Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Oblivion Overhauled

This is a game-related post so if you have no interest in gaming whatsoever, I have plenty of other non-gaming stories to choose from so enjoy.

I haven't commented on Oblivion before now in any depth because Bethesda to me is what EA is to a lot of folks. They're a big dog that makes games with a lot of promise but wraps them in a blanket of stupid that's so thick it makes enjoyment difficult. I found a lot to love about Morrowind but you were either not powerful enough or supremely powerful with literally nothing in between, the loot was non-existent, and the storyline was convoluted enough that it screamed "bad anime!"

Where it excelled was in the editor, which allowed the mod community to add in all the missing fun, and Oblivion is no different.

The world is vast and so densely detailed it blows your mind. The screenshots sure as hell did it no justice though because the original game fresh out of the box looked nothing like what we had all seen during the previous months. That's because the PC version was ported straight from the Xbox 360 version and anyone who tells you different, Bethesda included, is outright lying. Everything from the menu screens to the background textures to the way the camera zooms up someone's nose when you talk to them screams console. After installing and playing for a grand total of 15 minutes I couldn't take it anymore.

So I spent the next four hours grabbing texture mods and making graphical adjustments to the game. Now it looks dazzling and runs just fine on my machine. I immediately turned off the light bloom and shadow effects because not only do those automatically kill system performance but I think they detract from the immersion. If you want to see how light bloom can be righteously abused check out Fable. I'm good going without.

After I fixed the graphics, the menus (DarkUI is an absolute must), and the zooming in, I actually started playing the game. This is when I realized just how bloody small and inconsequential you feel at the start of the game. The world is absolutely huge, you will stumble onto at least five sub-quests just walking from Point A to Point B, and all of it feels unique. But the problems with the gameplay don't appear until you level up a few times. By then you're feeling pretty confident that you can take out some rogue bandits and certainly those low-level goblins in that cave you passed by. Not so fast there, hombre.

Apparently everything in the game world levels alongside you. The result is you start out swimming against the current and the situation never improves. That full suit of glass armor you earned? Yeah, the bandits in that cave over there are all equipped with it now to match your skillset. WTF? This is an absolute game killer to me, regardless of any good it may accomplish in other areas. Combine that with Bethesda's staunch refusal to put quality loot in any chest ANY WHERE and us loot whores are out of luck. By comparison, I picked up Titan Quest a few weeks later and haven't put it down since. Not only do I feel like I'm accomplishing things by improving in skills, but I have more loot than I can shake a staff at.

This is all a long way of saying that Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul 1.3 is finally out and I can't wait to dive into it. You can check it out right here and the release notes can be found at this link. There are so many additions and changes in this mod it borders on a total conversion, and I'm fine with that. Oblivion had a lot wrong with it from the start and again it's taken the mod community to fix everything Bethesda should have done right the first time. OOO 1.3 adds thousands of new items, tons of new quests, restricts levels, and ups the challenge significantly. People may point at it and say, "Why would you like this? If anything the mod makes the game a hell of a lot harder!"

Exactly. The point the mod makes is that it makes the game harder by balancing things as they should have been to begin with. I don't expect to be able to take on a minotaur right off the bat, but by level 45 I should be able to wipe the floor with him and anything else coming out of the Oblivion gates. With the default version of Oblivion, that level 15 minotaur I saw at the beginning would increase in strength and power over time so much so that when I'm level 45 he's still several levels higher than me. That's an example of the ridiculous line of thinking Bethesda had when they brainstormed the game. It's the GOTY only in so far as ambition is concerned. The world they created feels like a living, breathing one and you physically can't play for 10 minutes at a time. Fire it up and kiss three to four hours of your day good-bye, even if you curse Bethesda's name in the meantime.

But when you combine OOO 1.3 with a handful of other mods (like I said, DarkUI is a must for the menus before you even start it up once) and Oblivion could well be the terrific RPG everyone claims it was right out of the box. Either I have different standards, or everyone else is in thrall of Bethesda's achievement. Maybe it took getting beaten down by the raging suck that was Titanic for me to refuse to give anyone an automatic pass based on the size of the project attempted versus the end result. I can appreciate what Bethesda accomplished, but now I can enjoy what they should have finished with.

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