SPOnG managed a brief hands-on yesterday with Bethesda Softworks' The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the latest in the best-selling RPG series and the sequel to the best-selling and award-winning The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
Now, if you are a fan of role-playing games, then you will most likely already know a lot about this one. And, if you, like many non-role players, are instantly turned off by talk of wood elves, scrolls, potions and other such arcanery, then we still urge you to read on. This game is going to change all your preconceptions about RPGs. It certainly did ours.
The storyline reads like standard fantasy fare. The game takes place in the world of Tamriel's capital province, Cyrodiil and your character is given the task of finding the hidden heir to a throne that sits empty, the previous emperor having been killed by an unknown assassin. Your character, which you can create from a long list of different races and modify to an amazing degree, is charged with finding the lost heir to the throne and unravelling the sinister plot that threatens to destroy all of Tamriel.
Now, to non-RPG fans, all of this is probably enough to have made you think you won’t need to bother yourselves any more with all this fantasy tosh. Think again. Once you have played this game for anything more than five minutes, we challenge you not to be enthralled and enraptured. It is stunningly beautiful, fully immersive (an overused word in games journalism, but not in this context) and one of the most perfectly balanced RPG’s ever made.
By perfectly balanced, we are particularly referring to the tutorial section of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Now this is usually the stage at which we - and many other gamers too, we suspect - become turned off role-playing games. We are just not that interested in spending time reading and learning all about bafflingly complex systems of character stats and suchlike. We want to play games, and learning about statistics is about as much fun as, well, doing mathematics.
In this game there is none of that nonsense. The tutorial is built into the opening chapter/level of the game in such a way as to teach you the essential controls and the important things you need to know about everything in this marvellous looking world around you. And within around an hour or two of actually playing and really
enjoying the game, you realise that you have learned pretty much all you need to know about how to play it. Its almost like Bethesda have tricked you into learning how to play the game. It really should be much harder and much less enjoyable than this, surely!
Suffice to say that once you have entered the actual gameworld itself, you realise that here is something important and iconic and all of those types of words. Here, dare we say it, is perhaps one of the most important PC games since Half Life 2, if it’s marketed correctly, that is. Oh, and of course, the fact that its also coming out on Xbox 360 should help it deservedly go to the ever fickle and elusive ‘mass market’.
A spokesperson for Take 2, who are publishing the game in the UK, had the following to say about the marketing plans for the game today: “We will definitely be trying to appeal to a much wider audience outside of just the RPG fans. There's huge interest from all sections of the press and public at the moment, particularly in the 360 version, and we fully intend to reach as many people as possible through our PR and marketing efforts.”
The game, according to another of SPOnG’s RPG-fanatic friends, is “...so much more than ‘the sequel to Morrowind’ – it should be billed as the next Half Life 2… It’s a bloody monster. Forget Shadow of the Colossus. Just look
at this game and Sony’s effort really does pale into insignificance in comparison in terms of pure aesthetic beauty of the gameworld. And the fact that it’s also coming out on 360 should really hopefully make it appeal to a much wider group of people than RPG’s traditionally do.”
That's certainly fighting talk. Especially coming from somebody who spends over half their waking life pretending to be a small wood elf called Tom. There certainly seemed to SPOnG to be a lot of new features in the game, including amazingly realistic horses (hence, we suppose, the Shadow of the Colossus reference above) enabling faster travel between worlds, vastly improved combat, new mini-games, including lock-picking and character persuasion and loads of stuff. Ooh!
The multi-million selling Elder Scrolls series goes all the way back to 1993. For those who are not familiar with the series you can check out a good history of it here
and the official Elder Scrolls site's also worth a look here
Todd Howard, executive producer of The Elder Scrolls series, has said of Elder Scrolls IV that, "With Oblivion, we're taking the idea of a virtual fantasy world as far as it will go."
Well SPOnG can certainly vouch that they have done this. Watch out soon for our full preview of this epic game.