The Elder Scrolls series of games always produces a fair bit of buzz, and a lot of people talk gleefully about how great it is. I recently played Morrowind and didn't like it one bit, but cayenne promises with regards to Oblivion made me take the plunge once again, and maybe really try this time. When I heard it came with no CD copy protection, I was incensed further into trying it. When a company does the right thingâ„¢ by trusting their users, I fully want to support them.
Of course, first I have to betray them by stealing an easily pirateable copy so I can see if I can finally become one of the "Elder Scrolls people". After one day of playing it, here's what I found:
Ugly RacesMost of the races look the same, and all of them are ugly. By "look the same" here I mean there's not much to physically distinguish them, except for the elves and the "cat-people". Even the elves are roughly human, except for their ears and elongated faces. The "cat people" are thus the only truly unusual race in the game, and because they're effectively furries, they're pretty freaking gross. I didn't mind though, I figured I'd be one of the human-ish races and generally mind my own business.
More importantly, though, is that they're ugly. By "ugly" here I mean there's nothing to stylistically make them stand out. In other games (using nwn as an example) we have only a few 3D models as representative of their races, and they all pretty much look the same, but they look easily distinguishable. With the level of detail available in this game they're almost skirting the "looks creepy" curve. Different characters don't walk differently, or talk differently, or are built differently, or anything. It's a game of carbon copies, except the face is always exquisitely different, except for being hideous. It's hard to make a hawttt chixorz in the game. I don't just mean busty blondes here, but even someone with some sort of character is difficult to produce in the game.
I think it's dumb to mess with "chin depth" etc. to get your character to the way you like it. The sliders should probably be more like "Fierce / Bashful" "Loving / Loathing" "Courageous / Coward", with the option of messing with the amount your nose sticks out if you're still not happy at the end. Messing with the sliders is funny, but the result is probably not what anyone wants at the end.
Also, where are the short dudes?
ConversationsA big part of RPGs is walking around talking to people. This is part of the game mechanic, but it also needs to be as engrossing as possible. Morrowind had this annoying "web-page" style talking interface which was disorienting and fruitless. You never knew if you'd talked to someone about everything you wanted to talk to them about. It also didn't feel like a conversation, more like an "information dump" of what the other guy knows. Further, influencing them is done totally separately to the "conversation" itself. You can brag or say nice things to the other guy, but the mere fact that you're doing this in a separate UI to the talking is jarring, and pulls you out of the game.
Oblivion improves the situation by having actual talking, and having all the options in a separate menu. It even dulls the menu items after you've finished talking, but it still feels like you're getting someone's brain dump rather than having a conversation. You can't really form characters in your head in this game, like "this guy is funny", or "that girl tells great stories".
QuestsOne big problem in Morrowind was the lack of clear direction in the game. I don't even remember if there even was a journal in there. Oblivion has a journal, and a little red arrow which tells you where to go. You don't have to go there, which feels very liberating, but at least you know where to go.
TechnicalTechnically, I think the game is great. Despite the fact that most people I've talked to have said things about bugs in the AI or what-not, I find this to be one of the best games I've played, technically (certainly not as bad as Vampire: Bloodlines). Load screens are quick, and the world loads transparently. Quick saves are practically instant. The UI is mostly good. If there's something I can complain about it's the fact that when casting a destructive spell you can't aim properly, but it's a minor issue.
SystemThis system is very different from D&D, and is perhaps the most jarring part of the game for me. The mere fact that you get acrobatics skills by jumping up and down is wierd. The fact that you get them so gradually is also wierd. The wierdest thing, though, is the buffs you can give yourself through your class, which seems to fly in the face of the "Doing what you want will make you better at it" philosophy in the rest of the game. I also don't know certain things about it, like "if I fight a harder monster, will my skills grow quicker?"
All of these things are making it a pretty difficult pill to swallow. Having said that, it's a lot more pleasant than Morrowind, and if I can get over the initial learning curve, perhaps I'll even buy it!