Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Oblivion Adventures, Part 1

When it comes to what I do in my free time and even just the games I play, there’s a lot of content that never gets a proper blog post here. I understand that given my recent update rate, this information has gone from “kind of obvious assumption” to “something so clearly and blatantly apparent that all human children instinctively know it at birth”. But I want to make this clear all the same. I play all sorts of video games that I never see fit to write lengthy articles about. Typically this is some combination of having nothing interesting to say and/or the game being so popular and documented that everything I could say has been said.

An example of this phenomenon is Bethesda games. Bethesda is probably best known for The Elder Scrolls series; a succession of massive open-world action RPGs most recently featuring the extremely popular Skyrim. I’ve sunk many hundreds of hours into the company’s more recent games, starting with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Even though this game is the second most recent in the series it’s already almost a decade old. Bethesda made games before this, but they’ve generally been rated M and when I was younger I had what was less of a computer and more one of Charles Babbages new-fangled abacuses.

The point is, I’ve played a lot of these games and they’re interesting to talk about, because they kind of form their own subgenre, they have tons of content and each game even in the same series is wildly different. I haven’t really had the opportunity or drive to discuss them though, because a new one hasn’t come out in 4 years and I didn’t have any ideas on how to broach them. But recently, some friends of mine decided to all start replaying Oblivion simultaneously and sharing their experiences with each other. I decide to take this opportunity to vomit far more words on the game than any of them and start up another written Let’s Play. Apologies to fans of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (wow that post is old), but I’m going to have to officially put that series on hiatus. To hold you over in the meantime, here’s that one image of Horus being bad at puzzles.

Hahahaha! I remember that as being a funny thing and that therefore makes it funny again now!

I can really belabor an introduction to a simple topic, can’t I? Let me try summarizing this more succinctly:

Friends are playing Oblivion, so now I’m gonna as well, and write about it.

Wow, that was way easier to understand. This whole “brevity” thing sure is nifty! Is this what people who use Twitter feel like? Fascinating.

Reminder: 9 Years Is a Long Time

Before we dive into the actual gameplay, allow me an aside about my copy of the game. I bought Oblivion back when it was relatively new, and at the time Steam and the digital games market was just getting started. Indeed, Oblivion was one of the earliest popular games to try downloadable content smaller than full-on game expansions. It could have gone better. Point being, I own Oblivion on a physical CD that I had to dig up and run the installer through. I’d like to share a couple pictures from this process.

I find it hilarious that this was ever a real ad.

This ad popped up while I was installing the game. I find it unbelievable enough that anyone ever played anything besides Tetris on a flip phone. Come to think of it, I don’t have proof anyone did. Ignoring that though, why would you put an Elder Scrolls game, of all things, on a phone?! You’re taking a game series known for being a gigantic open-world where you can do whatever you want and trying to fit it on a tiny device where a single finger could obscure every button and the screen at the same time. That screenshot doesn’t even look anything like the game, it seems like some random isometric strategy game. Hang on a second, does that rating say E10+? In a game where you can violently murder random civilians? Somehow I think the phrase “Take Oblivion Wherever You Go” might be the teensiest bit inaccurate.

I know this screenshot is the pinnacle of excitement, but bear with me for a second.

The game understandably didn’t recognize my graphics card, so it defaulted to putting the game on medium settings. So to be perfectly clear: These are the average settings for Oblivion. Most of it isn’t that noteworthy but oh my god what is that resolution? 640x480. The default setting for this game is fullscreen and a resolution of 640x480 pixels. To give you a frame of reference what size that is: It’s the size of this screenshot of the options menu. Obviously this isn’t really an insult to Oblivion specifically, but it can be surprising to remember just how much of a difference 9 years of PC technology can bring.

A Hero is Born Molded from Misshapen Clay

Before I get into creating my character, I want to take a moment to show off the games intro, because it gives an inkling on some of the good and bad things about the game.
Actual intro starts at about 25 seconds, as this HD version includes logos first.

The actual story parts of this intro are somewhat uninteresting. There’s an old emperor giving some vague foreboding words and too much exposition, which (spoiler alert) is basically his entire character. Patrick Stewart lends some gravity to the narration and I suppose the “final hours of my life” line is a decent hook but the writing is just okay. The model of the capital city we see here is also not too far off from actual size, which in retrospect brings to light how small the place is.

But in spite of that, the music absolutely makes this opening for me. It’s not the only good thing about it. The visuals are fine and the whole thing is appropriately brief but it would be nothing without the sound. This is Oblivion’s version of the Elder Scrolls main theme. In fact, this is a version specific to this cutscene that starts building in time with the intro and positively booms when the title comes on-screen. It gets me excited for adventures to come every time I make a new character, and makes the whole intro worth it for me.

