To think it was over 5 years ago when I first put out a hands-on feature about this game. With Skryim right around the corner, now is the perfect time to do a follow up. For those of you who missed the hands on, Oblivion is the follow up to ES3: Morrowind, which was one of my favorite games on the original Xbox. As much as I liked Morrowind, it was far from perfect, so naturally when I heard about Oblivion, I was buzzed. Not only would it be a next generation installment of the franchise, the folks at Bethesda Softworks would fix all the issues in Morrowind. When the end product was released, it was a beautiful thing indeed. Not only did Bethesda live up to its promises, it (along with EA’s Fight Night Round 3 which was also released that week) helped to put a definitive end to the Xbox 1.5 jokes and created one of the greatest games in any console generation.

Like the other entries in the Elder Scrolls series, you start out as a prisoner (whom you design yourself using a series of facial sliders) who is in jail for crimes unknown. One day, the Emperor is being escorted through a secret passage by his blades (the Elder Scrolls version of the Secret Service). This secret escape route just so happens to run through your cell. Other than warning you not to get in the way, no one, not the guards, not the Blades, no one at all makes any attempt to keep you from leaving or apprehending you again after you escape. As one of the Blades tells you, it’s your lucky day indeed. Unfortunately it’s not all good, as you come across the Emperor being assassinated by members of a secret order. Before he dies, he gives you his amulet and instructs you to find his last surviving heir. Things go from bad to worse, as the Emperor’s death causes the Dragonfires to go out. Without the Dragonfires, and with the amulet of kings (the amulet he gave you) not being in the possession of one of royal blood, portals to Oblivion open up randomly across Cyrodill, spilling out demonic monsters. So it goes without saying that you better get a move on…

…Or maybe not. After you make your way out of the prison, you have the choice of either continuing on with the main storyline, or joining one (or all) of the game’s four guilds, The Mages Guild, The Fighters Guild, The Thieves Guild, and the fan favorite Dark Brotherhood, each having their own self-contained storyline. There is also an arena, thereby giving the game six separate storylines, not counting the multitude of side quests, downloadable content, and if you play on PC, user-generated mods. Or you could simply explore of course. One of the nicer improvements is the distribution of monsters according to your level, so that no one area is too easy or too difficult. You can also fast travel to any village or previously visited location. There are also waypoints that appear on the map when tracking your quest, making it easy to find what you need. There will be some who will decry this as hand holding, but I kinda like it when it is easy to find things. Not only that, there are places you can only discover on your own. For instance, while traveling to a town, I came across a cavern full of summoners who attacked me. I slaughtered them all and claimed their base as my own. Later on, I can back to the cave, a new clan of summoners had set up shop, and attacked me with even stronger monsters.

Virtually every part of Morrowind was greatly improved, especially the combat. Weather or not you do damage is now determined by weather or not your attacks physically connect with your target, and as you improve your level in certain skills, new techniques will become available to you. For instance, advancing your bow skill will allow you to zoom in by holding the block button, and mastering most melee skills gives you a chance to stun or paralyze an enemy. It may not be God of War or even Zelda, but it is an improvement. If there was one fault to Oblivion however, it’s the quick assign. While Morrowind allowed me to quickly scroll through every weapon and spell in my inventory, Oblivion only gives me so many weapon slots.

There are many in gaming’s peanut gallery who will decry Oblivion just because it is popular and overemphasize its few faults, but I would advise against listening to them. All of Oblivion’s perks far outweigh it’s faults, and if you have an Xbox 360, PS3, or a capable PC, this is a must-have for any gamer’s collection. If you are one of those people, I understand that you have a right to your opinion, but you are cheating yourself out of one of the finest experiences in all of gaming. In an age of gaming where developers almost brag about how short they can make thier game, it’s been 5 years since I purchased this game, and I can still get something new out of it every time I boot it up on Xbox 360 or on my PC. Be it a new spell, a new sidequest, or a new mod. To me, this is what a game is supposed to do. If I spend $60, or for that matter, $50, $40, or even $30, then I want something I have a reason to keep playing, not something I can beat in a few weeks and be done with. Only a handful of games can give me that kind of experience, and Oblivion is one of them.