I’ve got to do a better job of breaking up the “Grandpa Burke Tells the Rest of the World What To Do, Dammit” posts with more fun stuff. I mean, these days, the best blogs I’m reading are several great comics-oriented blogs rather than the Very Serious Academic blogs.

So, if you’re not playing Oblivion, and you like computer or video games, you should be playing it. In fact, if you’ve never played a computer or video game, you might want to think about giving Oblivion a whirl, if you have a PC that meets the technical requirements. There’s some stuff involved that is counter-intuitively part of the deep “grammar” of computer role-playing games, but the game also delivers a lot of immersive pleasures that I think even a non-gamer could appreciate.

If you’re one of those who haven’t played this kind of game, or any game, the basic gimmick is that you create a character to represent you in this world and jump right into the game. You start in prison, meet the Emperor of a vast kingdom who happens to need to use the secret passage in your cell in order to escape a gang of magical assassins, and get plunged into the world from there.

The difference between Oblivion and the vast majority of other games of its kind is the openness of the gameworld and the often beautiful naturalism of its visual design. In a way, its closest cousin is not another fantasy role-playing game, but Grand Theft Auto, in that you can go anywhere and do almost anything within the geographical confines of the setting. It’s different from Grand Theft Auto is that you can play a highly moral character if you want, in fact, that’s sort of the default “moral setting”. But everywhere you go, you get the sense that life is happening all around you. Computer-controlled characters move around, conduct business and conversations of their own, come and find you if they have business with you, and so on. There is a main storyline for you to follow, but you can also ignore it and become part of a huge number of smaller peripheral stories, which often present you with some interesting choices about which side to take.

My daughter Emma and I have been playing quite a bit of it together. It is fascinating to her like no other game she has seen so far. She’s very strict about forbidding her character to steal or do anything dubious, is obsessively protective of her character’s horse. She is adamantly collecting a huge amount of rat-meat taken from giant rats that her character has destroyed, despite the lack of usefulness of the meat.

She refuses (so far) to advance the main storyline as it involves chasing down some demons in the rather scary alternative dimension of Oblivion. I think that’s good–I went in there last night with my own character after she was asleep and the images involved are a bit strong for her. Occasionally I have to lead her away from other things. I had to maneuver her out of the room when her character started a mini-quest that turns out to involve a gang of female thieves who lure unfaithful men out to a remote farmhouse by promising them a liason only to rob them when they show up. I was sort of impressed by the writing of this storyline, which could easily have had that typical cheesy geek-male prurience but didn’t. Otherwise it’s turning out to be a great game for me to play with her collaboratively.

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11 Responses to Oblivion!

  1. lauram says:

    This game sounds exactly like my husband’s cup of tea, so I passed on the info. Thanks, Grandpa!

  2. Moleman says:

    Hoo yeah- I’ve been playing it off and on for a week, and had some thoughts.

    -The art direction is kinda generic, but for some reason I don’t mind. It feels soothing, almost- especially once you get a horse, which really improves the game. A real feeling of being a heroic adventurer, saving the kingdom, whereas Morrowind you always just schlepped around on foot, no matter how big and bad you were.

    -Oblivion set up a wierd synergy with WOW for me- each contains bits that I eventually start to miss in the other (Oblivion for affecting the game world, WOW for cooperation)

    -Bethesda really made the right choice to shrink the gameworld in this one in favor of fully voiced characters. Morrowind really had no way to do some of the moments in Oblivion, because there were no interactions beyond player to NPC conversation, or, um, murder. The random conversations and occasional scripted interactions give everything more of a sense of place.

  3. Timothy Burke says:


    I do end up having a list of things I wish the game had or didn’t have. I don’t like the conversation mini-game, for example, because it’s so immersion-breaking. I wish there were more body types in the game–short, fat, etc. and real facial hair.

    Those are pretty minor. Some other things the amazing mod community has already addressed, so you can tweak the amazing telepathic city guards to something more immersive.

    The one thing I don’t think you can mod that I would really wish for is a “bandit conversational subroutine” for dungeons. I get really tired of sneaking up on bandits only to overhear them having the same conversations that people in cities have. Be nice to hear them plotting their next banditry, etc., instead. How hard could that have been, to have a site-specific conversational routine just for dungeons?

  4. BLB says:

    Yeah, the pleasant bandit conversations are hilarious, especially when they bemoan all the war and political disorder in other provinces…is that what drove them to hide out in dungeons and provide practice for my stealth attacks?

    As for the rat meat being useless, I beg to differ – it’s one of the main ingredients for drain fatigue poisons, which one can then apply to weapons to make one’s foes get all bleary-eyed and weary. It’s kind of like a dissertation potion.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    I haven’t really messed much with alchemy yet! So that’s a job for this weekend. The thing is with my daughter is she may protest actually *using* the ratmeat: she always has me check her inventory to be sure it’s still there.

  6. Chris Segal says:

    And here I’ve just started a new Diablo II character.

    One question about Oblivion: How is the experience curve if one sticks to the main storyline? My younger brother played Morrowind, and his big complaint was that he felt like his character fell behind the curve and he had to do side quests in order to progress.

  7. Justin says:

    Chris – I can’t vouch for Morrowwind, I didn’t play that far through it, and that was a few years ago. In Oblivion, if you want to keep to the main storyline without buffing up as a fighter, you can adjust the difficulty slider. I moved it a tiny fraction to the left to make things easier, and it was a world of difference. It would be nice if this was dynamic difficulty adjustment – if it noticed me dying a lot. But at least I have the control here – for when I’m feeling tired of combat and I just want to mow down foes and keep the story moving.

    Glad to see other people are as wrapped up in this game as I am; I have found my favorite game-within-the-game to be the Oblivion Wiki: a wiki to keep track of quests and items and people and places; sort of a community journal for the world, and an increasingly-good place to turn for details. http://oblivion.gamewikis.org/wiki/Main_Page

  8. Moleman says:

    Actually, to Chris’s question, most of the main quest portions seem to auto-level the enemies hit points and attack damage at least, if not the number of enemies. This can actually make some chunks considerably harder at higher levels (especially once Daedra Spiders start spawning- nasty paralysis attack, plus a summoned mini-spider). The side-quests may not, however- end of quest line fights seem to have enemies with certain items built in, which gives them an unfair advantage in terms of nasty on-hit effects, even if their hit points and skills were leveled to yours.

    (A suggestion- if you can hit level 10, you can do an extremely quick quest for the Daedra Lord Nocturnal, if you don’t mind being a bit evil- gives you a nasty sword that transfers life to you, meaning that if you can hit them and keep it charged, you’re basically unstoppable, at least at medium difficulty)

  9. Moleman says:

    I have no idea why I feel the need to note this right now, two hours later, but I used “nasty” about eight damn times in that last post, and I don’t even particularly like the word. I really need to get some new adjectives, or at least some more coffee.

  10. Timothy Burke says:

    I’d heard about that sword and I actually don’t want to quest for it, sort of. That’s pretty much what I did in Morrowind that made it too easy, I enchanted a sword with life steal early in the game. I’m sure I’ll find it irresistable eventually.

    If you dislike the way Oblivion handles levelling, and at level 15 I’m starting to feel that way, there are tons of really nice mods out there already that change the way levelling works. This is one reason to get the PC rather than Xbox version of the game.

  11. Gary Farber says:

    Wound up linking back to you here.

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