For those of you living under a rock (or just the non-gamers here), Bethesda Softworks released the fourth installment to their outstanding Elder Scrolls series yesterday; Oblivion. Being a fan of the single-player RPG and having gone years since the last good one released for the PC, I snagged my copy as soon as it came out. I've only spent about 4hrs with the game so far so I can't post a full review, but I do have a few, short, initial impressions of the game.
First, here are my system specs:
P4 3.0GHz HT
nVidia GeForce 7800GS 256MB (AGP)
3GB PC3200 RAM
SB Audigy 2
Now, for my initial thoughts...
Graphics - Ok, I have basically the top of the line AGP card out now, so I expected my graphics to be good... and damn are they good. I play at 1024x768 with all of the bells and whistles turned to max. I've got HDR going for me. I've got shiny rocks and translucent water and individual blades of rendered grass. My dungeons are oozing with virtual slime and fungus, and my opponents lurch and die with amusing realism.
One problem I have seen though is draw distances outdoors. If you've ever played Star Wars Galaxies, you're familiar with the effect I'm experiencing. You have a radius around you where everything is rendered and populated. But then there's a line beyond which the grass and rocks are gone, the ground texture is set to low, and only a few trees are shown. As you move forward, that edge moves out and the terrain then starts to "pop" in as you come into range. I have my distances set far enough out that it's not a huge problem for me, but I still get statues, buildings and large rock outcroppings poping in front of me.
Aside from popping, my only graphical gripe is with the faces on NPCs... For how darn good everything else looks, the faces just don't hold up in a lot of cases. I've got a longer associated comment about the character creation system, but I'll save that for the full review.
Sound - I've got a 5.1 speaker setup in my office, so I try to get the most out of the sound of any game. This game has very good natural ambient sounds and outstanding music. The most impressive part though in terms of sound is that all the dialogue I've encountered so far, even from random guard NPC has been fully recorded. I think Bethesda said at one point that the vast majority of the data contained on the DVD and installed to your system was recorded audio. I'm not surprised in the least. Other sounds for walking, combat etc are nice and solid. Only one I wasn't impressed by was the sound of drawing and firing a bow.
Content - Ok, Elder Scrolls games are pretty well known by the sheer vastness of information and playable area in them. They're the size of an MMORPG but with only one player. And if you thought WoW had a lot of little books and story bits to read scattered about, then you're going to be blown away by Oblivion. Like Morrowind before it, Oblivion has an entire virtual library worth of books and scrolls detailing the history of the world, news and current events. In my 4hrs playing, if I had taken the time I could have spent at least 2hrs reading all the books I came across.
The story so far, I'm not sure on. I've played a few missions but I think I took on the latest step before I was powerful enough to survive it, so I'm going back and just running minor quests to build up skills, money and equipment. There's a main thread through the game, but you could spend probably dozens of hours completely ignoring it and just doing all the side quests.
Oblivion however already suffers, for me, the same crucial problem Morrowind did... I'm given way too much choice and far too little direction or indication of what I'm capable of doing. If you're used to games like Baldur's Gate or Final Fantasy where you are given quests when you're powerful enough to take them on, and are given a clear idea of what the main quest threads are versus auxillury quests, Elder Scrolls games will present a significant challenge to you. They toss you in, give you the first task to complete and then set you loose to figure out what the heck is going on. It's up to you how the game plays out, how the events unfold and who gets saved and who gets crushed. All with very little influence from the game designers.
So that's just after a short evening of playtime. I want to get a few more days in, maybe some more quests under my belt and more of the world explored before I sit down and do a larger review. This is a game you can't slap a review and score up for after even 8-10hrs of gameplay.
In the full review expect more on the NPC conversation/influence system, the game tutorial and character class/race selection system, world travel/exploration and character advancement.