McMoo the Anti-Drug Cow 5/16/2006 

McMoo was sick, but Oblivion healed what ailed him.

Sewers, rats, crates, the color brown -- it's enough to stun these two.
This was mostly written in the hospital so there may be some factual errors.

The clerk at EB said that Purolator would drop off the games at 10Am on Tuesday for sure, but it was possible that they could be there as early as 9:30. I had taken the week off so I didn't get to the gym until 8 and walked into the EB at Masonville Mall around 11:00. Much to my surprise, it was filled with NEERRRRRRDS! Purolater showed up 15 minutes later, causing the mangiest skinny nerd to exclaim 'let's get him! kekekekekekekeke ^_^' I was about to leave because the guy before me in line wouldn't shut the fuck up about Final Fantasy 7. Before long I had my Collector's Edition (yes, I spent 10 dollars for fake currency) and my hint book, causing at several nerds to PSH loudly.

Since the people at Bethesda know you probably can't take this game back to the store, they decided to show you the shittiest part of the game first. You're locked in a cell and have to fight through a sewer (against rats!!!) and watch NPCs fight - meaning crazy swingfests in which they hit each other as much as the enemies. Having said that, everything is a definite improvement over Morrowind: the models and textures are light-years better (the rats look good at least) and the NPCs are actually blocking each others attacks instead of just swinging wildly and running in circles.

There's character creation which of course is awesome; I ended up as an assassin. The game suggests a character path but you can change everything when you exit the tutorial dungeon. Blah blah blah you can make any character you want you already know that.

Character Creation: awesome.

Back to the rats. Combat, in particular the stealth component, is awesome. When you toggle into 'sneak' mode and eye appears letting you know if any enemies can see you. It also works well to help aim shots with the bow because I hate the crosshair. The tutorial indicated you get additional damage for sneak attacks and at lower levels this is particularly awesome. The first goblin I hit in the back of the head with an arrow cartwheeled backwards into the wall and fell into a heap on the ground, the 'Critical Hit! 3X Damage' message indicator appearing at the top of the screen. Sneak attacks with a blade yield 6 times damage. Weapons you are unskilled in do not give you a multiplier.

Stealth attacks: awesome.

There's one guy selling lockpicks for five minutes. Load up!
Ranged combat has been tweaked for the better as well. Firstly, you will recover much more ammo than you would in Morrowind, certainly this is the case in dungeons, where arrows simply bounce off the wall and can be recovered. Roughly half of the arrows put into enemies will be recoverable. The best part of the new system is that arrows will remain poking out of enemies where you hit them. This means that by the time an Ogre goes down it will have 10-15 arrows poking out of its body. I have found that lately I've been missing over monsters heads, indicating that as the ranged skill increases, arrows go further.

Ranged combat: awesome.

Melee combat also has "super attacks" where you hold down the attack button slightly longer and press in a direction for a different attack. As your weapon skill increases, these super at tacks also have additional bonuses. For instance a side power attack with a bladed weapon will disarm your opponent. Then you can quickly grab their weapon and commence to dole out the harshness. For the most part enemies will block these attacks, and then counter with a powerful attack of their own.

Melee combat: much improved.

The blocking system, like many other systems in the game has been brought out of stat abstraction. Mostly. You hold down the right mouse button to block your opponents attacks, either putting your weapon into a parry position (less effective) or raising your shield. The attack may then bounce off, giving you an opportunity to counter attack. At low block skill levels you will lose fatigue and health as attacks penetrate your block. I had problems early fighting goblin berserkers, who will just continuously whale on your shield, exhausting you. My first time fighting an Ogre I tried raising my shield and got flattened. Again, as your block skill goes up you will fatigue less from blocking, stun enemies more and I think the final block 'perk' is a shield-bash.

Blocking: needs improvement - the player needs more information about how much damage is being blocked.

All skills are rated from zero to 100. You gain a 'perk' every 25 points, transitioning from novice to expert. For example with sneak at 25 you don't get penalized for sneaking in heavy boots, with sneak at 75 you don't get a penalty for running while in stealth mode. Also, the game will restricts training to only five times per level, preventing you from levelling too quickly. You go up a level once you go up ten levels in any combination of your primary skills. This is the same as Morrowind - down to stat bonuses. To explain (poorly) having any combination of strength-based skills go up five levels (during a level) will give you a five point bonus to strength when you level up (if you put one of your 3 stat points into strength).

