This is Joseph Dicks application feature 2000 words max
My favourite game. This is a very difficult question for me to answer even after spending most of my life playing video games. I mean, you’d think that by now I would have some sort of idea of what it would look like but sadly I don’t. In reality, I think if I were to present my all time favourite game I would have to do it much like an award ceremony with four games being nominated in each category and at least 7 honourable mentions afterwards. Sadly, I only have 2000 words max to work with here so I am just going to choose the easy and safe answer I give most people when they ask me this question and that is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
According to the left side of my brain TES 4 is logically an amazing choice. It ticks all of the boxes I want from an amazing RPG, which I shall list for you now:
- Compelling storylines
- Unique side quests Believable
- Three Dimensional characters
- A unique, natural feeling world
- Fun game mechanics
Now, as a way of comparing TES 4 to a reasonable counterpart I will choose The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Being the sequel to TES 4 and one of Bethesda’s best selling games it would make a worthy comparison.
The Elder Scrolls franchise has usually stuck to a five storyline approach, being the main storyline and four further storylines for the four guilds of Tamriel. We shall start with the main storyline as that is the most important. The opening sequence of Oblivion has Patrick Stewart provide the exposition, “behold, a darkness sweeps the land” and you bear witness to the great war machine of Mehrunes Dagon’s creation marching through The Deadlands towards the city of Kvatch. “This is the 27th of Last Seed, the year of Akatosh 433. These are the closing days of the 3rd era, and the final hours of my life.” Cue orchestral chorus and cinematic of The Imperial City in all of its magnificent glory. Boom. I’m sold already. Skyrim takes a more subtle approach, no cinematic, but instead putting you straight into the game. You’re in the cart with the other prisoners and you watch through your own eyes as all of the events of Helgen unfold before you. You make your way to the chopping block, Alduin attacks and you find yourself escaping with Ulfric Stormcloak, true High King of Skyrim in tow. So far we seem to be equally matched, and the same is true through most of the storyline. Oblivion sees you restoring the true Emperor to his throne and fighting to close shut the jaws of Oblivion.
Skyrim sees you putting an end to the dragon crisis by slaying the beasts and absorbing their souls amidst a country torn by civil war. Surely the ending will see a resolution to this tie breaker? Sadly, not as in foresight both games had a sadly disappointing ending. Not disappointing enough to tarnish either game, there’s far more to both games than their main story but still there’s no real challenge. Oblivion teases you with Mehrunes Dagon, Daedric Prince of Destruction. “What a boss fight this is going to be” you think to yourself. And yet you’re completely uninvolved, it’s Martin, who becomes the avatar of Akatosh and defeats the monstrous being. Skyrim has a slight advantage in that you actually get to fight the boss, but it’s no more than what you’ve done the entire game. Fighting Alduin is the same fight you fought 50 times to get to him, alas drawn out a bit more with the fog. It’s equivalent would be that in Oblivion to defeat Dagon, you had to pull out three of his sigil stones and he’d explode. Honestly, I don’t know which one would be worse! Oblivion wins this category for me however, as it’s major advantage over Skyrim is the guild storylines. There is not a single guild in Oblivion, which you can say was disappointing in the slightest. Not one.
The Fighter’s Guild is one in decline as its contracts are being stolen by Blackwood Company, which turn out to be murdering towns of civilians and using the sap of a hist tree to do so. The Mages Guild is admittedly tricky to get into but once you do you find yourself working your way up the ranks by destroying The Worm Cult wherever it can be found and eventually, Mannimarco King of Worms too. The Dark Brotherhood requires you kill an innocent to be inducted into its ranks. From there, every single assassination you do is interesting (especially the Skingrad house one) and the rite of Purification you perform on Cheydinhal Sanctuary is an unforgettable moment. Lucien LaChance is murdered and you must kill the traitor in our midsts and become the new listener. In The Thieves Guild you are in the shadow of the mysterious Gray Fox, whose cowl is his only known identity. You are ordered to perform the heist of an age and steal an Elder Scroll from the Imperial City!
Unique Side Quests
- Oblivion has a clear advantage here, notable side quests in Oblivion include (but are not limited to):
- Where Spirits Have Lease – Buy a house in Anvil and find there’s more to Benirus Manor than its low resale value
- A Brush With Death – A wife sick with worry charges you to find her painter husband, you find there’s something eerily wrong with his latest masterpiece
- Corruption and Conscience – Cheydinhal’s captain of the guard is a less than likeable fellow, perhaps it’s time for some new blood
- The Killing Field – A farmer’s home has been lost, help him and his sons reclaim it from those pesky goblins
- Paranoia – Glarthir best NPC in any game confirmed. No contest. Play this quest yourself and find out why it’s so great
The other reason Oblivion is superior in this category is that it is lacking in one of the more annoying aspects of Bethesda’s latest games… Radiant Quests. Just because you can repeat the same quest over and over again, does not mean it has unlimited replayability Bethesda. Oblivion’s idea of a radiant quest is “in the arena, we’ll pit you against some animals for cash, great job see you next week.” Skyrim’s idea of a radiant quest is “you’re a member of the Companions now so complete two radiant quests in dungeons you’ve already been to, to advance to the next scripted quest of our story. Rinse and repeat.” That is not gameplay, that is filler.
