Why I Hated Oblivion But Love Skyrim
Time for a confession. I hated Oblivion with a passion. It should have been the kind of game I loved, as I’m a huge fantasy and RPG fan, but it totally rubbed me the wrong way. A great many people were willing to put up with its very rough edges to immerse themselves in its huge fantasy world, but I went through some kind of fantasy game ‘uncanny valley’ with it. It was as if something in me could see the mechanical gaps in the attempt to portray this fantasy world with such scope and it made it hard to lose myself in the game.
It certainly came down to personal preference, but I couldn’t stand its terrible engine for a start. It managed to render landscapes beautifully enough – albeit it with some odd texturing problems – but made a total butchery of peoples faces. The way you interacted with those characters with that god-awful conversation wheel- the wheel o’ comedy as I always called it – totally put me off.
And don’t get me started on the totally crazy way the AI would often behave! Companion behaviour and random events were all too often either infuriating or unconvincing, which is never good in an immersive RPG. I just couldn’t enjoy its shonky first person combat either, and going into third person was even more terrible. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with its more traditional class based levelling system, but quite why you had to sleep in order to rank up was beyond me. As for it’s quests, there were some gems in there, but it felt like ultimately everything had to be decided with its terrible combat. I’ve heard the Oblivion gate quests became a real pain later on, but I was out of there long before that. It also felt that for all the wide open spaces, forests and mountains Oblivion portrayed so well, too many of its caves and dungeons felt like they were merely repeated set pieces and textures, and they all felt exactly the same – if you’d been inside one Dwarven barrow you’d been inside them all.
And don’t get me started on the endless glitches, crashes and resulting occasional quests that couldn’t be done without resorting to an earlier save because of them. I, a self confessed RPG geek, was constantly taken out of the game and bored in what should have been a boundless magical fantasy. I’m totally willing to admit that most of these problems could have been down to me, but Oblivion just felt like it was over reaching on all fronts and it really disappointed me.
That isn’t the case with Skyrim . You might not consider it more than just a polished version of Oblivion, but to me it manages to cross that uncanny valley gap that Oblivion couldn’t. The revised engine not only gives Skyrim the realistic feel Oblivion seemed lacking, with some of the most beautiful, far more naturally fashioned landscapes, but it’s people are finally alive! They aren’t going to be competing with the cast of LA Noire anytime soon, but getting rid of that ridiculous conversation wheel and using conversation trees makes talking to them enjoyable rather than a massive annoying chore. People’s AI, especially that of your various companions, while still wonky feels massively improved. I’ve even come round to liking it’s first person combat, which has been given far more nuance and options – especially with your magic and Dragon Shout abilities – and this time out playing in third person while not ideal is actually an option. The levelling up system now has to be one of the best in an RPG, being totally focused on what you use, really opens up your choices and encourages variety of play. I’m also particularly taken by the way your skill tree is presented as an easy to navigate series of constellations rather than a prosaic list.
It’s quest system and random events have similarly seen a vast improvement with so many things to do, and while it’s still predominantly about combat, there are more ways to do them. And all of the places you explore in your quests are all far more unique, both in the outside world and in the various caves, dungeons and holds. I’m only about ten hours in, but have yet to see anything that remotely even looks like repetition in the various places I’ve explored. There are still glitches in Skyrim – ever seen a mammoth inexplicably fall from the sky? I have – and the occasional crash, but so far nothing bad enough to actually put me off.
With Skyrim it looks like Bethesda really paid attention to what didn’t work in the last Elder Scrolls game, and look to set it right in this one. And I’m fairly sure that a good number of lessons were learnt and taken on board after Fallout 3, as Skyrim is even more polished than that was. As a games journalist it’s encouraging to see that despite how much everyone praised the last game Bethesda were willing to look at it’s flaws and correct a good many of them, and as a gamer I just very glad they’ve crafted a game that I can now really enjoy.