game, a fair few instances of stiff or just flat-out strange line delivery bringing plenty of moments of unintentional comedy to the game.
This is also contributed to by the AI, complex and impressive for the time, but often having its NPCs behave in very bizarre ways, or displaying comically short attention spans. While for some, this may take players out of an otherwise serious and engaging experience, for others (myself included), the comedy that comes with Oblivion’s memeification only provides another level of enjoyment in a beloved game.
15 years after its original release, Oblivion is a wrinkly behemoth, those flaws accentuated if you happen to be revisiting the game on PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. However, there’s no disputing its influence as one the most ground-breaking games of all time and a blueprint for countless western RPGs to come. Looking back, it’s particularly interesting to see which elements Bethesda went on to refine in Fallout and Skyrim, and which elements were scrapped. No matter which angle you’re coming from, Oblivion is still a masterpiece and one that boasts endless hours of deftly crafted content.
How about you? Do you remember Oblivion fondly, or are you happy never to revisit it again? What are some of your memories of Bethesda’s classic RPG?