Now we move on to creating my character. I wanna have fun with this, so I create a Orcish Assassin named Shush’Ogar, who will do his best to sneak around in heavy metal armor bashing people upside the head with a warhammer. Now visually speaking, the Oblivion character creator is kind of just terrible. They give you countless sliders to change minute thing like upper nose bridge shallowness and things like that, but it doesn’t address the low-res potato faces so much as distract from the problem. All it really lets you do is make your face even more horrifically mishappen and uncanny valley than the default ones. Accepting the silliness, I give my orc a massive chin and underbrite, bright orange skin and a long purple top-knot for his hair. Honestly, it still looked about as good as the default orc.

For point of reference, this is the first default face you see. It really is about as normal as the faces get, which is DEPRESSING.

You may notice that I don’t have any pictures of my character. Well normally, PC games would be a case where I can actually take my own screenshots rather than scrounge through the dark depths of google image search. Unfortunately, my disc copy wasn’t as receptive to taking screenshots and I couldn’t be bothered to find a solution in my first few play sessions. I’ll try and fix this later, but for now we’ll sadly have to deal with a crappy phone screenshot or two and occasionally googled images. So exactly as low-quality as normal, I’ve just reminded you that you could actually be getting better.

One last thing before we start playing already. I’m going to try and write this series half from Shush’s perspective, intermixed with my out-of-character opinions on the game. Our “hero’s” inner monologue will be in italics. This has already been a pretty long entry, but it’s the first and we haven’t hit actual gameplay yet, so let’s make it extra-long. By which I mean I’m going to make it extra-long. You don’t actually have a say in the matter, I just like to pretend this is a group effort to make you feel like you’re contributing. You aren’t though. You worthless swine.


Rats and Exposition: A Classic Opening

Shush’Ogar was not havin a good time. Shush had only sailed into Cyrodil a few days ago an already he was stuck in jail. It wasn’t even a big deal, Shush was only practicin his sneakin skills. Shush is gonna be de greatest orc assassin in Mundus one day. Y’see, Shush has dis great idea for combinin all de sneakiness of ‘n assassin wit all de orciness of a orc. Assassins see, dey don’t have de big hammers or clanky clothes orcs does. Shush does doe, so he gonna git real gud at sneakin wit dem. Nobody aint gonna see him comin!

Anyway, Shush decided to practice pickpocketing people to get all gud at de sneakin. Sure Shush didn’t ask for permission, but tellin de elf wouldn’t have been very sneaky-like, would it? Shush was gonna give back de couple of gold coins anyway, but de elf was gettin all angry at him an said some very hurtful stuff. So Shush may have grabbed de elf and smashed his face into de wall. A bit. Not much smashin at all, really. Grandmama back in Orsinium would smash Shush around way more just for bein late for supper.

De annoying elf yelled at de guards doe, so now Shush was bein in a pickle. Speakin of annoying elves, dere was one in de cell across from him. He was also sayin some very hurtful tings about Shush, meybe elves in Cyrodil were just rude to orcs? Anyway, now someone was comin down de hall, so de stupid elf was shuttin up.

For some reason the first thing you hear in the game is the dark elf in the cell across from yours being a racist dick to you. Unless you’re also a dark elf, in which case he’s just generally a dick to you. I’d guess it was to introduce you to a harsh and gritty setting, but Oblivion isn’t really like that at all. As nice as the game is, it’s about as generic fantasy as it gets, so this is a bit of an odd choice to start with. Memorable I suppose, but odd.

De people comin down de hall were some guards an a man in a fancy coat. Shush wasn’t really payin attention to what dey was sayin, but den dey opened up his cell and came inside. Dey walked by Shush and pressed a stone on da wall, an den de whole wall moved away! Shush wished dey had told him cells had back doors in Cyrodil. It woulda made jail lots easier.

So de fancy man an de guards head out de back an dey say for Shush to not get in dere way. So Shush follow behind a bit until dey lock a door behind em an he goes through a hole in de wall instead. Shush goes through de caves for a bit an finds some rats ‘n goblins. Shush smashes dem up real gud and finds lotsa neat junk. He finds a big hammer and all de rat meat he can eat, plus some skulls. Shush likes skulls, so he takes as many as he can carry. De sneakin don’t work very well on de goblins, but Shush aint gonna give up. Like his grandmama told him: Don’t give up on your dreams, no matter how hard dey are or stupid you are. Shush thinks grandmama was talkin about gettin more schoolin wit dat, but Shush has never dreamed of doin dat so he likes dis dream better.