Believable Three Dimensional Characters
Both games do this well. In Oblivion you find Martin, an illegitimate child of the previous Emperor has become a priest. He struggles with learning of his true parentage, he was never meant to shoulder this much responsibility and yet you see his character grow, dealing with the experiences being thrown at him and in the end see him gallantly give his life for the greater good of The Empire. In Skyrim Delphine is an outcast, the last of her order. Always looking over her shoulder after being hunted by The Thalmor and it shows, between her and Esbern there’s likely nobody more untrusting and secretive in all of Tamriel. They each have their own backstory and goals and as the player you watch them evolve as the story progresses. That is key, in good storytelling.
Fun Game Mechanics
This is a category in which Skyrim seizes the day, but only because it polished what Oblivion had introduced. Excluding Oblivion’s lockpicking minigame being superior as Skyrim’s Fallout 3 copy was not to my liking, from that Skyrim improved on all the Oblivion mechanics. Oblivion had introduced autosaving which is a gift from god I discovered after playing Morrowind for the first time, being killed by rats and reverting about half an hour backwards. Skyrim had 3 autosave slots which is great for when your autosave file is corrupted as it seems to do. Oblivion had a good leveling system, it had inherited from Morrowind however it was very restrictive as to how you could grow. Those seven skills you choose at the start are the only skills you can level up with. In Skyrim however you’re free to explore any and all paths. Maxed out the Warrior tree? No biggie, move on to the mage and keep on levelling up. Did you like enchanting things in Oblivion? Great, because now it’s expanded and you can do it anywhere, also we have an entire crafting system for you to work with. I don’t know why Bethesda thought it was a good idea to remove spell crafting in Skyrim though, I loved that.
Conclusion In this I only went into detail on the points I believed to make for good writing, not necessarily the points that most pertained to my argument in favour of Oblivion. If I did I would need far more than 2000 words. For the benefit of this piece of writing know that Oblivion wins more categories than Skyrim, mainly due to it’s writing and it’s quests. In my mind Oblivion is the superior game, and yet I find that I’ve played Skyrim more… That’s right ladies and gentlemen we have a plot twist, but why? If Oblivion is the better game, why do I play Skyrim more? Have I played Oblivion to death already and not yet reached that point in Skyrim? Well, no, there are plenty of things I haven’t done yet in both games, in fact, I’ve probably completed more of Skyrim as a percentage than I have Oblivion. I haven’t even finished The Shivering Isles DLC. Is it because of Skyrim’s updated graphics and engine? Nope, load up an ENB from the Oblivion Nexus and TES 4 looks like it was a decade younger. So why?
Well the answer is just because it’s the best game doesn’t make it the most fun game. It’s certainly my favourite game of the two of course (otherwise this entire essay would be a waste of both of our time) but it’s my favourite game because it is the better piece of art. Video games are in their own right a form of art, and I love Oblivion for its credibility as an artistic masterpiece. Skyrim chose to forgo some of these things to make it a smoother and more enjoyable experience and that’s ok. When I first played Oblivion on the Xbox 360 I played it using all of the exploits, I killed Dorian for his unlimited gold, I duplicated all the necessary and rare items, I spent weeks of ingame time in Skingrad after buying the most expensive house training up all my skills to get me to the highest level I could achieve without getting mind-numbingly bored of all the button pressing and recasting of conjuration spells and spam producing fatigue potions from duplicated carrots and cabbages. I cheated, and I cheated because it felt more rewarding for me than a natural progression. In Skyrim I found the opposite true, I played all of my characters cheat free because it was more fun that way. I had ditched my old ways for a more enjoyable experience. Coming onto PC afterwards I bought both games again and had very different experiences with both. I bought Oblivion’s 5 Year Anniversary addition and after finishing The Knights of the Nine DLC I got bored. It wasn’t the same. All of the exploits had been patched and cheating with console commands just felt wrong. In a similar story I bought Skyrim’s Legendary Edition and didn’t get bored at all. I put just as many hours into the PC as I had into the Xbox 360. Cheating my way to level 80 with console commands made it lose it’s fun.
And that is why choosing my favourite game is so damned complicated. Oblivion may be my favourite game for how it’s broke boundaries, but Skyrim is my favourite game for it’s fun.