Skill perks: awesome. Training restrictions: good idea.

This is going to look great someday on a Despair.com poster.
Once out of the tutorial dungeon you still don't really get a full indication of how great the game looks, because it's the dead of night. I popped into the next dungeon I came to (Sinkhole Cave -- a dungeon indicator will appear on your compass and there are about a dozen indicators to alert you to nearby ruins, towns, etc). This is where the Oblivion and I exchanged bracelets inscribed with "BFF - Best Friends Forever." In the very first locked chest I opened contained a ring of night-eye. A constant effect! I had won the fucking lottery, no more torches.

Let me explain -- in Morrowind there are relatively few constant effect items, most of them had bonuses that had to be 'cast' on order to use them. This required using the magic system, which sucked. You used to be able to create constant effect items, but Bethesda removed the ability in a patch. As I quickly found in Oblivion, all wearable enchanted items are constant effect. They just work all the time. Enchanted weapons, staves etc use up charges as they did before, and are recharged by soul gems or by paying somebody at the Mage's guild a ridiculous amount of money. This bothered me because I couldn't cast soul trap and paying 2000 to recharge my sword seemed ridiculous.

Addendum: Soul gems now indicate the class of soul (lesser, greater, common) contained instead of the monster the soul came from. I had soul gems I could have used and didn't realize it.

All wearable magic items constant effect: awesome. Recharging items: not clear enough to players how it works, far too expensive as a service.

The magic system has been streamlined as well. Your mana - sorry, magicka regenerates fairly quickly, though not as fast as you'd like. You don't have to switch to 'spell-mode' like in Morrowind. Simply hit the cast button and you can cast a fireball between sword swings. I found that binding the spell cast key to the middle mouse button works really well. This has enabled me to use magic in combat much more that I did in Morrowind. Like the perk system with other skills, more powerful magic spells only become usable once you hit the 25 point thresholds in the various magic schools. As far as I know you don't gain the ability to create spells or enchant items until you get admitted to the University of Magic.

New magic system: dumping the 'spell mode' was a godsend.

By now I had cleared two dungeons and decided to go visit Jauffre in Chorrol. Fast travel is available to all the cities at the beginning of the game but at this point that seemed like a waste. Almost immediatly, I was attacked by a Redguard bandit or as Grandma used to say, a darkie. Needless to say I killed him, stripped his corpse and left his semi-naked body in the middle of the road. You can also move dead bodies but the physics system has them set so 'heavy' that moving them more then a foot or two becomes a huge headache.

Where the terrain in Morrowind seemed like a series of interconnected valleys, Tamriel is primarily a huge forest. It doesn't seem to be very much larger than Morrowind, but the variety of wandering monsters and the sheer number of discoverable locations make exploring much more interesting. Another very cool feature is being able to spot the tower in the centre of the Imperial city from quite a distance away. The land is still fairly hilly, to help keep frame rates higher. I did find that at very long view distances, texture tiling on distant objects like hills and beaches is quite noticeable. The ground cover system is pretty cool, though it does tend to obscure your vision quite a bit when looking for enemies, particularly when you are sneaking.

Graphics: awesome.

There are no grenades in Oblivion, but one quest involves you finding a wingman to jump on the one to the left.
Regarding performance. On this system I ran everything maxed with HDR instead of anti-aliasing (there are some bad jaggies at times) and with bloom off. The system would slow down when fighting multiple enemies outdoors with magic, but mostly the framerate only dipped to the low 30s when running around outside. Frankly, I didn't watch the Fraps display on my keyboard very much. The game occasionally freezes when loading the Bethsoft intro movie for some reason, and will report and error after I exit the game, but in game, it has never crashed. The processor and video cards are overclocked, so that may be the culprit. There are very few stream loading hitches like in Morrowind, and very quick loading screens when entering or leaving locations.

Performance: I think it runs better than Morrowind does - mind you, for Morrowind I downloaded hi-res textures and used the frame-rate optimizer to max view distance.