So after a while de caves lead back to de stone halls an Shush runs into de fancy man again. De soldiers was rude to Shush but de fancy man tells em not to be. He says some stuff about stars an stuff but honestly Shush started to get bored and stopped listenin. Fancy man asks Shush a question after a bit an wanted him to pick somethin, Shush wasn’t sure what. He picked a Warrior, because warriors smash a buncha stuff and Shush likes dat.

I’ll take a moment to clarify some things, but we really aren’t missing much here. Emperor Uriel Septim talks to you for a bit, but to be honest I find him disappointingly poor in the writing department. You don’t get much out of him beyond vaguely portentous dialogue along with some mild exposition. He’s a bland old man with no personality of his own whatsoever. You’re given almost no dialogue options while talking to him and he barely reacts to anything you say regardless. It really is a shame they got such a high profile voice actor to dully run through exposition for 10 minutes.

As for what’s going on here mechanically: Supreme Sultan Septim is asking you what sign you were born under. This gives you either a passive increase to some of your stats or (if you’re a sucker) a daily-use power. The caves before here had a lot of tutorials for game mechanics like lockpicking and such, but I’m going to keep from mentioning those (especially the leveling mechanics) here. This post will be lengthy enough as is and I’m going to try and space out discussions of game mechanics over time to keep things interesting.

So den de fancy man an his guards let Shush walk wit em. De guards were still very rude to Shush, so he got back at dem by taking a swing wit his warhammer every now an den. De guards weren’t as much smart as Shush, cause so long as he was careful he could smack em an not geddem angry.

I learned the hard way exactly how many times I could whack the emperor and his guards without them murdering the crap out of me.

Properly spaced out, that number is surprisingly high.

Every now an den, some people in funny hoods would walk out an de guards would bash em dead. Shush tried to do some bashin too, but de guards were real quick about it. Shush might’ve even hit de guards a bit, but wat’s a bash between friends? After a while, we found a gate wot been all locked up. De guards said dat it was a trap (it looked more like a gate to Shush doe) and dat we had to find a way around.

When we went into a side room dere was sounds of people behind us. De guards told Shush to stay dere wit de fancy man, but dat sounded borin. So Shush followed de guards and saw em fightin a whole buncha funny hoodmen. Shush had a great time smashin up de funny men for a bit, but dere were a whole lotta dem and de guards kept rudely yellin at Shush to go back to de fancy man. As soon as Shush walked back into de fancy mans room he started talking to Shush, and it sounded like de funny hoodmen stopped comin outside.

Fun fact: This stupid scripted tutorial bit can’t proceed until you go back to Grand Poohbah Septim to see him get uncontrollably murdered. They don’t actually prevent you from leaving him to fight cultists, but the cultists will literally keep coming forever. They hit fairly hard and all make a beeline towards you unless hit by one of the guards. They also deliberately have no loot worth a single gold piece. Nevertheless, I had fun screwing with the dramatic tension by running them around the room while the guards murdered them for a while. I found the image of their increasingly large corpse pile humorous enough that I thought I’d endure crappy phone quality to get a picture.

The Mythic Dawn holds the best slumber parties.

So de fancy man gave Shush dis pretty stone on a string an said dat it’s real important. He said some other stuff Shush didn’t understand about oblivous jaws or somethin but den he stopped talkin cause dis room had a back door just like Shush’s cell. A guy wit a funny mask instead of a hood came out an ran up to da fancy man, who wasn’t movin for some reason. De mask man stabbed de fancy man wit a knife and de fancy man fell down, so Shush grabbed his hammer an smashed de mask man up gud.

Den one a de guards came in an he was all sad since de fancy man was dead. He asked about a mullet but Shush didn’t have one so instead Shush showed him de shiny stone onna string de fancy man gave me. He asked why Shush had dat so Shush told him de fancy man gave it to him ‘n said some stuff about oblivious an some guy named Joffers or somethin. De guard said Shush should take de shiny stone to Joffers an told him how to get dere. Den he gave Shush de key to de sewer outta dere.

Before Shush left, de guard asked him somethin about what class Shush liked. Shush picked Biology, cause Shush always liked Biology back when he got schoolin. Shush wished all classes could have cuttin up mudcrabs an gettin blood everywhere. Shush hates mudcrabs. Shush hates mudcrabs so much dat he can sense when mudcrabs is near, an he starts playin fight music in his head to get ready for smashin em. Anyway, after Shush tells de guard what class he likes den Shush leaves through de sewer.

There’s nothing else to the tutorial section of the game, so this seems like a good place to stop for now. Tune in next time to see the beginning of adventures starring a rambling idiot and the orc he’s controlling!

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