A life-long console gamer, I recently made the switch to the mighty PC, sucking up all my money and social skills.
Have fun reading about it.
Personally, I'm a 20-year-old student living in an unremarkable corner of South-West England, wondering what the hell I can do with a degree but no money. If real life was more like a game, I think now would be the time I began training to become an assassin, because I look good in black and I hear that contract killing pays well.
If you've read my previous article, you'll know that I'm a life-long console gamer, recently turned to the bright lights, fast cars and dangerous women of PC land. You might also know that I'm a big fan of JRPGs, a genre that seems to be, outside of it's devoted fanbase, viewed with bafflement and derision.
However, for my pale and ethereal kinsmen and I, the things that seem to put most mainstream gamers off; the painfully linear plots, the turn-based combat and, yes, even the spiky hair are all plus points (I spent most of my youth wishing I had Cloud's hair, but there was never enough hair-gel in the world). In my prime I could happily spend months at a time carefully leveling my materia and pretending that I had any semblance of a clue as to what the plot was about.
Occasionally I'd take a brief look at a Western RPG (WRPG?), but never actually played through one, at least, not far enough to do more than make a cursory inspection and unequivocally declare that it was utter shit . I had always disdainfully shunned WRPGs, partially because I didn't think I'd like them, and partially out of snobbishness, stemming from my view that playing a WRPG is, to a greater or lesser extent, playing Dungeons & Dragons with a string of binary as your DM.
In any case, beyond this snobbishness, there's the simple fact that I didn't think I'd like a WRPG. The major selling points of most successful ones seemed, to me at least, to be reasons why I wouldn't like them. People had always enthused to me over the 'make your own story' aspect of games like Oblivion and Fable, gushing over how much better this was then traditional, predictable, bland, linear storytelling. I always thought this sounded like a shameless con trick though, like selling a novel with a pretty cover but with every page blank except for a rough plot outline stapled to a Biro.
Anyway, as you can probably guess by now, I slowly came to realize that I was in the same position that I held prior to my experiences with Team Fortress 2, namely refusing to play an entire genre simply because of my prejudices against it. I never played online games until TF2, largely because I thought I'd hate them, and now it's one of my favorite games. I resolved, therefore, to be a beacon of tolerance and acceptance, and give a WRPG a go.
Which was pretty damn convenient.
As I mentioned earlier, I am the proud owner of a still-fairly-new PC and, a man as with a new toy was obliged to see what it could do without bursting into a beautiful, glittering pillar of heavily overclocked flame. I needed a game that was not only a WRPG, but was a graphically powerful one too. I asked around among some of my more bespectacled friends (which, considering my friends, is pretty goddamn bespectacled) for a good way to combine fantasy frolics with hardcore graphics-card abuse, and each and every one of them gave the same reply, Oblivion.
[Important note: This was written a while ago, a couple months before Fallout 3, so, yeah, Oblivion was still the prettiest fantasy WRPG then]
Oblivion is the fourth game is the Elder Scrolls series, famous for the massive fantasy worlds and all-but-limitless character creation/customization that makes WRPG fans go weak at the knees. It was also meant to be pretty damn attractive and, yeah, they were pretty damn right.
The game is, for the most part, stunningly beautiful. I don't just mean the quality of the graphics either, something which in gaming it is so often mistaken for. No, I mean that when you crest a hill and gaze into the valley below, the view itself is beautiful.
I wish I could say the same about the people.
The majority of people (or cat-people, or lizard-people, or green-and-tusky orc-people) are not so much ugly as they are undead-looking, dull-eyed and featureless. For the first few minutes, the only person you talk to looks as though his face is made of ineptly-sculpted butter on a particularly hot day, though this is more-or-less made up for by the fact that he's voiced by Patrick fucking Stewart. Okay, so the poor bugger gets whacked within five minutes, but you must admit it's a hell of a way to introduce a game.
Beyond the mere aspect of hiring a top-grade actor to voice an incidental character, the entire game reeks of a hefty budget, and for the most part it's well used. The world is freakin' huge, and, as a JRPG fan, there is certainly something incredibly joyous and liberating about picking a point on the horizon and deciding 'hey, let's walk over there'.
And you can. It may take you half an hour, you may have to detour around a bandit camp, you may have to trudge through sleet and snow to get there, but if you want to than you can.
The problem with choice: People are stupid
This was, I must admit, the first point at which I felt the irrational feelings of warmth and adoration that genre fans must hold. The love for playing my own story as my own character in the way I want to play.
I made a hot (or, at least as hot as you can get an Oblivion character) Dark Elf chick, specialized in stealth and stabbed some ogres in the spine before robbing their corpses. Caves were looted and random quests were performed, I explored the towns and joined guilds. For a couple of days I bowled around Cyrodil and had a blast.
Eventually the game gave me a gentle prod towards getting on with the plot (by burning a major city to the ground. Subtle, eh?), so I decided to play some story quests and... it slowly crept up on me that I wasn't really playing my own story. I was playing a version of someone else's story that was smeared out and made as generic as possible so that it could apply to the infinite amount of characters that could be playing it.
I could never genuinely interact with any characters because all they could ever do was give generic responses, and it never felt like I was personally involved with the plot, rather that I was a mindless drone watching in mild boredom, like a girlfriend dragged to a football match. All my much-touted freedom, it seemed, was gone.
And here we come to the problem inherent with Oblivion, and open-world games as a whole; the difficulty inherent in being able to give you freedom to do whatever you want and end up with a good game regardless of what you choose to do this time through. Yes, the character is one that you can fully customize in any way you want and act in any way you want, but you can never have the characters evolve in the same way that they will in a linear RPG.
Anyway, this is getting a bit long, so I'm going to wrap it up in a few pithy statements. Oblivion is a game crippled by it's own choices, who's beauty is only surpassed by it's scale and attention to detail, none of which were enough to save it for me.
It whole-heartedly embraced 'open-ness', but suffered the consequences. My character is one of my own creation, one that I have spent many loving hours carefully nurturing, but she will never mean as much to me as Cloud did.
Thanks for reading,
Oh, and the level-scaling system can suck any part of my anatomy it cares to mention. I just murdered a dozen Daedra lords and plundered their mighty fortress', how the fuck is a wolf killing me?