Partway to Chorrol the sun came up and the game looks incredible. When I reached the Priory I dropped off the Necklace, entered town and started talking to people and stealing shit. The manual and tutorial dungeon lack adequate explanations of the lockpicking and persuasion systems. To pick locks, you move the mouse up to tap the pin and then press mouse1 to 'freeze' the pin to the top of the lock. I broke a lot of picks before figuring this out.

Protip: When you meet Armand for admission into the thieves guild buy at least 50 lockpicks, I bought 100 and I'm averaging (over the game so far) one pick broken per lock.

For the Persuasion mini-game there is a wheel with different areas filled in, and four different actions. By mousing over each quadrant you can see the persons reaction to each section. You have to click on each section once, and each click rotates the wheel. Your goal is to click on the sections that make the person happy while it is mostly full and click on the sections where the person is pissed off when it is mostly empty. The persons reaction to each quadrant does not change so you can quickly run through several times rounds of the game to max their disposition.

Minigames: proper tutorials would have make things much less frustrating for new players

While in Chorrol did some shopping and had my weapons repaired. While Havok works great for creature and NPCs, I find that it sucks for shop items and god forbid trying to set something down in your house. The slightest bump causes items to scatter off shelves and tables. Also, the grave mistake was made to store extra items in a container in the Chorrol Inn. I went back to pick these items up a week (in game time) later to find that the container had reset. This caused me to flip my keyboard so I fired up the editor and respawned the missing gear into my inventory via console commands. Oddly enough items simply dumped on the floor in the room remain.

The changes to the thieving system aren't as bad as I thought they would be. Stolen items in your inventory are flagged with a red hand, they don't appear in transaction screens (unless talking to a fence) so you can't get busted by selling stolen goods back to the owner like in Morrowind. If you do get busted the game drops you right outside the jail, so you can pop right back in, pick the very easy lock and get your shit back. The downside is that you have to join the thieves guild and gain access to a fence before you can sell anything. To join the thieves guild you have to be arrested or read a wanted poster, than talk to a beggar with high disposition. PSH everybody knows that. Also the fence locations aren't logged in your journal.

Thieving: still cool, but puts annoying obstacles in the way

A cameo by the old Captain American villain the Hate Monger!
Radiant AI is not a quantum leap, but it is well done. NPCs have schedules, will travel and have inane conversations you can overhear. This certainly does make the game more interesting, but overheard conversations are not logged in your journal. On the flip side you will hear them over and over again. On occasion when I enter the Mages guild at 9AM, the staff suddenly decides it's time to haul their asses out of bed and get to work. When visiting the castle at 11PM the Countess decides maybe it's bedtime and gets up as soon as I enter. This leads me to believe that the AI system is 'sleeping' certain sets of NPCs to aid performance.

When clearing a dungeon an NPC will chase you only so far (if you hide) then return to their spot. Often enemies will return to their spot and wait, an arrow poking out of their eye socket. It's pretty hard to complain about this given the alternative of attacking an enemy and the alerted dungeon creatures all coming to gang-rape you.

Also good goddamn luck trying to keep NPCs alive in combat. While not quite as spastic as Morrowind, in one Fighter's Guild mission an NPC ran straight into the depths of the mine away from the two other NPCs and I who were being more methodical. We had to kill 12 goblin skirmishers to reach his body, I have no clue how he got so far.

AI: not perfect, but pretty good.

After leaving Chorrol, I finally figured out which horse to take (talk to Prior Maborel at Weynon Priory) and decided that if you have anywhere decent speed, horses are pretty useless. You have to dismount to fight enemies, they turn slowly and creatures attack them, causing them to sometimes take off. One pleasant surprise is how good the fast travel system works. Your horse stays with you when you fast travel (it will be left at the stables outside of town). NPCs who need escorting will fast travel with you; this is so great when I think about how I had to spend an hour escorting some Argonion fuckhead in Morrowind while trying to keep cliff racers from killing it.

Horses: not very useful. Fast travel: no more escorting NPCs? I'll take two!

Completed nearly all the Thief's Guild quests, got admitted to the College of Magic and a pile of free-form quests. In 58 hours of game time I completed 56 quests, and the only part of the main quest I completed is talking to Jauffre at Weynon Priory. I have no doubts that three years from now I'll still be playing this game.

Best RPG ever.

Now that I'm recovering from my appendectomy I can try to get the next 60 hours in. There is a Santa Claus!

McMoo the Anti-Drug Cow