So I finally got a hold of Oblivion, as my entertainment-hoarding friend Casper regressed into the more simple gameplay of Farcry and let me borrow the free-roaming RPG. So far, I like it a lot more than I’d expected, considering how boring Morrowind was. Oblivion seems to be packed with things to do, I was very surprised to realize I had spent several hours exploring the countryside, some old ruins, and a set of imp-infested caves after leaving the tutorial area. You may have heard people complain about the somewhat killing-rats-in-sewers nature of the tutorial area, but I thought it was great, it reminded me of Thief 3, which was pretty much how I played it, too.
The gameplay freedom is definitely to my liking, there aren’t many sneakers for us poor, disillusioned Deus Ex fans, and then it’s hard core linear stuff like Splinter Cell, so Oblivions comprehensive support of stealth gameplay makes me very happy. Whether sniping with a silenced .50 rifle or a rusty iron longbow, nothing beats the pleasure of a stealth kill. That said, it gives me a tremendous sense of freedom that although I’m focussing on the sneak skills, I can still hurl magic around when in a pinch, and I’m not a total wuss if I mess up and have to resort to melee.
And melee is almost as fun as longbow-sniping. With blocking, power attacks, and eventually dodging (when I get good enough at the blocking part), plus a healthy bit of wanton spellslinging thrown into the mix, there are just enough options to keep you entertained without making the whole thing too complicated.
After whiping the grass (hm, that metaphor’s sort of broken… mowing the lawn, maybe?) with a couple of bandits who were camping by the aforementioned ruins, I used the life-saving travel map (why, oh why does World of Warcraft not have such a thing!?) to go to Chorrol and check out the city. Having heard horribly, mind-cripplingly embarassing stories about the procedurally generated inter-NPC conversations in the game and the bug-ridden “Radiant” AI, I was expecting the worst. I’m happy to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I heard 4-5 of those conversations on my first playthrough last night, and they never got worse than mildly illogical. I managed to get myself a couple of quests, and the whole overhear-a-conversation-and-then-ask-somebody-about-it method of giving out quests works just as well as it should in theory. The quests are very interesting too, I stayed up until 5:30 am trying to figure out who’d stolen the Countess’ painting. Not to mention that the alchemy skill is an exciting little game in and of itself!
I’m going to give my cat-man (geekily named Seboomook) some more play time and then probably have tons of fun blogging to myself about my adventures in Cyrodiil, but before I stop this post, I must mention the graphics. You’ve probably already heard all about how amazingly beautiful the graphics are, but you’re not gonna hear more about that from me. Because on my rig, it looked like arse. I’d heard lots about how you leave those introductory sewers and then your jaw just drops as you face the magnificent landscape before you, so my hopes were pretty high, to say the least. Already after starting up the game for the first time, I was slightly disconcerted when the setup told me it had configured the graphical options to suit my hardware configuration: 640×480 resolution, no anti-aliasing, no screen effects, no self-shadows.
I had to increase my res to 800×600 really quickly though, because it was – quite frankly – looking like utter crap on my 19″ monitor. That helped a lot, although I would still love to play the game with anti-aliasing and self-shadows. I tried that, but it was no success when measured in frames per second. Still, in 800×600 res, the sewers were looking nice: Big textures, lots of polygons everywhere, dynamic lighting, and Havoc physics. I was happy. Then I left the sewers with high expectations to the visuals that awaited me.
Unfortunately, it looked fucking horrible. The grass had clearly been smudged onto the hills with water colours, the trees looked decidedly two-dimensional, and the water was an unmoving sheet of non-reflective, non-refractive, murky blackness. I was disappointed, to say the least. I guess I can’t blame Bethesda for my apparently out-dated graphics card (I guess the Radeon 9800 series is not even the current, but last generation of graphics cards, but before Oblivion it always felt perfectly modern), but it was just such a supreme let-down to realize the game looked worse than World of Warcraft does. WoW has smaller textures and far, FAR less polygons on everything, yet the exterior landscapes often look a lot better on my computer than the ones in Oblivion.
I guess I’ll just have to pick up a Radeon XTX1900XT next time I’m in town.
Psscht, yeah right!