Oblivion is ten years old today


But also timeless

When I heard that this weekend would mark the tenth anniversary since the launch of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I thought two things. One, “Holy shit, it's been ten years since Oblivion came out?” Two, “Holy shit, it's only been ten years since Oblivion came out?”

Oblivion feels like a game that happened a lifetime ago, but it also feels like something I just played yesterday. I'm sure there is a glib remark someone could make about “Hur hur, that's because Fallout 4 is just Oblivion with guns” but I don't mean it like that. Oblivion was influential. It was impactful. It's a game that has clung to my consciousness for a decade now. For all its many faults, quirks, and speech-wheels, it was a game that changed what I wanted out of an RPG, and I'd like to take a moment to celebrate it.

Oblivion was one of those games that cost me several hundred dollars. I'd been puttering around on an aging PC for years at the time, finding all kinds of excuses to put off upgrading. I could stick to the consoles. I could keep playing the games I was enjoying at the time. As long as I could get a game's framerate to an acceptable level, I didn't care how many bells and whistles I had to turn off. I mean, who cares how it looks, right?

Then I saw Oblivion on my brother's freshly pimped-out PC. Oblivion with its endless forests, crystal streams, and softly babbling brooks. With its delightfully over-detailed taverns and castles, teeming with villagers and guards in doofy looking doublets and pointy helmets. With the system-taxing mists of ancient tombs, the dynamic light sourcing off the crackling flame of a wizards fireball spell.

Shit. It was time to upgrade.

A decade of playing games made in Oblivion's shadow might make it hard to appreciate, but take a moment to think of just how much stuff was in Oblivion. Yes, I know there were other massive open-world RPGs that came before it (the Morrowind defense brigade can take the day off, we know, we know, we know), but Oblivion was the first time I, and many others, really interacted with one. For a generation raised on the narrative-focused and largely linear JRPGs of the SNES and PlayStation era, it was breathtaking. Paralyzing, even.

The sheer scope of the world is something that needs to be admired obviously, but what impressed me more was how much there was to do in that world. All the different independent quest-lines, the hours of content involved with just something like the Thieves Guild quests (which culminates in an amazing medieval Ocean's 11 heist), or the Dark Brotherhood storyline, a quest-chain still spoken of with reverence today. But, that would be ignoring all the incidental stuff, the weird little mini-stories and moments that would just crop up.

I must have had half a dozen false starts with the game before really settling in. Experimenting with the character creator, messing with the slightly doughy faces that make up the populace of Cyrodill, trying to figure out what kind of person I wanted to be in this world. I made a generic knight guy, a wizard lady, a lizard dude, all the standard fantasy tropes. Many of them never left the jail they started in. Some of them got lost just outside the sewer gate. Others lasted a few hours before curiosity got the best of me.

I remember blowing an entire afternoon wandering around as a Breton picking flowers and mulching berries with a beginner's alchemy set because it just seemed like such a weird thing to do in a game. I didn't bother with any quests, didn't care about the emperor or his sad dying words, and had no time to rescue lost travelers or slay bothersome giant rats. I only wanted to collect enough seed pods and stems to make a kick-ass potion of water-breathing. Everyone needs a hobby.

I lost a Wood Elf after a few hours play. I wanted to experiment with a sneaky archer type and conceptualized a swaggering elf dressed all in black who would pick off his targets like a sniper. Wandering around the woods, I somehow stumbled into the enchanted forest that the single Unicorn in the game called home. And you know what? It was magical. A mythical beast, grazing in a sunbeam, deep within a secret forest. I'm not made of stone.

Ignorant in the ways of Unicorn-dom (and slightly nervous about a nearby Minotaur I spotted), I made the mistake of approaching with my bow drawn. The Unicorn met my implied threat and trampled me on site. Not exactly the Disney moment I'd been anticipating. I just left the character there, never re-loaded or went back. It just felt like too comical, too perfect an end for a stupid Wood Elf to try and undo.

(I realize that relating a story about wandering into an enchanted glade and discovering a Unicorn is about the most twee moment of my life, but forgive me my nostalgia. Oblivion was a goddamn factory of unique, weird, and slightly silly moments and they're special to me.)

I finally got serious with the game by modding myself the perfect character. Straight out of the brain of Robert E. Howard I created a barbarian who would meet the darkness of the planes of Oblivion with an axe and sneer. A brute who eschewed the use of armor and was distrustful of all magiks and dark arts. I tried to make him as intimidating as possible with Oblivion's character creator to mixed results. With stringy black hair, a low brow hanging over narrow eyes, and a pair of chubby cheeks, he looked like Jack Black had pulled a prison stretch and came out slightly feral on the other side.

Mods made this possible. First, I downloaded some bitching He-Man-approved loincloths and leather harnesses. A stiff cape made of wolf pelt that looked artificial and prop-like in motion (but made for amazing screen shots) hung on his back. I found a pack of historical viking-inspired weapons, with none of the gilded fantasy embellishments of the axes found in game – these were tools for killing.

Given the self-imposed limitations of no magic and no armor in a game entirely based around acquiring increasingly powerful spells and breastplates, some gentle cheating was required to keep pace with the game. I adjusted the stats on my leather sash and fur underoos to match the best armor I had legitimately found (and turned my nose up) in game. I'd occasionally gift myself a few potions when the going got tough. I made it my game.

Then I got even deeper into it. I downloaded mods to make massive changes to the world. Things like the Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul, which took the training wheels off the game. In vanilla Oblivion, enemies are always kept on a roughly even keel to the player, rising in challenge depending on the player's level wherever they happen to be. With Oscuro's mod, it was totally possible to wander into the tomb of an ancient vampire God as a level three snot rag and be subsequently demolished. It made the world seem larger by making it a little more scary. These days you'd call it the Dark Souls effect.

I modded and modded and modded the game. People like to be cynical about Bethesda relying on modders to fix problems with its games, but I still admire its creative bravery. The studio made this incredibly complex little clockwork autonomous world fully governed by systems and mechanics, and rather than jealously guard its vision and techniques, it just threw the keys to the players. 

I modded the game until it became unrecognizable and unstable. A jumble of extra weapon packs, unique spells, dynamic fighting moves, and poorly implemented amputations. I prodded and poked at Oblivion until it finally gave up the ghost.

And then I picked the game up again on the 360 and bought all the DLC for a song during an April Fools event.

Because you know what? After modding Oblivion to hell and back, it still stands up as a vanilla experience. Sure, there are things I'd change and problems Bethesda would fix with later games, but it was still well worth playing again, years after release.

Then there was the DLC, about as mixed bag as you can get. Blunders like horse armor and spell books mixed in with some of the best expansions and standalone adventures ever sold. Shivering Isles is so good you could almost sell it as a game all on its own.

So yeah, Oblivion came out ten years ago today. It feels like something I played a lifetime ago. It also feels like something I just played yesterday. And you know what? After talking about it so much, I feel like it's something I might just play tomorrow.

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Nic Rowen
Nic RowenAssociate Editor   gamer profile

(formerly known as Wrenchfarm) has been an active member of the Dtoid community since After toiling away in the Cblog mines and Recap Team workhouse for more + disclosures



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    Filed under... #Bethesda #Mods #Oblivion #PC #PS3 #Role-Playing Games #The Elder Scrolls #Xbox 360



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